My quota for this month’s devotionals has reached its end – and I fear that I have wandered through a discussion on the abundant life (flourishing) rather aimlessly. So let me try to sum up my thoughts… “attachment to God amplifies and deepens enjoyment of the world.” (P. 203 Flourishing, Volf)
I began my part of this series recounting some of the many messages the world has given me over the years in an attempt to convince me that the world is going to hell in a handbasket. Today, at 40 plus 20 years of age, I don’t buy what the dooms-dayers are throwing down. Why? Two reasons:
- I don’t think it is true.
- If it is true, I have increased confidence in the God who holds this mess of humanity in his hands.
So flourish is my thing. It is a discipline to flourish and find contentment in a world that yells relentlessly at us to buy more, vote better, and hate those who don’t buy the brands we prefer or vote for the candidates we support. But this is my work; this is mine to do.
The thief enters only to steal, kill, and destroy. I came so that they could have life—indeed, so that they could live life to the fullest. John 10:10 CEB
I was created to flourish. And it is my work to figure out how that looks given who I am and where I live right now – today.
It is only because of my attachment to God that I make progress in this area, and more specifically, I have discovered that this is not a solitary thing, this attaching. It ALWAYS manifests itself in some form of communal living. Jill Phillips sings a song on a cd, that happens to be stuck in my car cd player, that comes on at just the right moment when I am at my absolute lowest and I know that I know that I know that this gal in Nashville understands. And because I care about her and try to keep up with her life and pray for her every day, I don’t have illusions about the source of her understanding. I don’t assume that her life is peachy. I know she has summers that suck. But that actually heightens the validity of the hope for me. She knows what it means to suffer; she knows what it means to live in community; she knows what it means to be religious and not necessarily feel particularly spiritual. So I trust her when she sings a song of faith, a faith that says, “I will bear with you…” because I have watched her “bear with” beautifully. This is flourishing in human form that comes from above and makes its way into the human condition.
I believe. Believe with me. Attach to God, attach to community, experience abundance that is inconvenient and annoying but also rich and authentic. Amen.
In 1948 the Universal Declaration of Human Rights said the following in article eighteen: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance”. 
I have a good friend who recently lamented the fact that we were no longer living in what she termed “the good old days”. She wants to go back. I understand. This new world of technology and global access to information in a nanosecond is overwhelming. I too daydream of the good old days when I visited my grandmother and used her phone to call my friend Beth next door. Beth and I had to be careful with our girlish chatter, because this was back in the day when everyone on Ruby Street was on a party line….meaning anyone on the street could pick up and listen in to whatever we were saying! It’s funny now to think of times we were shhhhsed or told to get off so someone else could make an IMPORTANT call. I long for a return to those summer visits and all they represented in my life like a camel who is ending his journey across an arid desert in search of a much-needed watering hole.
But the good old days were not great for our friends of color, who were not allowed to go to the schools we attended and weren’t welcomed in certain stores and did not have freedom to choose their favorite seat on the bus. Where is their good old day?
I know that when we feel anxious about life, we sometimes run to memories of a time when we felt safe (those lucky enough to have one or two of them). I do that all the time myself. I remember Ruby Street and the porch glider and children’s games and the red pitcher we drank cool water out of like it was a fabulous treat. I remember the Laughing Record. I remember my grandfather looking for me while I hid in plain sight. When he found me it was like he had found the best gift in the world. I remember these lifelong friendships…sad stories, happy, and all that lies in between. So I can go to nostalgia land.
However, I can also live reasonably well in the present world too. I can feel lonely and send Beth a private FB message. When Beth/Scott/David’s dad passed away, rather than getting all nostalgic, Pete and I hopped in the car and attended the funeral. This was such a small thing to do. But we are free to make these decisions in real time. Here is what I am suggesting. We have more freedom than perhaps we are taking advantage of on a daily basis. Every single stinking day we have an opportunity to freely choose acceptance, love and hope – among other lovely ways of being. Today, instead of getting your neck all sore craning around to ruminate over the past, or tripping over your feet because your eyes are glued to the future that isn’t even visible no matter how hard you stare….think about what you can do today to make this world a better place for those you love.
