ADVENT 19 / Full Measure

This year, for the four weeks of Advent, we are doing the #RendTheHeavens devotion at both The Featherblog as well as Psalm 10 Ministries.


4 O LORD God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers? 5 You have fed them with the bread of tears and given them tears to drink in full measure. 6 You make us an object of contention for our neighbors, and our enemies laugh among themselves. (Psalms 80:4-6 ESV)

“What will people think?”

It was the question my mother asked every time I did — or wanted to do — something that might not look right. Something that would make me stand out in all the wrong ways, and reflect badly upon her as my mother.

There was always a little fear in her voice when she asked me that question. And no wonder — she grew up in a tiny community, the daughter of a fairly wealthy and respect (and feared, and resented) farm family, the object of gossip. Anything she did got home before she did, and reflected for good or ill on her family.

Me? I’ve never cared what people think. I mean I do, but not like this. I want to be loved and accepted and to belong and be valued. But I don’t know how, and whenever someone even so much as suggests “what will people think?” of something I have said or done, I don’t quite know how to react or think straight.

I just don’t. I never have, and I never will.

And at this point in my life, I don’t know how to. I am misfit and an outcast, and that is all I will ever be.

I don’t like it. I don’t like being an object of concern, a thing people puzzle over and worry about, a problem to be managed. Someone robbed of agency because who I am and what I do seems to always frighten or anger someone and something “must be done” about me. And I have shed enough tears over it, anguish and despair, sunk into deep places and wondered — still wondering — when will I have finished my full measure.

Not yet, apparently. And maybe not ever.

Is it me? It must be. I know it is. I know who and what I am not. But no one tells or teaches or patiently tries to say, “this is who you must be to be one of us” or “this is who we must be to allow him and accept him and form him.” Just an expectation, and impatience, an awkward intolerance. And not even a “no thank you” but a rough “please go away now” followed by silence and an angry turning away.

And still … I have not drunk my full measure.

I don’t often ask God what it is I have done to deserve this life, to be this alone, and this cast off, but sometimes I wonder — what is this sin I’ve done that got me to this place? That has left me so cold, and alone, and unwanted? In which the neighbors whisper and gossip and wonder but never say hello, never actually speak to me, never actually ask me, “who are you?” Much less invite me into their lives, and ask me to participate, to become part of them.

I do not know. And so … I weep. I suspect I shall always have tears to drink, tears in my bread. A full measure.

And then some.

ADVENT 12 / Tired of Waiting

This year, for the four weeks of Advent, we are doing the #RendTheHeavens devotion at both The Featherblog as well as Psalm 10 Ministries.


The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:9 ESV)

Oh yeah?

It feels like God is slow. It feels to me, right now, that God has forgotten his promise. To me. To others. That God has just simply walked away.

Last week, I learned a terrible thing. A young woman who had been texting this ministry, a teenage girl living in an abusive home, frightened of her dad, had contacted one of the people here. Not me. She read this blog, and then read my blog (I’m Charles, if you must know), devoured it, took some hope in all I’d written and said. And was beginning to get the courage to run away, to leave home, to find safety and protection.

It was too little, too late. Her father beat her to death.

Not slow? Not wishing any should perish? BUT SOME HAVE PERISHED! Many have perished, and many more will die, frightened and alone, at the hands of those who mean them nothing but harm.

There are days when I don’t want God to be patient with me. With the suffering of the world. I just want it all to be done with.

There are days when I do not care if I am delivered or redeemed. When I wish I had never been baptized, never heard Jesus speak of love in the midst of terror and death, when I wish I’d never heard a promise and never believed.

But I do believe. I cannot help it.

I am, however, tired of waiting.

ADVENT 11 / Words Matter

This year, for the four weeks of Advent, we are doing the #RendTheHeavens devotion at both The Featherblog as well as Psalm 10 Ministries.


You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. (Matthew 12:34 ESV)

Words matter.

