Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Julian's foot gives despair the boot...

Some weeks are harder than others and this past week, on the difficulty scale, was in the upper mid-range for me. The clash of theology and relationships; words misspoken, and misunderstood; friends, young and hospitalized; and enormous decisions in my work at a time when I feel tiny, not enormous. These all came together in one beautiful, overheated mess.

By the end of the week, I'm asking all kinds of theological questions, wondering if I've gotten right, or totally mucked it up, wondering if I'm on God's side or the side of fear, wondering why God couldn't have spelled a lot of His ideas out more clearly, rather than leaving us here to shoot at each other when we don't agree.

It was against this backdrop that I found myself at a party on Thursday night. Maybe you've been in that space where you know that you're supposed to be pleasant, know that it's a pleasant occassion and that you don't need to unload all your weariness and inner turmoil on these wonderful people, some of whom have flown cross country today to be here with old friends. You know that the last thing anyone needs is your baggage, your burden, your questions. It's a party, for God's sake. Lighten up. But I need answers, or at least an encouraging word, because if the truth could be told, I've mountains of doubt about what I believe and don't believe right now, and I'm supposed to be the answer man.

That's when I see my daughter, who's agreed to help serve at this party I'm attending. She smiles, gives me a hug, and walks away. That's when I notice something on her foot. What is that, a grease mark? She walked by again with a bowl of gaucamole or something, and I was able to see that it wasn't grease on her foot, but a brand new tatoo. She stopped and spoke with a friend, and I was able to read the text: "and all shall be well", which I immediately recognized as a quote from Julian of Norwich.

If I were to have a crush on a 14th century theologian, it would no doubt be Dame Julian, who offered expressions of hope and grace at a time when the Black Plague was fanning the flames of a theology of fear and judgement. She hoped for universal salvation, but though she didn't feel she could fully endorse that, she was able to claim with confidence that God would, in the end, make all things well. Here's the larger context of the now famous quote that "all's well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well":

Ah, good Lord, how could all things be well, because of the great

harm which has come through sin to your creatures?

This was God's response to her:

And so our good Lord answered

all the questions and doubts which I could raise,

saying most comfortingly:

I make all things well,

and I can make all things well,

and I shall make all things well,

and I will make all things well;

and you will see for yourself

that every kind of thing will be well.

...And in these words God wishes us

to be enclosed in rest and peace.

It's a good word, reminiscent of the mysterious optimisn of Paul found here. And it was the foot, with Julian's words on it, that kicked me back into hope. Yes, our present fog and ignorance is creating oceans of pain. Yes, we fail. Yes, we're motivated by fear, hurt, anger, way too much of time. Yes, injustices persist, and every step forward seems at time to be a step closer to a cliff. And yet, Julian and Paul are right. God is inexorably for us, and all of us are heading towards a time when the fog will clear, and Christ will reign, and beauty will transform, and disease will end, and... of course... all manner of things shall be well.

Oh Lord Christ...

For the reminder, a foot at a time, that the ship's headed somewhere beautiful, we give you thanks. In spite of our collective failings, our fears, our judgements, and capacity for breaking things, You remain at the helm. Let us see the end more clearly, that we might impart hope more fully, live more graciously, and be your hands and feet for hope.


At 2/8/09 10:29, Blogger Spiro said...

Richard, thank you.

"Let us see the end more clearly, that we might impart hope more fully"

At 2/8/09 16:07, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing that well needed encouragement, both here and in your sermon. It was exactly what I needed to hear and rounded out the myriad of ways God has been trying to speak to me that He is good in the midst of this "chaotic train" I'm on.:) (to use your analogy). I'm asking Him more and more to show me His glory and goodness in the midst of my circumstances, and I found your story very encouraging.

Thank you also for delivering what God gives you each week from the pulpit. God has used it to encourage, and revolutionize my life weekly and I'm sure I'm not alone.

At 2/8/09 22:12, Anonymous Heather said...

P.S. The last comment was from me, but I'm not sure how to go back and put my name.:)

At 2/8/09 23:30, Anonymous Edzell57 said...

Pastor Richard,

I am reading this entry in your blog with tears running down my face. I would normally be the last person to assign spiritual causes to the events and circumstances of life, but I am convinced that there was some sort of great heavenly battle going on in the midst of this hottest week of the year.

The heart of my dear friend was smashed into a million pieces on Tuesday when her husband of less than 2 years (a good man, a servant and leader and true follower of Jesus) confessed to a 10 year battle with pornography, for one thing.

