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The Treasonous Act of Small Children Waving Branches

 

For twenty minutes yesterday, young children and palm branches surrounded me on all sides.

Like many churches, we have a Palm Sunday procession to mark the beginning of Holy Week. When I dropped my Kindergartner at her class, I offered to stay and help. My church family has literally hundreds (if not thousands) of children — so organizing this march was no small feat. I was responsible for only a handful of children waving palm fronds, but even so, getting everyone up the stairs, through the hallways, and lined up in place took some doing. Especially when one child’s branch lost its leaves (after being used as a sword too many times) and when another needed an emergency trip to the restroom.

All this adorable chaos made me wonder about the actual “Triumphal entry.” On this day, Jesus completed his long trip into Jerusalem for the Passover celebration. Jesus rode on a donkey, and crowds gathered (as they so often did) and threw their cloaks on the ground; others cut down palm branches and placed them on the ground. Given the symbolism of the time, this was red-carpet treatment. Others in the crowd ran ahead, shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David!” Still others ran behind him. A red-carpet and a ticker-tape parade.

After just ten minute of keeping eleven Kindergartners marching with their branches, I wondered: was someone coordinating the original triumphant event, or was it a truly impromptu expression? What sort of massive headache was this, for whomever was in charge?

But more, I wondered about the parents who came, and brought their children. We know they were there, because later on in Jerusalem children were still shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David” at the temple–and this caused a scandal.

In fact, all of this was a scandal. Every piece of imagery in this parade was rich in royal and Messianic symbolism – from the donkey, to the branches, to the cloaks on the ground, to the words the crowds and children shouted and sang. All of it meant “Jesus is our new King! He’s the one we want!” This is a pretty neutral and safe thing to do in a democracy that values free speech, but dangerous insurrection in a political climate where the Roman government frequently tortured, killed, and publicly crucified anyone who suggested treason. All of it suggested that Jesus was not only King, but the Divine, Messianic King sent from God to save the people from oppression once and for all.

Treason and blasphemy. Each punishable by death.

Those in power — religious or political — could not help but hear this message; and they could not let this message go unanswered.

What sort of desperate hope and courage would it take to send my child to wave a branch and shout a song with a message like that?

If we think we can understand the feelings of that crowd, I think we deceive ourselves.

Yesterday, after too many minutes of keeping wiggly kids from wrestling each other or running down the hallway, our turn finally came. Waving our branches and straining to see parents in the crowd, my small group of Kindergartners proudly marched up and down the aisles as the worship leaders led our own crowd of thousands in song. We celebrated and waved and marched happily. We were merely following family and community tradition, the safest, most nurturing thing in the world.

But those first families, who brought their children, to lay cloaks and branches and shout and sing about their allegiance to the new Messianic King…they were publicly inciting treason. And with the long, painful history they had with oppressive governments and public crucifixions, they couldn’t have lost sight of that for a moment.

The week did not unfold as they had thought, though in some ways as they knew it must.

I watched my own adorable children joyfully waving palm branches and singing, as I do every year, and wondered: could I ever find the courage to stand against an unjust empire (and it’s corrupt religious leaders) in such a public way? Even if it put my children’s lives in danger?

This crowd did. I remember them, these parents, too, this Holy Week.

In the first Holy Week, God’s Perfect Love entered the hate-filled realm of injustice, power, and politics. He showed us what happens to such powerful, fearless, self-giving Love.

And that, even so, this Love triumphs powerfully in the end. He showed us, gave us, the way of Salvation.

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Airplane Lessons: An Exercise in Loving my Neighbor

A few years ago I boarded an airplane for a 12+ hour flight. After settling into my (middle) seat, the passenger in the aisle seat next to me arrived and started settling in herself. Like most international travelers, she was armed with a few books, a few electronic gadgets, a bag of airport lunch, a water bottle, a purse, a carry-on bag, etc. She never looked at me or spoke to me, but she did deposit the entire pile of carry-on loot into my lap without a word of explanation or request for help.I was flabbergasted, to say the least.

