[Holy Week] Tell Me a Story

Today I’m taking a break from my Holy Week response to the series of teachings on Jesus’ last week of earthly ministry. Partly because Russ Ramsey’s next message covers events that likely occurred on Ash Wednesday, and I want to maintain a reflection that is close to real-time. And partly because I want to take a moment to discuss why looking at the story of this historic week is so important to me.

tell me a story

“Stories are necessary–just as necessary as food and love. It’s how we make meaning of our lives. Stories matter…stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.”   ~ Chimamanda Adiche, writer

As a child, I would finish most chapter books in one sitting, because I was too impatient to wait and see how the plot resolved. In college, I achieved remarkable results at one of my first jobs, thanks to–without question–my relentless and genuine desire to dig deeper in dialogue with new contacts. Personal histories are just so interesting!

In conversation with a new friend, I am embarrassingly obsessed with details and timeline when listening to their back-story. (“So, did you move to Maine before or after you started selling your prints online?”) Not because it’s any of my business, but because it matters.

I have always been driven by story. I think on some level all humans are. But for me it’s more than an affinity for narrative, more than the tugging curiosity for the next turn of plot or the engaging aspect of a well-told tale. When I think of story, I think of life. THE story of everything, and how all the pieces are connected. Your story to my story to all of history. To HIS story.

Which is why I don’t want to look at individual anecdotes of Jesus’ ministry in isolation. Especially this week, His final days on earth–when all of His actions are deliberately building to a purposeful climax and conclusion of His mission on earth (and the beginning of the story for all His followers).

The significance of any part of a story hinges on its relationship with all the other bits. If I don’t know where everything fits, how can I really appreciate the path or know the person? And that is the main goal of this Holy Week exercise: to know Jesus better and to deeply comprehend the meaning of His sacrifice for me.


*original image by protonsforbreakfast.wordpress.com

[Holy Week] Monday: Parenthesis

During Holy Week 2014, I am revisiting a series of podcasts first published at The Rabbit Room in 2009. I listened to these ten episodes during the days leading up to Easter a few years ago, and was impressed by contributor Russ Ramsey and his engaging insight into scripture.

The focus of the messages is on the last week of Jesus’ earthly ministry—Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday—examining the validity of Jesus’ claim that no one would take His life from Him, but that He’d lay it down of His own accord, and take it up again on the third day (John 10:18, Mark 10:34).

