A Different Kind of Stormy: Part Two “Who’s In Charge Here Anyway?”

Remember the story about Jesus calming the storm? I left out the thing I didn’t want to admit. It’s the part that’s undeniable but makes me squirm: Jesus, being God, has power over the natural world.

I don’t like thinking about or admitting God’s sovereignty.

I know some people are very comforted by it, but to me it’s just troubling. If I admit that God is sovereign over all, then I have to reckon with at least two things. First, all of the things God decides not to fix, heal, and make right. And second, it means I’m not in control.

Of course I know that I’m not *really* in control—that’s the good Sunday school answer. But also, I live almost every moment of every day as if I believe I’m in control. Indeed, I have considerable agency, making loads of decisions every day. I’m embarrassed to confess that I *enjoy* ruling over my little kingdom. But in a grand-scheme-of-things sort of way, God’s the only one with a legitimate kingdom.

Do you remember God’s snarky, long-awaited response to Job in chapter 38? Paraphrasing, God says: “I’m in charge. You thought it was you. But it’s me. It always has been, always will be.”

If that’s so, then why does God sometimes seem asleep or unaware of all hell breaking loose? We want immediate responses, swift action. We talk about kids needing instant gratification, but when we feel fear—regardless of our age— we want something or someone to fix it—like, two minutes ago.

So if Jesus, as God, is sovereign – then why is he sleeping? Jesus should be fixing this storm right now, but he is asleep. There are so many things that God *could* do something about, but doesn’t…

Why are women still being assaulted, dehumanized, and oppressed? Why are children being separated from their parents at our borders, sent to sleep in cages and told not to hug one another? Why are so many precious bellies going to sleep unfed, bodies wasting away? Why hasn’t God put an end to all of our wars and power struggles? How can even one more community endure the tragedy of needless, senseless violence?

We’re not on the other side of all these storms yet. The world still feels chaotic and hurtful and unjust, and at times it can feel like God’s asleep.

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And yet, our faith says the end of the story is that God *will* do something about it. God will set all things to right…

God has spoken peace and healing into countless storms, and those give us hope that the current and future storms of life will also be calmed. Things will be set to right.

And Jesus’ word to his disciples all those years ago is his word for us today:

I’m Lord over all. I’m not saying I’ll always choose to change weather patterns, remove diseases, or stop systems of oppression. But as a co-creator of the Earth and all that is in it, I’ve got power over all of it. And I see it.

It won’t always make sense how and when I choose to interrupt and intervene. And I know it will be hard for you when you wish I would break in and do something, but I seem to be asleep. Keep calling on me anyway.

You want deliverance and I do too – but we have different visions about what that looks like and how it’s done. But trust that I know what I’m doing. Keep calling on me anyway.

Have faith that there is a bigger picture than what’s right in front of your face in this moment. Have faith that I’m with you in this storm and keep calling on me.

And when you’re tempted to give up in despair, know this: I feel it too. I felt it in the garden and I still feel it today. I’m not standing at a distance watching the storms spin out of control. I’m weeping with you. I hear you. I see you.

And you likely won’t see it until afterwards, but I’m right here. I’m working with you and others through those storms. Keep calling on me. When panic begins to course through your veins, when anxiety threatens to overtake you, hear my voice saying “peace, be still” and join me in calming the storms.

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Just like we can’t live without water, storms are a necessary part of life. What are the storms of your life teaching you? What brings you hope?

A Different Kind of Stormy

One time, Jesus was out on a boat with his friends and a huge storm moved in. I’m talking The Perfect Storm kind of storm – remember that movie? It gives me anxiety just thinking about those ginormous waves.

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The thing about water is: we can’t live without it. It brings life and healing and salvation. We need it to drink, to bathe, to grow crops and feed our livestock. Many of us have been immersed in it, cleansed of our sins and risen to a new way of being in the world.

