Tag Archives: faith

“Live through the Pain”: A Q&A with Elizabeth Hagan

birthedI have a lot of friends who’ve written books recently, and I hope to highlight many of them over the coming weeks.

To get us started, here’s my good friend Elizabeth Hagan, who wrote the book Birthed: Finding Grace through Infertility. I read parts of this book in various stages of development, and am grateful for Elizabeth’s honesty and nuance on this topic. We’ve all heard infertility stories with a nice pat ending–the treatments worked, or the couple got pregnant when they “relaxed and stopped trying so hard” (ugh). Elizabeth cuts through the treacle and gets to the heart of things, without the predictable ending to the journey.

What led you to write this book? 

I am among the 1 in 8 women in US who are infertile. When this unthinkable thing happened to my husband, Kevin, and me, I felt overwhelmed in my grief. I didn’t know how to make it in a world where friends seemed to be announcing their pregnancies on social media almost every day. I didn’t know how to process my own shame. I didn’t know how to keep pastoring especially during joyful seasons like Advent and Christmas. 

One of my coping tools was Amazon. I ordered all the books on infertility that I could find. I desperately wanted someone to give voice to our deep sense of grief, loss, and frustration with God, our bodies, and our community.  I wanted someone to tell me I wasn’t crazy for wanting to be a mother so badly. I wanted a spiritual guide to tell me not to just “pray harder.” But most of the time with these books I was disappointed. Many times I did not find the author making progress in their journey. I did not read of a how infertility could be connected to a spiritual journey. Most of all I did not find what I needed. So one day almost 6 years ago, I knew I needed to start writing. I needed to write that book I was always searching for and never found. Birthed: Finding Grace Through Infertility was slowly born.

What will people gain by reading this book that they won’t get anywhere else?

To my knowledge, I am the first pastor who has shared their infertility story ever! How fun to be the first! But there are so many take-aways I believe readers will find (no matter if they’ve lived through infertility or not) such as:

  • When life doesn’t go as you plan, something greater might be emerging beneath the surface. Live through the pain and you will get there!
  • It is ok to live into the mystery — the mystery of not knowing how your dreams will come to fruition, when or if at all
  • A long season of grief doesn’t have to destroy your marriage or friendships. It can in fact bring you closer. 
  • Hope springs eternal even when the worse case scenario happens and happens again. 

Share one idea, quote or section in the book of which you are particularly proud.

So much of this story is about friendship and how grief can be transformed with loyal people by your side. Here’s one part of my story that I am so glad that happened while on a retreat with a friend in Arizona: 

With really wet cheeks by this point, God and I had a moment. With Meredith’s gift of secure presence by my side, courage came to go there—to a very deep place of self-reflective honesty. This is what I knew: I wasn’t just a little afraid; I was deathly afraid. I was afraid to love. I was afraid that who I was made to be was not acceptable. I was afraid to use my voice to say what I wanted to say. Instead, my life game plan consisted of becoming the best imitation of me that could be deemed socially acceptable. I did not send emails I wanted to send. I did not kiss dear ones goodbye on the check. I did not call people when I thought of them. I feared my love was too much. I feared I wasn’t good enough at being me. But, what if? What if, like the therapist said, I held back no more?  I was dying inside and had been for a long time. But, instead of continuing to carry the grief, hope came over me. I stared ahead to the canyons, keeping close to the therapist’s truth-telling words. I knew I was in love. I was in love with the idea of life without the gates I’d built around my heart to keep me safe. I was in love with how much joy might be rising up to meet me. I was in love with a future I couldn’t control, even with dreams of motherhood set aside for a moment. In this love, I wanted to be a woman who didn’t fear telling people how much she loved them. I wanted to be a woman who didn’t fear getting close to those who seemed to love her most. I wanted to be a woman who could confidently claim that her voice was powerful, even in the midst of trouble in baby-making land that rendered her powerless in that aspect of her life. In all these things, visions of joy I did not yet know sprung from me. Maybe, just maybe, the world was missing out on some of the greatest contributions I could offer? Maybe there was light in my voice? Maybe others needed to hear what I had to say as much as I needed to speak it? 

What has been the biggest surprise about getting a book written and published? What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

You are really your best advocate. And with the right fit of a publisher, you’ll have a lot of say in the direction your book takes. Just hang on for the ride! 

