Poetry & Words

7 Things Evangelicals Can Learn from the Liturgical Church

Why do evangelicals ignore ancient church history? Why do nondenominational churches reject liturgy? Why is there such a gap between American evangelicalism and global Christianity? //
7 Things Evangelicals Can Learn from the Liturgical Church
When I was rebranding this blog, I wanted to include the term “liturgy” in my tag line. But my multi-faith writers’ group quickly said no. Liturgy, they said, was synonymous with Catholicism. I countered liturgy simply meant “the work of the people”, as in

  • our habits,
  • the intentional environment we create,
  • our patterns, and
  • the way we worship through the consistent choices we make daily.

Everything we routinely do is our liturgy, I argued. Besides, even in the context of church, Catholics do not own the term. Many Protestant worship services contain liturgical elements. My colleagues dissuaded me. I compromised, concluded I’ve spent too much time reading the dictionary, and went with the word “rhythms” instead.

But the exchange stayed with me, and I haven’t been able to stop asking questions. (I still like the word “liturgy.”) Why do we tend to think liturgy is Catholic? Don’t even the most seeker-friendly emergent evangelical churches practice many repetitive liturgies of their own invention — for example, in the distinct and recognizable way a worship team continues to play chords and pluck guitar strings while the leader transitions from singing to prayer at the end of the first set of songs, every single week?

Why are so many Christians determined to reinvent and rename the entire church experience, swapping out every term for something more relevant and hip?

Why do evangelicals shun the concise ancient creeds and write forty-page Statements of Faith instead? (Seriously, why?)

Why do American evangelicals think there’s an inverse relationship between the quantity of art in a church in the the quantity of holiness? Why is “church art” dismissed as religious in non-denominational circles?

Has America’s history of intense individualism really had that much effect on the way we view worship? (In other words, can we blame our uniquely-American hangups on the Puritans?)

Continue reading “7 Things Evangelicals Can Learn from the Liturgical Church”

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Christmas, Poetry & Words

Why Celebrations & Beauty Still Matter in a Broken World

During Advent, lighthearted festivities can conflict with the dark reality of the world. But we shouldn’t give up Christmas. You can’t fight the darkness without light.

Why Celebrations & Beauty Still Matter in a Broken WorldSometimes, people wonder how I can get behind something so trite as Christmas decorations, when I also talk about death and darkness and clinging to a thread of hope when grief colors everything. How can I talk about pretty things when there’s all this brokenness everywhere we turn? Isn’t that incongruent? Doesn’t that make me a hypocrite? Don’t I know the world is dying?

I do know. And because I know, I refuse to give in to the darkness.  I refuse to let the darkness chase us away from all the beauty.

Our God, the same God who demands justice and calls us to love mercy [1], also created beauty. The same God who calls us to defend the fatherless [2], also paints the billowing clouds with fiery indigo, told His ancient people to weave golden threads into gilded curtains and dot the tabernacle with precious stones [3], and turns snowy mountain peaks copper with every rising dawn.  If we have the eyes to notice, our heart is lifted at a solitary bloom alive in a dry and cracked sidewalk, and something in our spirit leaps at the sight of a single lit tree in the darkness, glistening in snow-covered bursts of colored light. Our deep longing for aesthetic beauty echoes the whole, complete beauty that existed in God himself before the Fall of Man. Glimmers of it shine earthside still. Every single thing of beauty on this earth hints at the beauty that waits just beyond the veil [4].

And something else await beyond the veil, too — a celebration [5].

Somewhere along the way in our journey through the monotonous tasks of living, we’ve heard whispers that to be holy is to reject the nonsense of tinsel and lights, and to be an effective servant of God we have to squelch in ourselves our deep-seated craving for beauty.  We’ve heard that to have a heart that really loves mercy, to have a heart that really broken over injustice, we should probably think twice about merrymaking. But beauty and joy and celebrations are not at all antithesis to our identity as Christians. Rather the opposite; celebrations are at the very heart of our Father God. All throughout the Bible we see, over and over and over again, this idea of gathering together in the mutual enjoyment of this wild and beautiful life. And we crave it. We crave beauty, we crave togetherness, and we crave wholeness.

Maybe it doesn’t make sense to live this way. Maybe it’s all more complicated than this. But I think my God is big enough that I don’t have to choose between beauty and truth. I think my God is big enough that I don’t have to reject the beautiful things He’s created in order to love mercy. So instead of understanding it all, I just want to embrace this mystery. The mystery of God, the mystery of this life, the mystery of serving the One who lets all these disparate things — beauty, injustice, death, love — coexist, and even, somehow, weaves them all together with redemption in a tapestry altogether glorious.

