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Month: March 2016

“Hosanna!”: The presidential election, terrorism, and the state of the world

Last Saturday in Arizona, protesters tried to silence a presidential candidate while supporters retaliated with fisticuffs.

Hours later, on Palm Sunday, Christians commemorated Jesus’s kingly entrance into Jerusalem.

The next day, in Brussels, terrorist attacks killed over 30 people and injured at least 200 more.

This year has been that kind of surreal.

The elections, the unrest, the terror—all of this craziness makes me feel overwhelmed. Overwhelmed and afraid.

I can’t quite describe my feelings, but they include anger, horror, frustration, numbness, bewilderment and more, depending on what’s in the news each day.

I am distressed and heartbroken over the terrorism, crying out to God for the victims. But I can’t stop it. So I focus on something closer to home: election year, and how our next president might respond to terrorism and all of the other problems facing us, both here and abroad.

uncertainty-aheadYet it unnerves me to think who We, the people may choose as our next president. I am so un-thrilled by the choices that if I had to vote today, I couldn’t, even while holding my nose. I simply cannot shake the feeling that we are preparing to elect a dictator—because that’s what we seem to want.

I say this because I see a trend of feverish devotion, with several candidates being exalted to nearly messianic status. I understand that in a democratic republic, researching the candidates and trying to support the best one is a good thing. But where is the line between “support” and “worship”?

I’m not sure, but I think we border on worship when we defend our candidates by…

-shouting down or cold-cocking the opposition.

-attacking other candidates’ shortcomings while giving our own candidate a pass for the same offenses.

-name-calling and bullying anyone who dares to question our candidate.

-insisting that our candidate is the only one who has the answers.

All of these could fit the definition of “worship.”

It’s funny how history repeats itself.

In 2008 we elected a president based on a promise of “hope and change”—yet the world is still divided, hate-filled, and violent. Now we are preparing to elect one based on promises of “revolution” or “national greatness.” More and more these days, we seem to believe that the right person will be able to solve everything, and ring in utopia. Yet in truth, any president is lucky to fulfill maybe five percent, at most, of everything promised on the campaign trail (because our laws clearly define what a president can and cannot do—thank goodness for the Constitution’s “division of powers”!). In fact, no matter how great their desire, vision, and ability, none of these leaders will ever be able to save us—as a nation, or as individuals.

It has never happened, and it never will. 

Well, except once.

Jesus arrived in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, things were much the same as they are today. Then, as now, people felt a sense of political unrest and unhappiness with the government (and it was a government of brutal Roman occupiers, not their own self-government). Then, as now, many of Jesus’s followers were seeking a social revolution instead of a spiritual one. Then, as now, they despaired when their leader didn’t do what they wanted. And then, as now, people feared forces beyond their control and longed for a messiah to deliver them.

Yet Jesus came in riding into town not on a white steed, like a military hero, but on a humble donkey.

Palm%20Sunday_jpgAnd crowds of Jews spread palm branches before him and cried, “Hosanna!”—a rich, ancient word that we now use only on Palm Sunday. But I’m thinking we should revive it, because its meaning is, “Lord, save us!” (Psalm 118:25)—an urgent and desperate cry for deliverance.

The people were quoting this word from the Psalms. They weren’t welcoming Jesus into their city; they were pleading for divine rescue—as at Passover when God rescued their ancestors from slavery in Egypt, and as at Calvary when he rescued humanity from sin. No one knew it yet, but Jesus was coming to completely and finally answer the cries of “Hosanna.” He was coming to rescue us all.

Ironically, those cries for rescue would be answered just days later, after these same crowds turned on Jesus and demanded his death—the very death which would save the world.

If only they had known.

And now, during this holy Passion Week, we need saving more than ever. We see Americans attacking one another, a capital city recovering from fatal bombings, and a world possibly inching closer to the next great war.

None of this is exactly new (we’ve seen it all before), but it still feels so chaotic, so desperate, so uncertain. I simply do not have answers—nor, despite the politicians’ promises, does anyone else.

