Category: God working in history

Possibilities With God

In this poetic essay I engage with the idea that we need to get involved—with others—in what God is doing in our world. Will we listen to what the past and present are saying, so we can move together WITH our loving God now … stepping into the possibilities that call us to a renewed future?


WITH

When the angel said to Mary, “For nothing is impossible with God”

and when Jesus said, speaking of the rich young man, “With God all things are possible”

did they mean that God would single-handedly make seemingly-impossible things happen?

Surely not.

“With” means with. Possibilities are not actualities. But they can become so.

First, choices will be made . . . by God, by us. . . .

Choices matter in each

attraction or encounter

touch or grasp

reaction or response

intersection or dead-end

word spoken or thought silenced.

And, as in the case of Mary, life-giving choices and actions don’t happen alone but

WITH.

Whence comes this ability and necessity to choose, this invitation to respond and cooperate?

—From One who speaks potentiality, beauty, and creativity out of Love . . . connecting us as persons, relating us to all of nature, to every part of ourselves, and to God (through Christ who gives us life and the Spirit who is with us). We are image-bearers. Like it or not, believe it or not, we are in some sense

WITH.

Living here in time and space, each of our moments is thick with the past—and pregnant with the future—calling us to be creators, curators, visionaries, encouragers, healers, leaders, servants.

Will we

receive the breath

heed the voice

cleave to the nearness

of God?

Will we give birth to actions of faith, hope, and love

WITH?

Look up—attend, read, listen to the moment.

Look back—see the river of the past feeding into the now.

Look down—see that we are standing in an estuary of the potent, teeming present.

Look toward the horizon—see the future rolling and swelling. Which waves will break upon the shore?

Look around—all that surrounds us, that the river currents and ocean tides wash in, how it is mixing. At this time, in this place, what can we do to bring

  • clarity not murkiness
  • free flow not stagnation
  • sweetness not putridity
  • abundance not scarcity
  • hope that helps people know they are

WITH?

We are part of the becomingness of everlasting life!

Will we face the moment, listen to what it is saying about us, about the past that has influenced who we are, about the direction we are headed, what we are bringing into the future, and what the future may bring to us?

God—being revealed through Jesus, the Scriptures, and creation—is patient, persistent, longsuffering, even slow . . . convincing, helping, here

WITH.

Like compass needles, we seek, seek True North; and True North wants to, wills to, be found.

Yet, bent, we wobble and resist.

But God is not a faraway star. God is

  • the true atmosphere giving us breath
  • the true magnetism holding us together
  • the true dawn waking us again and again.

Does the needle think it is the true one and North should get in line?

God “strengthens the humble but opposes the proud.”—

This is to say, when we set ourselves in opposition, we cannot join hands

WITH.

No matter where we go, where we have been, where our feet stand now in time . . . we are not alone, never away from God’s influence, care, wooing. If “God with us” holds all our times past—keeps our “tears in a bottle”. . . . If God at every moment sees all the possible steps into the future. . . . If God imagines the myriad possible intersections of our path with the paths of others. . . . Then let us act, step out, take hold, clasp hands, join hearts

WITH.

Forces exist that would divide us, separate us, within, without.

God—Love—would bring us together.

In this estuary of the consequential, substantial present . . .

The young gambol in swirls of fresh water, thinking they’ll forever play among the land mammals, trees, and sunny grasses.

We who have traveled longer sense saltiness in the water and feel the undertow pulling away from familiar moorings. We will soon find ourselves in the waters of what from here appears to be dark swelling mysteries, unfathomed depths, and uncharted treasures . . . to a separation temporal, but a connection and communion everlasting.

Fresh water and salt water mingle here and now, but these waters continually recede, like breath and blood flowing in and out of lungs—rhythms of life attuned

WITH.

If we have a God who speaks and

who “holds all things together,”

then surely God is continually present to us and all creation?

And if God is manifest “wherever two or three are gathered,”

then surely God the Spirit is speaking and influencing there

WITH.

In this moment, are we thriving?

How can we continue to stand, let alone flourish, if divided against ourselves—lacking harmony in our inner lives, our families, our churches, our nations, our world?

We say we believe some form of:

“God created the heavens and the earth.”

“God called creation ‘good’.”

“God so loved the world. . .”

Then God isn’t against us but

WITH!