So let yourself be freed from legalism this Christmas. Let yourself be free to savor the deep, beautiful goodness of God, and drink in the wonder of His Advent, even if everyone around you is cramming in commercialism until the season nearly bursts with misunderstanding, and even as the news broadcasts keep rolling, and even as there is still work to be done.

“Here is the world”, said Frederick Buechner. “Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.”

“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free.” [6]

Adoption, Poetry & Words

POETRY & WORDS :: How do I Defend the Orphan When I’m Not Gladys Aylward?

“Learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” -Isaiah 1:17.

Every time I read this verse, I’m struck by its straightforwardness. And every time, it tears me up inside. Defend the orphan. How?

Deep down, I want to be Gladys Aylward and take a hundred children to safety. I want to just run out to the edges of the world now and scoop up all the waiting children and take them home — all of them.

Still Image from The Inn of the Sixth Happiness

It tears me up inside that I can’t.

I feel so helpless. I feel like I’m not doing anything, and that’s a torturous feeling when every fiber of my being knows it’s wrong to do nothing.

Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” (James 1:17)

How can I do that?

A few weeks ago, after attending One Hundred Million Reasons to Celebrate, I was broken yet again by this burden. Several of the speakers there had been adopted out of orphanages, and as they shared, God asked me again, “How are you going to be my hands and feet?”

I don’t know the answer to that question yet. All I know is that I’ve been unable to ignore it. I can’t get it out of my mind. “Vindicate the weak and fatherless; do justice to the afflicted and destitute.” (Psalm 82:3)

While I continue to wrestle with the “how?”, I’ve been trying to help my friends the Jensen’s on their adoption journey.

And so there are 140+ auction items being bid on right this minute, and every dollar goes towards to the Jensen adoption fund.

Would you consider bidding, and sharing the auction link on Facebook, Twitter, or even your blog? It runs through May 6.  We can’t all be Gladys Aylward, but we can all help the Jensens bring one orphan home.

We must be global Christians with a global vision because our God is a global God.” -John Stott

Life in Photos, Poetry & Words

LIFE IN PHOTOS :: It’s all (mostly) black and white

Aveline - January 2013 - Aveline on couch in black and white - Photo via Oaxacaborn dot com

Top of the bookshelf - photo via Oaxacaborn dot com

Colander, calendar, and stars on white kitchen wall - photo via Oaxaacborn dot com

Inside the closet, with a paper star and a painting - photo via Oaxacaborn dot com

Black and white Kawaii Panda Bear plate - photo via Oaxacaborn dot com

Aveline - January 2013 - Aveline reclining on couch in black and white - Photo via Oaxacaborn dot com

“In returning and rest shall you be saved;
in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength.” (Isaiah 30:15)

These words keep coming back to me. In the midst of frantically getting this and that done, in the midst of the bowl of macaroni & cheese dumped on the carpet, in the midst of the screaming fits which two-year-olds are wont to do from time to time, in the midst of lists and laundry…in the midst of it all, these words echo.

And I know I need to stop, and truly listen.

In rest. In quietness. In confidence — a kind of calm assurance, free from anxiety.

This same Lord also whispers in my ear,
Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden,
and I will give you rest.
Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me,
for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.
For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.
(Matthew 11:28-30)

How foolish I am to refuse!

Christmas, Poetry & Words

Waiting for Christmas as Children, and the Second Coming (an Advent Poem)

Christmas in the subtropics is different, but it teaches us something about waiting with hope-filled expectancy, not just for Christmas, but for Christ’s return.
Advent in the Subtropics

Here, in the humid fog
(which, I imagine, might not be much
unlike The Night
in which the angel appeared)
here in the humid fog
the only snow looks like
paper scraps and
shaving cream. Bubbles and
these circles of vinyl we
press to the windowpanes
with hearts of hope
as though we were two again
or five or nine or eighty-four
as though we pressed up our noses
to the glass
waiting for papa to come home
or waiting for Christmas time
or waiting for snow.

But while we are grown
and while we are tall
and while we can reach the upper shelves, now —
we are still children.
We are still waiting for Papa,
every day,
and this window is a glass, dimly, and
we see glimmers of celestial light
inside claypots and
outside trimmed oil lamps, and
in cups of cold water, given.

Christmas day was the first time He came and
so now through the centuries since
we press our noses to the glass
reaching,
waiting,
longing
expecting,
Christmas Day, Round Two
(in which we will all be made wholecompleteperfected

and the sky will light up.)

These are tidings
of the greatest joy.

A bit later, He told us this, so that His
joy might be in us, and
our joy might be full.

So now let’s all press our noses
to the glass
and look heavenward
and reach high
and hope

and rejoice.

Reaching and Waiting, a Poem about Christmas and the Second Coming