I would tell other aspiring authors, never give up on your dream of publication. Keep writing. Keep re-writing. And believe in who you are as a writer. Your day will come. I started drafting this book in 2010 and never would have thought it would have taken me to 2016 to reach publication. Yet, I learned so much along the way and I am so glad I’m here now. 

Dream time: where would you LOVE to see this book get covered? 

I would love to sit down for a chat with Krista Tippett on On Being. It’s my favorite podcast that I listen to every week.

Elizabeth Hagan is an ordained American Baptist minister who serves churches through short-term interims in the Washington DC area. You can order her book Birthed: Finding Grace Through Infertility over at Chalice Press today.

Friday Link Love: Kids Today, An Elusive Dog, and A Good Gun Control Debate

It’s Friday!

What do you have planned for the weekend? I’m pinching myself because Robert and I came into some tickets to the biggest party in town. You know those people who respond to “how are you” with “better than I deserve”?

Yeah. That.

I have a great life. It would be poor stewardship not to enjoy the heck out of it.

Anyway… here we go:

~

When I Was Your Age… Or ‘What Is It with Kids These Days?’ — Scientific American

Same as it ever was:

In her most recent book, Twentysomething: Why do Young Adults Seem Stuck, co-authored with her twenty-something daughter Samantha, Robin Marantz Henig delves into the hard data… what—if anything—is it about kids these days? the mother-daughter team asks. And why is it that every generation seems to think that there’s something different going on with kids these days, as compared to any other?

In 2000, psychologist Jeffrey Arnett proposed the existence of a new stage of development: emerging adulthood. Whereas before, we’d go straight from adolescence to full-blown young adultdom, now, there was a step in between, an area where our adult selves were emerging but not-quite-emerged…

As Marantz Henig is quick to point out, Arnett isn’t the first to discuss this possibility. In a 1970 article in The American Scholar, the psychologist Kenneth Keniston also thought he discerned a new trend of unsettled wandering. He termed in simply, “youth.” And that youth “sounds a lot like Arnett’s description of emerging adulthood a generation later,” Marantz Henig writes, going on to say that, “despite Arnett’s claims to the contrary, we weren’t really all that different then from the way our own children are now. Keniston’s article seems a lovely demonstration of the eternal cycle of life, the perennial conflict between the generations, the gradual resolution of those conflicts. It’s reassuring….”

As a member of Generation X, who heard a lot of the same criticisms leveled at me and my generation that I am now hearing about the Millenials, it is reassuring indeed.

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Can You Find the Dog in Each of These Photos? — Colossal

Meet Momo, the most elusive puppy on Instagram. He’s a border collie if that helps:

momo-5

Ontario-based graphic designer Andrew Knapp noticed that his 4.5 year old border collie, Momo, would always hide when fetching sticks instead of dutifully returning them.

Andrew’s site is GoFindMomo.com.

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13 Must-See Stargazing Events in 2013 — Mother Nature Network

First up: the moon and Jupiter conjunction in just a few days:

Jan. 21: Very Close Moon/Jupiter Conjunction
For North Americans, this is a real head-turner, one easily visible even from brightly lit cities. A waxing gibbous moon, 78-percent illuminated, will pass within less than a degree to the south of Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system. (For reference, your closed fist held out at arm’s length covers 10 degrees of the sky.)
These two bright luminaries will make their closest approach high in the evening sky for all to see. What’s even more interesting is that this will be the closest moon-Jupiter conjunction until the year 2026! [Amazing Photos: Jupiter and the Moon]

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My Faith: A Confession — Justin Erik Halldór Smith

My kind of confession. Long and equivocally unequivocal:

For some centuries now, no small confusion has arisen from the fact that we talk about belief in God, rather than love of God. The two amount to the same thing, but the first of these expressions, at least since the beginning of the modern period, pushes us willy-nilly into the field of evidence and argumentation, a field where the standards of commitment have nothing to do with the issue at hand, and so not surprisingly, though for poorly understood reasons, belief in God cannot but be a failing proposition.

As they told us at CREDO, “credo” means “believe,” but really it means “I give my heart.”