We may disagree on:

. . . Beginnings

a) A creation of potential, of possibilities and ongoing creation in which we participate

b) A controlled design with set time and space, limited and contained

. . . Endings

a) “All things made new” by a loving, relational, re-creating, and transforming God

b) Destruction of, and rescue from, a cursed and dying world by a just and vengeful God

But can we agree, in this in-between time, as we open our hearts and minds to the Alpha and Omega, to seek God’s reign and will “on earth as it is in heaven,” and work together

WITH?

This moment carries roots and leaves of past moments and seeds of all future moments. What we do—now—matters. Is this present mix of waters rich with life and health both ecological and societal? Jesus said, we are “the salt of the earth,” “the light of the world.” We are caretakers of creation and each other when we partner

WITH.

Why do we blindly and stubbornly waste personal and corporate energies on greedy squabbles and turf wars?

Can we

  • accept slowness; unplug, listen, “fear not”?
  • trust together in creation’s innate ability to heal and renew, and accept our part in that?
  • acknowledge our own need for healing and renewal?
  • choose a mindset of benevolence for all?
  • have faith and hope in goodness and salvation?

Surely our God of creative, gracious, relentless love, will help us to join

WITH?

We need each other.

Will we lead the way by giving up worn-out stances, protectiveness, fear?

Will we choose to hold lightly our distinctives, traditions, non-essentials?

Let us be conservative—conservers of the truly good.

Let us be liberal—truly generous and tolerant.

We can each take responsibility to do something to make a positive difference, to be life-giving, to partner with God and each other in what Love seeks to do and calls us to participate in, as co-laborers. This labor is not a heavy-ladenness, nor is it burdensome, when we are yoked

WITH.

I know some people who choose to listen to, love freely, and work with God to sweeten the waters where they stand:

  • A prosperous, conservative Christian couple who cultivate acres of gardens to grow produce for their local food bank.
  • An evangelical pastor who has organized a ministry of prayer, friendship, and outreach to Muslim refugees in his city.
  • A retired professor and writer who follows God in vulnerability, revealing her trauma and healing to help others.
  • Contemplatives and poets who listen to and articulate a language of the heart to reach and touch fellow longing hearts.
  • New theologians reaching across institutional divides with hopeful understandings of God’s essence and presence.
  • A quiet man who invites neighbors into his home, where he and his wife pray and care for them, and share life together.
  • Wounded healers who listen, love, and pray with all who come; inviting, seeking, finding Jesus in broken places.
  • My green-card holding friend who sits with people dying alone in hospital, so they will not die alone but know they are . . .

WITH.

We stand here in a richness of the influential past and the potential future

as hope enlivens the waters. Will we:

  • vision together a more healthy and happy future?
  • seek healing for wounds of the past we carry?
  • affirm the good in this pregnant moment?
  • join hands together and partner

WITH

God?

~Catherine Lawton

 


“With” (a poetic essay) was first published in the book Partnering with God: Exploring Collaboration in Open and Relational Theology. (SacraSage Press, 2021)

“With” was also published on the Web at: crort.com/essays/with.

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

 

Bobo, Ouyang, and Susan: Experiencing Community

Beauty, comfort, and caring community can come to us in surprising ways.

Ouyang is a Chinese friend of our author Susan Elaine Jenkins. They became acquainted while she lived and taught school in China for many years. Ouyang appears in Susan’s memoir SCANDALON: Running From Shame and Finding God’s Scandalous Love. If you read Scandalon, then you know how Ouyang helped Susan adjust to life in China and how Susan helped Ouyang better understand Christianity. Their conversations shared in the book are deep and moving and show God’s hand at work across cultures.

So I was delighted when Susan and Ouyang contributed a story, “Bobo the Hedgehog,” to our most-recent release, The Animals In Our Lives: Stories of Companionship and Awe.

“Bobo the Hedgehog” relates a moving childhood experience of Ouyang during the dreary days of the Communist Revolution in China—a period of time with very little beauty, comfort, or caring community. Seemingly by accident Ouyang found all those things—beauty, comfort, and caring community—when he happened upon a rare thing, a rose garden, one of the few gardens sanctioned by the government. And inside that “secret,” gated garden was a kind old gardener who befriended Ouyang. When the old man found a hedgehog by the river, he kept it hidden and let it be Ouyang’s “pet” for a while until the risk became too great and the hedgehog was released back into the wild. But the comfort and joy a pet hedgehog brought to the boy never left him and became a part of who he is today.

The kind gardener (however clandestinely) sharing the creature with him, at a time when families were not allowed to own pets, a terrible time when starving people were eating whatever animals, including pets, they could find … is the type of experience that can give needed hope to a child in a bleak environment.

