presence in all the absences of the world

Presence in all the absences

“The very purpose [of the church] was to be a light in the darkness–  to be a presence in all the absences of the world.

Greg Thompson, from his talk at Q

When we started preaching through the book of Jeremiah this fall, I knew at some point we would have to talk about lament.  This week, that’s where we are going.

Is there no balm in Gilead?   Is there no physician there?   Why then has the health of the daughter of my people not been restored?  Oh that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night…

Jeremiah 8:22-9:1

Why is my pain unceasing, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed?

Jeremiah 15:18

Last Sunday, over 58 people were murdered by a shooter in Las Vegas and over 515 were injured.  The shooter had somewhere between 8 and 10 guns with him in his hotel room.  He had set up cameras so he could watch the approach of the police and gauge how much time he had before he, Steven Paddock, murdered himself.

There will be people who call for our nation to take a look at our gun laws.  And people will be mad that a call to change gun laws could change the freedom they enjoy with regard to firearms.  “Guns don’t kill.  People do.”

There will be people who call for our nation to take a look at the way we care for people with mental illness.  And people will be mad because mental illness is not an excuse for destructive behavior.

The mass murder in Las Vegas exposed yet another absence that is crying out for presence.

When injustice and tragedy happen…  When the absences of the world are exposed,   humanity tends to respond in 3 ways:  we protest, we serve, we lament.  We need all 3 to be present in the absences of the world.

So this week, we will choose to lament.

I wanted to give you a heads up and to encourage a few things:

  1. Lament might involve emotion but it is mostly a deliberate choice to ‘enter in’ ( to feel, to be empathic, to understand, to identify with).  We will invite you to feel the wrong of what is broken and busted in the world.  We will not expect you to have an emotional response.
  2. For some of us, we are assisted in our ‘feeling’ by ‘writing’.  If you are one who uses a journal, I invite you to bring it on Sunday.  You will have an opportunity to reflect, to write, to feel.
  3. As always, a particular event is grown and nourished in a broader culture.  We live in a culture that is entertained by violence and the desolation of the image of God.  The conflation of entertainment and violence should push us to lament.

Breathe.

For some of you, you are already mad.  For some of you, this topic feels overwhelming.  For some of you, you want to come to church to feel hope and encouragement, not lament.

I do too.  I don’t like the broken fallenness of our world.  But I am grateful to God that He walks with me (and you) into the absences while holding my hand and being present.

The light of the world.

-David

Explore God

You are here because you have questions.

Perhaps someone invited you to consider something new.  Perhaps you have wanted to settle what you think and feel about ‘God’.  Perhaps something has happened in your life that surprised you.  Perhaps a situation has emerged for which you aren’t prepared.

All of us have something that keeps us up at night or makes us wonder or makes us scared.

We’re all asking questions.

For 8 weeks, the folks at Restoration are wrestling through some of our biggest questions and we hope that you will join us in the conversation.  We know you have something to offer.  We would like to listen.

We would like to Explore God with you.

The questions

If you show up on a Sunday, one of our pastors will offer a 25 minute reflection on how peoples and cultures have engaged the particular question for that week.  As you listen, you might find that you agree or that what they are saying makes you mad or that you hadn’t considered that idea before.  That’s what humble exploration does.

Here are the questions we will be asking:

  1. Does life have a purpose?  (Easter, April 16)
  2. Is there a God?  (April 23)
  3. Why does God allow pain and suffering?  (April 30)
  4. Is Christianity too narrow?  (May 7)
  5. Is Jesus really God?  (May 14)
  6. Is the Bible reliable?  (May 21)
  7. Can I know God personally?  (May 28)
  8. How can I be filled with the Holy Spirit?  (June 4)

Did you miss what we talked about on Sunday?  Do you want to hear it again?  We post the audio of each message about 24 hours after it is given right here.  So feel free to catch up or listen again.  Some of these topics require a longer time to process and digest.

The Conversations

The people around you at Restoration are engaging in the question, too, and would love to hear how you might answer.  If you are interested, they would probably tell you their story too.

During the spring, we have chosen a half dozen public places around the Metro DC area to host a weekly gathering of people who are discussing that week’s question.  It’s a place where you can drop in to hear what others are saying and to offer your own take.  Imagine a comfortable space in a local restaurant or park with food and beverages and intentional opportunities to follow up on the questions we are asking.  We are hoping that the locations and times will fit naturally after work as you head home or in the evening or on a weekend.  Everybody likes a good meal and good conversation. 

