The Lord’s Prayer

Finding God in the Middle

We all have become well acquainted with loss, grief, and difficult news over last year a half: the spread of the virus, the world shutting down in 2020, a still uncertain future midway through 2021, expressions of systemic racism and systemic inequalities, economic instability and financial hardships, the Delta Variant, positive test results, and other severe health issues. It’s really been a heck of a last 18 months for all of us.

But we’ve also seen miracles: multiple vaccines created in record time, the self-sacrifice of our healthcare workers, teachers, and other essential workers, slow but real progress in the ongoing fight for civil rights for marginalized communities, and the US government taking huge steps to meet the needs of millions of Americans.

Although we have gone through so much over the last 18 months – as individuals and families, as communities, as a nation, and worldwide – we presently find ourselves in a kind of middle: heartbreak and pain and uncertainty commingled with hope and perseverance; a seeming pathway out of this pandemic but still many more steps until we reach any kind of finish line; a faith-filled “now” but a very real “not yet.”

It’s this kind of “middle” that my faith tradition knows really well. The Christian Scriptures tell of a Wilderness in between Israel’s slavery in Egypt and their arrival in the Promised Land; of 3 days of despair for Jesus’ followers after His death before the first news and then proof of His resurrection; of the groaning of Creation currently while we live in the midst of all things being made new in Christ (Romans 8:20-23).

We’re in the middle, the midst, the in between, the here but not yet.

But I believe it is here, in this present “middle,” that God is at His most intimately present. The Lord’s Prayer speaks precisely to the reality of a kind of “middle”: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven’” (Matthew 6:9-10 NIV). God is in Heaven and is ever present with us, holy and perfect, and He has a Plan from eternity past where His kingdom comes to earth: first through the Jews, then through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, and finally through the rest of human history where imperfect beings become perfected by being caught up in His perfect Will and extravagant Love. It’s with an infinity of brush strokes that all of Creation is being repainted, reborn, and renewed – made whole and complete, as it is in Heaven.

The reality is that the Artist is painting the Canvas every moment of every day, but the Masterpiece is not done yet. We’re in the middle. The midst. The in between. The here but not yet.

That’s why Jesus continues the Lord’s Prayer the way He does: “‘Give us today our daily bread’” (Matthew 6:11). We’re in the in between, the here but not yet, so we need His Provision daily to stay hopeful and faithful and determined and loving and kind and good. We need His Spirit to keep the candles burning through this long, dark night – this middle, this midst. And we need grace for ourselves and each other (v. 12) because the Wilderness is hard. Jesus crucified and in the tomb is hard. The groaning of our Spirits and of Creation is hard.

Right before Jesus is arrested and ultimately crucified, He tells his followers this: “‘I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world’” (John 16:33). We Christians know the middle, the here but not yet, the in between. But we have, in Jesus, the Overcomer, the Peace-giver, the Author and Perfecter of faith, the Resurrection and the Life, the One who brings Heaven to earth. Here in the in between, we can take heart. And we can pray the way Jesus taught humanity to pray – so that we don’t forget the Hope we have here in the “middle.”

The Artist is painting. It’s been an eternity past of brush strokes so far, and He has an eternity future to get His Masterpiece perfected. But the Lord’s Prayer reminds us that He is at work, today, here in the middle – in every single moment. We can take heart because He is making earth as it is in Heaven. He’s here with us in the middle, so very intimately with us. And that is good news in this present season; a bright light amidst our current night.

Books: May and June 2021

It’s been great last two months of reading.

The list is below, and reviews are in my Instagram Stories. Hope you find some good ones to add to your list!

