Faith Like a Child

I try as best I can at most meals to pray the daily office from The Divine Hours. It doesn't happen all the time, but the three office each day tend to coordinate with meal times, so it's convenient to fit them into our routine then rather than finding space for doing them by myself. Plus, it's been a nice family "tradition" to have--a ritual, if you will. When we get to the part to do the Lord's Prayer, we often sing it together like we do at church each week (along with the actions we learned when we met the people from our church at camp last spring).

I watch my 2-year old niece and nine-month old nephew three days a week, and when I read the
prayers, my niece sometimes listens with intent. And she always smiles when Nils and I sing the Lord's Prayer. Last week she joined in with us, doing the actions and singing along as best she could. We also sometimes sing a prayer we learned from some friends' kids that goes to the tune of Frere Jacques. She also has joined in on that when we've recently sang it at lunch.

One of my favorite parts of church is when the leader of Kid's Chapel does the ritual for leading the kids from the larger worship gathering to their own lesson time during the sermon. She goes to the table, lifting up the cross and begins singing a version of Sursum Corda that we echo back. The children then follow to their meeting place.
Leader: The Lord be with you.
All: And also with you.
Leader: The Lord be with you.
All: And also with you.
Lift up your hearts! (Kids follow cross)
We lift them to the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to give Him thanks and praise.
After we have sung it through once we can usually hear the children singing it through a second time as they walk down the hallway to their room. I love to hear children's voices in praise.

Rituals and traditions often get a bad rap in the church. And often it's warranted. We tend to hold onto things because "we've always done it that way." We tend to fear change. We can let our rituals become lifeless and meaningless. They can even become legalistic: we do them because we feel we have to do them, and if we don't we feel guilty.

But rituals also have power--at least the ones done with meaning and intent. They connect us with something bigger. They help us set aside time out of our filled lives to take part in something purposeful. They teach us and remind us. They help us walk our faith journey when we're feeling low on faith.

I can't say for sure what my two-year old niece gets out of singing the Lord's Prayer with us. But I think it's something meaningful that she has felt compelled to join in singing it with us. I believe she has some notion that it is something we do for God. It joins her to something larger that she doesn't fully understand now while at the same time giving her some voice for things she does understand.

When Anders goes of to Kids' Chapel singing, he probably doesn't fully understand the words--I know that. Yet, at the same time he is blessing all of us--along with all the other kids. It is right to give Him thanks and praise.

Jesus tells us that in order to enter Heaven we must become like little children (Matthew 18:3). I think there are a lot of components to having faith like a child (including trusting, playing and delighting); I wonder if part of it is in having meaningful ritual. Most children thrive on ritual (bedtime routines, saying prayers before meals, beginning school with The Pledge of Allegiance, holiday traditions, etc.). Maybe we as adults need to be more intentional in having purposeful rituals. And maybe we need to invite our children into them and find delight in their participation. There is joy in knowing (as well as seeing and hearing) that the Way of Jesus continues on in the next generation. The Lord be with you.


The Master Artist

Last night I found myself amongst college students with sketch pads, families on an educational outing and older adults enjoying the cultural opportunities of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. My wife and I each try to get some personal time for ourselves each week. I took a couple hours last night to head to see some art.
While I thoroughly enjoy going with my family, it was refreshing to go by myself. I could take the time to read about pieces of work without having to rush on. I could stop and make a quick sketch. I could listen in on one of the art lectures. (Not that I didn't still rush myself a little to try and take in too much in the little time I had.)

Admittedly, I'm more into classical art than modern. I am impressed by paintings that look like a photograph. The details of some works amaze me. I am humbled by the genius exhibited in a brush stroke in the hand of a master. I am also envious. I wish I could create paintings with such amazing detail and artistry (I would love to be able to make sculptures or other works as well).

God refers to us at various times as a piece of His artwork--often as a work in progress (clay in the potter's hands). That means we have to let the Creator have His way. If we resist what He is doing, we end up a marred piece. We're flawed, unless we let the Master finish His work. That's not easy: we wait and we wait, we go through trials, we give up our selfish wills in order to be more workable.

But if we let Him have His way, we become something beautiful. Too often I can stare and marvel at a painting my Van Gogh or Monet or Renoir, but I look down on someone (making too much noise or dressed in appropriately) in the gallery with me. And so I need to let the Master Artist work on me until I get to a point of seeing the beauty in all of God's works, more so than I do by masterpieces done by human hands.


Checks and Balances

I intended to write tonight. It's been a while. I've been in a bit of a mid-winter slump, I guess. It's a mixture of the lack of vitamin D/sunlight, lack of exercise, lack of being in nature, along with an unwarranted sense of unaccomplishment right now. Sometimes it's difficult not to let society define you by what you do to earn money. Homemakers work plenty, but have little to show for it in the bank. And, admittedly, there are days that I don't get done the things I intend to get done.

Tonight I worked on balancing our checkbook (which seems to be a highly complicated system that seldom seems to come out right the first time). We started a fresh ledger for 2011 in Microsoft Outlook. This is the first balancing of the new entries. It should be simple. There are few entries. It should all come together and balance nicely. Except, of course, that it's not. And I can't find any glaring reason why it's not. So I'm taking a break to write.

I'm realizing that I sometimes view my life as a ledger. I know I'm not supposed to, but sometimes I put my sins in a column and compare them to my good deeds. Of course, each sin carries a lot more weight than a good deed, so I need to have a lot of good deeds to cancel out each sin. And then I add them out and hope I'm a "good person."

Here's the thing, though--and I often forget this, no matter how much I believe the veracity of it--the sins column doesn't matter. At least not for trying to balance things out. We can't balance things out. And that's not the point of Christianity anyway. It's the exact opposite of what Jesus intends for us.

Jesus wiped away (and continues to wipe away) everything in the sin column. It's gone. Erased. There's nothing there. But He doesn't pay attention to our good deeds column, either. Our actions, while important, aren't what God will weigh out to see if we're a good person or not. None of us are good enough--at least in the presence of a pure and holy God. We've all got some sin. And a little drop of sin taints the pool of purity. So none of us measure up. No matter how much good we've done--we're still not perfect.

But Jesus invites us to accept His love and forgiveness. He invites us to follow Him. He invites us to accept His Spirit to guide us in becoming more like Him. And that is what matters. The more we spend time with Him, the more we become like Him. The more we know His great love for us, the more we are able to love others (and do "good works"). And that's what matters to God: that we know Jesus and live out of love.

But I forget that. I try to measure my "goodness." I let my "badness" get me down. But I don't need to. I just need to focus on Jesus--not my ledger. That's all that matters.


Salt & Light

This past Sunday we looked at Jesus' teaching that we are the "salt of the earth" and the "light of the world" from Matthew 5. It's a familiar passage to most people in the church. We've probably all heard messages on how we should be salt and light. We've sung "This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine."

As we studied the passage we were reminded, though, that Jesus addresses a plural you--not a singular. In essence He's saying, "You all, collectively, are the salt and light." It's a group project, not the sole responsibility of individuals. We do it together ("We're in it together" as our denomination's president, Gary Walter, likes to say).

So while I have a role in being salt and light (adding flavor to my neighborhood, illuminating the colors God created), I also have a role in helping others be salt and light. For while it's not our own personal responsibility to be the salt and light, we also must be a part of being salt and light--not just sitting back and letting others take care of it.

So the question before us is, how do we as a church (not a denomination or building, but Christians around the world) be salt and light collectively (y'all)? How do we bring God glory and point others to Him by flavoring and illuminating? We each have our individual giftings, but we must remember that those are to be used as "a body." It's a discussion we need to have.