But, I know how hard it can be to settle into these tiny spaces; she’ll take these things from me in a second, I figured. I won’t be holding them forever. I can be a good neighbor.

She settled in. Sat down. Seat belts. Flips through the airplane magazines. Minutes pass. Then she takes from my arms a cell phone — and makes a call. A long call. Talks on the phone until we have to “please turn off all electronic equipment for take off” and I’m still holding all her stuff.

At this point, I’ve moved from flabbergasted to flummoxed, and incredibly irritated. What is this nut-case-of-a-fellow-passenger thinking?!?

It occurred to me then that this is the scenario Jesus is always describing. The one where I’m supposed to walk the extra mile; where I’m supposed to love my enemies; where I’m supposed to turn the other cheek, give my second jacket to the person who stole my first one; where I’m supposed to be humble, and giving, and patient instead of seeking something for myself, seeking comfort, seeking my rights, seeking a good position. The one where I am to give shelter to those who need it, food and water to those without it, comfort for those who seek it. No matter how undeserving or undesirable the needy person may be, because when I do these things, I’m really doing it to him. As though that person were Jesus.

He was right — it’s easy to do this for my friends who will probably do the same for me. But it’s really hard to do this for a perfect stranger who really seems to be taking advantage of my patience for no compelling reason.

But hey — how about that? Taking advantage of me? Aren’t I supposed to have good boundaries? Not let people walk all over me? This is the place where I go around in circles. How do you love people as though they were Jesus, without becoming an unhealthy doormat?

The answer struck me then in a place deeper than words: if this lady sitting next to me really were Jesus, I would be more than happy to hold his/her bags for 15 minutes — or 15 hours. I would never have to ask myself if I was being manipulated because the change that matters is not in her behavior or intent, but in my own heart. If she really was Jesus, I would spend those 15 minutes or 15 hours blessed beyond belief that I had this opportunity to give, to serve, to be near him.

Being manipulated or taken advantage of comes not because of who she is, but who I see her to be. If I believe that holding her books and loving her gives me an opportunity to directly and physically love and serve Jesus, then she no longer has the power to hurt me in any way. I have already chosen to give freely, joyfully — and I’m getting much more in return than was “taken” from me.

He was right about that too.

She did eventually take her stuff back. Never did speak to me, or look at me. But this taught me something, without words, that a book or sermon or discussion could never have done. Loving the (to my eyes) unlovable as though they were Jesus.

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Book Birth Day! (and a contest)

It’s Launch Day! 

Long Days of Small Things is born into the world!

As with so many things, Long Days of Small ThingsMotherhood as a Spiritual Discipline was conceived as a spark, an idea, without me realizing that something new and real had begun. Then came a long but joyful gestation period of writing, rewriting, and editing. And then the labor of launching and delivering this book into your hands.

But today is birth day. We’ve made it! We’re here. Long Days of Small Things has finally, finally arrived.

What’s a birthday without presents?? To celebrate I’m hosting a fantastic giveaway. My amazing publisher (NavPress/Tyndale) has put together a lovely collection of gifts. I’m so incredibly excited about it — I only wish I could win it myself!

So here we go — away from the quiet hours of choosing words and crafting sentences, and into this new (and much louder) season of sharing it with you all. Launching a book has been unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I’m grateful and nervous. I’m excited and exhausted. It feels unbelievable and long overdue.

In any case, it is here, now.

I would be honored if you would check out Long Days of Small Things, and enter the giveaway. Enter to win early and often — and help me celebrate by spreading the word.

And of course, happy reading!

Win a Custom Long Days of Small Things Gift Bag!

 

 

Included in the Long Days of Small Things giveaway bag is Canvass – a beautifully designed artistic journaling bible from The Message, a box of Taylor’s organic chamomile tea, a Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day lavender scented soy candle, one tube of Watkins shea butter lavender scented hand cream, a 32 oz package of San Francisco Salt Co. bath salts (Sleep – Lavender), one $15 iTunes gift card, a handmade fair trade organizational pouch from Mi Esperanza*, and – best of all – a signed copy of Long Days of Small Things!