Boundaries for Kids by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend

Anxious People by Frederik Backman

The Making of Biblical Womanhood by Beth Allison Barr

The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green

The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday

Be the Bridge by Latasha Morrison

New Kid by Jerry Craft

Stillness is the Key by Ryan Holiday (2x)

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

Father’s Day 2021: A Letter to Hanes, Cohen, and BB #3

Dear Hanes, Cohen, and BB #3,

I wrote you a year ago on this day, and thought I would keep the tradition going: to write to you boys, about how much I love you, about all you’ve accomplished in the last year, and how thankful I am to be your Dad. Like last year’s letter, I also want to discuss some current events that you might not understand for many more years, but are important nonetheless. So bear with me on that. I’ve also added the soon-to-be-born BB #3 to this letter. He hasn’t been born yet, as of this writing, but he’s due any minute now. 🤗

Firstly, Hanes and Co: even though you’re both a bit under the weather today, I want you to know I am so proud of you both. This last year has been quite a year, as we dealt with all the germs. But you two did an amazing job: Hanes, you in kindergarten, staying safe and making the best of the various learning models and making new friends; and Cohen, you with Mommy as you two navigated safety protocols while still doing so many fun activities at home and seeing friends at the park. Hanes, you had a fantastic season with TBall, getting better and better with each game, and making a bunch of new friends. And you’re back to swimming and playing golf now that the weather has gotten warmer, which is always super fun. Co, you don’t hold back for a second in your desire to keep up with your older brother. You are still our “Bruiser” who fearlessly rides scooters and a big boy bike. But you also already have a good baseball swing off the tee, and you love going to the driving range. I love your fearlessness about life, Co. Super fun.

I also cherish the things about your personalities that have developed over the last year. Hanes, you really are our first-born, taking new adventures in stride while starting to show Cohen the ropes on all the things you both are capable of doing. You’re also wickedly smart with an amazing memory, and it’s been so great to see you succeed academically this year. You’ve made some wonderful friends at school with your kindness and love of sports. You make me smile with all the fun you have. Just know, with school, that you don’t have to be perfect, and that, as Grandma and Grandpa always said to me, “Just do your best and have fun.”

Co, you’re a character, in all the best ways. You are so smart too, and you don’t miss anything that Hanes does that you can do too. You also make me laugh with your playfulness and jokes, and you terrify me with your fearlessness when it comes to riding bikes and scooters. The thing I admire most about you right now is that whenever you fall, you get right back up – despite the scrapes on your knees and/or elbows – and you keep on going. You have that Carey determination. It’s such a good lesson for me as your dad: to know that it’s ok to fall, and that strength is found in getting back up and keeping going. I also love how much you’re enjoying the pool these days. Nothing better than a pool on a hot day, and I love that you love that too.

BB #3: I have no idea what you’re going to be like, as you’ve been growing in Mommy’s belly for the last 9 months and you could be born any minute now. Just know that you are already so loved by not only Mommy and I and Hanes and Co, but also by our whole extended family and our network of friends. You are coming into a strong, healthy, supportive, and loving family, and I can’t wait to meet you on your birthday!

I also want to tell you a few things that are happening currently that you might not fully understand right now, but are important for you to know. First, we are winning the fight against the germs through amazing vaccines, and I can’t wait for the day when we can vaccinate you three as well. It’s been a hard year with the germs, but brighter days are ahead. Also, we are so thankful, as a family, for the brilliant scientists who created the vaccines, and the front line workers (especially our teachers and medical professionals) who have braved the germs to help us be healthy and productive this year.

Secondly, we have a new president now, and while I don’t agree with him on everything, I’m thankful for him – as he is a really good mix of progressive policies and a measured personality. We’re at a really interesting time in our government as we come out of this season with the germs, and I think we’ve really learned that our government and our economy needs to work for ALL Americans – not just for those at the top. We’ll see what happens in the months ahead as we try to forge a more just America after this pandemic.

Lastly, this month we celebrate two big celebrations in our country: Pride and Juneteenth. With Pride, we celebrate the LGBTQ+ community and their history of standing up for their right to be who they are and love who they love. It’s a great celebration for all of us because it reminds us that God knit each of us in our mother’s womb, and that who we are and who we love is gift from God that must be cherished – especially in the face of any discrimination. We also celebrate Juneteenth to honor the setting free of those that had been enslaved here in our country. This is a big day for our Black friends, and we want to do everything we can to be an ally to our Black friends. And Juneteenth was just made a federal holiday, so yay! Both Pride and Juneteenth are celebrations of the freedom that is due every person, and they remind us that we ALL have been created in the image of God and are loved unendingly by Him.

That’s all I have for this Father’s Day. Like I said, I’m so proud of you boys. I love you so much. And BB #3: I can’t wait to meet you!

