Just Live It Up This Advent Season (You Know You Want To)

Whether you love the Christmas kitsch or hate it (I used to turn up my nose, but I’ve come around), it’s easy to become the wrong kind of lost in it. The gift-buying stress, the work and travel plans, the thousandth new rendition of “All I Want for Christmas is You” - one I do still hate - if we’re not careful, the season can just vanish in a whirl of lights and bells and snowman cookies.

And for Christmas curmudgeons like I used to be, harrumphing around the month is just as unproductive.

I’ve come to accept the glamor and the sappiness, because it overlaps with one dimension of the Christian Advent season. Advent (from the Latin for “arrival”) is, like the commercial Western version, a time of celebration, because something magical really did happen at the first Christmas: God the Son, the second person of the divine Trinity, really was born as a human being. And all the goodwill and the pomp and the feasting are just right for the birth of a baby king. The deep human hungers at the heart of even the cheesiest of the season - close families, care for others, peace on earth - are possible, and they are made possible by the the birth of Jesus.

But Christians shouldn’t get less of the holiday spirit than everyone else; we get more. Because Advent isn’t just a celebration of what has happened; it’s also a season of longing for the completion of all those hopes. Taken the wrong way, Christmas can be a time where we whitewash or paper over the real problems we do still have. “From now on, our troubles will be out of sight” is a nice sentiment; but not, you know, in any way connected to reality. And the joy of the season itself can make the sufferings of loss or need even more painful rather than less.

Our world won’t be complete until Jesus comes back - his second Advent - and finishes the work he began. He will make all things right; he will put an end to grief and need and all pain; but that hasn’t happened yet. So we do celebrate, but we also long for the completion of the work, the full coming of the Kingdom.

So what could it mean to live up the Advent season in light of these things?

Take special time for loved ones, AND special time for God

Party with your friends and family. Dust off that tacky sweater. Let the joy of the season overflow with cocoa, snacks, and all the rest of it. Show the festivity of people whose good king, and whose eternal king, has been born.

And, ground yourself by devoting special time to be close to the king we’re celebrating. Remember his story, live into his story, and reflect on how you’re a part of it.

This Sunday, we’re publishing an Advent devotional written by Soma members, that includes Scripture meditations and prayer points for each day of the season. Or find your own, or read through the narratives of Jesus’ birth; but try beginning or ending each day by giving attention to God.

Enjoy yourself, AND give yourself to others

Don’t be a curmudgeon. Enjoy your favorite Christmas movie. Crank the holiday station. Marvel at the lit-up trees.

At the same time, let the generosity of God lead you a little more out of yourself to look out for others. We’d love for all our people to stretch themselves and give toward our Advent offerings, to bless those around us; other organizations can help you provide food, gifts, or other needed things to people who can’t provide for themselves.

Celebrate with others, AND speak to their longings

This is a great season for block parties, open houses, and other shindigs to meet or get together with your neighbors. Look for parties in your community if you can’t throw your own. Let Christmas festivities give you opportunities to build deeper relationships with people you might not otherwise have in your home.

And, remember that everyone has a deep longing for God, and this season can bring that to the surface. People may have pain or sorrow that’s made worse by the cheer around them. They may have a fresh longing to be close to God, or be reconciled to a loved one, or be in church again. Push a step deeper with a neighbor or family member this season; listen for the longings they have, and think about how you could listen and talk to them with compassion. Invite someone to a Christmas service.

Roll Like a River

Let justice roll like a river, like a river let it roll
Let justice roll like a river, like a river let it roll
Let it roll
Let it roll

A few weeks ago, I stood with my church family and let that powerful song flow through me. I closed my eyes and belted out the words and felt them down to my toes.

The world has been so ugly lately.

Correction: The world has always been ugly, but lately it's been punching us in the face hard enough to draw blood. It’s everywhere: Oppression. Destruction. Hate. Pain. Suffering. Nature, cruel and indifferent. Mankind, cruel and indifferent.

Our only hope - my only hope - is that God is neither of those things. That he is good, and that he cares to the point of painful death. That's the truth I’m trying to cling to.