These are all wrapped up inside a lovely and practical “Little Hope Tote”, also from Mi Esperanza*.

*Mi Esperanza (My Hope) was founded in 2002 and works to provide life sustaining change in the lives of women in the villages surrounding Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Committed to fair wages and a healthy and supportive work environment Mi Esperanza produces a line of unique handmade bags and jewelry. They provide free skills training to impoverished women who would not otherwise receive an education, giving them the tools and resources they need to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty and provide a stable future for themselves and their children. Through Mi Esperanza women are finding a new sense of hope, self-empowerment and the stability that is needed to gain control of their future.  You can read more about Mi Esperanza and their mission at their website: https://thewomenofmyhope.org/.

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Advent, Hope, and the Chicago Cubs: a Devotion on Devotion

14572263_10154092126768214_5738134130707280860_nHope deferred makes the heart sick,
    but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life. (Proverbs 13:12)

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for
    and assurance about what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1)

 

With the dark days of a Chicago winter upon us, hope can feel in short supply. Add in the most divisive political season most of us can remember, and despair can make the heart sick.

In the meantime, you’ve almost certainly heard the news: last month the Chicago Cubs won the World Series for the first time since 1908! I’m fairly certain the cry of joy could be heard from outer space. I know the gathering of five-million people celebrating in Chicago was seen from the skies—the seventh largest human gathering in all history.

It was difficult to carry on normally during those weeks, due to the agony of near defeat, the tension of games too close to call, the ecstasy of victory. And the fact that I was unwilling to wear anything without the Cubs logo emblazoned on it (preferably Cubbie blue).

You might have asked yourself: all this for a ball game??

Well, not exactly.

There’s some powerful alchemy that goes into the emotions we feel around something like this; a recipe that gets at what we humans are to the core and what inspires us to move forward. It’s about individual and community identity, about our placement in the world and in time. It’s about the deeply physical, social, and spiritual elements of hope.

The last time the Cubs played in the World Series (and lost), the year was 1945. World War II had just ended and my Cubs-cheering Dad was only four months old. The last time the Cubs won the World Series it was 1908. World War I was still in the distant future. My dad—and his dad—weren’t cheering because they weren’t born yet; my great grandfather probably wasn’t cheering either, having just immigrated from Sweden and busy setting up the family farm.

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The baby in the high chair is my dad, the year the Cubs last played (and lost) the World Series

That’s a lot of generations ago. That’s a long time to hope for something unseen.

And so, entire generations of Cubs fan were born into families long-hoping for victory, only to live their entire lives and never see it. They birthed children who were taught to do the same, for generations. By the time my children were born, they were handed not only the words to the song “Go Cubs Go” but the weight of their parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and great-great-grandparents who had waited, and hoped, and died without seeing their hope come to fruition.

Yes, but it’s just baseball. They weren’t hoping to see peace come to their homeland, a return from exile, or the coming of God’s final redemption—as so many have throughout human history. That’s true. This is a baseball sized hope.

But when you have the privilege of witnessing something your father’s generation longed to see, and your grandfather’s, and great grandfather’s—and they didn’t, but never stopped hoping, and passed the dream on to you—well, that becomes something bigger than just a ballgame.

This is about loving each other through the ages, and not just today; about faithfulness when it’s difficult and not just when its easy. It is the deep love and loyalty that families feel for each other, the longing one generation has to be united to the ones that come before and behind. It is where we find the strength to move forward, to train up our children, keep the faith, work for redemption and a world made new. There’s power when you believe an ancient dream may finally be realized. It’s about a heart sick from hope deferred, now rejoicing in a tree of life.

The very biggest and best stories are passed down this way; the most transcendent hopes are woven through the generations.