It’s the greatest gift in the world to be your Dad. Thanks for being such great boys.

Love you boys with everything I’ve got,

Dad

COVID-19: How We Lost the Game but Can Win the Series

It was October 24, 2020, and the Los Angeles Dodgers were facing the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 4 of the World Series. I was huddled in front of my iPad on a hotel bed, watching the game on YouTube TV. It had a been a back and forth game, with lots of scoring – enough see-sawing to drive even higher the already high anxiety levels of this Dodger fan. But the Dodgers had made it to the bottom of the 9th Inning with the lead, having scored the go-ahead run in the top of the 8th.

Ok, so: Bottom of the 9th. A one run lead. Two out.

Two strikes on a seldom-used Rays outfielder named Brett Phillips.

The Dodger closer Kenley Jansen was ready to shut the door on a Tampa Bay rally, ready to give the Dodgers a commanding 3-1 series lead.

Then, everything went to hell.

Phillips lined a single to center, bringing in the tying run for the Rays. Then, Dodger center fielder Chris Taylor literally kicked the ball, and Rays star Randy Arozarena – who started on first! – just ran and ran. Taylor retrieved the ball and threw it to Dodger first baseman Max Muncy. Muncy relayed it to Dodger catcher Will Smith. Arozarena FELL DOWN rounding third base and should have been out at home plate by 30 feet. But the ball from Muncy to Smith ricocheted away, and Arozarena got up, sprinted some more, and slid safely, head-first, into home plate, giving the Rays a series-tying win.

To say my heart sank in my chest is an understatement. Such a historically ridiculous defeat was, quite literally, shocking: I sat silently, in shock, on the bed, with my wife, not saying a word, not moving, for what must have been 10 minutes. Or longer. I don’t even know. I just sat there, looking past the screen showing the Rays’ celebration. Brutal. Heart-wrenching. Totally in shock.

Unfortunately, that heart-wrenching, shocking, historically wild sense of defeat that I felt in October 2020 was not an aberration in 2020. That sense of loss, where you know you are living through something historically intense but are seemingly unable to do anything about it, was the same feeling I’d felt consistently during much of the COVID-19 pandemic – as we all watched the world shut down, the stock market plunge, the layoffs hit, and the case numbers skyrocket. Add to it America’s systemic inequalities coming again to our collective front and center, and our internal “fight or flight” systems were, and have been, on overload for some time.

For me, the feeling has been one where I feel like my heart is sinking. Or that a gaping black hole has opened up inside me.

It’s interesting, right, that we use the phrase “my heart is sinking” in moments like these – when we know, of course, that our hearts aren’t physically moving downwards in our chest. We know black holes don’t just appear inside the human body, yet we intimately know that there are times of great loss or trauma or grief where a gaping hole opens up inside of us and there’s nothing we can do but sit on a bed, be silent, look at nothing in particular, and just FEEL.

What’s also interesting to me is that that sinking feeling, that feeling of a gaping hole inside me, hasn’t altogether gone away now that we’ve reached the end of May 2021 – despite the effectiveness of the vaccines, the decline of case numbers, the resurgence in our economy, and some forms of justice in our legal system. A better way to put it is that that sinking feeling, that gaping hole, returns regularly, sometimes for no reason, as an unwelcome reminder that the world can change drastically in very small amounts of time.

It’s as if my body – my mind and my insides – is telling me that life as we know it, as wonderful and precious as it is, is also so, so precarious.

The 2020 Dodgers went on to win the next two games against the Rays – ending a 30+ years World Series drought and setting themselves up for World Series contention for years to come. My first sports memory was Kirk Gibson’s walk off homer against Dennis Eckersley in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, and, after winning that series, it took 30+ years for the Dodgers to get back on top, but not without a lot of effort and heartbreak and learning along the way.

Maybe that will be the case with us, too, as we start to emerge from this pandemic season. It might take years and a lot of effort and heartbreak and learning for us to regain the “normalcy” – whatever that means – that we had pre-COVID. The COVID-19 pandemic has been a historically intense season for all of us, and add to it the social justice component, and we really have our work cut out for us both as a society and as individuals with sensitive mental health realities.