It matters what we say, because what we say reflects what we think, what we feel, what we understand, what we truly believe and confess. It what we say publicly to people, about them, what we conclude. Because in our words and thoughts and feelings are the buds from which will flower and bear our fruit.

Good fruit or bad fruit. A tree is known by the fruit it bears.

So what we say matters. What we think matters. What we feel matters. What’s in our heart matters. Because from all this spring our deeds, and the deeds that matter, as Matthew notes, are simple ones, acts of kindness and mercy and in a cruel and merciless world — food for the hungry, a cup of water to the thirsty, clothing to the naked, and company for the sick, lonely, and imprisoned.

It is hard to work deeds of love and mercy when your heart is cruel and unkind. The heart will out. Thoughts and feelings will out.

Jesus says our words and our deeds will be measured. We will be judged on the basis of what we say and do.

So our words matter.

ADVENT 9 / It Sucks to be Born at Such a Time

This year, for the four weeks of Advent, we are doing the #RendTheHeavens devotion at both The Featherblog as well as Psalm 10 Ministries.


The earth lies defiled under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed the laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant. (Isaiah 24:5 ESV)

Punishment.

I hate that word.

“God will punish you!” I’ve heard it. Not recently, not as an adult, but as a child, from some people who called themselves faithful Christians, followers of Jesus, people who pointed fingers and said, “God will punish you because you do not believe!”

As an adult, I’ve seen the shaking of heads, heard the whispered muttering which suggests that my problems, my suffering, are all my fault. If only I was a better person, more pious, of better character, I would not have suffered, not be poor, not be in such need.

My fault.

God is punishing me. For my faithlessness.

Maybe.

There are consequences for sin. War and penury, defeat and conquest and exile.

But often times, children pay for the sins of their parents. Some pay for the sins of others. The generation of Israel that went into exile was not that generation whose sinfulness, whose faithless idolatry, brought about war and death and exile. It is not fair, and it does not seem right to us.

But it is the way of things.

When we sin, we who God has called to follow, we set into motion things we cannot control, things we cannot see or understand until they are upon us. We may live well, but in that living well, and all that comes with it, are the seeds of our destruction. Israel under Solomon was a rich and powerful state, with a huge army and a sprawling court of ministers and priests and officials and concubines. But that power brought with it the cause of its destruction, as Israelites rebelled against the cost of that army and court, failed to show mercy and forbearance to each other, and rejected the God of Israel as they deliberately rejected the inheritance of David.

The earth becomes defiled. The consequences of sin become bigger than us, seeping into the air and the water — in, with, and under the sky and the soil. Everywhere. The consequences of sin from long ago oozes and poisons everything, wrecking and ruining individuals, families, neighborhoods, communities, even whole kingdoms.

This is not punishment. Those who sin often times live lives of ease. But their sin, that ease, creates conditions that someone will, eventually, pay for. Sucks to born at such a time. To know that once, life was easy and life was good, but now, not so much. Sucks even more to know that ease and that goodness is likely one of the reasons things are so hard now.

Not my doing! I didn’t do this! I’m not the cause of this! The earth is not defiled because of what I have done! I shouldn’t have to pay for this! To suffer for the sins of others! It’s not right! It’s not fair!

But defiled it is. With sins I inherit but did not commit.

ADVENT 5 / Fire

This year, for the four weeks of Advent, we are doing the #RendTheHeavens devotion at both The Featherblog as well as Psalm 10 Ministries.


… when the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion and cleansed the bloodstains of Jerusalem from its midst by a spirit of judgment and by a spirit of burning. (Isaiah 4:4 ESV)

Fire destroys. It doesn’t usually clean.

Unless you consider that fire can be used to clear away that which is unneeded, unwanted, unsightly, embarrassing, inconvenient, and downright troublesome. Think Naomi Klein’s “disaster capitalism,” which never lets a good crisis go to waste. The upending of the meagre lives of the poor in some kind of calamity — tsunami or hurricane (there we go with the water again) or financial crisis — always manages to be the means by which someone who is rich becomes richer, one more tool the powerful use to get and keep their way.

