In the days following my husband’s death, I desperately sought God’s comfort in the Scriptures. After an eleven-year battle with Multiple Sclerosis and all the humiliation, fear, hardship, and losses that go with it, my faith was on the fragile side. I needed solace, the kind only God could give. So I went to the Psalms. Isn’t that where God’s children always find consolation?
But I found no consolation there. On the contrary, in fact. One day I was reading Psalm 91, the psalm just about every Christian turns to in times of fear or discouragement:
Surely he will save you
from the fowler’s snare
and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
nor the plague that destroys at midday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
You will only observe with your eyes
and see the punishment of the wicked.
If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,”
and you make the Most High your dwelling,
no harm will overtake you,
no disaster will come near your tent.
I didn’t want to admit it, but the psalm made me feel angry. My husband had not been saved from the deadly pestilence or the destroying plague. My whole family had experienced plenty of terrors by night, and plenty of arrows by day. Disaster had come near our tent. More than just near, it had invaded our tent, taken my husband’s life, and left my son and me wounded and bereft. God did not feel like a refuge. Actually, reading the psalm made me feel as if God were mocking me.Read More Post a comment (2)
If I’m the king of all I survey, then I am the king of cardboard and spoils.
My kingdom is a noisy, windowless room in the back of a Trader Joe’s grocery store. Here are the haphazard stacks of empty cardboard boxes. Here is the giant box baler. Here are the shopping carts marked “Spoils,” their wire frames brimming with still-good fruit, meat and flowers.
In Dallas Willard’s book, The Divine Conspiracy, he defines kingdom as “a realm that is uniquely our own, where our choice determines what happens.”
My kingdom used to be a stage. A microphone. A piano, and an audience of thousands. My kingdom was a performance. A show. A sham.
Then came the stroke.
Now, five days a week, I arrive at Trader Joe’s in the early dark, hours before the sun cracks the horizon.
I push my mop up and down aisles, sweep my broom into corners to collect the debris from the day before. The store is quiet, empty. There is one audience in this kingdom.
But that’s ok, because I’m not performing. There is no Stage Dieter here. No superman seeking to wow the masses with feats of spiritual strength.
I’m just me. Just Dieter. The guy who mops the floor, who bales the empty cardboard boxes for recycling, who delivers the spoils to the Salvation Army.
There’s something beautiful about this simple, menial work, though.
Take the food marked as “spoils,” for example. It’s all still good. The fruit is good, the meat is good, the flowers are good. But they’re not perfect. Anything that has an expiration date of today cannot be put out in the store for sale. And if a pear so much as rolls off the smooth green pyramid of fellow pears, it gets put in the spoils pile. It’s not perfect anymore.
So the Trader Joe’s employees fill shiny carts with all the perfectly edible imperfection and wheel the load back to my kingdom. My last task of the day is to load the van with spoils and deliver it to the local Salvation Army, where it will feed the hungry, who won’t care at all that their apple is lopsided, that their hamburger is in the waning stage of freshness. They don’t care how it looks. They just want to eat.
To me, this, here in the back room, this is what is real. Not the bright aisles of suburban shoppers making their menu selections from stacks of perfection.
I understand the spoils. I can relate. Because I, too, am spoils. Over, and over, and over again.
I used to be packaged as perfect. Back in the heyday of my church career, I was a shiny, unblemished apple. At least that’s the image I polished up and displayed to the pubic.
But now, stripped of my talent, my stage and my six-figure salary, I relish the imperfection. I revel in the spoils.
As I break down these empty squares of cardboard, abandoned boxes that once held and protected good more valuable than themselves, I survey my kingdom and I am pleased.
I feed cardboard piles into the giant maw of the baler and chuckle to myself as I think, “I am recycled Dieter.”
I am emptied and crumpled and stained and ready to be use again in a new way, in a new life.
Work was hard today. I am tired. The knuckles of my twisted right hand are scraped raw—the hand is numb now, so I don’t feel it when I bash it against something harder than skin.
