a prayer written upon my arms

Yesterday, I got my 7th tattoo. When I got first tattoo a few years ago, I asked the artist about the weirdest tattoos he had ever done. Two stood out to me. The first was a model who had a stack of pancakes tattooed on her butt and the second was a person who had a waffle recipe tattooed on her arm. People get tattoos for many different reasons, I suppose. I have given considerable thought to each of mine and to the messages they send, first to me and then to others. They are intended to deeply reflect the things that I value.

  • שָׁלוֹם (Shalom)
  • חָפְשִׁי (Chophshi)
  • be who you are
  • truth, goodness, beauty, strength (King, Sage, Warrior, Lover)
  • LUDIO-Love Up, Down, In, Out
  • integration, wholeness, reconciliation
  • fiat lux (Let there be Light)

I will happily talk your ear off about any of these things, but this morning, I decided to write these into a prayer.

God of heaven and earth,
Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer,
At the beginning of all things,
you created all that is by the word of your mouth
uttering “Let there be light.”
You gazed upon your creation
and you called it good,
the cosmos was precisely as you intended.
Holy shalom.

Yet infective darkness slithered in,
the world became fragmented
by sin and shame,
all creation disintegrated and hopeless.
In your love and mercy
you saw fit to send a redeemer,
your son Jesus.
In him, I have been set free
from sin’s bondage,
but so often, I forget who I am
and I wander back into dark places.
God, remind me who I am,
over and over.
Let reminders of your grace
constantly ring in my ears.

You have created me in your image and likeness,
giving me the capacity to love all things
with my whole being,
heart, soul, mind, and strength.

God, the world is torn asunder,
I see it every day.
Help me to remember that I am
an ambassador of integration, wholeness, and reconciliation.

Where there is darkness, let me bring light;
where bondage, freedom;
where deception, truth;
where vileness, beauty;
where evil, goodness;
where weakness, strength;
where hatred, love;
where disunion, integration;
where fragmentation, wholeness;
where division, reconciliation;
and where rupture, shalom;
always remembering
who you already say that I am.

A Prescription for Wholeness

Spread kindness like wildfire. Ask questions. Cross bridges. Pick up a piece of trash. Say hello. Say thank you, to God and others. Go for a walk. Make eye contact. Consider the lilies. Mend fences. Plant wildflowers. Sit in the grass and watch a bumblebee—it will teach you there is no need to rush. Pay for someone’s coffee. Bake two loaves of bread. Give one away. Pray for those who belittle you. Be kind to yourself. Shed tears when you are sad. Sing show tunes, preferably with someone else. Draw a tree; even a stick tree will do. Savor an orange. When you are angry, breathe deeply and exhale mercy. Listen to “the gift of a thistle” by James Horner. Visit somewhere new. Light a candle; in fact, light three, or a hundred. Play with a toddler. Drink a cup of tea. Read a poem by Mary Oliver, or perhaps Rumi. Write a letter to someone, with real paper and ink. Send it through the mail. Look for goodness. Celebrate beauty—it is everywhere. Listen with curiosity. Sing loudly in your car. Hold someone’s hand. Pet a dog. Bike to work. Buy original art, anyone local will do. Always stop at a lemonade stand and always overpay. Breathe. Do it again. Do you realize what a miracle it is that you are alive?

Rehumanizing

I have a hard time seeing anything good in some people. If you were granted a window into my private thoughts and even some of my private conversations, you would learn how judgmental I can be. In my desire to be an advocate for goodness, truth, and beauty, I sometimes fail to distinguish between a person and their behavior, and that gets to be a slippery slope. I’m fairly certain I am not the only one.

Every day, my Facebook and Twitter feeds are filled with anger, name calling, and general dehumanization. It seems there are no segments of society that are excepted from dehumanizing others–politics, media, religion. We too easily choose sides and go to war. Our chosen weapons disintegrate and dehumanize others.

When we read about the kingdom of God that Jesus told us about, it is a rehumanizing kingdom. When Jesus healed, he not only healed physical maladies, he rehumanized people, reminding them who they were. How can you and I carry that same message into the world?

Let me offer a few thoughts:

  1. Start with prayer. When you find yourself stirred and upset, pray for the one who upset you, asking God to bless them. Confess your self-righteousness, asking God to forgive as you also forgive (Matthew 6:12).
  2. If you choose to engage, take a page from Francis Schaeffer’s book and seek to deal with ideas rather than people, or even groups of people. For example, it can be good to discuss ideas such as injustice, deception, or media bias, but seek to do so without allowing yourself to devolve into name calling. Every person you meet is loved by God. Every politician, every media personality, every celebrity, every person on Twitter and Facebook bears the image of God. Start there.
  3. Develop sacred curiosity. Be willing to inquire where people have come up with their ideas. Ask them what stirs in their souls. What are their hopes or fears. Recognize that every one of us longs for truth, goodness, and beauty even if we get lost along the way. Seek truth not as enemies but as companions on the journey.
  4. Actively look for the humanity in others. Keep looking until you find it, praying that God would open your eyes to see others as he sees them.

