A story and a prayer about Cake

Once upon a time there was a cake. Some travelers came upon the cake, and being hungry after their long journey, they cut it into even slices and shared it between them. Where they came from, the King ate most of the cake, so this was a real treat. Not long afterwards, some local people arrived and said “hey, who ate our cake?”, and the travelers shrugged: “Finders keepers, losers weepers,” they said.

The travelers liked this land with its good ingredients for cake, and worked very, very hard to make as many cakes as they could. A strong workforce was kidnapped imported to come and make cake. But the workers were not allowed to eat any of the cake. Not at all. Every now and then the workers would try to run away, or complain that they, too, liked cake – but those workers were punished and killed for their insolent cake-wanting ways. Some of the more heroic people who quashed uppity cake-wanting workers even had statues erected in their honor. Freedom, independence and liberty to eat cake. That was worth celebrating.

Many years later, some realized that women liked cake too, and some years after that, that black people should get to eat cake as well. The self-evident truths that all men are created equal needed to include all of mankind: men and women, people of all colors. This was a huge celebration.

But, in the years that followed, some of the original cake eaters began to complain that they didn’t feel the portion size of their cake was what it had been before. “We deserve 20oz cake servings,” they said. “Make our cake great again!” When others protested saying, “your expectations that you deserve the biggest slice of cake were set by a very flawed history…”, they got upset. “Are you calling me racist?” they said?

“No,” said others. “we’re just saying that we need to acknowledge that white people have always got the biggest pieces of cake, and that wasn’t right. That’s what privilege is: expecting a piece of cake without anyone questioning your right to it. We need to recalibrate our serving size. We need to make sure that those who have never had cake before get some. We need to watch out for bullies at the table who want to snatch others’ cake away. We must oppose leaders who fail to condemn militant whites-only-cake-eating-groups.”

There’s a lot of cake. There’s more than enough to go around. We don’t need to be greedy.

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When Nehemiah asked for news of what had been happening in his home country, people told him of “great trouble and disgrace”, of “broken walls, and gates burned with fire.” (Nehemiah 1:3) When Nehemiah heard these things, he sat down and wept. He mourned and fasted, and prayed to the God of Heaven: “O Lord, who keeps his covenant of love, please listen. I confess the sins we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned.”  (Nehemiah 1:4-6, abridged from NIV and ESV)

I stopped still when I read these words earlier this week. Nehemiah was a generation later than those who were most directly responsible for the tragedy that had befallen Jerusalem: he wasn’t the rebel, surely? But Nehemiah knew something I—we—have been slow to learn: there can’t be any petition for help or any hope of praise until we have lamented the wrong and repented of our individual and group participation in it, both now and in history.

Even I and my father’s house have sinned. Even I have expected a bigger piece of cake. I did so because my whole life I’ve been told that I deserved cake. Work hard, and you will get cake. I worked hard, and I got cake… but I also believed that others who didn’t have cake maybe didn’t deserve cake, or didn’t work hard, or didn’t like or want cake. Their cakelessness was surely their problem, or worse yet – their fault. White people have always had cake, and we have teased and punished others for asking for a slice. We may not live in a time when it’s illegal for some to eat cake, but when we refuse to look at our portion sizes or to acknowledge that we’ve become fat from cake while others starved, then we continue to perpetuate skewed slicing.

I have been silent when people have pointed out inequalities. In my social media feed and in our churches, we have been silent, and the elephants in the room have left people trampled and bleeding.

And so, I’m lamenting and repenting.

Oh God, my failures in seeking justice have been explicit, implicit, and complicit. I have done wrong things, and I have failed to do the right things. I have benefitted from a system which gave us so much cake at others’ expense, without showing humility and gratitude and compassion to others. I have not listened to others’ stories, or I have nit-picked and found fault with them and in doing so, dismissed them when they pointed out the size of my slice. I have been ashamed to have the size of my slice noticed. We have been hoarding the cake. We have stayed silent in rebuking cake-stealers. 