So on that particular day, so overwhelmed by evil on all sides that I didn't even know how to pray or what to ask for, I lifted up my hands to him and cried out, "Just wipe it all away! Unmake the evil systems we've designed. Wash away our selfishness and greed. Let justice roll like a river!"

Then a chill washed over me. I had to sit down for a moment. I stopped singing as the truth sank in.

Straight talk: I am an educated white woman in my forties. I have three white children with bright and promising futures. Under the existing systems and structures, they will be able to have any life they want. So here's the truth that faces me. It's a hard truth and a deeply personal one.

If justice rolls like a river, it will roll over me.

I have everything to lose. I live in the valley of white privilege, protected by the dam of systemic injustice. It doesn’t matter that I didn’t build the dam: I was born in its shade, and it is sweet down here. The grass is green. My children are happy. Their future is secure. There's a reason no one wants to blow up the dam, you know? A whole new world might not be as idyllic for me and mine.

Please believe me: I hate that only a few get to live in this valley. I hate that people are literally dying of thirst downstream, that others drown in the overflow or get shot trying to find a way in. But that doesn’t mean I don’t love my easy life.

Am I truly ready to put myself in the hands of a righteous God? Am I ready to call down his justice and let the waters wash away structures that keep my family comfortable? Am I ready for my children to be set adrift with only his mercy to steer them?

Those are big questions. But there’s another one that’s so, so much bigger.

If I’m not ready for that, what am I doing pretending to worship him?

Here is the God I claim to follow:

This is what the Lord Almighty said: “Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.” But they refused to pay attention; stubbornly they turned their backs and covered their ears. They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the Lord Almighty had sent by his Spirit through the earlier prophets. So the Lord Almighty was very angry. “When I called, they did not listen; so when they called, I would not listen,” says the Lord Almighty. (Zechariah‬ 7:9-13,‬ NIV‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬)

I said I wanted him to care, right? He cares. He cares so much that his anger is burning.

And this:

So this is what the Sovereign Lord says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who relies on it will never be stricken with panic. I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the plumb line; hail will sweep away your refuge, the lie, and water will overflow your hiding place. Your covenant with death will be annulled; your agreement with the realm of the dead will not stand. When the overwhelming scourge sweeps by, you will be beaten down by it. As often as it comes it will carry you away; morning after morning, by day and by night, it will sweep through.” The understanding of this message will bring sheer terror. (Isaiah‬ 28:16-19,‬ NIV‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬)

Yes, it is terrifying. The idea of God sweeping us away along with the structure of lies we've built.

But he already laid the foundation of our new home. The cornerstone is himself, and the foundation is as secure as it is righteous. And all those who were walled out of our little valley have a place inside. It’s everything we say we want. And it’s just on the other side of the flood.

It’s time, don’t you think?

It's time to stop being afraid of the destruction of the valley. It's time to let the flood carry us on to new heights.

Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream! (Amos‬ 5:23-24‬, NIV‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬)

Amen. Let it roll.

Image: Christiaan Josi, "Dike Breach Near Bemmel, 1799"

Guilt Unto Death, Guilt Unto Life

The word emotion literally means “to evoke motion” (e-motion). Thus, emotions are feelings that exert a force on the heart and the mind. They’re a combination of internal pressures that pull the levers and press the buttons of human volition. When someone feels “emotional,” a particular internal force has been set in motion.

Among the emotions, guilt is definitely one of the most powerful. Guilt can produce some serious action: building and destroying; uniting and dividing; purifying and corrupting; liberating and incarcerating.

Peter and Judas provide a helpful case study from the Bible on the two main responses to emotional guilt. Peter experienced the building, purifying, and liberating effects of godly emotional guilt, whereas Judas suffered the destroying, dividing and incarcerating consequences of worldly emotional guilt.

Two sinners, two responses, two different lives

Both Peter and Judas sinned against the Lord Jesus by betraying him, even on the same night. Peter denied that he was a follower of Jesus (Luke 22:61-62); and Judas turned Jesus over to the chief priests and elders for 30 pieces of silver (Luke 22:6). Although they both betrayed Christ in similar ways, their responses are completely opposite.

At root, Peter looked outward and Judas looked inward.

First, see Peter in the moment of his third denial of Jesus.

