Thursday, September 12, 2013

Larger Than Fear

Sometimes, anxiety hits so hard it leaves me shellshocked. My thoughts and emotions run at a frantic pace to any semblance of control, but because control is an illusion it disperses the moment I lay my hand on it.

Slowly, I am learning some new ways of dealing with fear, of bringing the resources of God and his kingdom to bear on it and it is making a difference. Slowly.

This poem by Walter Brueggemann helps me remember that God is larger than my fear, that what I need is not control but trust.

We do not really know about running and hiding.
We do not have any real sense, ourselves, of being under assault,
—for we live privileged, safe lives,
—learning in a garden near paradise.
Nonetheless the fear and the prayer
—live close beneath the surface…
———enemies we cannot see,
———old threats lingering unresolved from childhood,
———wild stirrings in the night that we cannot control.
And then we line out our imperative petitions,
—frantic… at least anxious;
—fearful… at least bewildered;
Turning to you, only you, you… nowhere else.
In the midst of our anxiety, confidence wells up,
In our present stress, old well-being echoes.
We speak and the world turns confident and grateful,
—not because we believe our own words,
—but because of your presence,
———your powerful, bold, reliable presence
——————looms large,
——————larger than fear,
——————larger than anxiety,
——————large enough… and in our small vulnerability,
—————————we give thanks.

On reading Psalm 54, after the World Trade Center bombing, Sept 26, 2001.

The One Year Holy Land Moments Devotional (Book Review)

The genre of “Christian devotional” is populated by a vast variety of voices that are odd, sappy, and sentimental. But, it is also home to some of the most profound reflections of what it means to “walk with God” available to us on the planet. At its best, the genre takes what is best from Christian history (ancient and modern) and makes it available in daily, digestible forms for today’s believer. For most of my 24+ years of walking with Christ, I have usually had one by my side. They usually perform the helpful service of “priming the pump” of my soul, helping me get to a place where I am awake and alert, eager and responsive to God.

When I picked up The One Year Holy Land Moments Devotional, I had hopes that this would be a unique contribution to the genre, providing access to the Jewish roots of the faith and practice of Jesus and the early Christians. There is some of that, to be sure, but I was a bit disappointed overall with the actual contribution this devotional makes.

Holy Land Devo

First, some of the nitty gritty: it is a collaboration between a Jewish Rabbi (Yechiel Eckstein) and a Christian Bible Scholar (Tremper Longman). I have long benefited from Longman’s reflections on Scripture, so I was eager to see what this would look like. Each day is primarily a reflection by Rabbi Eckstein on some aspect of Jewish faith and practice, which is then followed up by a short responsive reflection by Longman. This occurs for six days each week, followed by a “Sabbath Reflection” that allows space and time for reflection on the week as a whole in the context of a day of rest.

The value of any devotional is very subjectively determined by the desires and intent of the person reading it. My reasons for engaging devotionals is stated above, and so I would say that one is “good” or “valuable” to the extent that it presents God to my thoughts and imagination in a fresh way, generating warmth and desire in my soul with which I can approach Scripture reading and prayer. My critique which follows will be based on this understanding.

I would classify this work as an “ecumenical” devotional, drawn mainly from Rabbi Eckstein’s ministry of reaching out to find common ground with Christians. He is not a Messianic Jew (one who recognizes Christ as the long awaited Messiah), but a Jewish Rabbi seeking to find common ground with Christian believers. This is an admirable goal, but I’m not sure if it makes for a good devotional. 

Ecumenical efforts are notorious for watering down distinctives in an attempt at “finding common ground.” At its best, ecumenicism maintains distinctives but generates kind and winsome dialogue that promotes understanding between groups of different belief systems. Personally, I would have gained far more benefit from the Jewish heritage had it been conveyed by someone who shared my fundamental assumptions about Jesus as Messiah. Whatever “common devotional ground” is shared between Eckstein and Longman, it is not substantial enough to foster much warmth, desire or wisdom for this disciple’s walk with Jesus.

The book is interesting, to be sure, and there is value in the dialogue of these two perspectives. I just don’t think such a dialogue is good material for a Christian devotional. It should have been marketed as a different kind of book, for a different kind of audience.

Thanks to Tyndale House Publishers for a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Wake Up to Presence

Sorry for my long absence on the blog. The Lord is doing many deep things that I just don’t have words for yet. Still trying to pray them into the grind of daily life, then maybe I can talk about them!

In the meantime, these words from Richard Rohr stirred my soul today.

“I promise you that the discovery of your True Self will feel like a thousand pounds of weight have fallen from your back. You will no longer have to build, protect, or promote any idealized self-image. Living in the True Self is quite simply a much happier existence, even though we never live there a full twenty-four hours a day. But you henceforth have it as a place to always go back to. You have finally discovered the alternative to your False Self.

You are like Jacob awakening from sleep and joining the chorus of mystics in every age. “You were here all along, and I never knew it!” he says (Genesis 28:16). He “anoints the stone pillow where this happened, and names Bethel or the house of God and gate of heaven” (28:17-18). Jacob then carries the presence with him wherever he goes. What was first only there is soon everywhere. The gate of heaven is first of all in one concrete place, better if carried with you, and best when found everywhere. That is the progression of the spiritual life.”

Adapted from Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self, pp. 7-8