Lord, you know I don’t hate people of color, but you know the ways in which our cake-hoarding has hurt people of color and I’m sorry I’ve been so slow to own that. We have been so slow, and so silent, and our passivity has perpetuated the problem. God, you have made and love all people. You own all the cake. You forgive and redeem the hardest of hearts and the worst of situations. Please teach us to share. Please give us humility. Please make us better listeners. Please teach us to lament wrongs and repent. Please dismantle our defensiveness. Please would you fill every plate and every heart and every stomach by your grace. 

 

Image credit: Pexels, common license C00

Teach us to weep

Jen Michel’s book Teach Us to Want remains a highlight of my reading in the past few years. What does it mean to want things as a Christian? Is it okay to desire things, or to have ambition? What place (if any) do those have in the life of faith?

This past weekend I got to hear Jen speak, and she reminded us of both the caution of desire (we should be wary of wanting, because we want wrongly, willfully, and dangerously); as well as the call of desire (because wanting lies at the heart of prayer, and transformation, and discipleship as we learn to want what God wants). Jen’s words are soul-mingling with a number of other voices of late: Paul E Miller’s practical and profound insights in A Praying Life, the beautiful paths of spiritual formation mapped out in the novel Sensible Shoes, as well as the wise mentoring of Ruth Haley Barton in her podcast Strengthening the Soul of your Leadership.

What do we want? What do we hope for? What do we pray for? And how do we cope with the glaring gaps between what we hope and pray for, and the grueling realities of how life sometimes is? How do we discern where God is at work, and what he has for us in each of these? What happens if we wanted and desired good things, and they were withheld or lost?

I have a journal full of questions and confessions and thoughts that have no place on this blog, but I do want to share this one thing, because perhaps you’re wading through some deep waters, too:

There is no path to spiritual wholeness that does not walk through the rocky terrain of grief and lament.

I’m learning to grieve. Right alongside, “Teach me to want, Lord”, I’m praying “teach me to weep”. Teach me how to notice and name the losses and disappointments of this life, and to lay each of these before you. Teach me to feel the hard feelings. Teach me to process pain in your presence.

Grief is not only a feeling we feel with the loss of loved ones. It’s what we feel when we lose anything: friendships or dreams or hopes or the change in a situation. There are good things about each life stage, and when change happens (even for good reasons!), there is still some grief we feel in losing what we had before. Noticing it. Naming it. Calling out the elephant in the room… or prayer closet as the case may be.

My friend Alastair Roberts made an insightful observation about the role feelings play in our spiritual lives: we are not to be ruled by our emotions, but we are not to be dismissive of them, either. Instead, the Psalms teach us to attend to our feelings: to notice them, listen to them (for our emotions, like our minds and our bodies, each give us some information about the world and ourselves), and respond appropriately.

I can have all the “God is good and God is sovereign” theology firmly tucked under my proverbial Belt of Truth and Breastplate of Righteousness… but all of that does not muscle out the fact that sometimes, my heart still hurts, and disappointments still come. It is true that we can say, with Paul, that “in all these things (including death! disease! disappointment!) we are more than conquerors through Christ Jesus who loved us” (Romans 8)… and at the SAME TIME to acknowledge that we feel hard-pressed on every side, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down (2 Corinthians 4:9).

“Why are you so downcast within me, O my soul?” asks the Psalmist.

And then he lists the ways. There is no fast forwarding to hope. Joy may come in the morning, but sometimes there’s still a long night to endure before then. In truth, I think sometimes the most spiritual thing we can do in a situation is to cry.

I made a list of all the things I’m sad about right now: not a prayer list asking for help. Just a “I’m sad” list. This is not the kind of list I would have thought it was okay to write in a journal, but I’m learning that there’s a good and right place for lament.

Teach us to weep, O Lord. May all our longings be laid before you, all our sighs heard by you; and in time, would you lift our heads.