I plan to journal my thoughts here as I study and pray my way through this week, preparing my heart for this year’s Easter celebration. I don’t intend for this to be a summary of the teaching, so my comments will make more sense if you have listened to the original podcast. Please feel free to join in and respond along with me.

~~~

Today I am responding to the message, “Parenthesis,” which considers Jesus’ perfection in the three offices of authority in God’s temple, and looks at how his actions at the beginning of the week demonstrate these roles. (Matthew 21:12-25:46)

--

Jesus is already rocking the boat just by coming to Jerusalem, but He doesn’t try to lay low. He boldly acts independent of the authority of the religious leaders, ministering without consulting them. They are understandably upset, because through Jesus’ actions, he claims all three of the offices that the people recognize as being God-ordained positions of authority: prophet, priest, and king. The role of a prophet was to speak the word of God to the people of God. A priest’s job was to speak the offerings and the prayers of the people to God. And kings stand as representatives of their people before God.

Jesus is recognized as all of these throughout the Bible. I have read and heard these references both casually and intentionally throughout my Christian life. But I love the way Ramsey draws attention to the fact that it is more than that Jesus fulfilled these offices better than anyone else had before, it’s that He did it in a completely new and different way.

He didn’t just bring the word of God to the people, He was the Word of God.

He didn’t just bring the sacrifice to God on behalf of the people, but He was the sacrifice.

He didn’t just accomplish peace for His people, but He was the agent of peace by personally absorbing all conflict.

He presented Himself in these roles in such a way that it was clear there would be no need for any other prophet, priest, or king after Him. Ramsey outlines how this is shown during His final week on earth:

Jesus confirms Himself as the superior prophet as He repeatedly asserts that the old testament prophecies refer to Him, and accepts the worship of the people.We see Him act as the superior Priest when, after rebuking the money-changers in the temple, He sticks around and ministers to the people. I love the picture Ramsey paints of Jesus confidently presiding as Priest as the unscrupulous men gather their scattered coins and overturned tables. The image of the children excited to come to church to see the miracles, gleefully singing the chorus they heard on Sunday during His triumphant entry into the city. Hosanna! Jesus also establishes Himself as the superior King by serving his people in the supreme act of justice, mercy, and peace.

And of course, through His death He ultimately proves Himself as the final Prophet who accomplishes the salvation foretold, and the final Priest who presented the only perfect sacrifice, and the final King who wholly served and protected His people.

For me, this revelation about who Jesus is significant to the implication of His death and resurrection. Jesus purposefully laid down His life to immaculately fulfill these roles–no earthly authority could take it from Him. And that makes all the difference.

*original image by disciplemagazine.com

[Holy Week] Palm Sunday: Hosanna

During Holy Week 2014, I am revisiting a series of podcasts first published at The Rabbit Room in 2009. I listened to these ten episodes during the days leading up to Easter a few years ago, and was impressed by contributor Russ Ramsey and his engaging insight into scripture.

The messages focus on the last week of Jesus’ earthly ministry—Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday—examining the validity of Jesus’ claim that no one would take His life from Him, but that He’d lay it down of His own accord, and take it up again on the third day (John 10:18, Mark 10:34).

I plan to journal my thoughts here as I study and pray my way through this week, preparing my heart for this year’s Easter celebration. I don’t intend for this to be a summary of the teaching, so my comments will make more sense if you have listened to the original podcast. Please feel free to join in and respond along with me.

~~~

Today I am responding to the first message, “Hosanna,” which covers the triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. (Luke 19:28-44)

As a Christian, it is my confession that I have life and eternal salvation only because Jesus died in my place. The climax of this Holy Week is the most important thing that will ever happen to and for me. I want to understand, as clearly as possible, the events surrounding Jesus’ death and resurrection of so that I may live confidently and enthusiastically in that salvation. The story of the week leading up to the death and resurrection of Jesus is full of significant details that affect not only what we know about what occurred in those eight days, but also what we know about Jesus himself.

Ramsey points out that as followers of Christ, we are devoted to “a leader who is stronger, more authoritative, and more fearless than we can know. His death was not perpetrated against him, but rather something that he meant to endure for our sake.” Ramsey paints a vivid picture of the political tension that was building as Jesus entered Jerusalem on this Sunday.

Jesus knew that His return to Jerusalem would cause a stir. His reputation preceded Him–people had heard of His miracles and signs. The last time He was in the area, He raised Lazarus from the dead. But He doesn’t shy away from the controversy. Instead, He dives headlong into friction, choreographing His lively entrance to the cheers of the hopeful people, refusing to quiet their praise, and visiting the home of Lazarus. In the days leading up to his arrest, he does not shy away from the tension, but instead puts himself directly in the path of His accusers.

He was not concerned about upsetting the delicate political balance that was in place between the Israelite people and the Roman occupiers–the compromise that had divided the religious leaders’ loyalties and oppressed Israel into thinking that their privilege of worship was granted to them by Caesar. And apparently, for a moment anyway, the people abandoned their caution as well, promoting their candidate for change and calling Him “king.”

It is this atmosphere that encompassed the arrival of Jesus on the scene. A scene that I have often looked at with the adjacent circumstances cropped out. A scene that takes on a whole new dimension when viewed through the lens of Jesus’ deliberate escalation of the power struggle. The scene set so that He could fulfill the Father’s plan and save humanity.

