Monthly Archives: January 2012

God-breathed

God-breathed: A common description of the Bible, taken from 2 Timothy 3:16, which says, “All scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.”

In bare, well-lit exam room, Liam’s breath registers shallow on their instruments. The doctor is young with long fingers that he taps on the empty desk while he thinks aloud.

“I’m trying to decide whether to put him in the hospital overnight and give him some oxygen,” he says to the wall. “But no…he’ll probably be fine.”

He gives me some photocopies on bronchiolitis, which advise me to bring him back immediately if he is “acting very sick.” Super.

At home, we rock in his bedroom, his cheek warm against my chest, his soft chick hair damp with fever, and he falls asleep, mouth open, breaths fast and raspy on my skin.

God-breathed.

So many times, I’ve heard this verse used to precede something unkind: the argument, the confrontation, the “truth in love.” Here is a scripture about morality or right-living, pulled straight from the God-breathed Bible, so you’d better listen, shape up.

It’s that old bumper sticker theology: God said it; I believe it; that settles it, and it’s God-breathed, God-breathed, God breathing down your neck until you want to run as fast as you can away.

His room is getting darker as the tired winter sun sets behind the blinds, and I can hear Dane’s pounding feet on the other side of the door as he chases his dad around the house.

The vaporizer sends white steam spiraling into the air, and it’s not so much about the Bible as about the breathing. The rhythm of it. The mystery of it. In. out. In. out. How, if we are to believe the old story, it is he who first breathed life into our dirt-dry lips.

And so there is something holy about his labored breathing, my own soft breath on his forehead. The breath of God circling through us all, connecting us to one another, connecting us to himself.

Yes the Bible is God-breathed. But so are you. So am I.

I read into this book my own skewed perspectives, my own translation, my own fragmented understanding. I inhale it like breath; I breathe it back out in an imperfect way. And all the time, God-breathed humans walk broken and beautiful around me. Inhale. Exhale.

We are up all through the night, rocking, Liam and I. We are awake in the earliest morning in the steam-filled bathroom, skin-to-skin while the mirror fogs. I am aware of his breath, aware of my own breath, recalling a fragment of a sermon I once heard about the Hebrew name for God – YHWH – how it has no vowels, only the airy sound of an exhale, an inhale – more like a breath than a name.

Inhale. Exhale. Breath in, breath out.

I hold him against me. In the dark morning, and his breath grows steady in his sleep. I am paying attention to it. It is ragged, steady, holy.

Inhale.

Exhale.

Witness (2)

Witness – To take note of; to be present

The birdseed ornaments have fallen now, the weight of the winter cold too much for the small, cookie cutter hearts.

They broke at the top, where I’d punched a hole with a straw when they were drying, and now the empty yarn hangs on the bare branches of our lilac bush.

The day I hung them, Dane waited by the window for twenty minutes, watching. Birds is comin! He kept saying it, long after the sparrows had tried them and found them inedible, brick-like hearts—seed cemented with flour and Karo syrup to hold a shape.

If I had known, I would have just strewn it loose across the snow—wild seed mix, free for the taking.

But I am always trying to make things pretty. And, of course, this is how I have done it with God.

I am cramming all this beauty and mystery into a prescribed shape. I have taken the unknowable questions and the doubts and wonder and love, and I’ve pressed them flat into a set of words, a three-minute testimony to hand out on the street.

But the birdseed ornaments have fallen, unwanted, and I am thinking that maybe it is not my work to give you the pretty thing, the well-made, inedible thing.

It is winter, and the days are short. We are so many winged souls, looking for rest. Who can carry that whole brick of food? Who has the strength to break it apart, to take it down all at once?

I will give you this instead, my friend: the scattered truth of a life marked by grace, the broken pieces that together make something substantial, something good.

Right now it looks like this:

The January dark is pressing in on the windows, and I am tired. The unseasonably warm weather has kept, I think, the Seasonal Affective Disorder at bay, but I am wary, always watching for it, always waiting for it to take me down.

My prayers are short, distracted, dissolving into to-do lists in my head while I hold my coffee and wait for light to appear over the rooftop of our neighbor’s house. I try to pray for my sons, but the only thing I can think to say is Let them love you.

The truth is, I’m not sure what any of this is really supposed to look like.

The morning stretches on, and the sun never does rise in that red-yellow-orange way I want it to. But it gets light just the same. The gray-white winter morning falls in through the windows, and I am present, taking note of it, a witness to the quiet mystery of a God who is here, in this moment, in this living room, in this cold new day.

Witness

Witness (v.): To tell the Gospel message to others in a manner that might convince them to believe.

