Tag Archives: Ann Voskamp

Revisiting King’s Dream

mlk-graphic-2With the New Year, there is talk of resolutions, reading lists and new Bible study series (Well, maybe the last one isn’t on the minds of most people.).  Ann Voskamp provides a thoughtful and engaging means to consider those things that we have resolved to do.  It can become more than a to- do list if we are serious about these commitments.  Christianity Today offers insightful reads for preachers, pastors as well as ministry leaders.   The IF Gathering, a ministry that focuses on female empowerment and her calling in Christ’s church, is excited about its upcoming study on the names of Jesus.

But, there is also discussion about Dr. King’s dream.  As with the New Year, there is increased talk of hope and change.  ‘Tis the season to remember his famous “I have a dream” speech and there will be much hand- holding, singing and justice talk.  In hopes of making it more than lip- service, a website has offered resources to churches to share in his work and for those who seek to make reconciliation more than a dream.

 

Go Lower

tarrants_kneelF. B. Meyer said, “I used to think that God’s gifts were on shelves one above the other and that the taller we grew in Christian character the easier we should reach them. I find now that God’s gifts are on shelves one beneath the other, and that it is not a question of growing taller but of stooping lower, and that we have to go down, always down, to get His benefits.”

I was introduced to this revelation while reading Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts. It is “the gift that keeps on giving” and continues to inform my faith and its practice.   No matter what I am talking about or writing about, her words seem to find their way into the conversation. I thought that I would be done with it by now. I closed the book more than a month ago. But, here we are again. Open. Applicable. Teaching.

And this time, I am thinking about humility. How much of our lives is about climbing, reaching, aspiring, moving up?   We are always trying to get to the top of something: the top of our class, the top of the pile, the top of the ladder. We are always reaching up, scratching, scraping, hand over hand for rungs, another notch in our belt, another step closer to this position or that title.

It is all about going higher. But, Christ’s command is something different. He’s always reversing things: “the last will be first and the first will be last,” “bless those that curse you,” a child will do the leading (Matthew 20.16; Luke 6.28; Isaiah 11.6). When the world tells us that we have made it, God reminds us that we never really arrive. The world says, “Go higher” but God says, “Go down. Go lower.”

It is my prayer this morning that we would unwrap the gift of humility.  It is in a barn, surrounded by animals.  It does not smell so good and it’s in a feeding trough.

It doesn’t have a bow on it. It’s not in the penthouse suite.  It does not come with a corner office or a pay increase.  But, you don’t have to reach for it.  You have to bend for it.  Perhaps, you think that you are down, that you are humble enough but God reminds us through the birth of His Son, Jesus that we could always go lower.

 

 

Count your blessings

count your blessings

“Give thanks in all circumstances.”

~ First Thessalonians 5.18, NRSV

We have no problem counting the days of children but the days of adults prove difficult, embarrassing even. Our milestones are often covered up: the first gray hair, the first pain that won’t go away, the first time we could no longer do this or that like we used to. And we don’t like to tell our age because we don’t want to get older, which suggests that we don’t want any more days. We say with delight, “He is one and a half.” She says proudly and he defiantly, “I am twelve and three quarters, almost a teenager.” It seems that getting older is fun and exciting but being old is unattractive and to be avoided.

Some persons say, “They have their whole life ahead of them.” But, as of today, I have used 12,377 days.[i] The psalmist tells me, “The days of our life are seventy or perhaps eighty if we are strong”[ii]; that’s between 25,550 and 29,200. So, I have a little more than half ahead of me. Half of my days spent, what will I do with what is left?

How have you numbered or taken notice of them? What have you done with your days? The psalmist writes, “So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.”[iii] For this worshipper, this kind of arithmetic brought wisdom. What will it bring us?

Some days we don’t want to count or hope that they don’t count against us because of the circumstances we find ourselves in. Many of us live wondering if we matter and have significance, if our days spent on earth count for something and if we will be counted as a blessing.

***

And if counting our days is difficult, then counting our blessings is nearly impossible. Who has time for that and to what end? I mean, how many times can you say, “Thank you”?

Ann Voskamp in her book One Thousand Gifts attempts to count her blessings all the way up to one thousand and captures the struggle to give thanks in all circumstances. But, this is what Paul tells the church at Thessalonica.

It is a part of a list and so easily we can give thanks on Sunday and check it off of ours for the week. It is at the end of the letter and often, thanksgiving is the last thing that we do when facing difficult situations. So often, it is at the end of our lives, our letters to the world, that we give thanks.

Today, it’s easy to give thanks. Everybody’s doing it and we have the day off. It’s a holiday and it comes with family around the table, turkey, pumpkin or sweet potato pie. Who doesn’t want to give thanks for that? As the fourth of July calls for fireworks and Christmas calls for presents, Thanksgiving requires that we be grateful. We can give thanks in this circumstance.

Despite this holiday that commands appreciation, I believe that we get use to blessings just as we do our days. We become accustomed to them. We think that because we can put days on a calendar that they belong to us, that because we set our alarm clocks that we order time. Breath and blessing are made normative and we come to expect the next day, the next blessing— without much thanksgiving.

We believe that we can choose when to be thankful; consequently, there are some experiences, some people for which we do not thank God. But, what about the blessings that we could count? What about those that we’ve wasted? What will we do with the blessings that we have left, wrapped in persons and places that we have decided not to give thanks for?

***

Paul says, “Give thanks in all circumstances.” However, giving thanks is not the problem; it’s when. All. Everywhere with everyone no matter what. It’s a call for unconditional thanksgiving—without cinnamon and pumpkin spice, festive music or holiday decorations. And not because it’s mannerable, polite or the right thing to do. But because it is the appropriate response.