The Locations

Sunday (1pm) – Rocklands BBQ, 3471 Washington Blvd, Arlington, VA
Contact: Matt Hoppe – matt@restorationarlington.org
Monday  (7:30pm) – Lost Dog Cafe, 2920 Columbia Pike, Arlington, VA
Contact: Eva-Elizabeth Chisholm – eva.chisholm@gmail.com 
Tuesday (5:30pm) – LePain Quotidien, 800 17th St. NW, Washington D.C.
Contact: Brendan Sorem (703)927-1839

Tuesday (7:30pm) – Los Tios, 2615 Mt. Vernon Ave, Alexandria, VA
Contact: Mike and Jen Dodson – mike.jen.dodson@gmail.com 
Wednesday (7:30pm) – Restoration Anglican Church, 1815 N. Quincy St, Arlington, VA
Contact: Isaiah Brooms – isaiah@restorationarlington.org

Going a bit deeper

As you can see from the video at the top of this page, lots of people are asking these questions.  If you want to do some exploring on your own, we highly recommend this library of readings and videos.  They are short (which is nice) and it is easy to search for a particular topic.  So feel free to poke around as you think about your own convictions and choices.

At Restoration, we are all asking questions.  If you want to ask one of us something in particular, feel free to shoot us a note.

Hope you have a great day and hope we get to meet you this spring as we explore God together.

David Hanke

Gentleness and the Call to Civility

Public Square

 

We are coming to the conclusion of our summer sermon series on the Fruit of the Spirit.  These are 9 characteristics that St. Paul listed out in Galatians 5:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Outside of a relationship with God, they are character traits that we admire in people and most of the world aspires to have more of these.  But for those who have a relationship with God, these 9 traits are not a wish list of what would make someone a better person.  These are the promised manifestation of the Holy Spirit’s presence in the life of one who follows Jesus.  As we let Jesus lead more of our life, this fruit is what happens in us and what people notice about us.  Christians aren’t ‘trying to be more joyful or patient’.  No, they are trying to know God, trust Jesus, and be filled with the Holy Spirit–  as those things happen, the fruit of joy, patience, and others comes out.

In talking about gentleness, I mentioned 2 universal relational realities that will always require gentleness but will always tempt us to choose a posture that is harsh and protective:  relating to those with whom we disagree and relating to those who are far from their Father in heaven.  In spite of our natural inclination, choosing to be gentle results in the possibility of real life change for those with whom we disagree and real ‘rest for your souls’.

There are 3 contexts where we could work on the fruit of gentleness, what the secular world calls ‘civility’.  Civility in our households, in our interaction with those who choose to not belong to a church community, and in the public square.  As I talked through those contexts, I quoted a variety of people who have thought deeply about the role of civility and gentleness in our day to day discourse.

In 2011, Tim Keller wrote about backlash and civility for his church newsletter.  Keller gives some ‘rules for civility’ and helps us understand the historical scope of this conversation by interacting with Robert Putnam and David Campbell’s book American Grace:  how religion divides us and unites us.  That book has been very helpful to me as I imagine the kind of church that Restoration could be in the midst of hard and contentious cultural conversations.

In 2008, Os Guiness wrote The Case for Civility:  and why our future depends on it.  Os is so good at providing historical and societal context that is clear and persuasive.  He argues that much of the answer to whether or not we’ll learn to live with our deepest differences depends on rejecting two erroneous responses to the culture wars. First, we must say no to a “sacred public square”—a situation where one religion has a position of privilege or prominence that is denied to others.  We must also say no to a “naked public square”—the situation where public life is left devoid of any religion. This is what is advocated by the new atheists.  The alternative to both is a “civil public square.” one in which everyone—peoples of all faiths, whether religious or naturalistic—are equally free to enter and engage public life on the basis of their faiths, as a matter of ‘free exercise’.  

Tim Challies had a great interview with Os and developed some of these ideas more fully.  It was helpful to me as we imagine Restoration as a place that promotes truth, embraces the reality of pluralism, trusts that the good news of the Gospel will rise above the cacophony of voices, and (maybe most important of all) refuses to demonize those with whom we disagree.

I hope having access to some of the original sources that I was quoting will help you as you talk to God about gentleness and choose civility as your posture with those whom you disagree.  May God, by the presence of the Holy Spirit, use our opportunities to be gentle to make us more like Him.

