Blessed Are the Peacemakers

I think I finally figured out what I want to be when I grow up.

I’ve been thinking about calling lately, and how it feels like I’m called to a million different things. And some of it is grad school and some of it is having a movie night with a co-worker, and it involves two different communities and two different countries, and I feel like maybe all these random hobbies aren’t random after all, and everything feels important, like I’m called to a million different things right now and I can’t put my finger on any I’m supposed to quit. And I was feeling so overwhelmed when one word, one title, popped into my head.

Peacemaker. I want to be a peacemaker.

This may come as a surprise. What about justice? What about all the terrible things I want to stop? Am I ready to stop striving against those things and sign a treaty, all in the name of peace?

Not at all.

The Bible talks a lot about peace. We are given a peace that passes understanding, and are called to be at peace with one another, all because of our new found peace with God. But think about how that peace with God was achieved. Did God compromise? Did He give up on what He knew was right? Did He decide to accept second best, all in the name of peace? On the contrary, He committed even more strongly to defeating evil. Our peace with God is no divine compromise. It’s more like a divine conquest.

Now, of course, there are plenty of times when compromise, or even giving something up, is appropriate. But the deep, world changing peace I’m dreaming of doesn’t happen when we cover up the problems and pretend their not there. On the contrary, real peace requires seeing all the problems, and taking action to fix them. Not temporarily, but truly.

That’s the kind of peace we need. And that’s the kind of peacemaker I want to be.

Movie Review: Enola Holmes

Author’s Note: Long time readers of this blog will instantly notice that this post is very different than my typical. I am aware of this, and perhaps this will be a single anomaly. However, I have wanted to write a movie review for quite some time, and this is frankly the best place to share it. I think you will still find the philosophical and spiritual themes I typically write about present, though in a different format.

To start off, Enola Holmes is, purely and simply, fun.

Yes, the feminism is stereotypical. And yes, the romance is predictable. But watching a spunky sixteen year old defy the odds and save the day, even beating her famous brother Sherlock Holmes – well, who wouldn’t enjoy that? Speaking of Sherlock Holmes, Henry Cavill’s portrayal of him was was superb. Sherlock Holmes adaptations and offshoots all have to find a balance between depicting the famous detective’s brain and his hidden but still present humanity. This movie shows a bit more humanity, but that’s understandable, since it deals with his family. And the relationship that grows between Enola and Sherlock is completely fan girl worthy. I would have loved to see more of it – perhaps a sequel?

However, there are two points which the movie raised which raised it a bit beyond fun, and yet I wish had been developed more. The first is the issue of political activism. I said the feminism is stereotypical. This is not completely accurate. The presence of feminism in a modern movie about a girl in the 1800s is almost universal. But the form this feminism takes is concerning, and the characters find it concerning. I risk giving away the plot if I go into much more detail, but there seems to an understanding between two of the characters that, however wrong the world is, there are limits to the lengths you can go to mend it. There was even the beginning of the idea that those we love may make decisions we cannot support. And then the issue was dropped and never brought up again. I find this disappointing, and also not terribly good story telling. Issues as big as these would have to be addressed.

The second point regards the relationship between authenticity and community. Enola’s mother, Eudoria, tells her “There are two paths you can take, Enola. Yours…or the path others choose for you.” To describe Enola and Eudoria as free spirited really doesn’t do it justice. They are eccentric – at least, Eudoria is, and Enola, raised exclusively by her, follows in her footsteps. This is, predictably, not accepted by many other characters, and attempts are made to change Enola. She is told that this is for her own good. “I want you to be happy,” Mycroft tells her. “I want you to live a full and vibrant life,” Miss Harrison, the head of a finishing school, argues. On the surface, Enola seems to be forced to choose between being herself and being accepted by society. On the surface, one choice definitely wins. But it’s actually more complex than that.

At one point, Enola recounts how she once rescued a sheep from the edge of a cliff, almost dying in the attempt. She then realizes that, although it will put her own safety at risk, she must try to help a character who she sees as “on the edge of a cliff.” And help she does, sacrificing – well, we won’t say what, but it is a great deal. We also watch Sherlock move from a “It’s out of my hands” approach to a more active involvement in his sister’s life. Contrast this with Eudoria. It is no secret that she disappears, leaving Enola behind. And when you eventually learn the reason for her disappearance, it is unsatisfactory, at best. And this irritates me, as it seems both out of character, and a departure of what I see as a deeper theme of the movie. Enola and Sherlock, however, seem to realize that however different you are, and however poorly you fit in, you owe something, if not to society, then to your fellow man.