I believe that God is in the process of reintegrating all that has been broken and damaged by evil. He invites us to join him as advocates of a better way, the way of agape love. Each day, we will have hundreds of opportunities to choose the way of reconciliation or disintegration, dehumanizing or rehumanizing.

Which will be choose?

What is Reconciliation?

He [Jesus] was supreme in the beginning and—leading the resurrection parade—he is supreme in the end. From beginning to end he’s there, towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross.-Colossians 1:18-20, The Message

It has taken ten days, but I am finally writing about “reconciliation.” I started by writing about integration on March 16 and then followed up writing about wholeness on March 20. As I indicated, these concepts are important and how I think about life, and, they are in many ways connected, though I do think about them in slightly different terms.

Reconciliation, in my thinking, is closely tied to integration and wholeness, but implies a broader understanding. In the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Colossians, there is a magnificent description of the “preeminence of Christ” in verses 15 to 20. In the final verse, we discover that in Christ, all things are being reconciled. What are those things? As Eugene Peterson suggested, “people and things, animals and atoms.” Redemption goes beyond the forgiveness of individual sins or restored relationships with people. In reconciliation, God is making all things new.

Yet God does not exclude us from this process. According to 2 Corinthians 5:18 we, as Christ’s ambassadors in the world, have been given “the ministry of reconciliation.” We have been invited to become agents of integration, wholeness, and reconciliation by pointing people to the love of Christ and the hope of reconciliation, which is so much bigger than the forgiveness of sins.

It is no less than God making all things new.

What is Wholeness?

Be whole as your Father in heaven is whole.-Matthew 5:48

A few days ago, I wrote a post, “What is Integration?” My understanding of integration is grounded in the field of interpersonal neurobiology (IPNB), which has been championed by Daniel Siegel. To pursue integration, from an IPNB perspective, is to pursue health.

Wholeness is a related concept in my mind, an attempt to look at who we were created to be, but rather than starting from a neurobiological vantage point, when I am thinking about wholeness, I tend to think more theologically or philosophically. Of course, integration and wholeness are highly overlapping ideas, but can also be understood from different angles.

Not long ago, a friend asked me when I began to think so much about the concept of wholeness and honestly, I don’t know. I suppose like many ideas, it emerged from a confluence of things I had been reading and thinking about. I am certain Eugene Peterson had an influence. And Curt Thompson and Neal Plantinga. But in a favorite book of mine, Wholeheartedness, Chuck DeGroat mentioned that Dietrich Bonhoeffer suggested that Matthew 5:48, which is typically translated “Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect,” would be better translated as “Be whole as your Father in heaven is whole.” The Greek word telios can be translated perfect, complete, or whole. Perhaps it makes no difference in your mind, but for me, trying to be perfect versus seeking wholeness makes all the difference in the world. As I consider the biblical story line, I see that God created things good and whole, but early on in the story, wholeness was fractured. In fact, most of the biblical narrative tells of humanity’s fragmentation and sin and the call to return to wholeness, or telios, or shalom.

I believe we were created for wholeness–psychologically, relationally, societally, and spiritually–and that one day the wholeness of all things will be restored.

May God himself, the God who makes everything holy and whole, make you holy and whole, put you together—spirit, soul, and body—and keep you fit for the coming of our Master, Jesus Christ. The One who called you is completely dependable. If he said it, he’ll do it!-1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

Wholeness or Harm?

Write 31 days, day 27
Writing Prompt: Whole

If you were to ask me what thoughts fill my head during the day’s mental pit stops, there would be just a few things I would mention. I think a lot about Jesus and I think a lot about the transcendentals–truth, goodness, and beauty. Wholeness is the other concept I give a lot of mental space. I also believe that these three topics are closely related. Jesus epitomizes truth, goodness, and beauty. Jesus is wholeness.

Yet when I look around at the world, I rarely see wholeness. I see brokenness.  I see division. I see hatred. I see dis-integration. I suspect you do too.  Just today, the news told us of another hate crime. This time, a gunman killed 10 people and wounded others at a Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh. Every time these attacks occur, we disintegrate further. But it’s not just these publicized attacks–it is every murder, every rape, every sexual assault, every physical assault, every action motivated by hate. Every hateful word, every time we use name calling during disagreement, we are contributing to this degradation.

