A Hog & Me Both

Somehow, in a weird way, Lent has become my favorite time of year. It’s the refreshing stability of rules and rituals. It’s the way that winter’s thawing into spring mirrors our hearts as we move toward Easter. It’s the challenge of tangible fasting and existential honesty. There’s a lot at play here – I love it all. And each Lent, I find myself revisiting one of my favorite short stories, Flannery O’Connor’s Revelation.

In this story, we meet Mrs. Turpin, a woman understood to be ugly both inside and out. Brutally bigoted, condescending, and self-righteous, Mrs. Turpin takes cruel joy in the belief that she is fundamentally better than the people surrounding her. We meet her before and during a life-changing encounter that shakes her to her wicked core, leaving her rethinking everything she thinks she knows about herself. After a stranger sees her for who she really is and calls her to “go back to hell where you came from, you old wart hog,” Mrs. Turpin finds herself questioning God:

“What do you send me a message like that for?” she said in a low fierce voice, barely above a whisper but with the force of a shout in its concentrated fury. “How am I a hog and me both? How am I saved and from hell too?”

Head to my church’s website to read the rest, or, download their Lent Prayerbook.

Returning

You know that feeling of returning to a place that you’ve been away from for a while? Much about it is familiar – even nostalgic – the way it looks, smells, and feels. And this initial familiarity is comforting, until you take it all in and realize that something is different.

A friend of mine has a farm in Tennessee, which has become one of those places for me. I’ve been there a handful of times over the course of several years, and each trip has been spaced apart enough that major life stuff has happened in between. Since I’ve known it, very little about the farm has changed. The house, the lay of the land, even some of the rituals we’ve developed in going there are all intimately familiar. I can pinpoint spots that remind me of specific people or jokes or meals – things I haven’t otherwise thought of in years. And despite all of this, each time I go there, it feels a bit different, not because the farm has changed, but because I have. Who I am and the things I carry affect how I perceive the world, even the places I know best. Continue reading →

Peace in Our Time

It’s either terrible timing or divine providence, but as I sat down to write this, the world continues to react to a series of violent attacks in Europe and the Middle East, which ended hundreds of lives, and have left families fractured and cities in mourning. Around the world, people are calling for prayers, solidarity, and peace in our time.

When we envision peace – that mysterious ideal which so many of us long for – it usually looks like one of two things. Sometimes it’s serenity or tranquility. It’s lying on a beach disconnected from everything, totally carefree. It’s inactivity – no obligations. Or, in times of crisis, it looks like resolution: an absence of conflict in our homes, cities, and world. It’s people setting down arms and finally getting along.

But in times of deep sadness and destruction, these visions of peace feel less than satisfying. They are true and good, but in the face of evil our hearts crave something more. The good news of the gospel is that the peace that God promises to us in Jesus is not mere inactivity or absence, but flourishing, restoration, shalom. It’s alive and active.

Read the rest on the Liberti Church blog, or in the prayerbook.

Pigs, Demons, and the Problem of Evil

I had the honor of being featured in Liberti Church’s Lent & Easter Prayerbook again – the reflection I wrote accompanied this past Sunday’s reading (Mark 5:1-16). Here’s an excerpt:  

The demon possessed man was destroyed by evil.

His body, his mind, his relationships – utterly and tangibly ravished by the second-most powerful force in the universe. We learn in today’s reading that this is the kind of evil with the strength of an army – it cannot be bound. And yet when it meets the Son of God, it is feeble and desperate.

The evil we see here is real and mighty. And even though our lives may look a lot different than that of the man we meet in this story, we’ve all encountered the same kind of evil. It alienates us from our God, our community, even ourselves. Every aspect of creation is affected by it. It has overtaken our lives.

For the rest, head over to Restoration Living, or check out the Prayerbook itself.

God is For Cities

My church is in the midst of an initiative that we’re calling For the City – an effort to pray and raise funds for the renovation of the historic building that we recently purchased. The name of this initiative is based on our motto “a church for the city,” and (bias aside) I love it. My interest in urbanism and place-making has been pretty clear on this blog. This is something that has developed in me over the past few years, which is why it’s important for me to be a part of a church that aims to be for its city. These interests of mine are in part just dorky and academic. But ultimately they are rooted in something much more substantial: God is for cities, so I (and the church) should be too.

This might be a strange concept for mainstream contemporary Christianity (especially evangelicalism). We know that God is for individual people and for churches. God is for the poor and for the broken. “God loves you, Alyssa.” “For God so loved the world…etc.” But growing up, I never really heard much about God being for cities or places. So let’s unpack this a little bit. Continue reading →

We Killed Him

This reflection originally appeared in the Liberti Church/Restoration Living Lent Prayerbook. If you haven’t already, you should check out this great resource – it’s not too late!

In the days leading up to Christmas this year, one of my favorite snippets of scripture kept running through my mind: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14, NIV). I smile whenever I think about this sentence, and the beautiful meaning that it conveys – the eternal God of the universe put on skin, moved into the neighborhood, and lived a messy, grace-filled life. What good news!

But Christmas is long over, and lately I can’t get this revision out of my head: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us…and we killed him.” God became a person, and we said, “Go home.” He tried to show us Himself, and we said, “No thanks.” He fed and healed us and we said, “We don’t need you.” He gave us a glimpse of redemption and we said, “You are not our King.”

I try not to think about this stuff too much because it bums me out – these thoughts are hard because they require real honesty about the part of the Gospel story that isn’t good. I’m partial to the “practice-resurrection” Christianity that sets its gaze on the risen Lord and the empty tomb, instead of the cross. I confess my sins on Sunday and go about my week. Those few moments of honesty and repentance are enough for me, usually.

"Exodus" by Marc Chagall, 1952

“Exodus” by Marc Chagall, 1952

But thank God for Lent, because those few moments are not actually enough – not after what we did to Him. Thank God that those few moments are drawn out to forty days, where I am reminded that before that glorious empty tomb, there was a bloody cross. Thank God for this season that makes me think about who I am (really) and who God is (really). Thank God that Lent isn’t about finite self-loathing or wallowing in guilt, but existential honesty.

As we draw closer to Good Friday, I invite you to dwell in this uncomfortable honesty. I invite you to acknowledge the startling truth that just as his friends and neighbors betrayed and rejected him, we too betray and reject Christ everyday in our thoughts, words, and actions. I invite you to repent. Because it is only through true repentance that we may move on from that ugly cross and joyfully embrace the empty tomb.