Fire destroys. It lays waste. And what is left behind … is rebuilt upon. By those who have means. To the exclusion of those who don’t.

Sometimes the fire is set on purpose.

There is also the fire of revenge. For many years, I wanted nothing more than to douse the whole wide world with something flammable and set it alight. I wanted to watch it, and everyone in it, burn. Down to nothing. I wanted to put an end to humanity and my misery and my loneliness and the cruelty of the world. I was angry, enraged at a world that had let me suffer, had made me suffer, at a world that seemed to exist somewhere between a callous indifference and calling all it had done to me righteousness.

Give me a match. Because fire destroys.

The people of God … have sinned. We have worshipped that which has not saved us, and cannot save us. We have sacrificed the bodies, spilled the blood, valued as nothing, those whom God cherishes, those whom God has not asked us to sacrifice — orphans, widows, the weak, strangers, foreigners. We have been indifferent to their fate, to what we have done to them, called our cruelty righteousness so we can enjoy our ease. And God tells us … payment is coming, in the form of a terrible fire which will consume everything. A divine vengeance which will burn to the ground all that we have made with our hands, all we venerate, all we value.

It will destroy. Little will be left. It will clean. And in that fire, we who survive … shall be made right.

ADVENT 4 / We Were Gathered

This year, for the four weeks of Advent, we are doing the #RendTheHeavens devotion at both The Featherblog as well as Psalm 10 Ministries.


And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. (Matthew 24:31 ESV)

Is it a good thing or a bad thing to be gathered?

Memory dims and fade, but I still remember intensely that beautiful Tuesday morning in September, 2001, when the ordinary gave way to the extraordinary, when death rained from the sky, when men and women tumbled to their deaths, when smoke turned the sun to blood and toxic dust filled the air.

We the elect, those unfortunate enough to have been there that day, were gathered, a mob of humanity, under giant towers slated for destruction, watching, helpless, while people died.

Nameless. Faceless. Placeless. No distinction between us mattered. Unable to protect. Unable to be protected. All equal as we stared at the end of the world.

Is it a good thing to hear the trumpet, to feel the wind, to know that heaven is being folded up and we are, all of us, being brought to one place? To face death knowing we can do nothing? The we have done absolutely nothing?

Is it a good thing, in the face of death, to hear the voice of Jesus speak: “My love is all that matters.”? To know that as the world falls down around you, something bigger is present, and has spoken, and means it?

Is it a good thing or a bad thing to be gathered?

ADVENT 3 / Never Again

This year, for the four weeks of Advent, we are doing the #RendTheHeavens devotion at both The Featherblog as well as Psalm 10 Ministries.


I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. (Genesis 9:15 ESV)

Never again.

Waters will destroy. Will drown. Will flood. But never again will waters destroy all flesh. God has promised. Not an end to suffering, or danger, or sorrow, or even the threat. Waters will always loom as danger, even as they give life.

But the whole world, all at once … is safe.

This is little comfort to those who live in places where it can flood, where the waters are not so calm, where their power is always just threatening to break banks and levies and sweep away all in front of them.

Or where the lack of water dries and parches and kills.

But the whole world is safe. We live in the midst of potential cataclysm every day, in the shadow of death. But not all of us and not all at once. We have that promise from God.

ADVENT 2 / Too Much, Not Enough, Nothing at All (Genesis 8:13)

This year, for the four weeks of Advent, we are doing the #RendTheHeavens devotion at both The Featherblog as well as Psalm 10 Ministries.


In the six hundred and first year, in the first month, the first day of the month, the waters were dried from off the earth. And Noah removed the covering of the ark and looked, and behold, the face of the ground was dry. (Genesis 8:13 ESV)

God flooded the whole world. Killed everything. Because of sin. Of human sinfulness. God regretted the creation of humanity, and swore to wipe us out and start all over again.