But start from love, start from joy, and the demand for further evidence vanishes. To continue to make it would be like demanding to see the hormones that cause an erection before accepting that there is such a thing as eros. It would be vulgar. It is vulgar, every time we hear it from the puffed-up fools who believe they are defending the honour and integrity of something, which they also do not understand, but which they call ‘science’. Science has more often than not been driven by what its practitioners have experienced as joy and wonder before God’s creation. This is a historical fact, and even if you are one of the puffed-up fools who thinks belief in God deserves nothing but mockery, you cannot change this fact.

…Those who know me or have read me will probably know that I have often claimed that I am an atheist. I would like to stop doing this, but if I had to justify myself, I would say that it is for fear of being confused with that blowhard with the ‘John 3:16’ banner that I am unforthcoming about what I actually believe. I am infinitely closer, in the condition of my soul, to the people who feel God’s absence– the reasons for this feeling are a profound theological problem, and one might say that it is only smugness that enables people, atheists and dogmatists alike, to avoid grappling with this problem. I am with the people who detect God’s hand, perhaps without even realizing it, where the smug banner-holder sees only sin: in jungle music, dirty jokes, seduction, and swearing. I am with the preacher who puts out a gospel album, then goes to prison on fraud and drug charges for a while, then puts out a hip-grinding soul album, and then another gospel album. I am with the animals, who can’t even read, but can still talk to the saints of divine things. I am sooner an atheist, if what we understand by Christianity is a sort of supernatural monarchism; if we understand by it that God is love, though, then, I say, I am a Christian.

Along similar lines: God is Unknowable; Stop Looking for Him and You Will Find Faith — David Bryant (Guardian)

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Sitting is the Smoking of Our Generation — Harvard Business Review

Four years ago, I made a simple change when I switched one meeting from a coffee meeting to a walking-meeting. I liked it so much it became a regular addition to my calendar; I now average four such meetings, and 20 to 30 miles each week. Today it’s life-changing, but it happened almost by accident.

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10 Habits to Strengthen Your Relationship with Your Child — Aha! Parenting

Some of these I’m OK at:

12 hugs a day. Hug your child first thing in the morning, when you say goodbye, when you’re re-united, at bedtime, and often in between.  If your tween or teen rebuffs your advances when she first walks in the door, realize that with older kids you have to ease into the connection.  Get her settled with a cool drink, and chat as you give a foot rub. (Seem like going above and beyond?  It’s a foolproof way to hear what happened in her life today, which should be high on your priority list.)

Some of them I need to work on:

Welcome emotion. Sure, it’s inconvenient.  But your child needs to express his emotions or they’ll drive his behavior.  So accept the meltdowns, don’t let the anger trigger you, and welcome the tears and fears that always hide behind the anger. Remember that you’re the one he trusts enough to cry with, and breathe your way through it.  Afterwards, he’ll feel more relaxed, cooperative, and closer to you.

~

The Importance of a ‘Stop Day’ — Matthew Sleeth

Sabbath is a health issue too. Dr. Sleeth (a former ER physician) puts it well:

It’s interesting, when a doctor sits down and does a primary intake with a new patient, they ask about smoking, exercise and diet, but they don’t ask how much you’re working. They don’t get any sense of if you’re working seven days a week, or if you have time set aside — like people have always had — for rest.

I think the lack of rest is reflected in our saying, “We don’t have enough time.” I think it’s pretty much generally felt that we don’t have enough time to really get to the things we want to do in life.

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A Gun Control Debate — Matt Springer and Mark Hoofnagle

The other day I heard radio show on gun control. It was frustrating because the so-called gun rights advocate had good points to make that the gun control advocate could not, or did not, hear. At the same time, I found myself wishing that the gun rights advocate had offered more constructive proposals rather than shrugging and saying “It’s all a matter of semantics.”