It grieves me when I see my friends using name calling. I wish I could say that my Christian friends on social media rose above name calling and hateful invective, but from what I can tell, they don’t. In fact, some days it seems that those who profess Christ are more likely to engage in character attacks and name calling. Friends, it ought not be so. We are called to live lives of love…in everything (1 Corinthians 16:14).

Earlier I shared on Facebook:

Stand against hate in all its forms. Christians, we are called to testify to the truth and to do so lovingly. Every person…hear me…EVERY PERSON, bears the image of God. EVERY PERSON, regardless of creed, is to be loved, not hated. Yes, speak out against bombings of Jewish Synagogues, or black churches, or movie theaters, schools, and bars. But also speak out against the hateful words so often spoken against or about those who think differently.

Every day, we have an opportunity to use our words. Will we use them for wholeness or harm?

For reflection: What does your social media presence look like? How do you speak about those with whom you disagree? 

The Melody of Shalom

Write 31 days, Day 16
Writing Prompt: Pray
(NB-I skipped a few days staffing Men at the Cross in Kentucky)

If you want to make many Christians feel guilty, ask about their prayer life. Every one of them would agree that prayer is important; the Bible talks frequently about prayer. Paul even told the Thessalonian believers to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thes. 5:16). If you want to add confusion to their guilt, ask them what it means to actually pray without ceasing.

The reason we feel guilty and confused about prayer is that we define it too narrowly. Perhaps we treat it exclusively as “making our requests known to God” (Phil 4:6), or bestowing platitudes upon God: “O God, Dear Holy Lord, you alone are amazing. Just be with me God. In Jesus’ name. Ah–men.” Even some of our prayer tools (e.g., the ACTS method) restrict prayer. To be clear, these are wonderful prayers, but I want to challenge us to expand the horizons of our prayer. We learn with training wheels, but eventually, we take them off.

Prayer is so much more than we make it:
Prayer is delight, and prayer is lament.
It is requesting and receiving;
Gratitude and thanksgiving.
It is wonder and frustration.
Prayer revels in the beauty of creation, and groans under the weight of its brokenness.
It is boisterous merrymaking, and wordless agony.
It is walking hand in hand with your daughter in the chill October air;
It is holding space for your spouse’s pain;
It is harmonizing with your son in song;
It is attentive presence to your child’s story.
Prayer is seeking, and it is finding. And it is seeking again.
It is imprecation, celebration, lamentation, and contemplation.
It is confession and absolution;
Supplication and adoration.
It is intimate conversation with a friend.
It is the language of wholeness, the melody of shalom.

Prayer is union with God.

For reflection: 
Spend a few minutes reflecting on what you have come to believe about prayer. Has it changed over time?  

Listen

Write 31 days, day 13

Writing prompt: talk

I chewed on this word several times today, looking for something clever to say. All I kept coming to was this:

Let your words come to a stop.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Then listen and keep listening.

Our world desperately needs our ears more than our mouths.

Reflection: sit in silence for ten minutes. Practice the spiritual discipline of not having to have the last word.

In the Little Things

Write 31 days, Day 10
Writing prompt: How

Each day, every one of us faces the question, “how will I choose to live today?” Some of us approach the question with intention, though most of us, I suspect, simply drift through our morning routines. Let me suggest, though, that even if we never have consciously considered this question, it still shapes us. We choose whether we will take a shower, surf the Internet, or greet our spouse with a kiss. We choose whether to walk with our shoulders back or staring at the ground. We choose whether or not we will think poorly of those who believe differently than we do.

For me, it has been beneficial to intentionally consider how to approach each day. Borrowing from Chuck DeGroat, I ask myself “how can I be an ambassador of shalom today?” or from my friend Curt Thompson: “am I living as an outpost of goodness and beauty?” I firmly believe that we can make the choice each day, indeed in each circumstance, to strive toward wholeness and peace or to degrade toward bitterness and division.

Last night, when I came home from work, I was irritable. Perhaps 20 minutes later, Heather asked me if I needed anything because I “seemed short.” She was right, and I told her so, but it was for no reason I recognized. It helped me to own that emotion and ask myself, “how does my attitude toward my wife, my son, and my dogs press toward shalom?”

None of us will get this perfect. We are all broken. Yet our imperfections do not disable our capacity to strive toward wholeness. I pray that more and more people will strive to embody truth, goodness, and beauty in their daily routines, and that those choices will push back a little bit of the darkness.

Reflection:
What daily rhythms help you to live toward wholeness?  How can you stretch toward deeper wholeness this week?