The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” (Luke 22:61)

This had to be an absolutely dreadful moment for Peter: caught red-handed by the Messiah. His guilt had to be off the charts! His response makes perfect sense:

And he went outside and wept bitterly. (22:62)

Peter’s tears are contrasted with Judas’ attempt to justify himself.

When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.”“What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.” So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself. (Matthew 27:3-5)

When he felt guilt, Judas immediately tried to right his wrong by paying back the money he took. He tried to absolve his guilt with his own hands; he even physically threw the money back into the temple. But it wasn’t enough, and in despair Judas took his life with his own hands.

Peter’s tears seem less active, more helpless than Judas’ effort to pay his prize back; but paradoxically, those helpless tears put his heart in the right place. Realizing that there was no way to “pay for” what he’d done opened Peter up for repentance and restoration, while Judas’ attempted self-justification led to his ruin. Guilt prepared Peter to receive forgiveness, but propelled Judas toward suicide. 2 Corinthians 7:10 summarizes the contrast of these two types of emotional guilt well: “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.”  

Where we take our guilt

Judas makes me really uncomfortable because my natural inclination is to do what he did and “pay back” any sense of guilt I get. Judas shows the logical conclusion of trying to make yourself righteous when you experience guilt.

Guilt has both an objective and a subjective meaning. Objectively, guilt is the fact of having committed an offense. This is essentially a legal definition, and is primarily the way that the word is used in Scripture. It’s like a courtroom where the judge will render a final verdict of either “innocent” or “guilty.” Just as a light switch is either on or off, in the legal sense I either am or am not guilty.

This is distinct from the subjective experience of guilt, emotional guilt. Subjective guilt is not the fact of having committing an offense, but rather the feeling of committing an offense. The majority of the Bible covers legal guilt directly and emotional guilt by implication.

The fact of legal guilt can and should generate the feeling of emotional guilt. The conscience is God’s bounty hunter that reclaims what is rightfully His. He makes people aware of our true identity through an internal conviction that we are guilty before God and in need of a Savior. All of us are by nature guilty before God; and when we experience specific instances of emotional guilt, we should confess those to others.

But, like Peter, the experience of guilt isn’t the end of the story for us. Guilt should drive us to look to Jesus in faith: when we do this, he takes our legal guilt and gives us his legal innocence (“righteousness” is a common biblical term for this). No matter what we’ve done to incur guilt, he has paid for it for us.

If we believe that, we can begin sorting through any emotional guilt we feel to see where it might be leading us. Is there sin I need to repent of - not pay God back for, but just abandon? Am I feeling guilty over something I shouldn’t be, maybe by comparison to someone else? Or do I just need to be reminded that, like Peter, I have received a forgiveness I can never deserve? Hashing out our emotions, including emotional guilt, with God or with someone else can ultimately lead us to deeper faith and joy in our justifier, Jesus Christ.

Image: Caravaggio, "The Denial of St. Peter"

From Emotional Chains to Emotional Freedom: Mitch Woods' Story

We hope that our Living from the Heart sermon series encourages people to investigate their own emotions and emotional history, and to talk about these things with others. Mitch Woods has offered to share part of his story on our blog:

When I look back on my life now, I can see that I never learned how to process my emotions while growing up. My family tended to sweep problems under the rug and bottle up emotions, and I followed suit: I stuffed them down until I couldn’t contain them anymore. They would spew out in inappropriate ways at inappropriate times. My father was emotionally detached until he got angry. I always did my best, not so much to make him happy, but to make sure he wasn’t upset with me. I developed a deep desire to please others: it was easier if everyone was happy with me, and I didn’t have to deal with conflict and the emotions that came with it.

I lived most of my life not even realizing that I wasn’t expressing my emotions appropriately. I entered into and left relationships for the wrong reasons; I hurt others without realizing the wake I was creating in their emotions, since I wasn’t allowing myself to feel my own. Through all of this, I became closed off with others about my personal life. I controlled what other people thought of me by controlling my emotions and not being vulnerable with them. I never fully accepted the fact that others might love me for who I am, and not who I thought they wanted me to be. I disengaged from my community and had trouble building deep relationships.