The headline of the Ask Amy column in Sunday’s Tribune is titled “Offended by religious book from old friend,” and before I even read it, I know it is about an evangelical. We are notorious for this sort of thing—the hard sell, the cold-call, an unwanted book arriving one day in the mail.

The story goes like this: close friends drift apart when faith paths diverge. One marries a “nice Jewish boy,” the other an evangelical. The first becomes devoted to social justice, the other to missions.

After two or three tries at expressing concern over her friends’ life choices, the missionary girl gave up on the talking and sent a book—an introduction to the evangelical faith along with a note advising some quick, book-prompted action.

Is it any wonder that this woman is outraged, writing into an advice column not really so much for advice as to be heard, as to have the world see this and recognize the pain of it, the wrongness of it?

Amy is level-headed about this, resisting the urge (whether she feels it or not) to attack. Instead, she suggests kindness, tolerance. She reminds the writer that her friend is, after all, a missionary, and that this is a core value for her.

But I am filled with sadness for this missionary woman, who would be shocked to hear her gifted book described in the headline as “religious.” She believes she is giving her friend something else. New life. A relationship with the Lord.

Somewhere down the line, she was told that this is witness. This is standing up for Jesus. To pray over a book and stick it in the mail—this is the noble work of God.

In the Christian bookstore, you can buy a God’s Team pen on a rope, a Life is Better with Jesus Rubik’s cube. When playing Rock Band with your friends, you can hand them Stick with Jesus drumsticks. You can give a new acquaintance a business card from a Scripture-emblazoned case before pulling out your Shield of Faith key ring.

You can wear a Christian t-shirt inked with the image of a cross and the words, Forgiveness & Redemption: This Offer Expires When You Do. Or, if it’s more your style, one with a deer peering out from the center that asks, Are you hunting for the Truth?

Can you hear it? The tinny sound of self-righteousness, the undertones of unkindness? It is not saying You are loved, but rather, I am in, and you are out. It is not saying, You are wanted, it is saying, You are wrong.

To the missionary woman, I would say this: I know what you’re trying to do, but this is not bravery. It is not even really honesty. It is a sound-byte, a half-truth, an easy out.

I would say to her that truth requires the whole messy story. Bravery requires that we give more than a message. It asks of us our own fragile hearts: our weakness and doubt and frail, thread-thin faith.

To witness something, after all, is to be present to it. Our own life. That startling rush of grace. An old friend’s quiet pain, a thousand miles away.

Greeters

Greeters: People positioned at the doors of a church to welcome newcomers with a smile and a handshake.

At my church, there is a small battalion of middle aged-men—a motley crew who throw a football back and forth in the parking lot, even as Minnesota fall turns to winter. They wear heavy coats and hats with ear-flaps and holler boisterous g’mornin’s as you pick your way across the snow to shake their outstretched hands.

Once inside, there a few more—the older crowd, holding coffee in one hand while bending down to speak to your small son as if he is the only person in the world. Then straightening to look in your eyes, take your hand, say, “So glad you’ve come.”

And I think there is something brave about this work, something holy about extending your hand to a stranger, even if it’s for just a brief moment.

But on Child Dedication Sunday, they add another layer of greeting in anticipation of all the guests. She is young and beautiful, works at the church in the specific area of helping new people get connected, and she is grinning wide and purposefully. She is gunning for them.

I can see it in their eyes, the people who are stopped by her glad greetings after already enduring two rounds of handshakes at the door. This is overkill. I can tell that they are momentarily stunned by the fluorescent wattage of all this excitement first thing on a Sunday morning. They shift a little, look around the room. I feel a little sorry for them all.

We’ve been going to this church long enough to know a little bit about this girl. She is strong and honest and beautiful. Once she sang for us the song she wrote for her mother when she was on her deathbed, and the way that pain and hope mingled in the notes made everyone cry a little.

When she stands up on stage this morning, explaining that if you’re new, you should meet her after the service for a free gift, she means it all the way through. She wants you to find something here; she wants it to feel like home.

But it doesn’t really sound like that. It sounds like sales, like marketing, like a freebie designed to get you to subscribe to an email newsletter that you’re not really sure if you want.

And it sounds awkward and inorganic because it is. Because this is not the work of a select few with the Greeter sticker slapped on their shirts, but the deep heart of Christian love. You look for the stranger, the wanderer, the weary, and you welcome them in.

It is quiet work, and it takes every single person, every last broken one of us.

It is hearing a name, a detail, a child’s age, and holding it like treasure in your heart. It is asking questions, listening, introducing. It is helping to find the right classroom. It is exclaiming over a child’s artwork in the foyer.

To greet is a kind of bravery. To take up the long consistent work that is welcome—that is a kind of love. And that belongs to us all.

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