This debate, hosted at scienceblogs.com, is a good model. It’s not pithy. It’s long and wonky. So be it. Serious times demand no less. Mark starts off:

Mass violence is not just a problem in the United States. Similar incidents have occurred in other countries, even mass shootings in countries with significant restrictions similar to what I would advocate. However, the experience of other countries is less in frequency and severity. Yes, other countries have mass violence despite strict gun control, even countries like Norway. However, no other comparable industrialized country has gun violence similar to ours. No you can not compare the United States to Mexico. No, gun control is never perfect. No, we can not prevent all murder, all mass murder, or all violent crime, but we can decrease the death toll.

and Matt follows up:

Now any preventable cause of even a single death should be prevented, and while mass murder shocks the conscience in a way that the anonymous and impersonal forces of nature cannot, this ought to cause us to pause and consider whether what is being proposed will actually do any good. The choices we make in response to these tragedies will have consequences that we foresee and consequences we don’t. These consequences may well include the failure of new laws to save anyone in the future. This concern is not hypothetical – we’re well over a decade into our government’s frantic response to 9/11, and we may well be less safe than we were on 9/10.

Both men own and operate firearms. Both are reasonable, non-knee-jerk types. More of these, please. (I hope they will keep going.)

Friday Link Love: Art Books, Mysterious Wires, and an Appreciative God

First things first… you guys know about the Sabbath in the Suburbs website, yes? I post there a couple of times a week.

Onward…

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The Best Art Books of 2012 — Brain Pickings

I covet them all. Here’s a page from Alice in Wonderland:

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The Fear of Women as Bishops — New Yorker

I went to see the great Oxford historian of Christianity (and former ordained deacon) Diarmaid MacCulloch, and asked him to explain the roots of such lingering hostility to the idea of women bishops. He laughed and called it a piece of theatre, confabulated by men still smarting from the fact that Christ chose two women to witness and announce the Resurrection.

Snerk.

I quoted him then, and I’ll do it again, now: “The historical ‘against-women’ argument about twelve male apostles—it comes from the early years of the Christian era and the spectacles put forth by the male leaders, who [had] wanted to be the ones to ‘see’ Christ first. By the end of the second century, a male leadership had emerged, and after that it became the men-were-what-the-Holy-Spirit-intended argument and then the tradition-of-the-church argument. It was specious. Slavery was also our ‘tradition’ for seventeen hundred years. If you want a doctrine of the Holy Spirit, you change.”

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Five Charts about Climate Change That Should Have You Very Worried — Atlantic

Most of Greenland’s top ice layer melted in four days this summer:

The event is uncommon, though not unprecedented. A similar event happened in 1889, and before that, several centuries earlier. There are indications, however, that the greatest amount of melting during the past 225 years has occurred in the last decade.

I’m sure everything will be just fine.

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Gazing into the Abyss — Christian Wiman

Wiman is the editor of Poetry magazine. He has an incurable form of blood cancer. And he is my kind of Christian:

So now I bow my head and try to pray in the mornings, not because I don’t doubt the reality of what I have experienced, but because I do, and with an intensity that, because to once feel the presence of God is to feel His absence all the more acutely, is actually more anguishing and difficult than any “existential anxiety” I have ever known. I go to church on Sundays, not to dispel this doubt but to expend its energy, because faith is not a state of mind but an action in the world, a movement toward the world. How charged this one hour of the week is for me, and how I cherish it, though not one whit more than the hours I have with my wife, with friends, or in solitude, trying to learn how to inhabit time so completely that there might be no distinction between life and belief, attention and devotion.

~

Giving Thanks for a God That is Appreciative — Hesham A. Hassaballa, Patheos

A link from Thanksgiving week:

In Islamic tradition, it is believed that God has 99 names, or attributes, that describe God for the believer. These include the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful, the Creator, the Sustainer, the Loving, the Shaper, the Maker, and many more…

in honor of Thanksgiving, I want to reflect over a particularly fascinating name for God: Al Shakur, or “The Appreciative.”

This is truly, truly amazing. The Lord God—Originator of the heavens and the earth, Creator of all that exists, Giver of Life, the Most Powerful of all things, the King of all kings—is al Shakur, or “the appreciative.”

Appreciative of what, however? What have I done, as a servant of God, so that He would be appreciative of me?

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What’s That Thing? Mysterious Wires Edition — Slate

The “What’s That Thing” series is fun. See the thin wires in the picture?

Apparently it’s a Sabbath thing. More at the link…

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Moneyball and the Future of the Church — David Lose

The third in a series relating aspects of the book/film with the tremendous upheaval that’s at work (and that’s needed) in the church:

One of my definitions of good leadership is the ability to take advantage of crises.