I felt the same way about God. I thought that there was no way that He would love me with all of my baggage. Even though I was going to church regularly, had Christian friends, and had good answers to “church” questions, I never believed that I was deserving of God’s love even in Jesus. I doubted that he could handle the emotions that I had bottled up for such a long time, allowing guilt and shame to control me. I had a relationship with him, but it was more like a friend of a friend. I was detached from God, and didn’t understand grace enough to accept it from him or give it to myself.

It wasn’t until recently that I realized how not handling my emotions had impacted me. I was interviewing for a position to move to Thailand and work with a nonprofit organization that rescued women and children out of slavery. That was the first time that I had been confronted with one of the largest impacts of not expressing my emotions. One of the ways I had channeled my emotions was pornography, and I had become addicted at an early age.

There were other reasons why I am not working for that organization, but it was definitely a factor as to why I’m still living in Indianapolis. It was also the crack in the dam that allowed it to crumble, finally letting my emotions escape. I don’t think I have ever cried as much as I did during that Skype interview.

The week after my interviews, I started meeting with a Christian counselor who helps people struggling with sexual behavior and addiction. It was one of the most difficult things that I have done - at least until I started telling some of my close friends.

The process has helped me better understand myself and who I am as a man of God. I have started to better understand how to express emotions instead of controlling them.

I started coming to Soma after attending my previous church for almost 10 years. Even though I had been a part of, and even led, a small group there, I wasn't emotionally connected because I wasn’t open and honest with them. I told my counselor that my intention was to enter into community here and be open and vulnerable. I can say that the relationships I have developed over the last few months have already become into deeper and richer friendships than those withpeople I knew for over a decade.

I recently watched a TED talk by Brené Brown, where she talks about her research on the impact of vulnerability; the talk has further helped me articulate my experiences. Vulnerability has helped me escape the emotional prison of shame, fear, and the struggle for worthiness that I have lived in most of my life. It's still a journey to live a fuller life, but I've found that being emotionally open and vulnerable with people takes away the fear of being loved for who I think I should be, and allows me to accept love from God and from others for whom God has created me to be.

All these experiences have helped me gain a better understanding of myself and the power of the gospel. I can see how my story is a reflection of God’s greater plan. When I look at my life through the lens of the cross and Jesus’s sacrifice, I can start to see God’s plan of redemption and restoration. I’ve been able to better understand that the gospel changes everything, because God is using my story to accomplish His purpose.

Helping your family thrive in summer

School’s out for summer … but now what? Summer in Indianapolis presents some unique opportunities and challenges for families who want to create memorable experiences. As someone with a large family who is still relatively new to the city, I wanted to share a few things we’ve learned that might help your family thrive during this season.

Be Intentional

For many of us, summer is a great time to pull back from the chaos of the school year and get organic with our schedules. While there is certainly a place for a more relaxed rhythm during the summer (see below), we’ve found that we still have to plan intentionally to love each other well. Without a basic plan, we can fall into a reactionary pattern and miss out on opportunities to create meaningful memories for our family.

Each year, Emily and I get together for intentional conversation and prayer about our summer goals. We try to take into account how we’re doing physically, spiritually, emotionally, and socially and where we’d like to move the needle. Overall, we ask two simple questions that help shape our planning:

  • What shared experiences are God calling us to pursue that will unite our hearts and shape our kids’ desires towards what we want them to love in the future?
  • What specific resources do we need to invest (time, money, researching, friendships) to make this plan a reality?

Stay Connected

Summer is an easy time to drift away from the community of friendships that we’ve built during the rest of the year. While commitments to sports, family travel, weddings, and work may occupy a good chunk of our time in this season, I want to encourage you not to lose momentum with your community at Soma.

Consider creatively changing up, rather than withdrawing from, your rhythms of community during the summer. Play sports together. Go to the pool with the kids together. Host lunch in the park together Sundays after church. Take day trips together to nearby state parks or lakes. Walk with a group to grab dinner and ice cream off the Monon Trail.

We’ve noticed that when people “take a break” from community during the summer, it makes it extremely difficult to reconnect when school starts back in the fall. Most importantly, you miss out on opportunities to build shared memories that carry you into the next season of the year.

Rest Well

Summer is an invitation from God to break from the grind of the year and replenish our bodies, minds, and souls. Rest reminds us that we are humans and that we are dependent on God as the source of flourishing for our families.