Lament for a Boy (Jamie Calloway-Hanauer)

This lament is written for Jeremy, Jamie’s son, gone too soon from SIDS. 


Lament for a lost baby

 

Lament

Why, oh God, have you have ripped him from my bosom,
torn him from my womb?

No better than a thief,
you have emptied my stores to fill your own.

You have stolen from me, oh God,
in ways unfitting of your name.

(You sacrificed your Son for me, but don’t think I haven’t noticed
you waited ‘til he was grown.)

You once demanded all firstborn.
I trusted those days were gone, but you have shown me I was wrong.

Oh, creator God. Giver of life and breath, you have rendered me empty—half dead and hanging by a thread.

Who could I be without this misery?
The pain of asking is too much.

You have come like a thief in the night, plundering
butterfly kisses, radiating heat, a neck wrapped tight by little arms.

How, God, can you now demand my trust? My faithfulness?

My palms ache empty, outstretched and longing to be filled.
You have emptied me, Lord, in ways no other could:
You are the breather of life and the taker of life. The power is all yours.

Yet your goodness reigns over all sorrow, filling
cradled arms;
an otherwise empty cup;
and limp-limbed hollow-eyed women
with your righteousness and love.

Filling even
the depths of empty wombs.

You, oh God, are ruler over all.

Draw me nearer, God.
Grow me in your fertile soil. Raise me tall and strong.
Let your goodness weigh heavy in my arms.

I feel your presence, God.

Your goodness resounds deep within my bones. In my teeth and aching hips.
In the knitting of my insides and the fading pangs of birth.

Only you, oh God, know the way ahead.

by Jamie Calloway-Hanauer
illustrated by Corrie Haffly

*************

I wish no mother knew this pain. I hate that Jamie, whom I love so much, has been through this. Jamie is so many things: a friend, a wicked-smart writer, a poet, a lawyer, an editor, a patient encourager. And twenty years later, she is still a grieving mother. Jamie has a tattoo for Jeremy with a line from one of her favorite poems, Nothing Gold Can Stay, by Robert Frost. You can see it and read about tattoos and cardigans here.

Psalm for the 29 Million

A Psalm for the 29 Million - #trafficking #endit

There are 29.8 million slaves in the world today. 60,000 of those are in the USA. Reflecting on this led my friend, Liz Below, to write a Psalm for the 29 Million. In support of this week’s #ACourageousOne project, she kindly agreed to share it.

Hear my cry, O God,
O Lord, listen to my plea.
You are merciful and just,
Your righteousness and love know no bounds.
But where do you hide your mercy?
Why does Justice slumber?
Night and day evildoers roam the earth
Morning, noon, and night they steal away innocence
They trade gold for pleasure
Offer treasures for a moment of ecstasy
They torture, threaten, and terrify
They kidnap, keep, and kill
They sell innocents for profit
They barter lives for luxuries
The lost and fatherless scream in pain
The hopeless and forgotten cry out in desperation
Are you not God, the Father?
Speak up for your Children!
O that you would reach down your mighty hand of Justice
And wipe away these vile creatures who defile your offspring.
O that your Spirit would come down and free these slaves;
Restore to them their purity,
Return to them their innocence,
And give them a home like they’ve never known before.
Hear my cry, O God,
O Lord, listen to my plea.
Rescue the children from these hungry lions,
Save them from the monsters of this world.
The lonely and abandoned,
The lost and forgotten –
Let them be loved and adopted,
Found and remembered.
Give them Courage and a Hope
For your Love endures forever.
Hear my cry, O God,
O Lord, listen to my plea.

********

The #ACourageousOne project is aimed to raise awareness, money and hope on behalf of those individuals who are hidden and suffering among us in sexual slavery. To read more about The Courageous One project, click here. To read the story of a survivor of childhood sex trafficking, read Liz’s story.