*original image by visualphotos.com

graham at eighteen months: mister independent

walking collage

folks, we officially have a toddler!

soon after he turned fifteen months old, graham finally started standing without assistance. of course, it wasn’t long until he worked up the courage and motivation to take his first steps. 

with his new-found walking freedom came a strong sense of independence. he has never really been inhibited by new people or situations, but now he can and will charge down the sidewalk or across the park or into the crowd at church if given the opportunity. although he is a boy of few words (plenty of jabbering, but almost no actual words), he certainly knows how to make himself understood. from playtime to mealtime, he would much prefer to handle it on his own.

friends and strangers alike continue to comment on his laid-back personality, and if he weren’t getting so heavy (26 pounds!), i would take him with me everywhere. he is truly happy and smiley almost all the time, but if we ever do get an attack of the crankies, we have three sure-fire cure-alls: food (obviously), sunshine (or just stepping outdoors in any weather), and music.

music is his most favorite thing in his world. he asks for it when he wakes up (signs for it), and all day any time he can. he often chooses to carry around our small bluetooth speaker rather than any other well-loved toy. he seems to favor rap and rock, but has been known to bliss-out to classical compositions, sway to acoustic songs, stomp his feet to 80s jams, and pump his fist to pop tunes. as music-lovers ourselves, lee and i couldn’t be happier.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

we are still nursing first thing in the morning and right before bed, and while i thought eighteen months would be the longest we would last, neither of us seems ready to end that part of our relationship, yet. it feels like the last bit of baby i have left. because the rest is all toddler.

love, love, love this kid!

the finish line: the third time is charmed

--

when i shared my personal half-marathon anti-training program last week, i was truly uncertain of how sunday’s event would turn out for me. i’m sure i wasn’t alone in my skepticism, although i knew maintaining a positive mental state was crucial to my success. my goal was to at least match my previous two finish times of around 2:05. knowing that many have achieved a personal best on this course, i set a stretch goal of shaving a minute or two off this year. here’s the blow-by-blow.

i absolutely could not sleep the night before. i headed to bed at 10pm, planning to get up at 5am to eat breakfast so i’d have plenty of time to digest, and then maybe lay back down for awhile before getting up and dressed. in the end i was so nervous and excited that i laid there awake until 2am then dozed for a couple of hours, waking on my own a few minutes before my alarm. lee sweetly pep-talked and check-listed me, then went back to bed to wait for graham to wake. i left with a good luck kiss and the promise of seeing my favorite boys at the finish line.

--

grateful for the 7 minute drive to the stadium rather than the 47 minute drive across the metro i had for my previous races, i arrived in plenty of time, but the parking lot was already packed. i boarded the race buses (the only way to the starting line) at 6:30 and waited while the other runners trickled on. i killed the time eavesdropping on others’ loud and giddy conversations while making sure my running app was set up to the right distance goal, the right music, and connected to my bluetooth headphones. we pulled out at 7:00 and were at the top of the course by 7:15. the full marathon was well under way, but the half didn’t start for another 45 minutes, so after a visit to the water station and the porta-john, i still had half an hour to kill. (a far cry from last year’s hectic start!)

the chilly wind chased everyone back onto the shelter of the buses until the last minute, so i chatted with the other runners and played around with the nike app. i decided to use the facebook linking feature to get “cheers” from my friends. i didn’t know what to expect from this function, but this seemed like a good time to try it out. i also made the mistake of browsing my running log while i waited. i was astonished to see that i had overestimated my training runs by more than 50% (both in number of runs and in distance)! not a good time to realize that i was less conditioned than i thought! i shook it off, turned on some motivating music, and headed outside to warm up.

nike+ running app

i still had not seen any familiar faces by the time the gun went off, but i positioned myself in the middle of the pack and tried to get into a groove. the cheers from facebook started coming in almost immediately, and it was the most delightful surprise. every so often the music would fade slightly and give way to applause and whistles and hoorays. what a great idea for real-time support! the social aspect of the nike app is the reason i chose it over the myriad of other fitness apps or a separate gps device, so i was happy to find another fun feature executed well.