Still, all occasions are not full of thanks but emptied by loss and grief, pushed aside for anger and revenge, forgotten due to pride and egotism, traded for greed and stolen glory.

But thanksgiving is not a day. Thanksgiving is an action. It is not determined by the quality of the day but the faithfulness of the God we serve. We are a thanksgiving people.

C. S. Lewis wrote in a letter in 1948, “We ought to give thanks for all fortune: if it is “good,” because it is good, if “bad” because it works in us patience, humility and the contempt of this world and the hope of our eternal country.”[iv] Then, all things, all people, all circumstances count as blessings, which makes the math problem easy— as we are only adding.

Ann Voskamp says that the sin in the Garden of Eden was one of ingratitude. They simply were not content. They were not thankful for what God had given them. Thanksgiving then is the correction, the cure for our broken communion with God.

Count your blessings, number them all, not based on how they make you feel but because of what they work in you: God’s goodness.

Count your blessings, name them all, not their size or seeming importance, but the grace by which they are given.

Count your blessings, notice them all, no matter how they look or sound, when they arrive or where they come from.

Count your blessings and scoot closer to God.

Count your blessings and follow in the footsteps of God.

Count your blessings and find yourself right in the presence of God: “thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven,” communion, paradise, “our eternal country.” Amen.

_____________________

[i] That’s 297,048 hours.

[ii] Psalm 90.10, NRSV

[iii] Psalm 90.12, NRSV

[iv] C.S. Lewis, Letter to Don Giovanni Calabria, August 10, 1948

 

“Give Me Your Eyes”: How Race Defiles Us

0e1274633_pure-in-heart-890x667

… for they will see God.”

Unlike most persons I talk to, I think about race in order to discern ways to never think about it again.  I talk about race in order to eradicate it from conversations about human identity and the ways in which we relate to each other.  I assert that we are not related because of race so why should it determine our relationships?  Instead, we are linked, joined, matched, paired two by two by two by two because we are all made in the image of God.  We are related to every single human being on the face of the earth.  We belong to every body.

Ann Voscamp shares in her book One Thousand Gifts: A Dare To Live Fully Right Where You Are:

“Isn’t He the face of all faces?  He is infinite and without end, without jaw or sockets, everywhere eye.  The face of the moon, the face of the doe, the face of the derelict, the face of pain, His (is) the countenance that seeps through the world, face without limitation, face that ‘plays in ten thousand places.'”

“The Face of all faces.”  Are we not asked to love our neighbor as our self?  Would it, perhaps, require that we see our neighbor as our self, that we see ourselves in our neighbor, that we see the Self in those we share space with– whether neighborhood, city, country or world?  Could it be that race reduces our vision, restricts our sight in that we are only able to see and consequently, love those who “look like us”?  Could our ability to see be symptomatic of heart troubles, of a heart defiled?  I think so.

Race defiles our heart, corrupting the purity of love.  It tells us that we can only love those who are within our socioeconomic circle and culture, that you can love “us” but not “them.”  It limits the range, the span of love.   Race tells us that love can only go so far, that we should not reach for persons of other cultures.  This social construct tells us that physical features are an indication of those who are lovable, visible, touchable.

But, we are Christians who are called to love everyone who looks like God, made in His image.  This is problematic as race says that God looks like us and anyone who does not belong to our socially constructed race not only is evil but is the image of evil.  I look like God so you look like the Devil.  God forbid.

Race pollutes our heart, destroying the newness of love.  It teaches us that all relationships with persons of this culture or that one will begin and end the same.  Race simply has no faith in relationships with persons of other cultures.  It does not believe in love this big or wide or strong; it only believes in the love that it can contain.   And it will not entertain the possibility of loving someone who has long been considered an enemy.

Race taints our heart, spoiling the excitement of love with prejudice and stereotypes.  It says that every single person is the same.  So, why love?  Why look into her and his face for a relationship?  Walk away.  They are all the same.  It’s been done.  But, really it hasn’t.

The fact is that none of our hearts are pure when it comes to race.  We all hold prejudices, stereotypes, sacred hatreds close to our hearts.  This is the work of love; there is always something else to clean.  There is always some unfinished business within us and around us that must be addressed, ordered and made right.

And we know it based on what we can and cannot see.  We are pure in heart when we can see God in the face of all of humanity.  Lord, make us pure because we want to see.  Give us Your eyes, full of compassion, hope and faith.  In the name of the Pure One who became dirty for us, Jesus the Christ, we pray.  Amen.

Seeing is Saying

A young new plant growing from palm in two hands, isolated

“I refuse to be intimidated by reality anymore.  What is reality?  Nothing but a collective hunch?”

~ Lily Tomlin

“Seeing is of course very much a matter of verbalization.”

~ Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

“All the world is window.  No material is opaque.  If we are willing to see– people, circumstances, situations, relationships– all is transparent.  All of this globe is but glass to God.”

~ Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts

Our reality and Reality are not the same.  We know this because Isaiah tells us so.  “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (55.8).  So, when race says that our being, our identity, our purpose is tied to our earth, found in the skin made of dirt, it does not elevate us much, does it?

I believe that God’s thoughts about us are higher than those of race.  I believe that God has spoken something much higher than this social construct.  I cannot comprehend it though I know it to be true.  Race would attempt to quiet me with statistics, to shush me with history, to tell me to calm down for fear of punishment from “them” or perhaps members of “us.”  But, unlike many of us, race does not and will not tell me what to say.  It will not tell me what I see.

Race will also not tell me what I cannot see, what I don’t see.  It will not restrict my eyesight or assume to know the vision that God has given me.  What we are afraid to see, we are often afraid to say.  Our ability to see is in our saying.

Don’t tell me what cannot been seen; it just remains to be unsaid.  Because it is left unsaid, no one wants to believe that they will see it but I do.  I see it so I will say it: race-less.