25 April 2014


When I was a senior in college, I wrote a systematic theology. For all of you non-Bible majors out there, that basically means that I attempted to take all aspects of my theology and meld them into a cohesive whole. My ideas about salvation, creation, heaven & hell, church and everything else shaped and revised together in a way that they all made sense and intertwined. This is actually even more difficult than you imagine. I spent a few weeks with pages full of disparate and sometimes incoherent thoughts and ideas. I couldn't bring them all together, until I began to truly understand the Trinity. I can't even quite explain it, but when I started to look at my theology through the lens of the Trinity, everything clicked. The Trinity became the keystone of my theology.

I want to spend this time after Lent exploring what God means to me. After taking time to dwell on God's absence last week, I am more than ready to dwell on God's presence. Over the next four weeks, I'll be diving into each aspect of the Trinity; but today I want to try and explain the way I think about the Trinity as a whole. Much of what will follow over the next weeks will be adapted from that capstone paper I wrote about 5 years ago.

The Trinity has often been understood as being “Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” I began to struggle with this because I felt that no one had ever been able to explain what it meant to me. I didn't know how these three were one and how they interacted. But when I thought critically about my ideas about the Trinity, I discovered a belief that I didn't know I had. You see, I believe in a God in Us. That each of us are imbued with a piece of God's own self at the moment of Creation. This God in Us made sense to me as being what is understood as the Holy Spirit. I believe in a Creator God who is also called Father God; because Fathers and Mothers are definitely Creators. And as I began to think about this Son that others understand, I considered the different ways He is understood. The way that resounds most with me is Incarnation. You see, I think of Incarnation as our ability to communicate God/Gospel/Kingdom/Wisdom/Love to each other. It is the very fabric of our relationships and how we understand and are understood. We are all capable of Incarnation in our own ways, but Jesus was able to Incarnate in the most complete way we have ever seen on Earth. To put it another way, my Trinity is: The One Who Creates, The One Who Incarnates and The One Who Dwells Within.

One aspect of the Trinity that proved very difficult to explain is how the three entities interact with one another. I remember having the analogy of an egg used to explain it when I was young in a children’s story one Sunday morning. We were told that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are much like the yolk, white and shell of an egg. They all function differently, but they are all egg. While this helped me to wrap my head around the concept of the Trinity, it did little to clear up what the Trinity actually did and how the Godhead interacts. It was not until I discovered Augustine of Hippo’s assertion that “humanity is not merely created in the image of God; it is created in the image of the Trinity,” that I found a helpful analogy. There are three distinct parts of personhood that are often referred to as mind, body and spirit. If we place this human trinity alongside the Holy Trinity, we can see a clear parallel: mind – Creator, body – Incarnation, spirit – Holy Spirit. You see, I can understand that while my mind, body and spirit are all separate and serve different functions, they are all me. This helped me begin to fathom how this Holy Trinity functions together.

Something about so clearly recognizing the way in which I am created in the image of God makes my chest puff out a little. I have a deep sense of pride knowing that I was Created in God's Image, that that Creator gave a piece of Godself to Dwell in me and that with that piece of God, I can Incarnate and show God to others. Truly, we are fearfully and wonderfully made.

The stained glass window in the ceiling of my church's sanctuary.

18 April 2014

God is Dead Saturday

We have Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday; but what do we call that errant Saturday just sitting in the middle of tragedy and triumph? Some call it Holy Saturday, but I think that's just a cop-out like Holy Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. It can also be referred to as Easter Eve, but that feels too much like trying to skip over mourning to head straight for the resurrection and you can't get from Hosanna to Hallelujah without the Hell of the Passion. Black Saturday feels the most resonant to me, but I still feel like it's trying to skirt the issue. I prefer the title: God is Dead Saturday.

I started thinking about the day between Good Friday and Easter as God is Dead Saturday when I came across a story in my early twenties. And while this story has impacted my life, I cannot, for the life of me, remember where I read it. I'm fairly certain it was in one of the books I read while in Peru, but that doesn't narrow things down a lot. I also have no recollection of whether it was fiction or non-fiction. Regardless, I once read about a remote community that had been visited by Catholic missionaries at some point, and so had adopted parts of the Catholic religion. However, they had some of their own ideas about theology. Specifically, they believed that between sundown on Good Friday and Sunrise on Easter Sunday, God was dead and there was no sin. In the story I read, the villagers used this as an excuse to exact vengeance and commit adultery with no divine consequence.