 United Nations, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, December 10th, 1948, available at http://www.un.org/en/documenets/udhr/index.shtml#a18.
In Miraslov Volf’s third section of his book Flourishing, he includes (p. 97-98) a list of disturbing trends that are paraphrased as follows:
- 46% of the world’s population live in countries with high or very high levels of hostility around religion.
- 75% of the world’s approximately 7 billion people live in countries with high levels of government restriction on religious freedom.
- 33% of countries report individuals assaulted or displaced from homes in retaliation for specific religious activities considered offensive or threatening to the majority religion – including many forms of religious expression.
- 30% of countries have religion-affiliated terrorist groups active in fundraising and recruitment.
Sheesh. Now, it’s true that some religions are under attack because they are attacking others. But perhaps the larger point that deserves attention is this idea of tolerance. Tolerance is a vital recovery precept. We have instructions accompanying the 12-steps that many recovering people use and value that specifically teaches things like:
- When we go to a meeting, take away what is useful and let everything else just slip away – without judgment, without getting all whipped up and arguing a position of rightness.
- Clean our side of the street and let others tend to theirs.
- Don’t take other people’s inventory.
The bible says it like this: “Don’t judge, so that you won’t be judged. 2 You’ll receive the same judgment you give. Whatever you deal out will be dealt out to you.3 Why do you see the splinter that’s in your brother’s or sister’s eye, but don’t notice the log in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother or sister, ‘Let me take the splinter out of your eye,’ when there’s a log in your eye? Matthew 7:1-5 CEB
John Locke (Letter Concerning Toleration 1689) composed this body of work in response to King Louis XIV taking away all religious and civic liberties of the Protestants in this highly Catholic country. 400,000 Protestants fled the country and many who didn’t were imprisoned or killed. Locke dared to dream of a country where the people were kept safe not by uniformity of belief, but confidence in their government to protect both their civil interests and their right to choose and practice their religious convictions. In this letter he builds his case theologically, founded on the concept of loving one’s neighbor among other theological convictions. Can I make this more personal? I observe within all of us this compulsion to judge our neighbors rather than love them. I am tempted to judge the churches that have Easter Egg drops. Tempted. Oh so tempted when I think about how much it costs to rent a helicopter. But my recovery friends, the scriptures, and a guy who wrote a paper that was vital in shaping the structure of a nation I love, all agree – it is very important to learn how to accept other people as they are, not as we wish them to be. Will there be times when we have to call attention to wrongdoing? Lord, I hope so or else maybe the wrongdoing will go along unfettered. But I think we can address issues without creating a climate of judgment. I pray so at least, because this is what God has asked us to do. How can you express acceptance AND live out your core values and beliefs?
5 There is constant bickering between people whose minds are ruined and who have been robbed of the truth. They think that godliness is a way to make money! 6 Actually, godliness is a great source of profit when it is combined with being happy with what you already have. 1 Timothy 6:5-6 CEB
A friend received a mailing from a local church advertising their Easter Service. Among other things it said: FREE IPAD and MOVIE STYLE POPCORN to those who attend. I got all distracted with the idea of marketing like this on Easter – traditionally one of the busiest Sundays in Christendom. Why not do this on, say, the third Sunday in August when most people are on vacation? But I digress. My friend was very bothered by the idea that anyone would think this is a good idea. I called another friend in Texas where they do things BIG and asked her position on the subject of Easter marketing campaigns. She told me that in Texas they have churches that rent helicopters and do “Easter Egg Drops”. I’m not sure what this means, and she hasn’t had the heart to show up for one of them so we are both in the dark in terms of details. Although she does know the time and place, as many billboards advertise the event and the church sponsoring said event. I don’t know how to think of such things, as I get all spun around the logistics of the details. What exactly gets dropped? How does this happen without breakage? How low does the copter swoop?
But maybe the better question is one that surrounds expectations. What might one expect from a religious institution? Free IPADS? Fresh popcorn? Tiny bombs of Easter eggs stuffed with solid chocolate eggs and surrounded by a tract of some sort to reduce breakage? I don’t know.