What do I mean by that? Simply that a good leader is always tending a vision of the future. A vision that is always a little larger than the present, always moving just a little beyond where we are now.

The challenge however, is that as a species we tend to put a very high value on homeostasis. We greatly prefer, that is, stability to change. And for good reason: stability promotes growth. But that means we are often far more reactive than proactive, changing only when we have to. And that makes advancing a positive vision of the future difficult, as we would often prefer to make due with a less-than-adequate – but known – present than a promising but unknown (and therefore risky) future.

Which is where crises come in. A crisis demands immediate action and provides the thoughtful and prepared leader with an excuse to make changes that he or she knew were necessary but couldn’t enact because they seemed too difficult for most to contemplate previously.

Incidentally, I used the clip he discusses in part 1 of his series in my workshop for the NEXT Church gathering in Dallas in February. You have to define the problem accurately in order to solve it.

~

And the obligatory Colossal post:

The Energy Generated from a Single Orange — Colossal

It’s alive!!!!

May you be alive to your world this weekend. Advent blessings.

Thought for the Day, on Writing and Life

Novelist Luis Alberto Urrea was one of my favorite speakers at FFW. I went to his session with Debra Dean and they were a hoot together.

Here’s a paraphrase of something he said:

If you’re writing about matters of faith, you have to be vigilant against cliche and grandiosity. 

So go through your work and look for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir—those moments with the angelic choir, bathed in light and going “ahhhhhhhhh.” Take those out. Faith is too messy and gritty for them. Instead, replace them with James Brown.

May your day be funky, friends.

 

Unless I See

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MaryAnn McKibben Dana
Idylwood Presbyterian Church
April 15, 2012
Second Sunday of Easter
John 20:19-31

“Unless I See”

Poor Thomas, or should I say, “Doubting Thomas”… for indeed that is the name we hear more often. I saw a cartoon this week that features Thomas, hands on hips, saying, “It’s just not fair. It’s not like people go around calling him ‘Denying Peter.’”

It’s a dreadful mislabeling of the man, if you ask me. Thomas only wants what everyone else has already received—a glimpse of Jesus, resurrected. In fact, the word “doubt” does not appear anywhere in this passage if you go back to the original text. The New Revised Standard Version renders Jesus’ words, “Do not doubt but believe.” But Jesus doesn’t say not to doubt. He says, “Do not be unbelieving.”

Doubt, after all, is an element of faith, not a sign of unbelief. And I don’t think Jesus need have worried about Thomas being an unbeliever. Because if Thomas were an unbeliever, he’d be off living his life. He wouldn’t be sitting up there with the rest of the disciples, hoping Jesus might show up again. He is there because this was the place where Jesus was last seen. He’s up there, waiting, wanting to see evidence of this amazing thing that has taken place. Those aren’t the actions of an unbeliever. That’s someone who’s still engaged with the push and pull of his faith. Who’s willing to struggle and wait and watch and hope.

Thomas means the Twin, and as my friend Deryl likes to say when he preaches this text, he’s your twin, if you want him. And I know he is the twin of many of you, because you have told me your struggles and your questions…  and yes, your doubts.

He’s a twin that folks would be blessed to have. I’d certainly like to write him into my family tree. Rather than trying to diminish him as many have done with the “Doubting” moniker, today I suggest that Thomas has the most robust faith of any of the disciples. He doesn’t grandstand like Peter: Watch me walk on water! Jesus, you will never wash my feet! Nor does he jockey for position like James and John, who elbow each other out of the way to see who might sit at Jesus’ right hand.

Consider the places we meet Thomas in the gospel of John. We see him in the story of Lazarus (ch. 11), whom Jesus loved, and who is ill, and later dies. Lazarus’s sisters have called for Jesus, who is game to go to Judea, but the disciples say, No, don’t go there, the Jewish authorities want to stone you. That’s the last place we want to be. But Thomas, notably, does not join the chorus of people eager to save Jesus’ skin, and their own. He says, Let’s go, so that we may die too.

We meet Thomas again a few chapters later (ch. 14). Jesus is teaching about God’s house, which has many rooms. “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” he says. “I go to prepare a place for you… You know the way to the place where I am going.”

And Thomas answers, Umm, actually, we don’t know the way.