You Can Make a Difference

I may be abandoning Walmart for good.

Yes, I promise there is a bigger purpose for this blog post. But allow me to rant a moment. My first complaint is that common items are regularly out of stock at the local Walmart I frequent. The parking lot is weird. Almost all the self checkouts have been transitioned to credit card only. There are never enough check out lines open, and last time I was there, I innocently got in line only to have a cashier inform me that the line was closed.

I almost cried.

That may seem like a extreme reaction, but let me give you some background. I work nights, but still try to live a semi-normal life. This means I’m almost always sleep deprived. I also tend to go shopping in the morning, which is one of the worst times of day. So plop my tired self in an over-stimulating environment where I have to make a multitude of decisions which involve money, and you don’t have to be all that rude to push me over the edge.

So today I went to Kroger. And let me tell you, the soft lighting, cheese section, and sushi definitely had me excited. But my check out experience was the icing on the cake. First, I realized I had an item in my cart I didn’t want. The cashier took it from me to have someone put it back. Then I handed her my gift card when she needed my Kroger card. Then she had to tell me how to use my gift card. Finally I dropped my change. But at no time did she seem irritated or make me feel like I’m stupid, or annoying, or whatever word my exhausted brain chooses to generate. Rather, she smiled from behind her mask, and said she hoped I had a good day. The grocery bagger (another reason I’m loving Kroger) did the same. An employee even took my cart from me in the parking lot so I didn’t have to take it back.

We all want to make a difference, and I think a lot of people get frustrated because they feel that their nine to five gets in the way of that. We think that unless we’re in ministry full time our ministry has to be fit into the weekends and days off. Nothing could be further than the truth. What I experienced at Kroger is commonly called good customer service. I call it kindness, respect, and loving your neighbor. You might think that checking out someone in the grocery store doesn’t make a difference, but treating someone like they matter, and like their needs are important, totally does. And since most jobs involve some aspect of customer service, most jobs have lots of ministry opportunities, if you just pay attention.

You can make a difference, even if you “just” work at a grocery store.

Justice and the Cross

Many people look at the cross and see God’s love.

This is certainly true. The cross shows us a God who loved us so much that He wasn’t content to simply sit in heaven and talk about it. He was compelled to come to earth and show us love, to live out love, and finally die for love. No easy outs. No second bests, or compromises. His love came at great personal cost to Himself, and yet He loved anyway. So yes, you can look at the cross and see love.

But when I look at the cross, I see God’s justice.

The cross shows us a God who is so just that He wasn’t content to simply sit in heaven and talk about it. He was compelled to come to earth and show us justice, to live out justice, and finally die for justice. No easy outs. No second bests, or compromises. His justice came at great personal cost to Himself, and yet He was just anyway.

The cross shows us that love isn’t easy. If you think it is, keep loving. There are people, circumstances, even your own soul that seem to defy love. Justice is much the same way. It’s messy. It’s complicated. It’s not something you can mete out from an ivory tower. It demands to be lived out among people, because justice is all about people. And maybe some see love in the cross and others see justice, because justice is another word for love? Because when you love someone, you give them justice. Even if it’s hard. Even if it’s messy. Even if it comes at great personal cost to yourself.

Artists Make Mistakes

Once, there was a painting. Some thought it was by a famous Italian artist, Caravaggio. Others disagreed. But when the painting was submitted to close inspection, they found evidence that it was, indeed, genuine. And what was that evidence? “X-ray analysis revealed that the artist had made corrections to the picture that indicated he had changed course in the midst of painting it…that’s not something an artist would do had he simply been copying an already-completed canvas.” (Quote taken from The Art of the Con by Anthony Amore, pg. 65)

Artists make mistakes.

Forgers make copies.

It can be tempting to forge your life, just a little. To look around at what everyone else is doing, and do that. After all, they look like they have it together. They look happy. Maybe if we copy them, we’ll be happy too, and avoid those mistakes we’re desperate to avoid. But no one has it all together. And while there’s nothing wrong with being inspired by other people, the fact is, no one else is living the life God has called you to. It’s an original if ever there was one.

