Juliana of Norwich was a 14th century anchorite and spiritual writer and the first female author published in English. She was not formally a nun, but lived most of her life in a small room, receiving daily food through a window and dedicating herself to prayer. Her best-known book is Revelations of Divine Love. Her infatuation with God and desire for others to know divine love and grace influenced thousands in her day and millions of readers over the past centuries. She shared her hope and love in a world full of plagues and wars (that make COVID-19 seem tame), ecclesial disputes, and social unrest. Why was she so happy?
Juliana experienced deep intimacy with Christ, both as the Crucified Savior and Risen Lord. She knew the entire biblical narrative and the final chapters of the Book of Revelation spoke to her as she reminded her suffering friends, “All shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” The hope of the resurrection and the beautiful visions of eternity detailed in Scripture informed her optimism in the midst of so much degradation and tragedy.
We need Mother Juliana’s hope in our world. Easter reminds us that death does not have the final word and our current afflictions are working new affections of compassion and endurance in our souls. Injustice and underserved pain, the selfishness of the powerful, and our own self-inflicted wounds all conspire toward fatalism and hopelessness. But Easter has come and our mourning turns to joy as our tears are dried by the nail-scarred hands of Christ!
It was the Holy Spirit that gave Juliana of Norwich her revelations of divine love and hope. The same Holy Spirit lives in every believer and in the church opening our hearts and minds toward courage and wisdom, and loving service. The same Holy Spirit will empower the sharing of the Gospel as we invite others to experience forgiveness, healing, and foretastes of eternal delight.
While we contend for truth, work for justice, and engage in all domains of our culture, we will have defeats and victories, tragic reversals and miraculous advances. In the midst of it all, our Risen Lord reminds us, “All shall be well.”
As we consider the turmoil in our streets and online, there are two guiding questions that may help us with a civil and insightful conversation. First, what does “there” look like as we aspire for a more humane, just, and loving world? Second, what are some practical steps toward this vision?
It is much easier to agitate and destroy than it is to build just and sustainable structures that help offer a flourishing future for all. Tearing down monuments to an unjust past is emotionally understandable. Yet, thinking deeply how to teach and understand the many narrative of American history will require more thoughtfulness that current reactions.
Conservatives tend to ignore the historical and systemic shortcomings and focus on personal opportunity and responsibility in achieving the ideals of the Founders and Framers. Some (not all) progressives find it hard to affirm anything positive about the past but offer few practical and economically feasible solutions for all the crises we face.
What does “there” look like? I long for a day when every (of every color or culture, class and gender) person – from conception to coronation – lives in a world with access, equity, and opportunity and can, with the help of others, flourish personally and add to the goodness of our world. “There” includes immigration reform, so America is hospitable and welcoming immigrants ready to contribute. Neither open borders nor separating families are good solutions.
Practically, serious reforms are needed in all sectors (business, criminal justice, education, political accountability, mental health, strengthening families, and more) so that these pathways are created and sustained. We can forge and better future without extreme deficit spending and defunding law enforcement.
Will we find the courage and wisdom to get past anarchy and ignorance, nostalgic and utopian dispositions and work toward justice? The road ahead is perilous but full of promise.
for a peaceful revolution in Christian discipleship, with millions of
“ordinary” believers awakening to God’s presence and power in the midst
of daily life. It is possible to enjoy God, become more whole, have
healthy relationships, live with purpose, and do today’s tasks as
worship. We have more resources than ever before for growth, but often
see believers living emaciated lives. We need a fresh vision of “normal”
that can inspire hope and propel institutional and personal
transformation. Thank God for all our fine pastors and good resources.
But there is an “Aha!” moment that must capture our imaginations for
is the revolutionary key: reconceiving the Christian life in terms of
dimensions and outcomes instead of categories and classes is the key to
fruitfulness. Sermons and Sunday schools, Bible studies and small
groups, online and print programs: all of these are the means to a
desired end, not the end in themselves! Check out this special
Assessment for further understanding: www.discipleshipdynamics.com.
is dimensional and integrated, not just a “to do list” of boxes to be
checked (yes, it is good to order our day’s activities!). The challenge
for each person is understanding what “there” looks like. In other
words, what are we aiming for, in principled and practical terms?