-David

 

Taybeh

On Sunday, we talked about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.  The timing of the story unearths some of our deep tension between the goodness of God and the reality of suffering.  What do we do when it seems like God is absent or not paying attention or not fixing what is broken?  What do we do when evil goes unchecked as is demonstrated in the actions of ISIS?  What do we do when our suffering makes us ask, where were you?

If you read the rest of John 11, you see that many of the people who see what happens to Lazarus choose to believe in Jesus.  This wave of interest and allegiance causes the people in charge to re-assess ‘the problem of Jesus.’  They ask,

What are we to do?  For this man performs many signs.  If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.

It is a significant existential and political crisis.  They can’t let Jesus go on like this.  So they settle among themselves that they will kill him.  Caiaphas, the high priest argues, ‘it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.’  And they agree.  Yes.  Jesus dying makes life better for everyone.

Jesus is now in the liminal space that is created by his life being in danger, but it’s not quite time for him to be killed.

He therefore no longer walked openly among the Jews, but went from there to the region near the wilderness, to a town called Ephraim, and there he stayed with the disciples.

As he did SO MANY times, Jesus withdrew to rest, to pray, to be renewed with his friends.  Today, the town of Ephraim goes by the name of Taybeh.

Taybeh

Taybeh, February 2015

I was in this town just a few days ago.  It is located in the West Bank and is populated almost entirely by Palestinian Christians.  It is quiet, beautiful, and just on the edge of the desert.  The hills offer spectacular views and the landscape is restorative.  I spend a few hours with some Palestinian entrepreneurs who have created a micro-brewery, winery, and hotel.  Each of the enterprises are boutiques that reveal the artisan craft and creativity of the town.  Their goal is to show the world the beauty that exists in Palestine, to export a cultural narrative that is different from the way the region is often portrayed.  Those precious hours were some of my favorite.  The business owners are taking a tremendous risk–  in faith hoping that a Palestinian state will exist into the future and that they can promote it’s nascent economy.  I loved hearing about their dream and their love for this land.

Taybeh is a place of rest and dreams.  When Jesus finished his most profound miracle short of his own resurrection, he went to Taybeh to be restored.  Today, as we pray for this land and the peace and security that is so elusive, we cry out for Jesus to again to a significant miracle and to bring wholeness and shalom again.

-David

PS.  You can’t get Taybeh beer in the US, yet.  But it’s worth a flight…

Chafing Truth

Oh, how we giggled, Kristen and I, especially late at night as we reflected on our day’s adventures throughout the Asia Minor trip. I can’t function on so little sleep without getting pretty giddy at times.

I could barely contain my laughter at how obviously out of my element I was during one particularly challenging restroom expedition. That awkward state was a useful trip companion. Experientially, it raised my awareness to the unnatural shift required to redirect habits.

After days of taking my shoes off before entering the homes we visited, I, unintentionally forget to remove my shoes following a quick dash to our van. From challenging water closets to forgotten shoes, these simple and obvious things experienced as a foreigner gave me an appreciation for the laborious attention required when shifting one’s paradigm. How much more crucial is the Spirit’s faith-enabling power for anyone to leave their cultural understanding of devotion, God, and eternal security for another?

Brought up in a Christian home, with praying parents, I see that it was fairly easy for me to stay in the rhythm of weekly worship, mid-week Bible study, and prayer with friends. And I am deeply grateful for my heritage. In light of the ease I’ve known, change seems impossible in a culture that is saturated with the rule and rhythms that dictate their approach to the divine.

I was captivated by the stubborn beliefs of our hosts as they squarely faced these hurdles. Convinced, their life’s investment is a ‘treatise of trust’ in the supernatural endeavor of the Holy Spirit who bridges gaping emotional and cultural divides. Their prayers are bold, calling on God’s kind interference. Steadily relying on the character of their Creator, a god unlike others, who disrupted time by sending His son, a God-man, to live, eat, and breathe among humanity.

This truth chafes against the local culture (or our own, as well, for that matter).  Repeatedly our team heard a rationale that acknowledged what they saw as similarities and common ground in our spiritual beliefs. They seemed ok to co-exist with Christ without embracing Him.