Art takes courage. It takes vulnerability. It requires that you allow part of your imperfect self into the world. Maybe that’s why there aren’t more artists. Life requires the same things. Courage. Vulnerability. Allowing your imperfect self into the world. Some people decide that’s too great a risk, certain that their life won’t be a masterpiece. But artists make mistakes. And we still love their work.

So maybe, sometime this week, take a deep breath, and stop copying. Work on your masterpiece for a bit. Know that there is grace for the mistakes. After all, that’s how we know it’s real.

When Right Things Feel Wrong

Just FYI, sometimes right decisions feel wrong.

I started grad school a few weeks ago. I’ve known that I wanted to do this for a while, but I wasn’t sure about the timing. I had several things I was considering, and I wasn’t quite sure what should happen when. Then COVID hit, and just about everything got put on hold, but hey! I was already planning on doing school online, so take that, global pandemic.

For the first week or so, I had a series of freak out moments. There was more reading than I expected, my teacher seemed scary, and are all my classmates are older than me? I did well as an undergrad, but this is different. I can memorize and take tests all day long, but it’s a lot harder to judge if your teacher will like your writing. And school took over my life before. I don’t want that to happen again. Add to that the fact that I wasn’t getting grades back before I had to submit the next assignment, and, well, let’s just say that my stress level was unhealthily high.

I’m not going to lie. Part of me wanted to quit. A bigger part of me wanted to wallow in self-pity and stress. But these are the moments when you have to give overwhelming feelings some straight back talk. It felt like bad timing. I reminded myself of all the reasons this was a good time. I felt overwhelmed by all I had to do. I crunched the numbers, and reminded myself that I had plenty of time. I was afraid that I would fail. I reminded myself that my love was not based on my performance.

This, I think, was what Paul meant by taking every thought captive. It’s not so much making sure you never have the anxious though, it’s sending in the swat team of truth to make sure it doesn’t stay put. Because when you do the good thing God wants you to do, you may experience some push back. We’re in war, but someone we, myself included, expect following God to be easy.

Deep down, I knew grad school was a good decision, no matter how I felt. It’s part of how I’m preparing for what God may lead me to in the future.  So I had to take my feelings in hand, and tell them that they were not leading me, I was leading them. God is with me, God is for me, and God will help me. And whatever right thing feels wrong, God is with you, God is for you, and God will help you.

Miracles Still Happen

I know it may not feel like it, now, in the midst of the pandemic, but miracles still happen.

I know, because I’m living in the middle of one.

It started with a story – a story a friend told about a crazy day. It involved a sister’s middle school acquaintance, a baby who needed a safe place, an effort to help, and the discouragement of being turned away. But then she said a first name, and my sister asked for a last name, and my head kind of exploded as I realized the baby was my little sister’s brother.

And if you don’t think your little sister’s brother instantly becomes yours, let me tell you, he does.

Even if you don’t know exactly what to call him.

The next morning, my mom called social services to try to get any information she could. And we talked to each other and tried to figure out what to do, because Dad is old (his words), and my sister was pregnant, and we felt like he belonged to us, but where exactly? So both couples – my mom and dad and my sister and brother-in-law petitioned for custody. Call us crazy, but that’s what love does.

So then we get to court, and things aren’t matching up – the goal of care is return to his birth mom, when we were led to believe that would not be the case. And the social worker doesn’t seem to be on our side, and the next court date is months away. We do get visitation, and my sister gets to meet her brother, but they won’t let us take a picture. Then COVID happens, and visitation stops, and the birth mom kind of disappears, and it seems like there’s only bad news and maybe this isn’t God’s plan after all?

But I just get this feeling that everything is going to work out. So out of hope, or maybe rebellion, I buy matching onesies for the babies in my life.

Finally, he gets to come spend a week with us, just after my sister had her baby, and he’s beautiful, and we’re in love, and scared, and stretched to the max. It feels like rotten timing, and it’s tempting to wonder what exactly God is doing. But we all pull together, and we make it through. And nothing is quite as perfect as holding that sleeping angel.

We have one more court date, and then he should get to come home.

Miracles still happen.

I’m living in one.

The Healers

The sun sets over the desert.

The wind sighs,

like a breath held too long released.

I look out over the nameless multitude,

and suddenly I can’t breathe

because I know them.

