Posts Tagged ‘fear’

My lenten fast

March 11, 2009

I’ve read a lot lately about fasting, and the why’s and how’s of it.

This isn’t going to be one of those posts.

This is about what I’m fasting from.

The news.

Ok, truth is, it isn’t a true lenten fast. It just happens to coincide with lent this year. But I’m really tired of all the fear-inducing news stories. So I’m not gonna watch, listen or read about what’s happening in the world for the next few weeks. I think the world will go right on spinning, even if I don’t know what the Dow is doing, or who just killed who, or what celebrity is in rehab.

Been doing it for a little over a week now, and It’s been eye opening. First, it’s almost impossible not to see some news, somewhere. Headlines in google reader, or the crawler at the bottom of the screen as you click past CNN are always catching my eye. Second, most conversations have some current event talk, so you hear a good bit of the major stuff even without electronics. Third, (and this is important) I’m struck by how much I want to know what’s going on, not in my world, but in someone else’s world.  

I went on a short term mission trip several years ago, and I was gone for about 18 days. There were no computers, cell phones, TV’s, newspapers, radios or magazines. So I was ignorant of all the “important” events of the day. There was just the day itself, and what was going on around me. I distinctly remember how it felt when someone told me that Tiger Woods had won the US Open by eleven shots. It was weird. Like it was some other dream-like world I used to know. Like if I were to pay attention to all that stuff going on somewhere else, I’d need to stop paying as much attention to what was going on in front of me. And how refreshing it was not to have to know everything about everything. So I didn’t pay attention to the news the remainder of my time away.

I know that doesn’t make much sense. It didn’t to me either, at the time. But it makes a little more sense to me now.

I was spending too much time living vicariously through those in the news. Still do it to a large degree. 

But, for the next little while, I’m going to try and be a little more present to those stories happening around me. I hope it becomes a step toward living more fully.

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What are we afraid of?

May 21, 2008

Several years ago Brant Hansen posted a list of the most influential people in American Christianity, the ones who’ve had the most influence in the way Christians here think and act.

Jesus came in tenth. (tied with one of the Wesley brothers)

His point is that we seem to want to listen to (and maybe be followers of?) others, and what they say about Jesus, rather than to Jesus Himself.

It’s a good point.

Why do we do that? I’m sure there are lots of reasons, but the first one that comes to mind is that we’re afraid.

And there’s good reason to be afraid. When we ask God to speak we fear at least two things.

One is that we’re afraid he won’t show up, that he’s not there at all. That the god (small “g”) we’ve prayed to doesn’t exist. Which, in some sense, is true for all of us (at least to some extent) because as Rousseau said, “God created man in his own image. And man, being a gentleman, returned the favor.” The god we imagine and the God of the universe are two different beings.

The other fear is that he’ll actually show up. Things (and people) are never the same when he shows up. And that can be pretty scary.   The Israelites asked Moses to go listen to God and report back, for fear they would die if He spoke directly to them. Isaiah fell down as though dead when confronted with the presence of the King of Glory. Paul’s life was a little different after his trip to Damascus, and after pentecost I’m pretty sure Peter didn’t go back to fishing full time. The real God doesn’t always act like we think he will, or come when we think he ought to.”Did you think I was a man like yourself?”

It’s safer to listen to someone else, than it is to listen to God.

Scripture says that the people were amazed because Jesus spoke as one with authority, not like the religious leaders they knew. Apparently he could say, “I am” and folks fell to the ground.

But but it’s more than that, what he said was dangerous. What he said made folks afraid for their way of life.

Kingdom talk gets you killed. Offer forgiveness to the “wrong” folks and you’ve just made enemies. Challenge “the way things are” and see how quickly things get ugly. Be a peacemaker and see who both sides chew up and spit out. Start thinking in the ways of the Kingdom, and you’ll quickly find out why it’s such a radical life.

Eugene Peterson says, “If Christ is the King, everything, quite literally, every thing and every one, has to be re-imagined, re-configured, re-oriented to a way of life that consists in an obedient following of Jesus… A total renovation of our imagination, our way of looking at things –what Jesus commanded in his no-nonsense imperative, ‘Repent!’– is required.” ~ (The Jesus Way)

What if….

May 2, 2008

Is there a more dangerous game in all the world to play than the “What if…” game?

What if…

… I won the lottery?

… I had that house?

… I got that job?

… I could do that?

… I didn’t have to do that?

Or a little deeper and darker.

What if…

… I hadn’t done that?

… I had done this instead?

It plays both ways, it could be a good thing, it could be a bad thing. It can make you dream big. It can make you dissatisfied with what is. It can make you fearful of what could be.

Visions of “what if” sometimes lead to great advancement. Business, nation, and individual have all moved forward by playing the “what if” game. All innovation, all creativity, all invention at base come from someone saying, “What if…?”

There are also visions that make us wake up in cold sweat. What if I lost my job, there were an accident, my marriage falls apart, a bad test result comes back?