My personal prayer is that the Spirit would make my heart ever more willing to follow Him out of my own cultural comforts to chafing truth. I want to echo and join bold prayers for this people to be supernaturally empowered to embrace what feels unnatural: the truth that God had a son, a perfect son, who loved and lived just for their joy and access to their Creator.

Whether you face a (giggle-inducing) awkward moment this week or not, challenge yourself to believe and ask for supernatural paradigm shifts in the culture of Asia Minor and for the hearts of individuals to receive the loving embrace of God’s son.

 …Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope. Hebrews 3:6

-Erica

Postscript from Liz: Want to hear more of the unvarnished truth from our trip? Come to the Weimer’s home on July 10, 7.30pm to see the pictures and hear more  ‘stories from Asia Minor’.

 

From Lies to Light – New ID Small Group

I like to think I can tell lies from truth, but it is surprisingly difficult at times. The hardest lies to decipher are often the one that swarm around inside of our heads, trapping us in dark places and keeping us away from the light of truth.

On April 24 I will start leading New ID, a six week course with teachings, testimonies, discussion groups and prayer for anyone struggling with disordered eating. As I prepare, old lies come to mind. I went through New ID at my church in Charlotte, NC in 2007 after an almost 10 year battle with disordered eating. I came SO close to not attending the course. “Surely you don’t struggle with food THAT much, Christie,” I told myself.  “You have been so much better this week! I bet that means you don’t need help after all.” Another lie.

These lies I told myself almost kept me from truth and freedom. Almost.

Instead, by God’s grace, I went through the course, fought the battle of recovery and have experienced freedom in Christ I never dreamt possible. I was brought out of captivity and am now called to help the many other men and women that struggle in those chains I wore for far too long.

Restoration is a place where broken people are being made whole. I love that our church is not afraid of getting our hands dirty, being honest with ourselves and each other and loving each other deeply throughout the process. Being involved in a small group keeps us out of isolation and in the light.

Please pray that those in our church body currently experiencing bondage to food and weight would step into the light of truth and find their true identity in Christ.

To learn more about New ID email me christine.dondero@gmail.com at  or read my blog.

And register for the small group  TODAY! It’s number 14 in the SG list .

In His Marvelous Light,

Christie

 

 

Worship and War

Erin Bair and I like to dialogue about cool stuff we are reading, and she sent me this quote by Alexander Schmemann: “If secularism in theological terms is a heresy, it is primarily a heresy about man. It is the negation of man as a worshiping being, as homo adorans: the one for whom worship is the essential act which both ‘posits’ his humanity and fulfills it.”

I look at this man from Damascus, and I ask, “How do I worship God in the midst of this?”  All I can see is my son Roman and this horrific desperation, and it doesn’t make any sense to me (probably due to the freedoms that I take for granted).  If Schmemann says that worship is “the essential act which both ‘posits’ his humanity and fulfills it,” then I struggle with how worship exists in the midst of war with the amount of dehumanization that needs to occur to cope with the violence that is committed.

As I have studied war these past three months, I have felt like less of a man, and I think it’s because I have had such a hard time figuring out how to worship God in the midst of these studies. If our humanity is so intensely tied to worshiping, then war, though I think horrifically necessary at times, can push us into a place of having to surrender our own humanity and that of others.

In his humanity, I so admire Jesus’ instruction for Peter to holster his sword. Jesus engaged deeply in the emotional, physical, and spiritual pain that was his in the Passion. He did not divorce himself from any other part of himself. Somehow in the midst of his commitment and sacrifice, there was worship. In his willingness to be sacrificed, there was beauty. I don’t understand it, yet, as was shared on Sunday, his very response to suffering is incarnation – to be manifest in his entirety.

“By Thy Mercy, O Deliver us, Good Lord.”

For Sunday’s songs: http://restorationmusic.wordpress.com/

– Matthew Hoppe

The Beauty of the Word

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend “pastors’ school” at Duke Divinity School. The theme of the gathering was the arts in the life of the church. It was a great conference, with wonderful lectures by Jeremie Begbie, a reading by Marilynne Robinson (author of one of my all-time favorite books, Gilead), and even a workshop where I got to play — and pray — with clay. So much fun.

But I think the highlight was the St. John’s Bible. In 1998, St. John’s Abbey and University in Minnesota commissioned a totally hand-written and illuminated copy of the  Bible. If you’ve ever seen medieval Bible manuscripts, think along those lines — but firmly situated in the 21st century. The original volumes (all 7 of them) don’t tour, but there are 10 “heritage editions,” which are gorgeous, full-sized (2′ x 3′) reproductions, and 4 volumes of one of these editions were at Duke.