But water can also be terrifying and deadly. It can flood, soak, overtake, and drown. And for thousands of years, God’s been using water to teach us.

We saw God part the waters in creation.

Through Moses, God parted the Red Sea.

God sent a big fish to keep Jonah in a timeout until he was ready to follow directions.

Through his encounter with the woman at the well, Jesus showed us that the kingdom is open to literally everyone.

And here we have Jesus teaching the disciples something through this storm on the sea…

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As the waves are winding up and crashing down, his friends completely. freak. out. They wake him up, desperately hoping he’ll save them. And what does he do? Using only his voice, he stops the storm and then chastises them for their lack of faith.

Um, what?

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This is one of those places where I think the disciples get a bad rap. I mean, if I was out in a boat and huge waves were crashing down on us and filling the boat with water, I would be completely freaking out!

You’re asking us can we be so afraid??? Master, the tempest is raging! This heap of lumber is about to capsize and bury us in a watery grave. How are you so *not* afraid right now? We don’t want to die tonight! We were wide awake, freaking out; but you were asleep!

We were afraid you weren’t powerful enough to do something about our situation. We were afraid you didn’t see or know or care enough to do something about it.

And why would you expect us not to be afraid “…after all we’ve seen?” We’ve never seen THIS before!!! Sure we’ve seen you heal a bunch of people and heard lots of teaching, but THIS?! This is the first time since we started following you that OUR LIVES are being threatened.

We didn’t know this was what we were signing up for. THIS—this is new. And scary. And we’re not sure if we can trust you. I mean here we were in the midst of a huge storm and you were sleeping! We’ve been struggling with belief up to this point but now you’re asking about faith??? We don’t even know who you are…

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Remember who’s among the disciples: the first four guys that Jesus called, Simon (Peter), Andrew, James and John – who were all fishermen. They spent long days out on the water and had weathered countless storms. They didn’t scare easily.

But on this day, they were scared.

And I’m wondering – what were they more afraid of: the storm, or Jesus’ power over it? He had already calmed the storm, so maybe he’s asking them why they’re still afraid. It would be terrifying to be in the presence of such power. There was the tremendous power of the wind and waves, and the even greater power of Jesus. And yet, there was still fear.

Yes, he had calmed this storm but what about the other ones, the bigger ones? They were still occupied by Rome and were not free to govern themselves as a nation. There was political turmoil. Already this Rabbi had proven more radical than others and was drawing negative attention from other Jewish leaders. Would he take care of all of the storms from here on out, big and small?

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Is there a storm raging in your life right now that you wish God would just come in and put a stop to?

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To be continued next week…

Turn Down The Volume, Please

Do you struggle with kindness? Are complaints seeping into your thoughts or speech? Do you find yourself losing patience with people or situations?

For most of this year, my daily intention was kindness. As part of my yoga practice, I would set an intention for the day—something to focus on and aspire to—and every time it was kindness. The problem was, it wasn’t really working. When my stress level rose, I still found myself super frustrated, exasperated, and raising my voice at my kids.

I also have to admit something else: I’m a complainer. Always have been. Wouldn’t have admitted this in the past. But my sister and I had a conversation that opened my eyes to how much of my “comments” were actually complaints. It’s been particularly striking since we’ve lived in Oregon and I find myself complaining about the weather at least six months out of the year. And you know I go for bonus points in the other half of the year by fretting about the dreary weather that’s coming.

So there I was, beating myself up because I’m not kind enough and and I complain too much. I thought a lot about this downward path of complaining and negativity, and how it needed to be interrupted. But how? It was pretty easy to see the connection between gratitude and complaining (probably because I’ve read about it approximately one thousand times).

I knew that if I was complaining, I was focusing on the negatives in any given situation. But there are always positives too and if I could just notice and be grateful for those, maybe I could shift my mindset. And like magic, it works! Well, sort of. The change isn’t permanent. I still have to consciously choose to notice and be thankful. Like dozens or hundreds of times every day. Turns out we call it “cultivating” or “practicing” gratitude because it takes time, attention, and care to develop. And it doesn’t come naturally.

