Monthly Archives: March 2017

Coming Home

Not all who wander are lost, penned J.R.R. Tolkien  in his poem ‘All that is gold does not glitter.’IMG_3126

But not all who stay put are actually home, either.

On Sunday I visited a different Roma church in Serbia.  They had a guest preacher from Sweden who spoke about the Prodigal Son—a sermon that I have probably heard hundreds of times.  The pastor had a very stoic, quiet way of preaching—no dramatics or flairs of gesticulation.  However, his words were profound and deep, and it was if I was hearing the story for the first time—imagining the father running headlong toward the son.

“How bizarre, how very outrageous, ” I thought, “that Jesus told this parable as a picture of God’s relationship with us.”

For the few days I was in this village, I listened to many stories—stories of heartbreak, stories of searching for healing through witchcraft, stories of survival in the harshest of poverty conditions, stories of abandonment and longing for love, stories of forgiveness and hoping for the ability to forgive.

These are just human stories, really, and the common core is a longing, a searching for safety, love, purpose, and security—and these are words we would hope would define “home.”

The elder brother never left his home in the parable, but we see that he was internally in exile just as his brother was physically in exile. In some ways, it seems like the younger brother had an advantage.  His body, mind, and spirit were in unity with the desire to leave home and his father’s embrace—and when he came home, he did so also wholeheartedly and ‘whole-bodily.’IMG_0449

The elder brother was divided—his body at home, but his spirit not able to embrace what ‘home’ meant.  That is, to enjoy the full inheritance as his father’s son, safe and secure in his father’s love.

“How then do you bring your body home?” Nouwen asks.  “By letting it participate in your deepest desire to receive and offer love.”  This quote is a mixture of the two brothers—one was bringing his body home, and the other was being invited to receive and offer love, and so come home internally.

There was a time in my life when I tried to physically run away from the Father, fleeing  to Europe in my early 20’s to come to terms with the tragic death of a dear friend and roommate. It was somewhere in Italy where I began the journey ‘home,’ after having an encounter with the pursuing and “running-towards-us” Father.

This kind of homecoming was far easier than the times I have struggled as the elder brother—bodily home but internally not able to enjoy and accept my inheritance.

Not all who wander are lost…IMG_2037

Sometimes it feels that you are traveling on a path you don’t recognize.  There is fear and uncertainty, because the way forward is shrouded in the unknown.  Faith is the only thing leading you forward.

“Trust is so hard, since you have nothing to fall back on,” says Nouwen.   “The new country is where you are called to go, and the only way to go there is naked and vulnerable.”

Maybe you don’t recognize the way because you are going somewhere you have not yet been.

Maybe you are coming home.  IMG_0452

 

 

 

 

Let Us Go…

“…And many peoples will come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that He may teach us concerning His ways and that we may walk in His paths.” (Isaiah 2:2,3)

In the prophet Isaiah’s depiction of the final Kingdom,  people are drawn to go there.  Not by force or coercion, but a desire that compels forward-moving action.

I guess it shouldn’t be any surprise because many people had the same experience with Jesus.  There was something about Jesus that inextricably drew people—from the religious leaders that were angry with him to people who you might think that it would be in their best interest to run away.

It’s easy to forget this when we Christians and churches become so focused on behavior modification, appearances, or legislating a religious morality that has little to do with inner-transformation.  Sometimes it seems that we feel we need to manipulate or trick people into the Kingdom: (“No, really, it’s not so bad.  And you get eternal life in the bargain!)

For months we have been going to another  nearby village to pick up people for church.  Lately, the adults have not been coming, but the kids still clamor to come. In a car stuffed with kids ages 3-10, my coworker was surprised to find that they wanted to pray on the way to church: For a father  to not go to jail, for another father to have strength in jail and then change his lifestyle when he came out.  And the list went on…

These kids can cause disruption in the church—they can be loud,  often unruly, and sometimes other members grumble at their ‘lack of culture.’ Yesterday, during the singing, they were loudly goofing around in the front row while I was trying to lead the music.

But I hope we are not a church that would put ‘good behavior’ over encouraging these children who are being drawn to God. Thankfully, during the service, the pastor quoted Jesus’ admonishment to his disciples to “Let the children come to me”  (As maybe a subtle reminder to the rest of the congregation).

“Let the children come…”   Jesus knew that children would want to be near him—his unconditional love, his gentleness, and kindness.  I have a feeling that more children would have been drawn to Jesus than adults—but unfortunately the gospels’ accounts rarely mention children.

Last week, as the kids were going out the door to go home, I put my hand on the shoulder of the oldest. He turned to me, startled, and I could see that he expected to be reprimanded.

“Come again!” I said in a stern voice, and then smiled.  His whole face lit up in delight, basking in the feeling of being wanted in a space other than just his home.

I drove them back to their village after church, and they insisted on singing worship songs the whole way back.  Off-key and with wrong words, they belted them out.

Perhaps for some people, an inaccurate picture of God results in fear, disgust, anger, and a general resistance about moving toward God.  That is why it is so significant to study people’s responses when they encountered Jesus.

How do we maintain a community of welcome and compassion?  A church where people will say, “Let us go there, that we might learn about God and walk in His paths?”

Perhaps by  being willing to constantly  have our understanding of God challenged, refined, sharpened, and expanded.