But my hope is that, even though we lost so much in 2020, 2021 and beyond can be a kind of beautiful comeback for us all. A comeback where our society is more safe and equitable and just and holy and good. A comeback where, despite the fight or flight reminders that will inevitably come, we will be able to, sooner rather than later, hold our heads high and say we’ve come out on top.

We may have lost the game with COVID-19 and 2020, but hopefully we can win the series in the months and years to come. Who knows? It might only take two more games before we’re able to raise that trophy again.

Scandal: The Case for a Liberal Faith

I’ve been mulling over this post for a while now: an attempt to articulate a Christian faith that is liberal, a faith that centers on the generous freedom that comes from the Christian story. When I say a “liberal faith,” I do not mean “of a liberal or progressive political party,” because I am a political independent. I also do not mean “of the progressive faith movement,” although I identify with a lot of what is in that space. I mean liberal in its etymological sense: liberal comes from the Latin word liber meaning “free,” hence the freedom mentioned above. Think of our word “liberty” as a reference. More than that, liberal can mean “given, used, or occurring in generous amounts,” as well as “not strictly literal or exact.” With this etymological background and these two definitions on the table, I want to make the case that Christianity can be a liberal faith.

Jesus says in John 8:36, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” That is to say, humanity has found its freedom in Jesus. That freedom is rooted in a Heavenly Father who heaps generous grace on us (see the story of the Prodigal Son, Luke 15). Yet, this gracious God-who-became-man cannot be hemmed in by any exacting, man-made theological construct. It’s impossible for humans to fully comprehend the eternal, omniscient, omnipotent, self-sacrificing God who created them, just as it is impossible for a slab of marble to fully comprehend the sculptor who works on it. Instead of an exacting theology, the Christian faith can be a liberal faith because it is based on a love that is free and freedom-giving, a grace that is inclusive and generous, and a God that is bigger than the reach of any theological framework. This post is the case for that kind of liberal faith.

The story and power of Jesus is cosmic, intimate, substitutionary, and creative, and it comes together as a gift of freedom and inclusivity through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. If “through [Jesus] all things were made” (John 1:3), then the whole universe is from Him. If God knits each human together in the womb (Psalms 139:13), then every human, the billions who have walked the earth over the millennia, are intimately His creation. If “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24), then that really means all people. All have sinned. All are justified. Through Jesus. And finally, if God is making all things new (Revelations 21:5), then the entirety of the universe, from the farthest reaches of space to the joys and frustrations of our households, is included. This gift is the all-encompassing, liberal, free and freedom-giving, perfect and perfecting, cosmic, intimate, substitutionary, creative, scandalous love of God.

This kind of liberalism can also be applied to our reading and understanding of the Bible. The Bible should be read with an openness to the glory and freedom found in its pages, including recognizing its supernatural ability to change hearts and minds and lead us into deeper relationship with God. But the Bible also needs to be read with a generosity toward its contradictions and significant issues (slavery, violence, and patriarchy, to name a few). My main point, and probably the most contentious point I make in this whole post, is that the Bible does not need to be the inerrant Word of God for it to still play a huge role in the Christian life. We can still believe that God breathed His Spirit into the words of the imperfect Biblical writers (all ~40 of them) as well as acknowledge that the Biblical writings can have a supernatural impact on those who read them – without being “strictly literal” in our interpretation of the Bible. As discussed earlier, no theological framework can contain God – including not a literalist framework. Furthermore, if God was moving and working in Biblical times, and He breathed His life and love into the words of the myriad writers of the Bible, is He not also able to move and work and inspire throughout history – and even today? The same Spirit that was moving then is moving now, right?