We might ding Thomas for interrupting what is one of the more eloquent discourses of Jesus, except that his question is vital if you actually care about following the man.

You don’t ask that question unless you intend to go where Jesus wants to you to go.

So. That’s Thomas in chapters 11 and 14, and then we have chapter 20 to round out our character sketch. We just heard that the first time Jesus appears post-resurrection, Thomas is off somewhere. I preached two years ago that Thomas is the patron saint of the day late and the dollar short crowd. They all get to see Jesus, while he’s off buying Cheetos and Mountain Dew at the 7-11.

But that’s not right, either. Where is Thomas? What is he doing? It seems obvious, doesn’t it? He’s not on a beer run; he’s looking for Jesus. Mary Magdalene said he’s risen, so Thomas is going to find him. He’s certainly not going to cower behind a locked door, quivering with the other disciples for fear of the religious authorities. Thomas is the only one brave enough to be on the outside. So let’s call him Courageous Thomas, not Doubting Thomas.

In the years to come, after Jesus is no longer with them, the disciples will go on to spread the good news and found churches. Thomas has a special distinction: he is the only one of the disciples to have ventured beyond the Roman Empire to spread Christianity. The tradition tells us he established churches in southern India, for heaven’s sake!

Thomas is a man of movement:
“Let’s go to Judea, even if it means our death.”
“I don’t know the Way, Jesus, but I want to know, so tell me.”
“I’m not going to sit up here in the upper room with the door bolted. If Jesus is alive I’m going to go find him and I’m not going to be afraid.”
That search takes him all the way to India, further than any disciple was willing to go.

*          *          *

You may have heard the story this week about the mayor of Newark, New Jersey, Cory Booker. Booker was coming home the other night and saw his neighbor’s house engulfed in flames. A woman standing nearby screamed that her daughter was still inside, and so without thinking, Cory ran into the house. He and members of his security detail were able to save the woman and others. Cory threw her over his shoulders, sack-of-potatoes style, and ran through the flames. He suffered smoke inhalation and a few second-degree burns, but he and the others are OK.

Now as often happens on the Internet, people decided to have some fun with this and inflate this government bureaucrat into a butt-kicking hero. A twitter feed sprang up on Friday called Cory Booker stories, and they are the 21st century equivalent of the tall tale:
“When Batman needs help, he turns on the Cory Booker signal.”
“When Chuck Norris gets nightmares, Cory Booker turns on the light and brings him warm milk until he calms down.”
“Smoke was treated for Cory Booker exposure.”

Those are fun, aren’t they? But the detail that made me sit up and take notice was from an interview Booker gave the next day, in which he said that the decision to go in was a “come to Jesus moment.”

Now, he probably means “come to Jesus” as in a moment of decision. That’s how we normally think about “come to Jesus.” But think about what the phrase means literally. Come. To. Jesus. He went toward a person in grave danger and called it a come to Jesus moment. I hear strains of Matthew 25 in that: For I was hungry and you fed me. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was perishing in a burning building and you dove in and saved me. That which you did to the most vulnerable and imperiled, you did to me.

Thomas, our disciple with the robust faith, would approve. He was a Come To Jesus kind of person.

*          *          *

This morning, several of my friends are preaching from the book of Acts, one of the other assigned texts for this day. A few of us were puzzling about how to connect Thomas with this snippet from the early church:

4:32 Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common….
4:34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold.
4:35 They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

Sometimes we press this text into arguments about communism and socialism, and I think that misses the point. The point is this: the church helped create an alternate system in which everyone’s needs were taken care of. Nobody had too much; everyone had enough. Everyone.

It is the church’s job to lift up an alternate vision in which that is possible. It takes a robust faith to do so…

And if Thomas is our twin then we have no choice. Notice he does not say, “Unless I see Jesus walking around in a perfect body with a halo…”

He says,
Unless I see the puncture wounds in his hands… unless I see the split in his side.
Unless I see that Jesus is a Jesus who suffered the depths of human pain and lived,
then what’s the point.
Unless I see that Jesus is the one who goes right to the heart of human suffering, taking it on…
then I have no use for him.

That’s the Jesus worthy of Thomas’s faith. And ours.

~

 photo credit: Roo Reynolds via photopin cc