When I first read this, I'm pretty sure my head exploded. I have often said that I was blessed with an overabundance of faith. I have been through some very challenging things. I have been deeply hurt and I have known real loss. I have doubted God's goodness and love. I have doubted my worthiness and salvation. But never in all my life have I doubted that God exists. Perhaps that is why the idea of God being dead, if only for 36 hours, shook me to my core.

I couldn't stop thinking about it. I was equal parts terrified and thrilled by the idea. When you're in your early twenties, the idea of no rules is an enticing one. But my connection with God is what keeps me grounded, so will I just float away into the aether if God is dead? My mind kept spinning and spinning. I wondered what I would do if I really believed there were no consequences. Then I wondered about how awful and empty I would feel without God.

I eventually put this magical thinking aside and got on with my life. God wasn't dead after all, so why keep worrying about nothing? But then, a few months later on the morning of Black Saturday, I suddenly remembered that God was dead. I got kind of twitchy and panicky; I kept looking over my shoulder like something was coming to get me and no one was there to help. Part of me wanted to try and shake off this feeling and rest easy in my faith, but another part of me was curious to explore.

I felt the excitement of there being no rules. It reminded me of the thrill I got when I was ten and one of my friends from Girl Scouts convinced me to say "shit." I still remember looking around her room before uttering it, like maybe the Holy Ghost was about to pop out from behind the dresser and condemn me. It was a taboo, it was not to be said; but I said it and nothing bad happened. What taboo things had I been curious about that now I could explore with no spiritual consequence?

But I couldn't think of anything worth doing. The truth was, I felt empty and scared. I didn't like the very notion of the absence of God. Without God, the world felt distant and menacing. In these moments I felt like I truly connected with the Hell of the Passion from the perspective of those left behind.

I thought about those Biblical days between the crucifixion and the resurrection. How dead and empty those who knew and loved Jesus must have felt. How scared and vulnerable, too. That was what struck me about God is Dead Saturday: how exposed I felt. Like the hedge of protection around me had been ripped out by the roots and I was laid bare.

This is why I haven't stopped thinking about God is Dead Saturday. It's too easy to go from Hosanna to Hallelujah and if I'm not intentional, I could almost forget the Hell in between. I understand the temptation to skip the cross; it's just so awful and sad. The very thought that God is dead is harrowing, but that is what happened two thousand years ago: God died on the cross.

So, harsh as it may sound, I'm sticking with God is Dead Saturday. If only to drive home the point that something devastating happened. Something jarring and awful. God died.

If you consider the terrifying possibility of God not only being absent from your life, but also from your world, it's almost debilitating. But when you pay attention to what the absence of God might look like, it helps to define the presence of God in your life. Taking time to dwell in God's death makes the resurrection so much more powerful.

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

Laurel Hill cemetery at sunset.

11 April 2014

What a Miracle

Oh what a miracle Spring is.

The world is cold and frozen and then suddenly, she is clothed in splendor. From the mud and the dirt springs something fresh, clean and beautiful. Out of the grey and brown we are gifted with green, yellow and purple.

The scriptures for last Sunday told the stories of the dry bones Ezekiel encountered in the desert and of Jesus' resurrection of Lazarus. While I'd heard these stories so many times before, I had never related to them as I did on Sunday. My bones were feeling very dry. I was in need of some resurrection.

My life has been filled with more uncertainty than I'm comfortable with these past few weeks. And my only recourse has been to sit and wait for something to happen. Which is starting to feel like staring at the ground, waiting for something to sprout.

The winter was so long and so cold this year and then it just wouldn't stop. Hammered by snow storm after snow storm, freezing cold commute after freezing cold commute; I lost interest in going outside. I didn't want to do anything other than curl up under the covers with my space heater blasting.

I was losing my faith in Spring, losing hope that soon it would all be beautiful.

But then came Sunday and the miracle of Spring.

On Sunday I felt the warmth of the sun. Not just the light of the sun, but it's actual warmth. It was beautiful, I felt like my dry bones were rising up and God was commanding the four winds to breathe into me so that I may live.

I could finally hear the birds. I could finally smell the flowers. I could finally feel the warm breeze.

Just like Lazarus' corpse and Ezekiel's dry bones, I had come to life.

It seems impossible that life can come from death. It seems impossible that growth can come from dust.