Let me try to explain more on this from a personal perspective: I hear God intensely in the books of the Old and New Testaments, and I’m so thankful for how the Bible has shaped my heart, mind, and life. But I also hear God in the words of Aristotle and Plato and St. Francis of Assisi and Teresa of Ávila, as well as John Milton, William Shakespeare, the Romantic poets, and T.S. Eliot. I explore Him in the worlds of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien and Madeleine L’Engle. I read Him in the pages of James Baldwin and Maya Angelou and Ta-Nehisi Coates and Colson Whitehead. I find Him in the messages of Henri Nouwen and Peter J. Gomes and Rachel Held Evans and Sarah Bessey and Steven Furtick and Eugene Cho and Jay and Katherine Wolf. I find Him in the antiracism of Ibram X. Kendi and the poetry of Amanda Gorman. God shows up in the music of Passion and Hillsong and Elevation Worship and Maverick City, but also in Jon Batiste’s work from Soul, Justin Beiber’s recent Freedom EP, and Chance the Rapper’s lyrics. I find God every Sunday in the worship and message from our local, non-denominational church that we watch on YouTube due to COVID. And more, I find God in the smiles of my kids, in the love and patience of my wife, and in the gift of our extended family and friends! I mean, come on! The Spirit of God is still anointing words and moving hearts and changing minds and rewriting eternities today and everyday, right? God is still revealing Himself in every moment of every day in every corner of the universe, right? This is what a liberal view of the Bible can look like, and how that liberty, that freedom, can provide sustenance for a liberal faith.

So what then? What action steps come with a liberal faith? I would say that I have a responsibility – as a 30-something, middle-class, college-educated, white, cisgender, heterosexual, politically independent, Christian male – to center every generation, every economic class, every education level, every race, every gender, every sexuality, every political persuasion, and every religion in my day to day discourse and living. And then, amidst that liberal equity, I have a responsibility to tell my circle about the perfect and perfecting love of God made available to us through Jesus. The task, however difficult, is to “preach the Gospel at all times, [and], when necessary, use words” (St. Francis of Assisi). If God is in the eternal process of making all things new, that means He is making every generation, every economy, every educational institution, every systemic racial reality, every gender identity, every sexuality, every government and political party and voter, and every religion BRAND NEW. Everything is being made new. There’s that saying that you invite Jesus into your life to change a few things here and there. But then He comes into your life and renovates the entire house – replacing every wall, every door, every window, even the foundation. New. New. New. Everything, brand new.

It’s in this renovation by grace – through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus – that the gates to Heaven are swung wide. Brennan Manning writes, “Will we ever understand the gospel of grace, the furious love of God, the world of grace in which we live? Jesus Christ is the scandal of God” (The Ragamuffin Gospel). The songwriter Cory Asbury writes: “Oh, the overwhelming, never ending, reckless love of God.” The liberal, free and freedom-giving, generous, untamable, cosmic, intimate, substitutionary, creative, reckless, perfect, and perfecting love of our Heavenly Father, given freely through Jesus Christ, is a scandal. God overwhelms every nook and cranny of the universe, running to us to embrace us despite our prodigal independence. This love is available to you and to me and to our loved ones and to our enemies right at this moment. And for eternity.

To quote Judah Smith in a recent massage of his: through Jesus, we are “fully loved by God, fully forgiven by God, and fully free to love and serve one another.” To quote Richard Rohr: “Jesus was meant to be the guarantee that divinity can indeed reside within humanity” (The Universal Christ). A scandal. A liberal faith. But also such good news.

Books: March and April 2021

It’s been great last two months of reading. I honestly loved every book I read in March and April. Super memorable reads.

Reviews are in my Stories. Hope you find some good ones to add to your list!

The Ickabog by J.K. Rowling
Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank B. Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey
A World Without Email by Cal Newport
The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen
Thou Shalt Not Be A Jerk by Eugene Cho

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
The Common Rule by Justin Whitmel Earley
How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

Fully Vaccinated

BRIGHTER DAYS

Heading to my vaccine site for my 2nd shot, I felt:

Anxiety.

Adrenaline.

Inability to focus.

Nervousness.

A battle between fear and logic.

Driving home from the vaccine site, I felt:

Joy.

Thankfulness.

A big sigh of relief.

Grief and tears and deep sadness for all we’ve been through and lost.

Huge appreciation for our scientists, our healthcare workers, and the essential workers that risked their lives so we could make it through this.

A hope for brighter days ahead.

I’m having a hard time putting into words the mix of joy and deep sadness I feel today after getting my 2nd shot. Joy at the miraculous science of these vaccines, joy at the miracle of protection these vaccines give us, and joy in the knowledge that brighter days are coming. But all of that joy is churning right alongside a deep sadness as I think about all we’ve been through and lost in this last year.