There are more courageous ones out there in need of rescue, like Liz. This week, show your support by giving YOUR Courageous One:

  1. One DOLLAR to end sex trafficking (consider Courage Worldwide and International Justice Mission)

  2. One MINUTE in prayer (pray today’s Psalm!)

  3. One ARTICLE SHARED on social media. (Share Liz’s story, or why Prostitute doesn’t mean what you think it means. Share today’s Psalm, or  this excellent article on 10 things you didn’t know about sex trafficking (and what you can do about it.) And use the hashtag #ACourageousOne, if you’re into that kind of thing. 🙂

Your Courageous One can help one of the courageous ones. Thank you for partnering!

My Love-Hate Relationship with the Word of God

Lesa Engelthaler is a fellow member of the Redbud Writers Guild, and her warmth and wisdom were apparent from the very first time we interacted on Facebook. When I got to meet her and her wonderful sister Beth in person earlier this year, I realized afresh – it really is possible to get a true impression of people online sometimes – for her warmth and wisdom overwhelmed me once again. I’m thrilled she’s sharing this today. Thanks, Lesa. And enjoy, friends!

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In junior high school I learned how to have a “quiet time” with God. I brought pen and paper with me to meet with Him. An English geek, in high school I diagramed the bible in my quiet time. I’d copy down a word I found intriguing then madly draw lines to other beautiful words discovered. I felt a kinship with the author of Psalm 119 who declared his love for the word of God, over and over again.

 “I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.”

“I rejoice at your word like one who finds great spoil.”

“My tongue will sing of your word, for all your commandments are right.”

Into adulthood, my relationship with God continued through the written word. His words recorded in the Bible – it seemed just for me. Stories of misfits and screw-ups gave me hope. God’s sarcastic wit cracked me up. His blunt questions stripped my soul naked. A lovely turn of phrase or line of poetry took my breath away. In response, I wrote words, a lot of them, to God.

For years, my grown-up version of a quiet time was to plop down in the old chair in front of the window that looks out on to our backyard. After a few sips of coffee I’d open the bible and drink in its words of life to me.

Things Changed

“’Is not my word like fire,’ declares the Lord, ‘and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?’” – the Prophet Jeremiah

Not too long ago, things changed. I could hardly read the bible much less enjoy it. No words circled, mostly sighing.

For three years I went through an experience some describe as a “Dark Night of the Soul.” For me it meant that God said no to most of my requests and then went silent (not the quiet time one hopes for from the Almighty). During that horrific time I became uncomfortable reading God’s words.

At the beginning I continued to read the Bible. It was as much a part of my morning routine as looking at my face in the mirror. Unfortunately, rather than being life giving, the words were deadly. It added new meaning to the bible’s own description of itself, “the word of God is…sharper that any two-edged sword.” It pierced my already wounded soul. The New Testament’s Apostle Paul felt unbearably accusing and I could not stomach God’s harshness in the Old Testament. Eventually I read it less. I remember wondering if I would be okay with never reading it again. I knew people who were.

Things Got Better

 After a few years of darkness, my relationship with God got better. And yet, one of the side effects was a lingering fear of the Bible. My friend Sharon gave me the little book, Jesus Calling by Sarah Young. I started there. It seemed safer to read God, filtered.

No bright lights, and yet with time instead of avoiding it I noticed that I was restless when I stayed away from the Bible. For me, that was a miracle.

This summer, I started reading the book of Acts. Around the third morning I looked down at my scribbled word “chosen” then at the many lines drawn to words like “gift” and “restore.” It was as if I had never before seen such gorgeous words. And I began to cry.

Smack dab in the middle of Acts the desire to want to read the Bible, even more so, to delight in it’s words, was a grace. I told my sister Beth about the experience and she said, “Do you remember that old hymn Wonderful Words of Life?” I said I did.

PS

If you are in a dark place spiritually right now I am so sorry. You are not alone. I wrote about my experience for Leadership Journal, “Growing in the Dark.” I hope it helps.