Two Sundays ago the preacher quoted a line from a poem: "Do you not know what God can do with dust?" When I consider this question in the context of Spring, it occurs to me that God can do an awful lot with dust.

So I will continue to stare at the ground waiting for something to sprout. Because I know that when I am at my darkest, God can bring me sunlight. When I am at my driest, God can refresh me. When I am losing faith, God can help me believe.

Out of the dust, God can bring flowers.

What a miracle.

My beloved spoke and said to me,
“Arise, my darling,
my beautiful one, come with me.
See! The winter is past;
the rains are over and gone.
Flowers appear on the earth;
the season of singing has come,
the cooing of doves
is heard in our land.
The fig tree forms its early fruit;
the blossoming vines spread their fragrance.
Arise, come, my darling;
my beautiful one, come with me.”
~Song of Songs, 2:10-13

This is the banner I made for church last Sunday. It symbolizes a body or plant (the green fabric) being infused with life (the blue fabric) and lifted up by the Spirit (the yellow fabric).

04 April 2014

Mid-Lent Check-in: Some Confessions

As most of you know, I love Lent. I love early spring and foggy mornings and little flowers bursting out of the mud. But, I must confess, this Lent has been a major letdown so far. After patiently trudging through a truly awful winter, I simply cannot abide this cold anymore. Every night I go home and immediately curl up under a blanket. I consider getting up to go do something, but the idea of pulling on layers of leggings, heavy boots and my shapeless parka is too much for me after all these months. Each morning I check the weather with trepidation and see that, for the bajillionth day in a row, it will be cold for my walk to work and the temp will not rise above 60 the whole day. It's April, is 70 degree weather really too much to ask?!

But even as I sit here filled with indignation, I confess that I know I'm just being selfish. The seasons are not here to make me happy; they have more important things to do. The lack of warmth this far into spring is not some sort of personal affront. The weather is the weather and there's nothing I can do about it.

However, I'm still feeling grumpy and uninspired. I wish I could just shake it off and write something awesome, but I fear I'll need to feel the sun on my face and smell the grass before creativity will flow again. In lieu of something creative, here's a mid-Lent check-in. I confess I haven't been at 100% with all of them, but I'm trying and that's what counts.

No Screen Sunday
Of all my Lenten disciplines, this has been both the hardest and the most rewarding. I sometimes find myself going absolutely stir-crazy by the end of the day. Especially since it's been cold and rainy and I haven't wanted to go outside. But I have also felt a deep sense of gratitude as I move through my life more slowly. That's what I feel like taking the screens away has done: slowed me down. I'm no longer doing three things at once (watching a show on my computer, cleaning my room and checking Instagram on my iPhone) but rather focusing on one task. It makes me think of my Amish relatives and how part of the reason they drive buggies instead of cars is that buggies give them the opportunity to see God's creation as they amble down the road. On no screen Sunday, I'm blessed to slow down and pay attention.

Fasting Wednesday
Fasting Monday became Fasting Wednesday when I found out that others from my church would be fasting on Wednesdays. Each Wednesday at 12:30 a handful of us call into a conference line and pray together. While I haven't found the fasting itself super-meaningful, I'm loving the chance to pause in the middle of my day and pray.

One Hour of At-Home Productivity Everyday
This one has been super helpful for my life. Even though the cold has driven me to mostly tackle things that I can accomplish while under a blanket, I've been happy with how much I've been able to get done. I rearranged my room, did a bunch of dishes, ran errands in the neighborhood, went through some of my storage and so much more. It hasn't been easy to keep this up as a daily practice, but I've been doing pretty well.

Read Everyday
In an unexpected turn of events, this has been the most difficult of all my disciplines to keep up with. I started out so strong, though! I read Ann Lamott's Travelling Mercies and Farenheit 451 in the first week. But then I didn't find another book that captured my interest. I've been half-heartedly reading a few pages of various things most every night, but nothing that I'm excited about. This week I've started reading Genesis because I've never sat down and read through the whole Old Testament narrative before, so I thought I'd give it a try. If you've got a great book you think I should read, please let me know!

As we move closer to Easter, I am praying for hope. I am praying for eyes to see the new thing God is doing. I am praying for my faith in springtime and warmth to return. Just as our God is faithful, so is this beautiful earth. She will burst forth with life and color and warmth just as surely as the sun rose this morning, I just have to hold out hope until she is ready.

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.
~Isaiah 43:19

Cold and rainy as it's been, at least the flowers are starting to bloom.