Categories
Commentary Life

The Feast of St. Lucia

Yesterday, December 13, was the Feast of St. Lucia, a festival of lights celebrated in honor of St. Lucia (or Lucy), a martyr who was killed by the Romans in AD 304.

The name Lucia/Lucy comes from the Latin root lux which means “light.” Celebrated in the darkness of winter, St. Lucia Day reminds us that the true Light of the world has come.

It’s celebrated primarily in Sweden and Norway, but also in Italy (where Lucia was born) and in parts of Finland.

It’s also celebrated in our house.

My wife has quite a bit of Scandinavian heritage and richly embraces it. So much so that I’ve embraced it, too, and now consider myself an honorary Scandinavian. Our children love traditions, especially ones with significant meaning. So St. Lucia Day has become tradition in our home.

St. Lucia’s feast calls for breakfast in bed. With a 1-year old, we start at the table. As we gathered in the darkness with only our dim, white Christmas lights lit, I read this:

In the liturgy of the Church, Saint Lucy has held, and still holds today, the inspiring position of a saint whose very name reminds the faithful at the middle of Advent that her own “light” is only a reflection of the great “Light of the World” which is to start shining at Bethlehem on Christmas Day. It is as if she would say: “I am only a little flame in Advent showing you the way: 

Behold, the Lord will come And all His saints with Him, And on that day There will be a great light. Alleluia.

Lucia is one, small candle in the night pointing to the Great Light, who lights up the entire world. And whoever follows that Light will never walk in darkness again.

Here’s a brief insight I had from the day. I couldn’t help but think that Protestants would benefit from intentionally celebrating more feast days like this. It was fun. It had purpose. And, ultimately, it points us to Jesus.

The problem is that when we Protestants hear anything having to do with a “saint” we don’t want to touch it with a 10-foot pole. Dealing with “saints” smacks of all-things-Roman Catholic and idol worship. So we just avoid it altogether and, for the most part, forget those who have come before us. And we are poorer for it. (Remember, of course, that Lucia lived in the third century AD, well before the formation of the Roman Catholic Church as you know it today.)

The Scriptures tell us that celebrating a day or a religious festival is a matter of conscience because they are just a shadow of the things that were to come (see Col. 2:16-17). So no judgment at all if you or I abstain. Period.

But a feast like St. Lucia Day, while just a shadow, is still a shadow. And shadows can help us to see and experience the Substance.

We have a great cloud of witnesses who have come before us–ones we read of in the Scriptures and ones we read of outside the Scriptures. These witnesses don’t point us to themselves, but to Jesus. Otherwise, they aren’t true witnesses.

Maybe you are a Christian, of any tradition, who feels like you aren’t connected to your spiritual heritage. Maybe you are a parent who wants to structure your holidays and year with meaningful traditions. Maybe you just want to learn about those who have gone before you.

Then celebrate a feast day.

I’m not asking you to pray to or worship saints. I’m asking you to remember that you are a part of a great, spiritual family tree that spans generations and geography. Our history is rich. And I hope you to use that history to help you see and worship the One to whom the saints, like Lucia, point.

Categories
Life

“Hands”

I have a goal to write and post something for 90 straight days. I’m on day 4 and today was a packed day. My wife and I also recorded a new podcast episode tonight that just released a few minutes ago.

Whew.

So here I am at 10pm to write something.

But I’m cheating. I’m not writing something new or original.

I’m reposing a Christmas poem I wrote a few years back. It takes the perspective of Joseph, Mary’s husband and Jesus’ adoptive father.

I hope you enjoy it.


“Hands”

Open on your mother’s chest
or after a bellowing belch.
Taut when you’re tired.
Slurp slurp, tick tick,
your tongue tackles
each knuckle and cuticle.
Somehow that helps you fade
away to never-never-land.
Mine are calloused, crusty, tired.
Splinters are their wages.
Blue veins bursting.
Palm lines peeling.
Bleeding.
Grab the balm and bandage.
I’ll too visit never-never-land soon,
only after watching you there now.
For a moment I remember
the memories we will make.
Brush and comb. Throw and catch.
Shave and wash. Swing and saw.
Eat and write. Push and pull.
Mine will train yours?
That baffles me.
Yours built clouds and stars,
birds and seas.
Mine build yokes and stools,
locks and keys.
Yours rest so peaceful,
so perfect, so calm in your crib.
I reach in. A twitch.
Yours clutch mine
with a tiny might.
I worry one day you’ll be
ashamed to do the same.
Frail, weak, scarred mine are.
Made from and destined for dust.
Yet yours now
fit in mine.


This poem was originally posted on December 24, 2015 at https://jamespruch.wordpress.com/2015/12/24/a-christmas-poem-hands/

Categories
Life

When Leaders Lose Their Soul

There is a massive conversation that needs to happen within Christianity in America right now. More specifically, within the evangelical movement.

It will be a messy conversation with too many topics to cover. Nationalism and racism are priorities. But I don’t think these top the list. What does?

Leadership.

Right now, we have a leadership crisis in our churches and organizations.