 I’ve been asked if there were any Scriptures that comforted in the Dark Night. Here are two:

1.) King David’s psalms were safe. One whole summer I camped out in the Psalms of Ascent with the companionship of Eugene Peterson and his grace-filled classic A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.

2.) I stayed awhile when I discovered expressions of honest disappointment with God. I found a home in Lamentations: “You have made me to walk in darkness. Even when I call out for help, he shuts out my prayers. You have covered yourself with a cloud so that no prayer can get through” (Lam. 3:8)

 

Lesa Engelthaler is a Senior Associate for Victory Search Group, assisting nonprofits to recruit executive leaders. Lesa is also a writer for such publications as The Dallas Morning News, Christianity Today, Gifted for Leadership, Relevant, Today’s Christian Woman and Prism. Recently, Lesa started blogging at Faith Village.  Her friends would say that Lesa is passionate about empowering women. For the past several years, she has lead a trip to partner with the House of Hope a nonprofit in Nicaragua helping women escape prostitution. Today, Lesa finds herself completely taken by one small girl — her first grandchild Lucy. You can connect with Lesa (and I heartily recommend that you do!) on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (@lesaengelthaler).

7 post-it-sized tips I learned at seminary

I had the wonderful privilege of spending three years studying theology at George Whitefield College, tucked away at the tip of Africa. The college is situated right on the beach front. Seriously- this was the view from the the library:

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I learned rich and wonderful things in those three years, but some of the things that have stayed with me most clearly were not things from textbooks, but off-the-cuff comments from teachers who had walked with God far longer than I had. I made mental post-it notes, and they are still as luminous in my mind now as they were years ago.

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Christ, or Messiah, means ‘anointed one’, and priests and kings were anointed. Substituting “King Jesus” for “Christ Jesus” in my reading drew my attention to the fact that Christ was not Jesus’ last name, but in fact his title: one of great honor and esteem. Doc Newby was right: making that switch breathed new life into reading the New Testament.

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Almost all the “you” words in the New Testament are plural you’s rather than singular you’s. The Southern “all y’all” expresses it beautifully: the epistles are written to believers corporately, not believers alone. This does not diminish my personal responsibility at all, though. If anything, it heightens it: we pray together, believe together, suffer together, raise the armor of God together. All y’all.

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Therefore, take note in bibles where the paragraphs are divided up with headings. If the paragraph begins with “therefore”, you might have to pick up a bit earlier to understand the context.

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This was a watershed one for me: not all “ifs” are the same. Some are zero conditional, meaning that the IF statement is always tied to the THEN one (if you stand in the rain, then you will get wet). Others have more risk involved: the IF statement is necessary, but not sufficient, to bring about the THEN one (if you study for an exam, then you will pass).

This made the world of difference in studying Romans 8: “if you are led by the spirit of God, you are children of God.” I had always read that as a conditional if and been afraid that I wasn’t spirit-led enough to be considered God’s child. It was a glory-hallelujah moment to realize that this was a zero-conditional if: “if you are led by the Spirit of God (and you ARE!), then you are also always and forever His child”. Woo hoo!

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Yes, there is joy and peace and hope in Christ. But true believers still mourn and lament. Just look at the Psalms.

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What sense this made of so much of the Old Testament prophets! So many chapters were about God explaining and interpreting their current predicaments in light of their covenantal behavior (forth-telling), and had nothing to do with the future. So helpful in understanding what the prophets were doing! Poor old Jeremiah….

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This one, from our principal David Seccombe, had me thinking for weeks. Jesus’ words were so often hard to understand: cryptic, in parables, couched in Hebrew idiom. Dr Seccombe’s firm words reminded me that if I called Jesus “king”, I dare not skip over his words because they were hard. As his follower and servant, it was my responsibility to keep on seeking understanding.

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Amidst the hours of serious bible study, I treasured this advice. Sometimes, we read to study and understand and wrestle with the truth. But sometimes, we read to make our hearts happy.

Both are good. Both are needed.

And the post-it’s helped me with both. Hope they help you too 🙂