Many religious folks over the years have gotten confused about the connection between the benefits of godliness as opposed to using godliness as a means of obtaining. I think when Nadia speaks of being rooted, based on her stories, she’s not talking about gaining, she’s talking about meaning. A by-product of such benefit is contentment.
Last night someone showed up a few minutes late to our support group, apologizing as she entered. I, being rooted in this community, was so grateful that she made it here at all! When you worship in a recovery church, you don’t generally lose people to the Baptist church down the street because they have a better Vacation Bible School. When our folks drop off the map it sometimes means they have re-entered the dark streets and back alleys where they can seek after what has been missing – their drug of choice. Show up late, show up in a clown suit, show up with a faith experience that has no label – or not. We don’t care! We are just so grateful to see your face. Contentment for us isn’t marked by drawing in hoards of people, it is the by-product of knowing and loving the names, faces, demons, and yes – spirituality – of those who are here. Because we know what it is like to lose people. I mean really lose them as in they die. Today, take some time to count the cost of losing people you love, and find a way to love the ones who are with you. This is a contentment that is priceless. Far more valuable than an IPAD.
Scott and I talk a lot while we eat lunch. Recently, we were nibbling around the edges of burritos and this commonly used phrased, “I am spiritual, not religious.” We aren’t fans. I’m pretty sure that a self-proclamation of spirituality is suspect. The best people to ask about my own credentials for being “spiritual” are my husband, my three children and their two spouses, my extended family and a few close friends who I trust enough to hang out with on days I haven’t showered, preferably at the beach. I don’t get to say one way or another about whether or not I’m spiritual.
Nadia Bolz-Weber turns the phrase around in her book Accidental Saints and claims that she is religious without being particularly spiritual. I like the way this woman thinks. “When I say I’m religious, it has to do less with belief than with what I’m exposed to on a regular basis, what my symbol system is, what my practice is in terms of being a Christian in a community – these are what end up forming belief – like I believe in grace because I’ve experienced grace through the story of Jesus and the receiving of the Eucharist and the messiness of being in a community of other Christians. Take the Good Friday liturgy, for example. The fact that we have access to this story of who God is in the presence of suffering allows us to have a reference point for when suffering happens in our lives. We get this frame or container – these stories, liturgies, and practices – which help us to know how to hold the tragedy, violence, and suffering we experience in the world and in our lives. If we didn’t have that framework, it would just feel so free floating. Religion at its best allows you a kind of rootedness that I find meaningful.” Nadia Bolz-Weber, p. 207, Accidental Saints
At this particular time in history, it is almost cool to pull away from religious affiliations. It’s easy to skip showing up for community when it’s sunny or there’s a good game on. There’s value in flexibility and a community that dares to commit to presence without demanding the quid pro quo of attendance in return. I was never a fan of attendance pins or high attendance contests at church. But Scott and I are grateful that we do not have the option of flexibility, lest we take advantage of it. We are among the luckiest of ducks, needing to show up early before services whether it’s sunny or not, during March madness or long three day weekends. One of us makes coffee, the other puts out bulletins and straightens chairs. When I am on chair duty, I touch the back of the chair and pray, “Lord, have mercy on the person who sits in this chair today; Lord, have mercy on the person who could be sitting in this chair but will not; Lord, have mercy on the person who used to sit in this chair but is no longer with us.”
Many people tell me their stories of feeling uprooted by a negative church experience – and I understand, truly. Today I pray that you go to any lengths to find a place to worship that you can dig into and get rooted among its fellow worshippers. We have to be very careful to not give ourselves too much credit using that line – “I am spiritual, just not religious.” Because the truth is – it is possible that many of us are neither. There may be unintended negative consequences if we are so darn sure that we can be spiritual without a tribe. Or maybe not! What do I know? But as I study God’s word and practice my religion, I experience a special something within the framework of community that I would not find without it. Maybe I’m the only one that needs it? Again, I do not know. What about you?