Start all over again.

There was so much water. Too much. Water everywhere. Covering the mountains. Covering the earth. Water to drown.

And then … not so much.

In rage, and anger, and despair, God laid waste to the world. God saved a remnant, swore to begin again. It didn’t work much better the second time around. God smelled Noah’s first burnt offering and remembered, “Man is sinful to his very core. I’m not cursing the earth or killing everything that lives again because of him.”

Never again.

So following the deluge, following the destruction, following the fear and the uncertainty, following our huddling together in a tiny ark for protection, following what was probably the bickering and fighting of being cooped up in too-close quarters with family we’ve likely grown to despise as much as we love, we see and touch and feel the ground again.

We are safe.

But it took a deluge, took too much water, took a flood, to get us here. And we are not done. We are saved, delivered, redeemed, but we are not changed. We know things now — about God, about ourselves — that we didn’t know before, and that has altered us, but we are no different. We are still sinful men and women.

And the God who saved us … knows that.

ADVENT 1 / Rend (Matthew 24-44)

This year, for the four weeks of Advent, we are doing the #RendTheHeavens devotion (also known as #FuckThisShit, because sometimes polite language doesn’t cut it) at both The Featherblog as well as Psalm 10 Ministries.

Advent is a season of waiting and expectation. But it’s not necessarily a polite waiting. Because we’re not waiting in an easy place. We are conquered people. We have been brutalized and broken and exiled. We’ve been slapped and whipped and beaten, humiliated, made to play and sing and dance, by those who do these things without conscience or pity.

They have very little sympathy or compassion for their own. We can expect next to nothing from them.

But we also speak the truth. We are not mere unfortunates, not simple victims of circumstance. We are here because of our unfaithfulness, because of the unfaithfulness of our ancestors, who themselves enslaved and brutalized, who themselves whipped and beat and took perverse pleasure in the subjugation of those who were other. Who set things into motion we can hardly understand, only barely repent of and cannot even begin to correct or repair. We are here because we, as a people, have followed gods that could not redeem or save us. We have sought protection in physical power, in wealth, in ideas, in comfort, ease, and good order. In anything but the God who delivered us from Egypt.

We bear our sin. We bear the consequences of sins that are not ours.

So we wait. For deliverance. For vengeance. Because when God acts — against Pharaoh, again the Philistines, against Babylon — vengeance and deliverance are the same things. We have been promised. We have tasted and seen that God is great. Our ancestors, faithless as they were, also walked dry shod across the sea, over the river, and back to homes after a long exile. They beheld an empty tomb. And believed.

We have been promised. We wait.


Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. (Matthew 24:44 ESV)

I don’t know what I am waiting for anymore. Once, I was waiting for a convoluted church process to approve me for pastoral ministry, and then send me on my way to the work I had been called to do. I had big dreams. Ambitions. I wrote a book, I’m a pretty fair writer and singer of songs. All of that was going to be the foundation for for a nice, substantial, comfortable career.

But that was not to be. None of it. In fact, so much of what I waited for in the last ten years has simply crumbled or evaporated in my hands. I have almost nothing to show for myself.

I have given up waiting for anything. Most days I have no hope anymore. So little music in my heart that the callouses on my left hand have slowly worn off. I have a job, my first real job in 10 years, and that’s something, though accounting for inflation, I’m making less now than I did doing the same work 20 years ago.

But … I don’t know what I’m waiting for anymore. I have no dreams. No hopes. I aspire to nothing. I’m not even sure what the promise of God means to me anymore.

So, what does it mean to be ready … if I have no idea what I’m waiting for? If I have no idea what deliverance, or salvation, or redemption — no idea what any of it means.

And how can I be ready at any hour … when I’m not even sure exactly what it is I’m waiting for?