Joy + Deep Sadness. Hope + Tears. The brilliance of our scientific community + the emotional, financial, and physical toll wrought by COVID-19.

The juxtaposition of joy + deep sadness, the two coming together into a hard-to-describe new life post vaccination. A kind of renaissance or rebirth for all of us. A collective rising from the ashes of this devastating and destructive pandemic.

The obstacle has been the way. We have learned that we can do hard things – the hardest things. This COVID season will be forever tattooed on our psyches and written about in our history books. We will talk of this season with our kids as they grow up. We will tell of this season to our grandkids once they come along.

I’m reminded of one of the meditations I’ve prayed almost every day of this pandemic – the words of a Hebrew prophet named Jeremiah that he spoke over the nation of Israel during their Babylonian captivity:

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV)

I think about the lyrics of a song that Elevation Worship just released:

“If He dresses the lilies with beauty and splendor / How much more will He clothe you? / How much more will He clothe you? / If He watches over every sparrow / How much more does He love you? / How much more does He love you?”

Plans. Prosperity. Security. Hope. A future.

All in the face of captivity.

Beauty. Splendor. Provision. Sovereignty. Love. The perfect and perfecting Love of our Heavenly Father.

All amidst a pandemic.

This is where my heart and head are today, on this Vaccination Day. It is Joy + Deep Sadness. It is Hope + Tears. But there are plans and prosperity and security and hope and a future and beauty and splendor and provision and sovereignty and love – all right here for us. “How much more does He love you?”

As one of my favorite East Bay coffee shops often says: “BRIGHTER DAYS.”

Easter 2021

The Rising

I was researching Easter and, surprisingly, found that there is no biblical word that marks the annual celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus. Weird, right? Especially since Easter is such a pivotal day in the Christian calendar. Christians historically celebrated Jesus’ resurrection weekly (on Sundays), but the annual celebration of Easter is actually associated with the March Equinox, and gets its name from the Pagan Anglo-Saxon goddess Eostre who heralds dawn, spring, and fertility. Strange but true LOL. 🤷‍♂️

But I did some digging, and found that a lot of languages use for Easter some derivative of the Greek and Latin word “Pascha,” which references the Passover feast of Exodus 12. Some languages (including Chinese and Korean) use a word for Easter that translates as “Resurrection” or “Resurrection Festival,” which makes a lot of sense.

The most interesting word for Easter I came across is the Georgian word “Húsvét,” meaning “Rising.”

And I love that translation of Easter: The Rising.

Jesus Rising from the grave to conquer sin and death, thereby setting humanity free from its imperfections. The Son of God Rising from the dead to usher humanity once and for all into a right relationship with God, our Creator. The metaphorical sun Rising to bring a brand new day to a humanity once clothed in the darkness of its errant independence.

On Easter, we celebrate a Rising that was planned in eternity past by a God who is present with us in this very moment – a God who is drawing us to Himself for an eternity future of Love and Belonging. A Rising where the Father welcomes home His prodigal kids, overwhelming any and all wrong choices we might have made:

“‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ (The story of the Prodigal Son, Luke 15:22-24 NIV)

This is our celebration, our Rising. This is our Joy, our Resurrection Festival. This is our Easter, our coming of Dawn, of Spring, of New Life.

The Cross cannot keep our God down. The chains of sin and death cannot hold humanity any longer. The gates of Hell cannot contain the perfect and perfecting Love of a God who made Himself a man, who submitted Himself to one of humanity’s cruelest punishments, who took on humanity’s sin and shame and brokenness and burden, and then, through His Rising, declared for the rest of time that there need. not. be. distance. between. humanity. and. its. Creator. any. longer.

We are embraced, we are made right, we are perfected, we are saved from anything that would keep us from our loving Father – a Father who sees us, who is filled with compassion, who runs for us, who throws His arms around us, and who kisses us profusely (Luke 15:20).

Can you just picture the God of the Universe celebrating today by slapping big wet kisses on us, His kids?!? How wonderful! How hilarious! How awkward! How undignified! How improper! Unashamed PDA for all of humanity from the Creator of Heaven and Earth! Funny… and also the truth about how He feels about us!!

