Brother Thomas

“Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came.”
                                                                                                                       – John 20:24

I don’t know where Thomas was when Jesus first appeared to the disciples after the resurrection, but he wasn’t with the others. The disciples had all assembled, doors locked in fear of the religious leaders…and probably of Rome, too. Crucifixions were common, and often it wasn’t just the leader of a movement who went down. Rome would crucify thousands of people at a time to put down revolts. It’s no wonder they were hiding. It’s no wonder Thomas wasn’t around. We aren’t told where he was, but I can imagine.

Maybe Thomas went home. Head hung low in shame for abandoning the family and their livelihood a few years back to follow the young, upstart Rabbi from Nazareth. Others had dropped fishing nets and left tax booths, broken open priceless bottles of ointment just to sit at Jesus’ feet.

What had Thomas left behind?

Did he try going back to that place, to those people when it all fell apart with Jesus?

Maybe Thomas was hiding. We’re told that when Jesus was arrested that the disciples scattered. Maybe Thomas wandered out into the wilderness somewhere, ducking the Roman soldiers and the temple elites. Devastated. Alone. Terrified.

What now?

We aren’t told where Thomas was, but we know he wasn’t there when Mary brought the news of the unthinkable and unimaginable. We know he wasn’t there when Peter rushed to the tomb to see for himself. We know he wasn’t there on the first day of the week when Jesus appeared to the disciples assembled in the house.

He wasn’t there.

I’ve always looked down on Thomas a little bit. Why wouldn’t you be there? Why wouldn’t you trust your closest friends when they told you that the thing you couldn’t even hope for had happened?  He was painted as some sort of bumbling idiot in Sunday school, “that doubting Thomas, don’t be like him. Trust the words of Jesus, He is risen! Risen indeed!”

I’m starting to understand Thomas.

I understand declining the invitation to sit in the dark house, doors locked, praying that they don’t come and arrest you too.

No, thanks. I’ll pass.

Where was Thomas?
I don’t know, but I probably would have been with him.

I’m the type of person who has contingency plans for my contingency plans. The crucifixion didn’t catch the disciples totally off-guard. You couldn’t say the things Jesus said, do the things Jesus did, bring together the people Jesus brought together and survive the empire.  As the writing on the wall started to become clear, I probably would have made some sort of exit strategy. When Jesus gets arrested, where do I hide? Who do is safe to turn to for help? Who can I trust not to turn me over to the empire, too?

We all want to believe we would have stayed by Jesus’ side till the end, but I’m fairly certain I would have been right there with the rest of his followers fleeing the scene.

I paint myself as an idealist, but I’m really more of a cynic with an affinity for sunshine.
I understand why Thomas wasn’t there.

But then, Thomas also came back.

Maybe those who had stayed sent word to him.
Maybe Mary found him somewhere and talked to him.
Maybe there were murmurs spreading and he caught wind somehow.
Maybe they all knew where he was the whole time, and it just took him awhile to make his way back to the house.

He found his way back somehow.

And the news was unbelievable. Literally.

“Unless I see the wounds, unless I touch them myself, I won’t believe it.”

It’s not like resurrection was such an improbable reality for Thomas. He had been there when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. He had seen resurrection with his own eyes, embraced new life with his very arms. But this was closer to home. This loss was more costly. Lazarus was a friend, but he died from illness. Jesus was his teacher, his leader, and he was executed by the state.

Thomas had seen life spring up from death.

Was it worth the risk this time?

Hope is birthed from a vulnerable place, it costs us something.  Thomas had already lost a lot. He had given up home, family and livelihood. He had already done the work of reimagining his life, of letting old dreams die, of dreaming something new. And now even the new dreams were dashed.

Are you seriously asking me to hope again?

I wasn’t ready for Easter this year.
For new life, new hope, resurrection.

I’m still sitting in the unknown of Holy Saturday. The tense, aching place between the shadow of a cross and the weight of the tomb.

We don’t talk about it often, but there’s grace for this space, too. For those of us who are stuck on Saturday. Our brother, Thomas, is familiar with the place in which we find ourselves.

We like to say “You’ve just got to have faith – even the size of a mustard seed!” 
But what we neglect to say is that even mustard seeds must be covered in earth before they spring to life. Even mustard seeds must wonder as they come undone in the dark if anything good will come from their burial.

 

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Riding in on a donkey

“It just all seems so…divided.”
The descant rolls on and on from so many of my friends and peers; believers from all walks of life.
The words are paced with shocking consistency. They are set to a meter like a metronome, the rise and fall undifferentiated.