 

The broken, the blind, the maimed,

the woman with the years old wound,

the child who was dying since the moment she was born,

and the man who didn’t want to breathe,

just sleep.

 

I begin to push my way

through the crowd

and I recognize the smell

not just of unwashed bodies

but of rotting flesh.

I watch my step,

trying not to think

what the ground is wet with.

 

The sounds are familiar too –

the moans, the screams, the curses.

(Because if you think that mankind

will always wait patiently to be helped,

then you know little of human nature.)

 

Finally I reach the center

and I’m face to face with Him

and He’s crying.

Suddenly my own face is wet

and I know He knows me

and I know Him

like never before.

Hearing from God

Finding the will of God for your life has got to be one of the most popular sermon topics!

Of  course it helps that I graduated college not that long ago. I’m at the age where I’m making decisions that will affect me the rest of my life, or so I’ve been told. Who I hang out with, what church I go to, what job I accept – it’s all terribly important, and you want to get it right the first time around because yes, God redeems everything, but consequences for bad choices don’t get erased.

Is it any wonder that we’re looking for a checklist to make sure our life goes right? And the checklists abound – three, four, maybe five steps to finding the will of God for your life. The process may vary slightly depending on the preacher, but Bible reading, right living, and surrendering will probably be involved. So I’ve read my Bible, tried to live a righteous life, and surrendered multiple things multiple times. And yes, I’ve heard from God, but not in the way you might expect.

I think we all deep down wish that God would just hand us a five year business plan. With lots of details, please. Work here. Live there. Get that degree. Date her, don’t date him, and focus on this friendship, because it’s going to be important down the road. Now I may be wrong, but in my experience very rarely does God give us definitive answers on what we consider to be the big questions in life. For many, it never happens. For me, it’s happened twice – once looked for and once unlooked for. Why these two times and why these two areas I do not know. Maybe you’re thinking I should get some more Bible reading under my belt, because hearing from God twice? There’s a lot more to life than that.

Oh, but I’ve heard from God more than twice.

Two times God has said “Do this, go here.” And the rest of the time? He tells me He loves me. That He is with me. That I don’t need to be afraid, and that it’s ok to cry. Perhaps not in so many words, but through a Bible verse, an inspiration, or the face of a child – in many different ways and at many different times, God gives me what I need. And apparently, I don’t need a five year plan with lots of details.

I think we’ve got it backwards. What’s terribly important is knowing who God is and how He feels about you. If you get that right, the rest of life will, not fall into place, but maybe not crash and burn either? It might be messy, but if we know God loves us, can’t we trust Him to work out the details? To shut and open doors and make sure we walk through them? I think we can. After all, the Shepherd has come so we might have life more abundantly, and He promises that we’ll recognize His voice.

 

A Meaningful Life

I don’t think I’m the only person who worries sometimes about messing up their life.

We have mid-life crises, and quarter-life crises. We worry about what to study, where to work, and who to marry. Advertisements don’t sell stuff, they sell a lifestyle we’re afraid we’re missing out on. We compare our day to everyone else’s day via social media, and find it wanting. And here in Christendom, we simply everything, and just obsess over finding the will of God for our lives.

Can I offer us some comfort? There’s more than one way to live a meaningful life.

For some, that’s an earth-shattering concept. We all have the same Bible, the same ten commandments, the same great commission. So shouldn’t our lives have this holy sameness? Isn’t there a right way to live your life? I mean, we’re all supposed to love God and our neighbor, so I suppose you could answer yes. But as to the specifics of how exactly we are supposed to love God and our neighbor, there is frustrating, and perhaps intentional, silence.

Pastor, engineer, or businessman? Public speaking or hospitality? Kids ministry or visiting shut ins? Yes, yes, yes, and everything in between. There are a million ways love, serve, and have a meaningful life. God wired you a specific way for a reason. So lean into those natural tendencies, and pursue what makes you feel alive. Yeah, God has a plan, but it’s less about knowing the specifics of the next step, and more about trusting that the place you were born, friends you make, and passions you discover are intentional. It’s less about figuring out the perfectly balanced Christian life and more about believing God will guide your steps. It’s less about anxiety and more about faith.

So maybe let yourself off the hook. You don’t have to figure it all out. Just start moving and trust that God will guide you where He wants you. And don’t compare yourself to others too much. There’s more than one way to live a meaningful life.

 

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