The Breath Prayer of Salvation

The Breath Prayer of Salvation

While my knowledge of Biblical Greek has faded considerably, I do remember learning about verbs that indicate something has happened and will continue to happen. This is how it is with salvation, we are redeemed and we continue to be as we journey through the dark nights and bright days of the soul. The communion table brings us back and reminds us of the once and continual work of living as God’s adopted children.

Our little church meets in a hotel conference room, so the words spoken to each person as he or she receives communion can be heard no matter where you sit:

“The body of Christ broken for you. The blood of Christ shed for you.”

(Pause.)

“The body of Christ broken for you. The blood of Christ shed for you.”

(Pause.)

“The body of Christ broken for you. The blood of Christ shed for you.”

This is the breath prayer of salvation; of community; of our human need to be forever and again reminded that we were redeemed long ago; that God can take human brutality and forge new life from it.

Matthew 7:7–8 is a well-known passage that uses this continuous tense and describes well what our faith walk is like. Jesus knew then that the answers we need for today are not the ones that will serve us tomorrow. Our faith requires us to continually go back and ask our questions, search for God, and step into the presence of the divine.

“Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7–8, NRSV).

In the waxing and waning of my faith journey I come back to this rhythm, this beat that goes alongside the work of my physical heart: The body of Christ broken for you. The blood of Christ shed for you.

It is the rhythm of faith. Knowing that this long-ago action carries me into the present. And its mystery also drives me to keep moving in faith—no matter how great or how small it might be in that moment—to keep asking, keep searching, keep knocking. Those are the actions of faith. The moment we think we are done with these, we will no longer find God and see God move in our lives. We will grow stagnant and stale. I know. I’m a pro at this.

And then Sunday comes and I hear it again: The body of Christ broken for you. The  blood of Christ shed for you. And it stirs something deep within me and it moves my sometimes-concrete soul to start asking, searching, knocking again.

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On Thanksgiving and Fear

Instead of fear, let us show generosity. Learning-Grace.com

I’m sitting here at my in-law’s table where we will celebrate Thanksgiving tomorrow afternoon with family piled all around. I am grateful for so much: my family near and far, my community, my church, my kids. My cup overflows.

But, at the same time I cannot shake these pictures of Syrian refugee children and where they will sleep tonight. I cannot stop the news of activists being shot in Minneapolis, of the racial divide that continues to grip our country. Of the outright xenophobia being expressed by my neighbors. I am thankful and I am deeply troubled at what I see around me.

I have some other more lighthearted blogs in the pipeline, but the current state of our world: the fear, the hate, the misdirected anger, the dividing lines happening in our nation—the world, really—has my mind on more serious matters.

Our world didn’t get this way overnight, but the fact is those attacks in Paris and the ones since have shed light on exactly how polarized we are over matters of terrorism, hospitality, fear, and blame.

I find myself wringing my hands in the face of it all. The problems feel too big and too scary and I just don’t know where to start. And then I think of the saying: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”

I can’t solve it all, neither can you. The issues we’re facing really are too big. But we can start with our neighbor and loving that person—showing kindness and generosity to him or her. And then we can start by expanding our definition of neighbor; maybe they’re not just the people on our street, but down the block or in our cities, country, world and then extend it to our neighbor’s neighbors. Instead of fear, let us show generosity. Let us think creatively about that generosity, like the California mom who is getting baby carriers into the hands of Syrian refugees in Greece.

We are all human, after all. The people who are in the midst of all this suffering really do suffer as much as you or I would. They are not made of tougher stock nor are they just “used” to it. They want their children to have a warm place to sleep. Their children are no less cold or afraid than our children would be. I look at my kids cozy in their beds, curled up with their stuffed animals and I cannot imagine them sleeping, cold and exposed on the forest floor. But Syrian kids and kids in many other places in this world (including the United States) do so every night. I just don’t understand shutting the door on them. And where in our Christian community is our faith? Do we not believe in the same God who commands:

You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. Deuteronomy 10:19 (NRSV)

When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien.  The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. Leviticus 19:33-34 (NRSV)

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Matthew 5:43-44 (NRSV)

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I have no words. by Michelle Okabayashi www.learning-grace.com

I have no words.

I have no words; I have too many words. And so I have said nothing.
Parisians. Lebanese. Kenyans. Iraqis. Syrians.
All crafted by the same God.
They bleed the same blood. They weep the same tears.

While others draw lines in the sand.

Hate. Love. Fear. Intermingled, confused.
The enemy and the victim look the same—to some.

Whom do you embrace?
Whom do you shun?
Who is worth the risk?

I am grieved.
I am moved.
Plunged deep beyond an anchor’s reach.

The hate scares me most: irrational and dangerous.
A torch waving too close to the tinder.

When fear overcomes love.
When “Christians” cower and spew hate.
Is this how we were created to be? Is this our witness?

Oh God, let it be not so.
Let your truth rise above.
Let it drown out the cacophony of hate.

Let your love surround. Heal. Forgive.
Shore up those whose lives have been burst.

Send your ambassadors, the ones with your word engraved on their hearts.
Rise up the fearless ones who know your perfect love is the necessary balm.

 

© 2015 Michelle Okabayashi. All rights reserved.

I have no words.

I have no words. by Michelle Okabayashi www. learning-grace.com

I have no words; I have too many words. And so I have said nothing.
Parisians. Lebanese. Kenyans. Iraqis. Syrians.
All crafted by the same God.
They bleed the same blood. They weep the same tears.

While others draw lines in the sand.

Hate. Love. Fear. Intermingled, confused.
The enemy and the victim look the same—to some.

Whom do you embrace?
Whom do you shun?
Who is worth the risk?