But you need to remain well established and rooted in faith and not shift away from the hope given in the good news that you heard. Colossians 1:23 CEB
Whoever “they” are, “they say” that the church is dying. Certainly its expression is under major renovation – and that seems about right. The circle of life remains unchanged if under-recognized: living – dying – resurrection. This is the cycle that is uninterrupted by even our anxieties about church as we have known it.
I understand that most attention around religion, like most things, is focused on the hype. When an obscure leader of a teeny tiny band of followers threatens to burn the Qur’an, he gets his fifteen minutes of fame. But this is only possible because 1.6 billion Muslims believe that the physical Qur’an is the inviolable Word of God – according to Miroslav Volf. Volf also reminds us that all over the world people peered into their tvs and hand held devises in 2013 waiting for white smoke to drift up from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel. Why? They were waiting on the election of the Pope. Who cares? The 1.2 billion followers of the Pope, that’s who among others who recognize the influential power that this position carries.
Mostly though, the work of the church goes unnoticed and unreported – again, I think, as it should be. Just this week I have noticed things happening in my community that will never be spoken – kindnesses and accommodations, provisions shared, privacy respected, conflict with love, confrontation with respect. I just walked by and caught Linda cleaning candle wax off a table. Last Saturday I showed up and found Dayra creating a beautiful tableau that harkens to the Easter story. Thirty pieces of silver. The bread and the cup. Dayra doesn’t create the tableau, Linda doesn’t water the plants and clean the drippy wax droppings for 15 minutes of fame. It’s just what happens when decent human beings look around and notice what needs doing. Today, notice what needs doing in your neck of the woods and see how you can contribute.
We ask you – urge is more like it – that you keep on doing what we told you to do to please God, not in a dogged religious plod, but in a living, spirited dance…God wants you to live a pure life. 1 Thessalonians 4:1-3
I found a quote recently that talked about that old biblical concept of man not living by bread alone. It was really good, very inspiring and high-falutin’. But I couldn’t help but think about a certain family I know in my community who doesn’t throw out moldy bread because they don’t have extra money to buy fresh bread. When their cupboards are empty, my friend is quick to remind me that for her the “bread of life” is not a concept, it is an “ask”. She has four hungry children to feed – she needs bread so that her children might live! Which brings me to the story of Mary and Martha…
38 While Jesus and his disciples were traveling, Jesus entered a village where a woman named Martha welcomed him as a guest. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his message. 40 By contrast, Martha was preoccupied with getting everything ready for their meal. So Martha came to him and said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to prepare the table all by myself? Tell her to help me.” 41 The Lord answered, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things. 42 One thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the better part. It won’t be taken away from her.” Luke 10:38-42
This is one of my favorite bible stories. I love it because I think it illustrates the possibility of thinking about the “bread of life” as carbs, calories, and food for the soul. At first glance it might appear that Jesus is valuing Mary’s commitment to listen over Martha’s gift of hospitality and famous homemade biscuits. But that’s only the first glance reading and those often miss the mark. Think about this. Jesus is getting ready to sit down to a delicious 5-star meal prepared by Martha – there is absolutely no way that Jesus is suggesting Martha abandon her hosting duties and join Mary on a prayer rug. What he is saying is that Martha’s anxiety, her judgment of Mary, her self-pity, has earned her a gentle rebuke. I like to imagine Martha after the last dishes are put away and she’s had a good night’s sleep. I dare to dream that she takes Jesus’ words to heart and realizes that her anxiety may be more about self-doubt than hosting angst (although I get that too). Maybe she worries that she isn’t as spiritual as Mary. I hope that she thinks long and hard about what Jesus really said. He pointed to Mary and said she has chosen the better part – that which is hers to do. He asks Martha to stop demanding that Mary act like her; but he does not ask Martha to turn into Mary either.
I don’t know what you are created to think, feel, and do. But I pray that you find, as Mary has and I hope Martha did, an acceptance of your place in the story that transcends your need to pay much attention to the roles and responsibilities of others – who no doubt have a different set of spiritual drives and responsibilities. After all, the only person who can live your life is….you. Flourish!