And it’s true, I can’t remember a time in my short life when things seemed this hotly debated and starkly contrasted in the “big C,” universal Church.  We can barely even break bread with one another any more, and you can just forget about even suggesting we discuss some topic of significance while we feast on the bread and wine.

But maybe, just maybe, Jesus knew it was going to be like this all along.

Perhaps this is why He took the time to pray that we would be one and He and the Father are one.

Perhaps we need only to look to the coronation procession of our King to see what kind of march His kingdom would have.

Look, your king is coming to you, humble and riding on a donkey…”
Declares the prophet Zechariah as quoted in the book of Matthew.


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Photo: Sea Turtle via Flickr

Have you ever seen anyone try to ride a donkey?

Or just watched someone try to lead or direct a donkey to a certain location?

It’s comparable to herding cats or catching chickens or getting small children to stand in a straight line, only it’s slower, smellier, more awkward and you may get kicked.

Can you imagine how long it would have taken for Jesus to parade into Jerusalem?

Did the donkey balk at the crowds, stubbornly refusing to budge in any direction?

Was the animal braying loudly as the people cried “Hosanna!” nearly drowning their praise with its own contribution to the chorus?

I’ve heard people talk about the significance of the donkey multiple times, how the donkey was a sign that Jesus was coming in peace, not with the political, militaristic take over they expected the Messiah to have.  That the donkey shows us Christ’s humility.  And these things are true.

But as Christ marches into the city, a royal procession to ring in the new and yet coming kingdom, He chooses to ride in on the most awkward, misstepping, stubborn creature possible. (Which sounds incredibly liken to another creature I know of that has been commissioned to carry Christ to the masses.)

Maybe as He rides in on a donkey, Jesus isn’t just making a statement of peace or humility, maybe He is once more poetically, prophetically declaring “The Kingdom of God is like…”  as He did so many times before.

The Kingdom of God moves painfully slow…
Like a kingly procession mounted on donkeys.

The Kingdom of God is awkward and wayward…
Like a colt not yet ridden.

I imagine the entry into Jerusalem looked less triumphant and more gauche.
The Word that called the donkey into being now coaxing it one deliberate step forward at a time.

Isn’t this what the Kingdom of God is like?

That Jesus coaxes us forward, one step at a time?  Slowly, graciously, with heart wrenching patience.

This Kingdom does not come swiftly with domineering power and prestige, but slowly, with obstinance binding each move.  The King gently nudging us along.

As we step into a week of remembrance, I think back on the things I would rather forget in the history, and deny in the present, of the global Church.

The oppression and violence of the Inquisition.

The Crusades.

The Salem Witch Trials.

Culpability with slavery and genocide on several occasions.

Our affinity for segregation of many kinds.

Yet, even in remembering the seemingly irreconcilable mess of misguided worship and injurious evangelism of my Kingdom, I find hope.

Because the King is riding in on a donkey.

This slow, awkward, reluctant gait is how Jesus chose to usher in the Kingdom in the first place.

So we live in anticipation of the coming King and His beautiful, terrifying, upside-down Kingdom.

The lament of division and tension rolls on while we cut down our brothers and sisters as though they were palm branches to wave on high, creating a spectacle. But even now, in the midst of all this, we join in the ancient chorus “Hosanna! God save us! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”

We raise a ruckus and lay down the very clothes off our back because we can see in a distance the King is coming.

…But He is riding on a donkey.

That Time I Gave Away Half of My Clothes (and other ideas on how to practice simplicity during Lent)

Photo: beccaberry via Flickr

Photo: beccaberry via Flickr

It was over a year ago now (but it seems like just last week) when I noticed it.  Piles everywhere. Clean clothes, dirty clothes, outfits tried on and off and discarded for a more preferable option before leaving for a morning meeting.

Piles and piles and piles.

And at once, I was over it.

Enough was enough, and I had too much.

It was on that day I legitimately took half of the clothes I owned and put them into garbage bags.
Many of the items I still wore.  Many of the items I still liked.  In fact, I intentionally gave away a few favorites, just to show myself I could – in fact – live without those things.

I stashed the bags in my attic, a little afraid of getting rid of half of my wardrobe flat out.
But after a week or so, I didn’t miss it any more.  In fact, I kind of enjoyed having less laundry to do and more motivation to actually fold it and put it away.

Ben noticed the change and axed half of his wardrobe too.  After a couple months we worked up the guts to fully let go and take our bags of clothing down to the Rescue Mission.