Just today, I began reading Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership by Ruth Haley Barton. In the introduction, she writes:

Jesus indicates that it is possible to gain the whole world but lose your own soul. If he were talking to us as Christian leaders today, he might point out that it is possible to gain the world of ministry success and lose your own soul in the midst of it all. He might remind us that it is possible to find your soul, after so much seeking, only to lose it again.

We have seen leaders reach the summit of Christian ministry (whatever that means). And yet they have lost their soul in the process. What can a person give in exchange for their soul? Jesus tells us nothing.

The timing of starting this book is providential. A friend recommended it this week and I can’t help but connect it with recent news (initially reported in November) about Carl Lentz, the now ex-pastor of Hillsong New York City, who was fired by Hillsong for a number of reasons.

This comes after a number of other evangelicals in the last ten years have fallen from leadership–or their faith altogether. There are almost too many to name, and it saddens me deeply.

I’m not here to blame fallen pastors or shame them for “losing their soul.” Of course, they bear responsibility for their actions. But while I am not a megachurch pastor, I have been a pastor and I understand the temptation to seek the praise of people or receive special treatment a minister might benefit from. Every time the news breaks about another pastor, I ask myself, “Why did God have mercy on me?”

This all goes way beyond individual pastors. This is a “capital-C” Church crisis. We are all culpable. We have created and perpetuated a culture that allows and enables pastors–and even other ministry leaders–to lose their souls while gaining the world.

In a nutshell, we’ve rejected servanthood for celebrity.

And just to be clear, the incredibly significant problems of nationalism and racism fall under this problem of leadership. We are allowing “biblically qualified” leaders to abuse their authority and undermine the Scriptures to suit their political and ideological preferences at the expense of love, mercy, and justice.

I’ve written recently about how to understand true leadership and how to pursue it. So I won’t rehash that here.

The simple point I want to make is that our North American church system is broken and something needs to change. The system we have is hierarchical, rigid, and institutional. You won’t find this in the New Testament–where leadership was shared among many, service-oriented, and community-based.

It’s easy to think this is a megachurch problem. We only hear about “failed pastors” because they are, well, famous inside and outside of the church.

But as Rich Villodas, a pastor of a large church in Queens, tweeted yesterday, “This is not a big church problem alone. I’ve seen small and medium sized church leaders act like they’re the royal family.”

How do we solve this problem? It’s not simple or easy or quick. And I hope to provide some suggestions over the coming months as I take more time to process Barton’s book and my own spiritual leadership journey.

I can briefly say that it will take an innovative, unique, and more robust approach to recruitment, training, and preparation for church leadership. It will require a concerted effort to focus on the way and life of Jesus rather than simply the truth of Jesus. It will require a fundamental restructuring of our communities and what it means to be accountable as a leader. It will require a radical reorientation of what it means to lead when you are not the Leader (that’s Jesus’ role, not yours or mine).

In the end, it will take the marvelous, matchless grace of God in and through each of us so that collectively we live out our calling as the body of Christ. So long as we fail to live out this calling, leaders will continue to lose their souls, churches will be destroyed, and a watching world will not impressed at what they see.

Categories
Life

90 Days

I started blogging the week after the first iPhone was released.

Boy has a lot has changed in 13 years!

The goal for me has always been to process first. As I write, I learn. Ideas and experiences crystallize in my mind when the words come off the keyboard.

But I also write to share. I want people to learn with me. I’m a teacher at heart. I love to pass on and help. So I write.

I’m going to try something I’ve never done before: I’m going to post something–anything–for 90 days straight. Will I fail? Most likely.

But if I never set a goal, what’s the point?

I’ll likely post about faith, theology, culture, leadership. The stuff I normally write about.

But I’ll write about personal finance or other money matters (a huge passion of mine).

All the posts will live here on WordPress, but they’ll also be on my Medium blog. Each month, I’ll send out a newsletter via Substack with the “top 5” posts (I’m banking on there being five good ones).

So this is day 1 and I’m writing about writing.

Wish me luck.

Categories
Life

“Due to Covid-19…”

I’m trying to get my refrigerator fixed.

My wife and I bought a brand new GE fridge at the end of May. Not by choice. Our other one became a bit temperamental (bad dad fridge joke, I know). 

The new one’s problem? The digital screen went out. That means no digital buttons to push to get filtered ice or water. 

Normally, it’s not a big deal to call the manufacturer when a major appliance is under warranty and get a repairman to come out to do the job. 

But it’s 2020.

So, obviously, that means back-ordered parts. 

For weeksAnd weeks. And weeks. 

I’ve called GE several times. Every time, I hear this automated message, “Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, expect extended wait times when trying to reach a representative.”

I laughed as I tried to figure out how Covid kept me in line for another 40 minutes. (My family is not laughing. They really want the filtered water and ice back.)

Now, filtered water and a fridge digital display are pretty insignificant, I think we’d all agree. It’s really not that big of a deal.

I share the story not because GE is driving me nuts but because when I heard that automated warning I was struck with yet another reminder of how a virus has taken so much from us. 

An Invisible Thief

Covid-19 has single-handedly ruined senior years, freshman years, eighth-grade years, kindergarten years. Any school year.