I am grieved.
I am moved.
Plunged deep beyond an anchor’s reach.

The hate scares me most: irrational and dangerous.
A torch waving too close to the tinder.

When fear overcomes love.
When “Christians” cower and spew hate.
Is this how we were created to be? Is this our witness?

Oh God, let it be not so.
Let your truth rise above.
Let it drown out the cacophony of hate.

Let your love surround. Heal. Forgive.
Shore up those whose lives have been burst.

Send your ambassadors, the ones with your word engraved on their hearts.
Rise up the fearless ones who know your perfect love is the necessary balm.

 

 

 

© 2015 Michelle Okabayashi. All rights reserved.

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Inside Out

Inside Out

Sometimes when we’re walking, Ken and the kids run ahead and I just stop and watch the three of them, my heart beating wildly. They are pieces of me, my heart, out there in the open.

I feel inside out.

What was once on the inside, protected within me is now out, running free down the sidewalk where God knows what could happen. I didn’t know having a family could do this to me. I didn’t know it was possible to love so much that I actually do feel as if I could burst.

J and S run,  laughing and playing their sibling games. They fall down and bounce right back up. They don’t know I’m constantly scanning the driveways, watching for things that may cause them to trip, or broken glass on the sidewalk. That every time they fall I catch my breath for a second while I figure out if it’s major or minor. They just are filled with joie de vivre. I’m not all worry and woe. They make me run, laugh, and love in ways I never considered. They bring out my best parts. (And sometimes the worst ones, too—but we’re not talking about that, today.)

And this is where I have to pause and remember that we are grounded and we are raising our kids to be the same. We have roots that will tether us when hardship comes. Oh God, I hope they will.

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:11-13, NRSV)

This passage has been my tether in many a storm. We do have a future with a hope. And I love to see it bounding down the street.

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Advent

Advent ImageThese weeks leading up to Christmas—the ones filled with cookies and cards, lights and
laughter, preparation and presents—mark the beginning of the Church calendar. It’s a new year already y’all! The word itself means “the Lord is coming.” Indeed he is. In a manger.

Humbly, he enters the world that has been preparing for him since the beginning of time. Are you ready for him? I’m not. As much as I’d like to say I am, I don’t think I’ll ever be ready for the entrance of the Son of God in my life. And if I waited for that prime moment, I think it’d never come.

Every year I go back to the photo I took in Darfur, now seven years ago. A man and his horse plowing parched earth in the midst of a dust storm. It looks hopeless, but he plants and prepares anyway in faith that the rains will come and that they will be sufficient. The millet seeds he sinks into the ground have to sustain his family, or they will starve.

Do I understand my faith in the same way? Do I prepare for God to lead me as if my life depended on it? I don’tLife is comfortable to some degree for most of us. We don’t really know what it is to teeter on the edge of survival.

Where am I this Advent? I am in a place of new life—for once. I am clearing out the cobwebs that had collected on my faith and I’m opening my eyes to see how God really is active all around me.

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SUFFERING FAITH

Earlier this month the news came out that Bart Campolo, son of the very famous evangelical, Tony Campolo, no longer considers himself a Christian, but a secular humanist.

I paid attention to the news because I had met Bart at the height of his inner-city ministry. His message changed how I thought about living out my faith.  And when I read about the journey that led him away from the cross of Christ and towards the arms of humanism, I understood it all too well.

I read the HuffPost article Sunday afternoon after listening to a sermon on Job that morning. We are working our way through the book, examining a biblical perspective on suffering. I listened with tears in my eyes, feeling the light of understanding shine in some very dark corners of my soul.

From the account that I read, it seems that the Church failed Bart by offering a thin theology of suffering. A lifelong Christian, son of a world-renown pastor, and educated in his own right, Bart could not reconcile the suffering he encountered with the loving God he thought he knew. I know that this is where the church has failed me.

The Church – mainly the American church – has a shallow theology of suffering while the prosperity gospel runs deep.  Too often people dealing with inexplicable pain are left lacking. The prevailing message (in church and in our culture in general) is that good things come to good people—so what does that mean when suffering beats down your door? What is the faithful response?

For Bart, the article says his departure began when a church told a girl who was gang raped that it was somehow God’s will. For me, it began when I was helping some refugees seek asylum in the United States and I read their accounts of torture.

My education about human suffering continued as I worked in the relief and development field. I saw suffering I could not reconcile with a loving God. And when two friends and mentors of mine were buried in the rubble of Haiti’s earthquake, suffered long, and died difficult deaths, the first nail in the coffin of my faith was hammered deep.

My path follows Bart’s only this far. I did distance myself from God for a time, although I knew God did not stray far from me. God’s presence was palpable: when I was married, when my son was born two months early, when the right kinds of provision came to our family at just the right time. I knew God was there; we just weren’t on speaking terms.

I sought help, understanding and comfort in my church and among my Christian friends, and there were only platitudes in response. My pain, my questions made people uncomfortable. I don’t blame them, my encounters with deep suffering left my faith fractured and I wouldn’t want to draw someone else who was ill-prepared down with me.

Do we know how to sit with someone who is suffering – not just from a bad day, but someone whose child has cancer, or loved one was murdered, or has survived atrocity beyond our imagination? Do our wells of faith run deep enough to hear their stories and listen to their questions? Can we sit with them in their sorrow, even when we have no answers? Are we willing to journey with people who are hurting deeply without fear that it’ll shatter our own understanding of who God is?

We need a theology of suffering that goes deeper than platitudes and is rooted in God’s infinite, incomprehensible and unwavering love. Without it our faith is thin and vulnerable.  God did not fail Bart, the Church’s rose-colored glasses did.

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