Hebrews 13:7 offers this advice: “Consider the outcome of their
(spiritual leaders) way of life and imitate their faith (both belief and
action).” The next verse says, “Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday,
today, and forever.”
a follower of Christ means imitation Jesus’ attitudes and actions,
dispositions and disciplines, with a desire to love God, love our
neighbor and make more disciples from every culture. What does this look
like in real life? There are five dimensions to our lives that are all
part of God’s plan and therefore they are all “spiritual” there is no
sacred/secular divide, no separation of Sunday ecstasies and Monday’s
ethics. Here are the five dimensions:
God with all our being: enjoying and growing in intimacy with the
Trinity. This is true spiritual formation and includes all the classical
disciples of prayer and Bible study, church attendance and
wholeness is an organic fruit of true intimacy with God. We lean to
overcome our painful history with hope, manage our negative emotions,
see ourselves as loved by God, forgive others and discover inner peace.
relationships are the implication of “loving our neighbor as
ourselves.” This include healthy boundaries, sexual purity, good
friendships and much more…think of all the great “one another” texts of
clarity is the fulfillment of Ephesians 2:10: we are designed for a
purpose and we are always more than our current job. Knowing our natural
and spiritual gifts, the dignity of our labor and serving with humility
should inform our lives daily.
of these dimensions are worked out as we live in a world of economics
and work each day! Whether paid or unpaid, labor or leadership, private
or public, almost everyone spends their waking hours actively doing
something. This is not our secular life nor are our activities merely a
means to an end…our work matters to God.
millions of God-fearing friends awakening to the fullness of God’s
intentions and offering all daily activity as worship to God. Imagine
seamless integration of evangelism and compassion, for-profit and
non-profit efforts, and prayer and the pursuit of justice. A peaceful
and powerful revolution indeed.
Peace among nations is a noble goal worth pursuing. It is also impossible without the other facets of peace being in place. Treaties are mere scraps of paper without transformation of hearts and minds. As we pray for our leaders and for concord among all cultures, here are some pathways to peace essential for human flourishing:
Personal peace with God and oneself. Conflicted, guilty and wounded hearts are underneath so much pathological activity and strife. This peace comes when individuals are reconciled to God and with their own pasts.
Peace among families. In 1967, Neil Diamond wrote and recorded a powerful song, Husbands and Wives, containing these words, “It’s my belief/pride is the chief/cause of the decline /in the numbers of husbands and wives.” It is time for spouses to decide ahead of time that they will remain faithful in body and spirt to their partners and their children.
Peace within and among churches. The local church is Jesus’ Plan A for his mission and the hope of the world…and all too often a place of discord and power struggles. May the faith, hope and love of the Gospel bring humility and mutual respect among all members.
Peace among diverse classes and cultures, educational backgrounds and ethnicities. Global ideals are only as strong as their local applications. When we make friends across classes and cultures and work for the common good, there is a ripple effect that becomes influential across the street and around the world.
And the key to all these facets of peace? A decision on the apart of at least 2 people to think of God’s glory and the good of others before themselves. In other words, letting love and humility, courage and wisdom win out over ambition and ego.
May this Advent find all of us at peace with Christ and fostering peace in our families and neighborhoods. We do not need the State house, the Beltway or the UN to lead the way – it begins in our hearts and homes.
Our deep divisions come from an impoverished anthropology.
We must reaffirm that all persons we encounter are made in God’s image with vocations of worship and work, play and rest, mutual self-donation and personal flourishing.
Our new anthropology must embrace created dignity, sin-infected depravity, gracious new creation in Christ and the restoration of all creation, as we enjoy God’s eternal reign.
Class and culture, gender and race are transformed with this new vision.
Transforming our society begins with love and truth.
Love: I desire and act for the good of others.
Truth: I assume responsibility for my decisions while recognizing larger influences I may not always control.
As we pray and work for justice, Pastor Chris Brooks’ words resound:
”We must confront individual iniquity and institutional injustice.”
”Poverty is not permanent.”
Poverty, racism, sexism, classism: all can be overcome with unselfish actions rooted in love and truth.
A free society is a virtuous society.
A virtuous society is built on timeless truth.
And it all begins and ends with self-donating love.
And that love is Triune.