After that, we implemented a “one in one out” rule for clothing.  If we buy a new (which usually means new-to-us) article of clothing, it means either:
A) the one we had was worn beyond being wearable or
B) we are choosing just to update something, so we give the other one away.

We try to only buy what we need, and we buy consignment, vintage or fair trade whenever possible.

Our clothing choices are one of the ways we practice simplicity in our every day lives.

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This week during Lent I’m focusing on the discipline of simplicity, and how I can further practice it in my day to day living.  One idea I saw the other day is to give a small amount of money (quarter or dime) to a church or charity each time you see a commercial on television.  Wow!

I love the thought behind this one. Advertisements are always feeding us the lie that we need more, more, more!  That we are, at our very core, meant to consume.  The discipline of giving something for each commercial reminds us that we are something more than a consumer, it reminds us of the bigger Story – the true Story to which we all belong.

What about you?  What are some ways your practice simplicity in your everyday life?
How can you deepen your practice of simplicity during Lent?

Owned (A Lenten Meditation on Excess and Simplicity)

fashion

Photo: 28 Dreams via Flickr

I’ve found myself altogether discontent lately.

Maybe it’s just that I’m tired of wearing snow boots and my sub-zero parka every day.

Maybe it’s just that the sunlight never seems to come bright enough, for long enough.

Maybe it’s that as I pound out miles on the treadmill, unattainable images of which to measure beauty by flash on the TV in front of me.

I turn it off and toss my sweatshirt over the display, but the images still play through my mind.

Nothing is right.

My clothes seem stained or outdated.  The sole on the toe of my boot is coming undone.  The circles under my eyes hang heavy, despite the amount of sleep I get.  The curve of my body seems altogether not right.

My first thought is to update.

What new product can I buy?  What piece of clothing is my wardrobe missing?  How can I cover and change and contort the curves of my body and lines of my face?

How can I hide?

I am told, over and over as my feet pound on and on that this or that or some other thing will fill the hole, will make it okay.

The treadmill hums beneath me while an immaculate blonde woman explains the trends for this spring.  How eight simple pieces can carry you through the season.

I take mental notes.

hummmmmm. hummmmmm. hummmmmm.

Discontent and dull.

Like the snow stuck on the side of the road for too many months now.

I click and browse after putting Cadence to bed.

New lines, new fits, new colors, all promising what I’m lacking.

I find myself in a store.

I go through and try on shirt after shirt, a dress and new jeans.  I check the stickers and can’t justify it.

Pesky numbers.  I know how many children that sum would feed.  I know that the price would help a woman my age anywhere else start her own business, or send her child to school.

I check the tags and know the way laborers are treated in those factories.  Bangladesh. India. Thailand.  I think of the women and men and children who likely won’t see a cent from the sale of these articles of clothing they – quite literally – slaved over.

I put the items back and leave the store.

Going home, I empty my closet.

Shoes and skirts and pants tossed into paper grocery bags.

I head to the mission immediately, before I can reconsider.

Before I can talk myself back in to “maybe wearing that sweater someday.”

Before I think of an excuse to keep those shoes around “just in case.”

Dropping the bags, the sun seems brighter.  My own parka and snow boots don’t seem so bad.

I find myself thankful for their warmth and protection from the biting wind in late February.

It make me wonder…

If I’m told a million ways each day that what I wear and look like, what I paint my face with and what fills my closet, that these are the things that bring me happiness.  Yet, they leave me empty and only wanting more.  If I’m told that I am worth what I purchase and ultimately what I own, yet feel lost with these things, then who, really, is the owner?

It’s a constant battle.  I work continuously at convincing myself that the discipline it takes to live simply is worth it.  Keeping up with the Jones’s would be much easier in some many respects.

I know this though, that I am worth – we are all worth – more than sparrows and fields of flowers, more than any splendor in nature or made by the hands of humanity.  We have been bought with the highest, greatest price and ascribed worth beyond measure.

Why would I settle to be owned by anything less that the Creator and Sustainer of my very being?

A slightly more empty closet, and a few less knick-knacks about the house, and I find myself seeing things through a mirror slightly less dim.

I realize I am owned by the things I think belong to me.  That more often than not, I am possessed by my possessions.

But this is, of course, what Lent is for; it’s why we are called and commanded to live simply.

And like so many things in this life following the servant Messiah, the way out seems awkward and against every intuition.

Contentment lies not in finally obtaining that which I long for, but in seeing unveiled all I truly have and perhaps (more often than not) sharing much of what has been entrusted to my care.

Because I am the owner of nothing, and it’s only in realizing this that I find freedom from being owned.