I’ve lived long enough to realize that we will never be rescued by anyone on the ballot.

And at that realization, my spirit cries, “Hosanna! Lord, save us!”

Only one Messiah has sacrificed himself for us, instead of for his own political ends. Only one Messiah possesses all of the power, authority, and credentials required to save us.

There is only one Savior.

And he is not currently running for President.


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Paralyzed by perfectionism

In January, I set a goal to complete a rough draft of my next manuscript this year. For the last six months the subject has been rolling around in my head, and for the last two, I have been itching to get the project underway. The words are dancing on my fingertips, hovering over my keyboard. I feel emotionally and spiritually ready to tackle the topic that represents the next chapter of my life. Everything seems ready to go.

writers-blockBut I just can’t bring myself to actually start. Every morning for the last eight weeks, I’ve vowed, “Today’s the day.” But by late afternoon, with no progress made, that vow becomes, “Tomorrow’s the day” – followed by an evening of more distractions and other business – and the next day the whole cycle repeats.

So far, it’s been a frustrating year.

Initially, I thought my problem was procrastination: even with my task immediately before me, I kept finding excuses to do other things. But as the days trudge on, I am starting to think the problem goes much deeper than that.

In reality, I want to get started. I want to immerse myself into the subject matter, to get into the zone for an entire afternoon. I try to will the words to start flowing through my fingers and onto my blank screen – but with each passing day that the word count doesn’t grow, I get crabbier.

The heart is definitely willing. Yet whenever I open the file on my computer, I feel frozen. By what, I am not certain, but it is enough to block the ideas. I get so frustrated that I want to run away.

Finally I shared my struggle with a friend in my home community. Immediately she said she was familiar with the problem – and for her, paralysis was caused by perfectionism.

That resonated with me.

perfectionist-imagePerfectionism is that god-awful affliction which stifles innovation and strangles creativity. It’s stealthy: we seldom recognize it as the root problem, instead blaming our paralysis on everything else. It’s clever, trapping us with fear and pride: fear because we might fail; pride because we’re too proud to take that risk.

We fear we won’t do it right. We fear our efforts will be rejected, mocked, or brutally criticized by others, and our egos will be irreparably damaged. So we freeze.

In my case, I have subconsciously refused to budge until I can guarantee my magnum opus on the very first try. That is a tall order for even the best writers. No one gets it right the first time. So, because I can’t guarantee perfection, my fingers won’t move.

It is in this perfection-based paralysis that I currently dwell. Yet now that I know why it’s there, exactly how do I overcome it?

In the paralysis itself, I find the answer: Turn the stillness to advantage. Don’t despise the dead air; embrace it.

Dwelling in silence, especially with God, can be one of the most meaningful experiences we can have. The psalmist says: “Be and still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). This imperative conflicts with the very essence of American culture. We push goals. We reward achievements. We exalt  “busy-ness” to the point of burnout.

But the psalmist declares otherwise. Intimacy with God comes not through activity, but through stillness. It is in the silence—even paralyzing silence—that the still small voice often speaks. It is at this point that I must become aware enough to set aside my agenda for God’s. Perhaps he wants me to meditate more deeply on a scripture passage I am reading. Perhaps he has a more significant use of my time than writing the next great tome, or whatever my other goals are. Maybe there is something he wants to say to me.

perphictIn my case, God appears to be homing in on my idol of perfectionism. Instead of typing my first chapter, suddenly I am facing questions far more important in God’s eyes: why is perfectionism so important to me? How can I possibly think I could achieve perfection to begin with? Is this project for my own glory or for God’s?

Whenever I am stuck in paralyzing silence, I can learn to see it not as a failure, but as an opportunity. An opportunity to check my heart, and listen.

When God chooses to unblock the dam, he will—probably in a way I could never imagine. But for now, in the dead silence and writer’s block, I will listen.

The words at the edge of my fingertips will come soon enough.

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