Getting back to kindness.

I’m thinking that for me at least – kindness isn’t a primary virtue. It’s not something I can just choose and force myself to embody. Sure, I can be nice. But the kindness I’m after is tangled up with patience, and its absence is most keenly felt at home with my smaller humans who have the sort of selective hearing (not to mention selective instruction-following) that would make anyone’s blood pressure rise.

I chose kindness as my daily intention because I wanted to maintain my cool – inside and out – when stuff was hitting the fan. But just willing myself toward kindness didn’t work. As I’ve worked to cultivate gratitude, though, kindness and patience flow naturally from it. It feels magical in a way, although again – it’s conscious effort.

And I don’t always choose it. But when I do, the air in our home feels lighter. I couldn’t see how much my negativity was infecting the rest of my family until I started letting go of it. Now that I realize how much influence I have on the tone of our home, I’m even more motivated to keep practicing gratitude and resisting the tendency to complain.

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What strategies have you found helpful in cultivating patience and kindness? What changes do you see in yourself or those closest to you when you’re practicing gratitude?

Being Right

I come from a religious tradition that has historically been preoccupied with being right. We’ve focused on the “right” (and therefore, only acceptable) way to “do” church and live your life, setting up rules and boundary markers to help us determine who is a real Christian. In fact, I was raised with the belief that members of our tribe were the only real Christians.

We even have a particular insider term to refer to real Christians: someone who is a “member of the Lord’s Church” or simply “member of The Church.” An outsider may not recognize it, but when we use these terms, we’re referring to someone who is part of our particular tribe, not the church universal.

Yikes.

Our tribe froze a particular moment in christian history (interpretation, tradition, practices, teachings, etc.) and baptized that as the “right” way to “be Christian” and “do church.” Moreover, we continue to believe that there is, in fact, a right or *gasp* perfect way to “do church.” And this may be part of what’s killing us.

I’m still being confronted with the ways in which my tradition steeped in me a toxic desire for and pursuit of perfectionism.

I was at a conference last week on “Space and the Formation of Missional Communities.” Surrounded by church leaders and holy insurrectionists, I voiced the question that has been plaguing me for more than a decade but has been particularly present of late: does church matter anymore? If God’s mission is all around us, and we’re regularly meeting God outside the walls of institutional religion, then why bother putting up with the messiness and pains of congregational life?

In the midst of a lengthy conversation with a leader in missional engagement, it slowly dawned on me that at the heart of my question was my own preoccupation with doing things right – my need for church to be perfect.

I talked about the tendency for institutions to preserve themselves, ensuring their own survival at all costs. And I said that I often thought about trying to do something new (planting a church), but that at some point even that would become an institution that will one day harm its members.

My disillusionment with church and observations about institutions are real and valid, but why did that make me question the importance of church? Because deep down, I believed that if we couldn’t get it right, why bother?

My conversation partner comes from a religious tradition that doesn’t carry the same perfectionist baggage, so he was confused by my line of questioning on a fundamental level. Church isn’t for righteous people and church will never be perfect, he said.

As much as I’ve resisted some of the uglier tendencies of our tradition, this was a huge blind spot for me. And I’m thankful for it being exposed.

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I was asked to offer the words of institution and guide our participation in communion at the close of the conference. My voice surprised me with a sudden shakiness after I’d repeated the words “the body of Christ, broken for you” about a dozen times for those who came to receive Jesus. Struck by the brokenness of the church—the messiness, pain, redemption, and beauty of it all—the surge of emotion alerted my mind to the holiness of the moment.

I struggled to continue repeating those words as they were actively tending to my heart, communicating a wordless truth that the beauty is in the brokenness, not perfection.

I’m not sure what God’s up to here, but the Spirit is stirring something deep in me. If something has been stirring in you too, let’s talk.