Tuesday, March 25, 2014

What Sort of God?

Last week, I headed north. North, there are mountains and canyons. In that part of the country, the canyons are deep and the mountains are high. The sheer size is overwhelming. The beauty is both breathtaking and incredulous. Northern Arizona is beautiful, but in Utah, I never wanted to close my eyes. There, the landscape is wild. Civilization encroaches upon the land rather than dominates it.

There, in those mountains, I hiked places I never dreamed I would hike--walking across and scrambling up and down mountain fins. I've never been a fast hiker, but covering only a mile in an hour is slow even for me. That's what happens when you have to stand for a bit to figure out where the trail goes. That happens when you can't easily climb the rocks before you.

There, in the midst of rock walls so large and smooth I can't imagine anyone being able to scale them, no matter what equipment they were given, I began to think of God. My thoughts were not of the pious, see-the-wonder-of-God variety. They were about how differently I would think of God if this were the landscape for my entire life.

The God of this landscape could not be safe God. Even the park-mapped trails were dangerous. Many places, falling would have meant a rescue team. The smoothness of most every peak and rock was overshadowed by the larger picture, which showed a landscape that was jagged and insurmountable.

In the middle of it all, I felt a smallness like I have never felt in my life. Not that I was insignificant, but that there was so much more. The promise of a God who will not let your foot slip makes far more sense in a place like that. An almighty God isn't one who can manipulate the minute details of daily life; an almighty God is one who can reign over something like that. A God beyond understanding seems the only possibility in a place so beyond the order most of us live in.

Hearing the biblical echoes so strongly in a place like that, I can't help but wonder about the sort of God  portrayed in church--church with comfy chairs, climate control, easily accessible. Church on Sunday morning hopes that everything goes as planned and we stick to a schedule. Church on a Sunday morning is designed to be hospitable, welcoming, safe.

Is that the sort of God worth following?

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Yes, It's Ash Wednesday

I love Ash Wednesday. I think it outranks pretty much every other holy day as far as personal preferences go. That probably sounds strange to most people.

I love burning the palms from the years before and the messiness of it all--the smoke, the fire, the crumbling leaves, the scent that lingers.

I love the quietness of the service. Maybe there are Ash Wednesday services that are loud, but I can't imagine one.

I love the fact that we take time to confess that there's brokenness, sin, in our world. I love the fact that we take time to confess that there's brokenness, sin, in each of us.

But most of all, I love the reminder spoken with the imposition of ashes: "You are dust, and to dust you shall return."

In so many ways, Church is about learning God's story, a story radically different from what our culture tells us. On Ash Wednesday, we see the chasm between the two stories, if we're willing to look.

Look at a billboard, a magazine, those sidebars in your browser, probably even inside your medicine cabinet or on your bathroom counter--youth! It's what's best. It's what we're seeking, or at least what we're told to seek. Smooth skin. Hair with no gray. Toned body. White teeth. None of the signs that naturally come with living. Perhaps most telling is the fact that ageless is one of the best adjectives that can be applied to a celebrity. I, who have to Google many names from pop culture because I really have no clue who they are, still can name a few folks who get the title of ageless.

Then, there's God's story. That story reminds us we are dust and to dust we will return. We will die, one day. There's no way around that in the world that we know. Each year, I offer that reminder to folks from four years old on up to about eight-four years old. Then, I turn, and a colleague offers that same reminder to me.

You are dust, and to dust you will return.

And that's holy, too. God who formed the dust into something will be ready to receive the dust when it is only dust, again. As I find a few gray hairs at my temples and notice a few lines at the corners of my eyes, I am comforted at the reminder: I am God's, in life and in death.