I was prepared to “look but not touch,” and so was thrilled when we were invited to page through the volumes ourselves. What I saw was stunning. The obvious love and devotion that had gone into each hand-formed letter… The incredible creativity, talent, and faith reflected in each of the illuminations… The ability of the images to bring to life layers of meaning in the texts that I’d never considered before…

But I think what was most powerful to me about the St. John’s Bible was that it showed me the beauty of God’s Word in a way I’d never experienced before. The actual, physical beauty of the literal words and the illuminations helped me to grasp the awesome beauty of the meaning of those words and images. It’s one thing to read about the promise of a Messiah in Isaiah 7:14; it’s another thing entirely to see the hope and the joy of the promise in an image like this:

Again, Ezekiel’s story of the valley of dry bones is amazing enough when read, but the power and the beauty of God’s promise to bring life where there is only dry death just astounded me when I saw it represented like this:

I’d encourage you to take some time exploring the St. John’s Bible on its website. And if you ever have the opportunity to see it in person, jump at the chance.

As for me, I’m profoundly grateful that God has given people the gifts and the vision to be able to share his Word in this beautiful, unique way — and that those people have been faithful in using those gifts. It is a true gift.

– Erin

Soak in it and Live it Up

I am reminded again how potent the book of Proverbs is.  I am using the format of the One Year Bible to read through the Scriptures.  Every day I (try to) read a couple chapters of Old Testament, a chapter of New Testament, about ten verses of a Psalm, and sometimes only two verses of Proverbs.

Only two verses of Proverbs?!?

What’s the point of that?  As an academic, I am trained to look at context to understand the overall ideas that are being presented; but I have been realizing/remembering that once context is established, going back to soak in just a little portion of the Scriptures can be so mind altering.  (Not a new concept – I recognize this.)

Two quick thoughts that have caused reflection are below:

Proverbs 9:6

“Leave your simple ways, and live, and walk in the way of insight.” – This quote from Wisdom has caused me to reexamine my view of “living.”   It seems to contradict what we often mean when we say, “Live it up!”  And the idea of living in the wisdom of God as being a rich, life-giving state of being has been a recurring theme in my life since I read this.

Proverbs 6:27,29

“Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned?…So is he who goes into his neighbor’s wife; none who touches her will go unpunished.”  This one seems pretty obvious, and I love the blunt parallel.  Yet what makes up much of the unnecessary drama in this world?  Adultery or Inappropriately defined/directed love.  Many (if not most) of us have scars and charred clothing from carrying fire next to our chests.  Lord, have mercy.

What short passage has smacked you upside the head causing you to soak and live these past couple weeks?

Hide and Seek

Hide and Seek

You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.
(Jeremiah 29:13)

The other day I saw Jesus in the cellophane wrapped around my loaf of bread.  Not His face or anything like that, but I saw Him in the shape of a heart.  I was reminded that He provides for my needs.  I also caught Him outside of my daughter’s school.  That time He looked like a mom hugging her son.  He looked like a boy who didn’t want to go to school and He looked like a mom who didn’t want to let that boy go.  I saw him today in a tiny puddle that filled a heart-shaped hole in the concrete.  He filled that heart-shaped hole until it overflowed.  I heard a story about Him, too, when a friend told me about one brother telling another brother to wear a helmet while skiing.  In that story He saved a life . . . again.

Seeing Jesus is a lot like playing hide and seek.  I spent the first 30 years of my life hiding.  And then, one day, I peeked.  I peeked around the corner hoping to be found.  To be captured.  To be brought in to the group of others who had been found.  Who were together.   And, the day I peeked, was the day I finally heard Him call, “All-ye!  All-ye!  In come free!”  And that’s true, isn’t it?  He doesn’t ask us to come to Him with anything.  He just wants us all to come to Him.  Free.

It’s because I dared to respond – to be found – that I now am the seeker.  I look for Jesus in other people and other places and other things.  Seeing his “love gifts” like heart-shaped cellophane and heart-shaped holes and hugs and helmets is a privilege.  I am praying for the desire to see Him more – to really see where He needs to be seen by others.  To open the door for those who want to come in.

Where do you see Jesus?

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find;
knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives,
and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.
(Matthew 7:7-8)

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