And I, raised in the church and walking with Jesus for most of my 27 years, came just a hair's breadth away from letting go of the faith I have fought my whole life to hold on to. A couple of months ago I met an amazing man who is everything I have ever imagined in a husband and who I feel so completely myself with...but who doesn't know the Lord. Having already loosened my grip on my faith after a bad church experience a couple of years ago; and being so fed up and frustrated with all the conflicting theology out there and with the ambiguity of the Bible and God's plans for us and the seemingly impossible task of sorting out real Truth from all of the muddle; and having become so disillusioned with the power of the Holy Spirit after my own continued failure in certain areas of my life; and being 27 and single and longing so desperately to have someone to love and be loved by and share my life with, I had rationalized my way into complete fog.

Friday I was on the verge of telling my friends, family, and community group that I was done with Christianity and was going to be with this man who I loved because he was real and beautiful and good and present, and God was abstract and far away and the only difference He had made in my life was to complicate it. I was this close.

I still don't know how it happened exactly, but somehow on Saturday (which I spent reading everything from Mere Christianity to Finding Darwin's God to Living Buddha Living Christ to The Bible, just trying to figure out which way was up and make sense of it all) God changed my heart. I don't know how He did it. I can only guess that there were a lot of people praying for me, and that there was a battle. At the end of the day I went rollerblading around Greenlake and listened to the Jars of Clay album "Who We Are Instead" (which I swear was written for me for this time and place) and knew again, somehow, that despite all of the heartache in the world, all of the words in the Bible that don't make sense to me, all of the injustices and atrocities committed in the name of Jesus, and the seeming absence/silence of God in my own life and in the world - despite all of that, I just KNEW with a deep knowing that He is there, that He loves me/us, that He wants me to know and love Him and find in him the joy that I long for, and that no thing in this world - even this wonderful, beautiful new friend and love - would ever be worth the treasure of knowing Him, the Source of all beauty and goodness and real, true Love.

Anyway, I'm sorry this is a novel and not a comment. I just wanted to let you know where I was coming from in order to express to you how much it meant to read your blog just now and be privy to your own struggle and decision to hold onto hope and onto Jesus in the midst of everything.

You wrote something a few weeks back that really ministered to me. You said, "There's never enough evidence to quench our need for faith. There's never enough faith to silence all the questions of the evidence side...No, the evidence side of the best filled not with science theory about the rocks of Jericho, but with first-hand experience."

At 2/8/09 23:31, Anonymous Edzell57 said...

And that is where I am. At the end of the day, though so little about God or Jesus makes sense in my head, my experience tells me that without Him, none of life makes any sense at all, and I MUST believe. Just like like Peter, I am left with nowhere else to go; only Jesus has the words of life.

To your quote I will respond with one more quote from Robert McAfee Brown, and then I promise I will be done. He says:
"We do not see everything...but we do see Jesus...we may see darkly, but we do see. We see enough to walk with confidence. We see enough to commit our lives to God. We see enough to trust God. We see enough to believe that God can meet our deepest need. We see enough light shed on the mystery of Christ to know that he is the clue to the meaning of life."

Pastor Richard, I just want to say thank you. For all the words you have spoken and written with simultaneous humility and conviction that have ministered to me since I began attending Bethany a year and a half ago, and for all of the ways (both witnessed and unwitnessed) that you have gone out on a limb trusting Jesus with your reputation, your resources, your life and career and probably everything else. Thank you for helping me to hope and trust in this pivotal time that all SHALL be well.

May He - the God of hope - "fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."

At 3/8/09 09:35, Blogger Becca said...

If my father saw a tattoo on my foot, not a transforming message of hope, but a divisive message of belittlement is what would ensue. Thank you for spreading hope even in your own despair.

At 5/8/09 11:59, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At least it wasn't a lower back tattoo.


At 7/8/09 20:00, Blogger the muse said...

Hi Richard,
I have not been able to keep up with your blog in past weeks, due to the wedding at hand. I had no idea of the issues you and others were wrestling with as we entered into Nate and Katie's marriage celebration. Knowing this now makes their ceremony all the sweeter, and your words of teaching as you officiated all the more potent.What a testimony to the covenant of marriage-the field that God designed for us to play in. Thank you for the practical, timely and beautiful teaching you gave Nate and Katie, and all of us, the witnesses.
I think it is soo funny that you noticed your lovely daughter's tatoo at that moment! Does God have a sense of humor or what?
Please know that you blessed many people that day and the next, more than you may know.
I am so thankful that you were a part of the wedding celebration.!
Patti W


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