Ouyang’s childhood memory, written for him by Susan, provides a rare glimpse into what life was like in those difficult times. It also gives a glimpse into the life and character of the boy who became the man, Ouyang.

Soon after The Animals In Our Lives was published, Ouyang found this little hedgehog (pictured above with him) on a river bank. Happy, formative, hope-giving memories again flooded back to his heart and mind.

Ouyang’s story of “Bobo the Hedgehog” is one of many included in The Animals In Our Lives, that demonstrate how animals of all kinds can give us companionship, the experience of awe, and a sense of God’s presence.

 

 

Exploring the Love of God

If you believe, as I do, that God’s essential nature is Love, then you would enjoy reading this book. Cladach didn’t publish it. But I contributed an essay to it entitled, “Opening to God Through Prayer.”

After reading the 80+ essays in the book, I’d like to share with you my review:

Uncontrolling Love: Essays Exploring the Love of God is a treasure trove of diverse viewpoints looking at many aspects of life in light of God’s love being non-coercive. You may not agree with all of the essayists (I agree with most, not all). But they will stretch your thinking and challenge your heart. That’s part of the beauty of a collaborative project like this. Here are quotes from the contributors who especially spoke to me:

Will Albright: “I wonder if God isn’t instead this great music maker, teaching all creation to play and sing along to the melody of love.”

Rick Barr: “In a sense, to be is to be known and to be loved.”

Justin Heinzekehr: “The non-coercive God is not hovering over us with a specific set of directions but is encouraging us to tap into our own creativity without knowing where it will lead.”

Tim Reddish: “Prayer makes a difference, but so do the necessary regularity of the world and every free choice humans and angels make…. It is quite legitimate to say that the Christian and the Spirit are ‘co-praying’.”

Scott Nelson Foster: “It is when we respond to God’s call to love that God’s will is done.”

Sarah Lancaster: “One advantage of thinking about God as uncontrolling is that it allows and impels us to look for God in the regular events in our lives.”

Bob Luhn: “It is the non-coercive, others-empowering love of God that sets a person free to be fully human–capable of loving God with one’s whole being and loving one’s neighbor as one’s self.”

Simon Hall: “If we are spiritual beings, just as much as we are physical, then our prayers matter just as much as our actions. Prayers that attune us to the heart of God. Prayers that lend our voice to God’s voice…”

A BOOK TO READ SLOWLY AND SAVOR. Allow your thinking to be infused and inspired with the truth, beauty, and power of God’s uncontrolling love.

You can find the book on Amazon.

Grace in Horrific Times

Snapshot - 1

There are more than 65 million displaced people in the world today, more than ever before in history.

There are more natural disasters occurring than ever before in recorded history.

There is a growing spirit of division among people, as evidenced in current discourse, events, politics and elections. So much of this division seems fueled by fear, anger, and distrust.

There have been horrific times before in history. We humans like to think we have learned from those experiences and that we wouldn’t let such things happen again. Can we learn from history? Will we? Or must history repeat itself?

Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) And he said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)

Cladach has released books that feature true stories of God—and his people—at work even during the most horrific historical times. For instance:

  • Pol Pot’s genocidal regime in Cambodia (in the book, NO MORE FEAR).
  • A political terror-hostage crisis (in the book, HOSTAGE IN TAIPEI).
  • Christian and Muslim refugees in Africa and the Middle East (in the book,A PEOPLE TALL AND SMOOTH).
  • Spiritual hunger during the Communist revolution in Russia (in the book, PAPER POPPIES).
  • Jewish children and their pets during the Holocaust (in the book, FAITHFUL FRIENDS).

All these personal memoirs happened in extremely tumultuous times and circumstances. Each describes injustices, cruelty, and evil forces unleashed on nations, people groups, and individuals. Each of these stories also gives witness to God’s personal presence, providence, and grace.

We offer these stories in the hope that readers will find renewed perspective, faith, and love.

Showing Love and Offering Hope in the World

We can each do something this day to increase shalom, well-being, and flourishing in our world—to participate in “God’s kingdom come.”

I like the quote by Anne Frank, that I photographed summer 2017 when I was visiting Birmingham, Alabama. This monument was erected in the context of the Civil Rights struggles of that city, quoting a young Jewish girl hiding from the Nazis. If she could think and pen such words, shouldn’t we—as followers of the Messiah—who revealed to us God’s heart of Love and compassion—be looking for ways to “improve the world” that God created, Christ gave his life for, ever lives to intercede for, and is coming back to reclaim and re-create? “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son.” John 3:16.