The songwriter John Mark McMillan writes about it this way: “So heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss / and my heart turns violently inside of my chest / I don’t have time to maintain these regrets when I think about the way / that He loves us.”

Brennan Manning writes: “[Christianity] is not essentially a philosophy of love but a love affair; it is not keeping rules with clenched fists but receiving a gift with open hands” (The Ragamuffin Gospel).

All because of the Rising. All because of the Resurrection. All because of the Dawn, the Spring, the New Life. All because of God’s perfect and perfecting Love for us, His kids. A Love affair.

Today we celebrate Easter. We celebrate the Rising, the Resurrection, the New Life, the fresh Embrace, the sloppy wet Kiss, the Love affair.

He is risen. He is risen, indeed.

Good Friday 2021

Why Today is Good

How can torture, humiliation, and death be Good? How can the worst punishment of a violent empire be anything other than savagery?

Christians throughout the centuries have marked Good Friday as a chance to somberly reflect on Jesus’ death at the hands of the Roman authorities and the religious establishment. I’ve always been moved by the complex coming together of sadness and remembrance that Good Friday represents: the Teacher, Leader, Savior, Son of God had given His followers hope that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand – only to dash those hopes by submitting Himself to a death on a Roman cross. Palm Sunday was the celebration of a new King. 5 days later, that King had nails through his hands and feet, a hole in His side, a grieving Virgin Mother, and a scattered, scared, and dismayed following.

So why do we call today Good? How can a day full of so much pain also be Good?

Some of the other names for Good Friday throughout Christendom have been:

“Holy Friday” (Old English)

“Sacred Friday” (Romance languages)

“Passion Friday” (Russian)

“The Holy and Great Friday” (Greek Church)

“Long Friday” (Anglo-Saxons)

And, I think, the most apropos: “Sorrowful Friday” (German)

We can connect with these various names because they teach us that there’s a lot going on amidst this day when we remember Christ’s death. This day is a good day, a holy day, a sacred day, a day of suffering, a great day, a long day, and a sorrowful day. My faith tradition is not afraid to let today be a complex day of mourning, to challenge us to connect with not only the suffering of our Savior, but also to connect with the suffering of one another and all of humanity – throughout history and at present. And more, as we live in the wake of destruction wrought by COVID-19, I connect deeply with my tradition’s acceptance that mourning, in all its nuance, has a place amidst a life of faith.

As I meditate on the pain present in Good Friday, I recognize that Jesus’ brutal death can be Good because it is in the deepest pain, the darkest moments, the greatest losses, the ultimate humiliations, and the most debilitating grief that God is most present and intimate and at work and in charge. Amidst pain, He is carrying out the plan He has had all along: to be with us, to bring us into relationship with Himself, and to make all things new and perfect. He uses any and every aspect of the human experience to draw us to Himself so that we, as free but imperfect beings, might accept the gift of His perfect and perfecting Love.

The Cross is brutal. It is humiliating and barbaric, a symbol of systemic oppression and religious violence and imperial bloodshed. But God, in His infinite goodness, can use the worst to give us, His kids, His best. To stare death in the face and make clear that death has no sting, that the chains of Hell are no match for the love and goodness and kindness and patience and grace of our Father in Heaven. Jesus’ death is Good because the eternally past, eternally present, and eternally future work of God cannot be thwarted. God will stop at nothing to bring us into relationship with Himself. Death cannot hold Him. The Cross cannot defeat Him. The sins of a free humanity cannot upend His plans. The gates of Hell cannot prevail against Him:

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son…” (John 3:16)

“[Christ Jesus] humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:8)

“If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

So today is Good despite the brutality of Jesus’ death and the harsh realities of 2021. Today is holy and sacred and full of suffering and great and long and sorrowful – just like the human experience. Christianity is not afraid to enter into the complexity of our imperfect reality. We know that God so loved us that He GAVE. He so loved us that He SUBMITTED. He so loved us that He DIED. He so loved us that He made sure that nothing in all creation can separate us from Him. Not COVID. Not quarantine. Not fear or uncertainty or financial ruin or systemic oppression or heartbreaking struggle or devastating loss. Nothing can separate us from Him and His perfect and perfecting Love.

Nothing can separate us from God and His perfect and perfecting Love.

That is Good, indeed.