But you know what? It’s ok. I come home after work and I think, “It’s good today.”
It’s not a sermon. It’s not a performance. It’s not perfection.
But the cardboard is recycled. The spoils are feeding the hungry. And today I am thinking life is good. It’s very good.
By Kim Engelmann
Welcoming The Stranger: Living Out God’s Soul Stretching Love
In this article Jan discusses the importance of welcoming the stranger, and in so doing creating a “home” for them. Jesus himself identified with the stranger in his statement “when I was a stranger you welcomed me”. This is a poignant reminder that when we welcome strangers we are welcoming Jesus himself. This welcoming posture is not just a warm feeling, but actually is something we must learn to do and ought to have practical results in terms of meeting the needs of those we welcome. Even in the Old Testament welcoming the stranger was a command; often it was the Israelites themselves who were strangers and sojourners and who needed to be welcomed. In the parable of the Good Samaritan it is clear that the stranger (the unclean sinner from the Jewish perspective) is the one who shows hospitality to the wounded traveler. Not the priest, or the Levite, but the stranger who himself has been ostracized, has learned empathy for others who are left by the side of the road. Jan challenges the reader to reach out to all people (as God has reached out to the entire world) even those who don’t belong to our “own group”. This welcoming reach must extend to outcasts (those unacceptable in normal society like sex offenders), wrong-doers, people outside their own territory (political refugees), or anyone who is different from us politically, ethnically or theologically. Anyone we are tempted to exclude or ignore (even the elderly) we must be watchful to welcome as Jesus himself. Empathy is key, as is practicing the presence of God, to overcome our own shyness and think not only about our own interests, but also the interest of others. As we practice this, and invite God into our interactions with others, things begin to flow more easily and we become unselfconscious and more centered on others.Read More Post a comment (0)
Most of us know people who love to hear themselves talk. About themselves. All the time. You would fall over if they ever asked How are you? and then actually sat silently to take in whatever you might say. Authentic curiosity requires us to stop talking, to be patient and quiet, to actually be present.
Recently, I sat in a pub with a new friend. We had participated in a meeting with a larger group, but the two of us lingered around the table afterward. “What’s your story?” he asked. His eyes were intent, his posture fully present and open. He wasn’t going anywhere. My friend had asked me a question, and he was waiting, curious to hear the answer. An hour later, we had shared more than biographical detail. We shared hope, tears, life—all meaningful gifts.Read More Post a comment (2)
Hospitality is a virtue, a moral as well as theological virtue. It’s an offshoot, one of the many, of charity. It’s elusive; now you see it, now you don’t. It has boundaries, but they aren’t at all clear. We’re fraught with its presence and distraught by its absence…
Excuse me; there’s someone at the door.Read More Post a comment (0)
It is deeply important to us that we keep the fact that our journal is meant to be a conversation (hence the name, Conversations) in front of us at all times. We hope to prompt thought, encouragement and conversation with God, with others and with our editorial team. If nothing else, our past issue succeeded in doing just that! We heard from you, loudly and clearly, positively and negatively. We knew that we were taking a risk with the cover art for Issue 9.1: “Spirituality and the Body.” Before the issue was published, we prayed, consulted our editorial board and advisors and spent a long time in conversation ourselves.Read More Post a comment (0)
“How can the church become what it is truly meant to be?”
I first heard this question from a religion professor while I was in college. In four-plus decades since, I have listened to it more times than I can number. The question varies in expression and often rings more sharply than the query I heard long ago.
“My heavens, how can we get some life back into our church?!”
“How can we cease snarling at one another?”
“Can’t we do something for Christ rather than perpetually talk about doing something?”
In whatever form the question comes, it acknowledges something fundamental in Christian understanding: the transformation offered us in Christ is not just personal; it is also corporate. If we are part of the community that bears his name, then we are part of a sacred fellowship that, by any measure, bears something essential for the whole human family. We are to be salt for the earth, light for a darkened world (Matt. 5:13-16).Read More Post a comment (1)