the first four miles flew by, my pace half a minute faster than my norm. i cautioned myself to take it easy, but i didn’t feel as if i was running any faster than usual. around mile 5 i came up on two girls from church, and ran with them for a bit before one outpaced me and the other dropped behind me. it can certainly be motivating to have a running partner, but i actually prefer the solitude and my music when racing. it’s enough to be surrounded by fellow runners without feeling tied to any one person.

the reported 531 ft elevation drop in the first three quarters of the course had me studying up on downhill running and worrying about my quads, but the grade was not nearly as steep as i imagined. in fact, it seemed more like rolling terrain with a few easy uphill sections as well. i carried on, glad i had injected some great new songs into my trusty playlist, and diligently sucking down energy gels at my predetermined intervals whether i felt like i was slumping or not.

course map

seven miles were gone before i knew it. i was still maintaining an 8:40 mile, and was amazed that neither my lungs nor legs felt overtaxed. they don’t call it the “fast half” for nothing! if i continued at this pace, i would finish in under two hours!! i tried not to get sucked into chasing the sparkly goal of a sub 2:00 time, but my secret ambition had been stirred up. i wanted it.

at mile 8 i got a surprise hug as an old family friend fell into step beside me. i had been hoping to see mike, and so i was thrilled to run a mile or so with him before he steadily moved ahead of me (the big hill at mile 9 got me). i was running a nine-minute mile by then, and every mile after that was 10-15 seconds slower than the previous one. but tenacity was on my side, and i knew i could still make my secret goal as long as i didn’t “bonk” horribly.

by the time i reached mile 11, i was tired enough that two more miles may as well have been twenty in my mind. i felt my phone buzz and looked down to see an encouraging text from my friend candice, who had estimated that i would be in the home stretch by now. it was just what i needed to rally. i fortified my mental resolve, chanted “mind over body” to myself a few times, and mustered all my remaining determination and grit.

mid racethis is the point in each race that i find my thoughts focused on my mom. she was the one with the most optimism, the most confidence, the most belief in the final mile. we were all in the race together, from the minute she was diagnosed, but it’s a lot easier to be positive and hopeful and energetic and ready to fight at the start of a battle. it’s when you’ve been beaten down repeatedly and your body and soul are weary that your bravery and perseverance are tested. she led the way with faith and a clear sense of purpose even when her troops were feeling worn out and discouraged.

i carried this motivation with me for the last two miles, even though i ran them at a pitiful pace compared to the first eleven. as i ran into the stadium i heard “triiiish!” and my childhood friend (and now neighbor), amy, ran up and gave me a quick hug as i passed. perfect. i picked it up for the final lap around the track, not about to let my far-fetched wish slip through my fingers. as i crossed the finish line at 119 minutes, i saw mike standing on the other side, arms outstretched toward me in a victorious whoop! i did it!

i found my boys, who had a series of mishaps on the way to the race, but made it just in time to see me run in the last quarter mile. (lee recounted his adventures with, “i nearly pulled a hamstring trying to hurry into the stadium with graham. it would be pretty bad if i injured myself walking from the parking lot.”)

--

on facebook i reported that i came in at 1:58 because i thought my chip time might match my app time of 1:58:55, but my official time was 1:59:05. either way, i cut six minutes off my previous times and beat the two-hour mark! we celebrated by driving directly to our church down the street, just in time for the service, and going out to eat afterward with my dad and micky. i recouped with a long shower and good nap that afternoon, and felt fantastic the next day. (although the first few trips up the stairs took longer than usual. 😉 )

i’m not sure if my triumphant race results can be attributed to good luck, willpower, genetics, prayer, or just a healthy lifestyle and daily cross-training with an energetic toddler in a two-story house, but i’ll take it! i’d like to say that i’ll actually train next year and try to see if i can attain another PR, but ya know, it’s not really my style.