Scripture both tells us to take up something like a version of the game, and tries to help us not take it too far.

Luke 14:25-32

Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

Counting the cost is quite a bit like asking the what if question. “What if…

… I start and can’t finish?”

… I don’t want to die daily?”

… it’s too hard?”

Jesus does it again with the rich young ruler. But he doesn’t let him even play the game, he spells it out for him. He makes him count the cost.

Mark 10:17-22

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.'”

“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Playing the game in this sense isn’t playing at all, but a sober, assessment of what is likely to be required, or in this case what is actually being asked of us.

What I tend to do, however, is change it from a sober assessment to asking “what if” about things that might possibly be required, or asked of me.

I see Abraham asked to sacrifice his son, “What if I…?”. I see Mary’s reputation ruined, “What if that…?”. I see Paul’s multiple stonings, afflictions and persecutions, “What if I were…?.

In short, I see in scripture the lives of the saints upended and changed forever, and try to imagine myself in their situations. “I don’t have that much faith.” “That scares me to death.” I begin to brood about what God might take from me, and how I would react. It’s all fiction, but it makes me fear tomorrow. “What if…?”

God knows I”m prone to this, so here comes the help I need to try and put this stuff in perspective. 

“Don’t fear, little flock, the kingdom is yours.” “Don’t worry about how you’re going to live, your Father knows what you need.” “Don’t worry about tomorrow (“what if”), today (“what is”) is enough.” “Don’t be anxious about anything, but pray, and give thanks, asking your Father, and he’ll supply your need.” “I will never leave you or forsake you.” “You didn’t receive a spirit of fear, but of adoption, and power, and love, and self-control.”

Lord, have mercy.

“I cannot say I did not hear….”

April 18, 2008

The One Who Stayed

You should have heard the old men cry,
You should have heard the biddies
When that sad stranger raised his flute
And piped away the kiddies.
Katy, Tommy, Meg and Bob
Followed, skipping gaily,
Red-haried Ruth, my brother Rob,
And little crippled Bailey,
John and Nils and Cousin Claire,
Dancin’, spinnin’, turnin’
‘Cross the hills to God knows where —
They never came returnin’.
‘Cross the hills to God knows where
The piper pranced, a leadin’
Each child in Hamlin Town but me,
And I stayed home unheedin’.
My papa says that I was blest
For if that music found me,
I’d be witch-cast like all the rest.
This town grows old around me.
I cannot say I did not hear
That sound so haunting hollow —
I heard, I heard, I heard it clear…
I was afraid to follow.

-Shel Silverstein, Where the Sidewalk Ends

Who, Me?…Poetry?

February 21, 2008

I didn’t grow up with any appreciation of poetry. So it is somewhat surprising to me that later in life I have begun to read a few poets. Christina Rosetti, John  Donne, G. M. Hopkins, Gerhard Tersteegen, and Wendell Berry to name a few.

Wendell Berry is one that makes me slow down and breathe easier. It’s not because he only says comforting things, but rather because he brings a quality of sabbath to bear in his writings.  It doesn’t take a literary genius to figure that out though. His volume, A Timbered Choir, is tagged on the cover, “The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997”.

This is one, from The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry, I really resonate with.

The Peace of Wild Things


When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

-Wendell Berry

The Jesus Way, Sacrifice (part 3)

December 3, 2007

“A sacrificial life is the means, and the only means, by which a life of faith matures.” Eugene Peterson in The Jesus Way, (pg. 50)

This sentence has troubled me a bit, maybe more than a bit, the last couple of days.

Let’s rephrase. “The only way my faith will mature, can mature, is living a life of sacrifice.”

But that’s exactly what I don’t want to do. I want the bigger house, the relatively new cars, vacations every year at the beach and God’s favor, wisdom and the kind of spiritual depth that puts me in the same class as Brother Lawrence, A.W. Tozer and Mother Teresa. I don’t want to give up anything. Or if I have to, make it as small a sacrifice as I can. Like C. S. Lewis’ description, I’m “very like an honest man paying his taxes. He pays them all right, but he does hope that there will be enough left over to live on.”

It’s fear really. Fear of knowing what might happen if I don’t keep God at arms length. You see, I know, like Teresa of Avila, how God sometimes treats his friends. And I’m afraid of what he might ask of me, what I might have to lay on the altar.

I know I’m not alone. I’ve talked to a lot of guys who fear the same thing. But to do anything about that fear is a ways beyond the norm  in the American church. Instead we go on whistling through the cemetery. And then in an incredible act of chutzpah, I (we?) still expect to have it all, and anyone or anything that keeps me from having it all better be ready for a lot of whining and hissy fits.

What would it look like if instead of saying, “Mine!”, I said, “It’s yours.”?  I might start growing up a little.

“There are very few people
who realise what God would make of them
if they abandoned themselves into his hands,
and let themselves be formed by his grace.” -St Ignatius