It has delayed or canceled weddings and receptions and family vacations. It has kept funeral gatherings under 10 people. Ten

Let that sink in.

It has ripped away income from business owners and families. It has robbed job opportunities from college graduates and others in transition. It has forced bosses to lay off part-time workers who are desperate for that weekly paycheck. 

It kept that high school senior from running her last meet. It kept that young boy from seeing his grandpa one last time before he passed away. It kept the single mom home from work forcing her to wonder how she’d pay for groceries the next week. 

It has kept people from gathering to eat and celebrate and mourn and cheer and sing and dance and laugh and swing and worship and run and swim and do all the things that humans are supposed to do together

All this, not to mention the actual lives Covid has taken.

Scientists and doctors are still learning about this virus. Information comes out daily, even six months into the pandemic.

But if there’s one thing we know about this virus for sure, it’s this: Covid-19 is a thief.

I realized this again yesterday morning when a co-worker referred to a loss we experienced as a team due to Covid-19. He said, “We can’t do anything about it. To me, this is just another thing that Covid stole from us.”

When you lose something or have something taken from you, you experience sorrow. 

There’s a strange emotional cocktail of sadness, anger, and frustration. 

It all produces a sense of disappointment. No matter how big or small the thing you lost was, you just want to cry and scream, “This sucks.” 

It’s hard to describe, isn’t it? But you know it when you feel it.

Acknowledge the Loss, Embrace the Grief

Unfortunately, I think that many of us have become so numb to it that we don’t feel it any longer. Or, worse, we don’t want to.

It’s easy to say, “Let’s move on! Let’s get back to life.” Yes. I’m ready, too.

But getting back to normal doesn’t mean you can escape the sorrow. You can’t rush the grieving process, as much as I’d like to try. (ENTJ here—emotions are not my strong suit, and I’m working on it.)

You may have experienced, horrifically, a death in your family or physical pain as a direct result of Covid. More than likely, it has stolen something else from you, something that brings real joy to your life.

The reason I’m writing this is to tell you that it’s okay to grieve that loss.

You may grieve alone or with family or friends. You may grieve by journaling or running or camping. You may grieve by reading Scripture or prayer. You may grieve through tearful conversations with your spouse or best friend. You may grieve by getting out all the photos (if you have actual photos) or scrolling through last year’s Instagram to remind yourself what was taken from you. 

I won’t tell you how to do it. Just that you must

Why? At the risk of being reductionistic, here are three reasons you should grieve.

Grieving Connects Us to Our Fellow Humans

There are billions of people on the planet right now who have endured significant losses this year due to Covid-19. 

Think about that for a second. 

No two stories are the same, of course. But everyone in the world knows what loss is like because of the same reason at the same time. 

This hasn’t happened in our lifetimes. It’s an opportunity to embrace our shared suffering and shared grieving. We are human together.

This shared grief then allows us to move toward each other for comfort and community. In a world where no one grieves, no one needs anyone else. 

But we all need each other. And universal grief connects us.

That leads to the second thing.

Grieving Frees Us from the Pressure to be Bulletproof

I so badly want to be bulletproof. I want to show my wife, my kids, my friends, my boss that nothing can touch me.

But I’m not bulletproof. And, in my sane moments, I know it. 

Grief opens the door for me to say, “I’ve lost something. Something precious. I’m broken. I’m wounded. I’m not in control here and I’m scared.”

When was the last time you were able to admit that? 

When I actually get to this place, I become more empathetic to others. I’m ready to sit with them in the stink without judgment or the need to fix it (also hard for the ENTJs among us). 

I also receive love, care, and help from others without the feeling that I need to repay them or prove to them that I don’t need their help.

I’m broken. I need help. 

And that’s okay. 

Grieving Takes Us Places We Could Not Otherwise Go

This isn’t an article about why bad things happen. Philosophers and theologians have been writing about that for millennia. And I have my own opinions. 

Let’s at least agree on this: bad things do happen and we have to learn to live with the world we’ve been given.

If we lived in a static, happy-go-lucky world without any problems, we would never grow. We’d be…well, static. This isn’t trying to silver-line the pain. It’s the exact opposite: pain has a purpose. 

We grow because of grief. It’s painful and we kick and scream to avoid it.

But we can’t take a detour around it.

When someone grieves a loss from Covid, we need to resist saying, “At least…” or “It’s not as bad as…” or “It’s the agenda of _____!” or some other comment to deflect from the pain.

It may be a well-intentioned attempt to make someone smile, but it stunts their growth, and ours, and makes us both something less than fully human.

As a Christian, I’m reminded of the Scriptures that sum up Jesus’ humanity like this: “A man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.” 

Christianity provides deep resources to deal with grief, though not because of a system or propositions. 

It’s because of a Person.

A Person who identified with humanity. Became breakable. Endured tremendous sorrow, pain, shame, and grief, only to come out on the other side, fully resurrected and restored. 

I want to get to that place, too. Do you?

Covid has stolen so much from us. It may be a while before the world gets “back to normal,” whatever that means.

In the meantime, let’s grieve our losses. Together.

It’s the most human and normal thing we can do.