Outside of professional sports we have real lives, with real hopes long deferred. We look at the legacies entrusted to our generation, and wonder if we’re worthy to pass them forward. We trudge through suffering and wonder if we’ll see these longings fulfilled. So we stay faithful in the little things: getting up each morning, caring for family, friends, and neighbors, serving in our jobs, seeking after God, keeping the faith. We long to believe that this everyday-faithfulness is worthy of the legacy of hope, that we are keeping the course for those that came before and those that came behind.

That’s why these small tastes of victory mean so much to us. Spoilers that hint at the end of the story: the ancient hope of our mothers and fathers is alive, even if we won’t taste the fruit in our lifetimes.

There’s a wall at Wrigley Field where fans have chalked the names of their loved ones who hoped to see this day but passed on months ago, years ago, decades ago. Those who have gone before us. Sons and daughters have travelled to far-off cemeteries to listen to Game Seven with the mothers and fathers who longed to listen to such a game their entire lives. Friends are getting tattoos in honor of dearly departed loved ones they wish had lived to see this day.

It is this sweet fulfillment of generations longing together that was tasted, in a small but meaningful way, by millions of Cubs fan now, finally, in 2016.

 

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A Tale of Two Callings

I have the honor today of guest posting for the blog series “Women in Ministry” hosted by Katherine Willis Pershey.  I’d love for you to hop over and have a read!

Here’s an excerpt:

I was at a minister’s conference recently, chatting with my tablemate at lunch. She is an ordained Pastor, Spiritual Director, Chaplain, Licensed Therapist, and Healing Prayer Minister. I was excited to talk with her because her schooling and interests so closely line up with my own. But then she asked about my ministry. I stumbled around for words but came up short, mumbling something about being busy with my kids while supporting my husband in his work. I left the conversation feeling that somehow my life had gone terribly wrong.

Continue reading…

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Seperations

Several years ago I heard the most amazing of news – there was, within my own body and self, another person just beginning to be created. For months I carried this reality around with me like a fragile cup of wonder – I was no long merely myself. I was myself plus someone. Someone who was me-yet-not-me. Someone who would one day break off from me and be an entirely separate person. But on that day and for that time we were truly one.

I remember the day he was born, and the astonishment I felt at this most amazing of events – here, from my body, was another separate person.

Nine months after that day he slept in his own room for the first time, having spent the first nine months sleeping alongside my bed in a co-sleeper. The shock of this separation made me reel; not only was he outside of my body but he could spend long hours alone in a room without me. We would pass this time apart, neither knowing what the other was doing, this one who just months before could not be extracted separately from my body.

Three and a half years after that I dropped him off for his first day at preschool. He readily walked through the doors and I found myself on the other side. He had experiences and conversations and snacks and friends that I would never know anything about. This caused me to reflect on the thoughts and ideas and feelings he had daily that were secret to himself alone, and I realize how very far from the womb he had traveled in four short years.

Yesterday I dropped this same person – clad in Angry Birds t-shirt and backpack, full of personality and opinions – at Kindergarten. Next week I’ll merely open the house door and watch him climb unto the big yellow bus parked outside our home.

For him, I’m sure, the process of separation has been gradual and slow, each step coming at just the right time. But for me, I transitioned from “labor pains” to “school bus” in just a bit more time than it took to earn a Bachelor’s degree. His rapid growth no longer leaves stretch marks on my stomach but the marks are made to my soul as I strain to keep up.

My father once wisely noted that the birth and childhood “firsts” of our first born are as much about ourselves as it is about them, as we encounter for the first time these life experiences we could hardly know existed. In this new season, I find that he is right. My other children will one day start school for the first time, but this time is, for the entire family, the First Time. Somehow today I am not only letting go a little bit more of A, but letting go, period.

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My aim is to awaken myself and others to the creative, redemptive work of God in this present moment. I am striving to see beauty, learning to expand my perspective, praying to keep my eyes and heart open.

Connect with Catherine at www.catherinemcniel.com.

 


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