As a believer and follower of Jesus, the Creator and Redeemer, I want to reflect his character of holy love into this groaning, strife-filled world.

One way I seek to do that is by publishing books that offer hope. I believe that hope is what sets “Christian books” apart among general book publishing. Whether through fiction, nonfiction, memoir, or poetry; a story, essay, or poem may portray a context of brokenness, sin, and conflict. But into that milieu will shine a ray of hope that gives the reader renewed courage to reach up and take hold of “the helping hand at the end of God’s long arm of love.”

————

Hope for Refugees

Lang with her brother and three sons in our backyard

On this World Refugee Day (June 20) I think of the refugees I have known. First, years ago my family helped sponsor a family of Vietnamese “boat people.” Lang, a South Vietnamese Army officer’s widow, and her brother and her three sons, escaped for their lives off the shore of Vietnam in a small boat to wander the sea along with many others. They gave everything they owned to the boat’s owner. They suffered on the sea. But they were fortunate that a ship picked them up and took them to a refugee camp.

Lang with my daughter

They arrived in our town frightened, slightly sick, “lost” in a completely different culture. While we waited for an apartment to open for them, this sad little family stayed in our home. Our little girl gave up her bedroom for them. Our way of living was so different from theirs. I showed them the glasses in the cupboard. They took one and drank water from it, then returned it to the cupboard. I bought five plastic glasses and wrote their names on them and lined them up on the counter for them to use.

They had experienced dangers and horrors that I could barely imagine. Even though I made beds on the floor, at night they all slept side by side on one double bed.

The word “refugees” changed in my mind from strange, almost-suspect stories into warm, real human beings.

Using gestures and a Vietnamese-English dictionary, I tried to tell Lang about Jesus’ love. Tears welled in her eyes. I tutored her in “English as a second language” for a short time. Eventually they moved to another city and I lost track of them. But I’ll never forget all I learned from them. And I have prayed that the welcome we gave them, and the bit of God’s love we tried to show them across cultural and language barriers, would grow like a seed planted—and that I will see Lang and her family again in Heaven. I look forward to worshiping around the throne the One who gave us freedom, who rescues us from sin and evil and death, and gives us the opportunity of new life and hope and peace.

Because of this experience, and then later getting to know the many Laotian refugees who came to our church, I had the opportunity to write and publish the book, No More Fear: From Killing Fields to Harvest Fields, the story of Physa Chanmany who came to America as a Cambodian refugee.

Physa also had some things in common with many refugees today. As a boy, Physa saw indescribable horror and genocide. Taught to fear Westerners, especially Americans, he had never heard the truth of Jesus. But as a lost and traumatized refugee, he had a dream in which he encountered Christ, who set his life on a new course of hope.

Both Wise and Innocent

Photo ©David Lawton

As the world seems to get smaller, do you feel more and more powerless? We continue to believe that each individual—and each group—makes a difference. What we do, how we think, our actions and prayers—along with the currents of God’s purposes and the showers of his love—cause ripples that can bring lasting change for well-being in our world.

“I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil….The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.” (Romans 16:19-20)

The Wounds and the Promise

“We are committed to describing the world not just as it should be, not just as it is, but as—by God’s grace alone!—one day it will be. And we should never forget that when Jesus rose from the dead, as the paradigm, first example, and generating power of the whole new creation, the marks of the nails were not just visible on his hands and his feet. They were the way he was to be identified. When art comes to terms with both the wounds of the world and the promise of resurrection and learns how to express and respond to both at once, we will be on the way to a fresh vision, a fresh mission.” –N.T. Wright in Surprised by Hope (Harper Collins, 2008, p.224).

In this context I offer the following free verse from my forthcoming book, Remembering Softly: A Life in Poems :

LIVING WOUNDS

Christ’s wounds—

holes, gaps, gashes?—

remain, continue there,

healed; no pain or festering.

But they remain

places on the body

of the God-Man,

remembering.

A mystery!

There,

in the wounded place

we are part of Christ.

The nails are gone,

the sword withdrawn,

the thorns pulled out.

But these wounds live,

efficacious.

When His followers also

stand gashed and riddled,

touching our wounds to His;

bearing scars from

our own sins and

those of others

but festering no more;

together we form

places of healing

in the body of Christ.

~Catherine Lawton

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