In your planning (especially if you’re Type A), make sure that you don’t overschedule your summer in a way that eliminates the margin needed for holistic rest.

Build in time to rest your soul by reading the Scriptures, praying, singing, attending Sunday gatherings with your church family, and observing a 24 hour “Sabbath” rest each week.

Build in time to rest your body by eating well, getting enough sleep, and switching up your exercise routines.

Build in time to rest your mind by powering down technology, getting outside to enjoy nature (IMA, state parks, Indianapolis Zoo, Connor Prairie), and reading some good fiction books.

While these ideas may or may not serve your family this summer, our hope is to see families thriving, not surviving, this summer in the city. What helps your family thrive in the summer? Feel free to share your ideas on our social media pages or with others in your community. 

Image: "Tamalada," by Carmen Lomas Garza

Meditations on Receiving a New Name

I was not built to play soccer. I am what doctors would refer to as “slow." I am not merely physically slow, but I also lack any instinct for the game. My reflexes were never honed by years of practice or drills as a child. I grew up in a place where soccer did not exist. That distant land was known as Indianapolis circa 1984.

God, as he is in the habit of doing, moved me far from that strange provincial town, into the wider world - in this case to South America - where they do, in fact, play soccer. So much soccer.

When I first moved to Argentina as a church planter, I knew enough about culture as a concept to realize that I had to make some fundamental changes in my behavior if I was going to fit in. For example, Argentines eat more beef per capita than we do in the States. So I had to level up my meat consumption skills from All-Star to Elite. These are the types of sacrifices missionaries often have to make for the Cross.

Slightly more trying was my adoption of mate (mah-tay) as my go-to beverage. Mate looks like grass clippings and, depending on how it is prepared, can be a delightful hot tea shared communally or taste like the dross from a weed eater. It didn’t matter. Whatever any specific iteration of mate tasted like, I drank it with gusto. It was part of fitting in.

A new name, a new person

Changing what I ate and drank was a minor inconvenience in comparison with soccer, however. I’m a lifelong baseball fan, but I chose to live and work in a Latin American country where no one played the game at all. Polo is more popular than baseball in Argentina. But if I wanted to have any relationship with Argentines, I needed to not only follow their futbol but to develop a passion for a game that I had spent much of my life mocking (because nothing was more Hoosier in the 1980s than making fun of soccer).

At first, trying to fit in just felt like adopting external behavioral changes, and unnatural ones at that. But in time, exposure to a new culture and a new way of seeing the world profoundly altered my heart and even my sense of self. I even had a new name to go along with it. Nate Dunlevy loved baseball and never wanted to leave the northwest side of Indy. Natán Doonlaby loved mate and played soccer (badly, so very badly) and was living as a stranger in a strange land.

On a visit to Uruguay, I looked up at the stars one night. They weren't my stars. Orion’s belt wasn't shining. The Big Dipper didn’t hang upside down above me, hung on a hook by God after dishing out a bowl of creation stew. I only recognized one constellation.

“How did I get here?” I thought.

I scanned the horizon. A cross dotted the South American sky, reminding me that I wasn’t home, but I wasn’t lost either.

Living Uprooted

I’ve always wondered if God made Adam out of a tree. We humans love to put down roots and stay past what sanity would dictate. Many of us dig deep into our soil as if to say, this is mine. This is me. I’d die before I’d leave.

But throughout the Bible, God pulls men and women from their homes and sends them to new lands. From Adam and Eve to Abram and Sarai, and from Jacob to Moses and Naomi to Daniel, the Almighty digs up the deep possessiveness that seeps so naturally from our feet to the soil, breaking up our roots and sending us marching on.

Peter calls Christians "foreigners" and "aliens," which is hard to imagine if you’ve never experienced it. We derive our identity and often even our names from places and tongues our fathers left behind long ago. It’s no surprise, then, that when God moves us on toward a new land, he gives us a new name along with our new address. The land isn’t ours. It belongs to God. So does our identity

Abraham; Israel; Peter; Paul. We think of those names as giants, as pillars.

But they weren’t names given from birth. Those men all grew up thinking of themselves as something else. A father, a leg-puller, a listener, a king. But that’s not what they ended up being. They were to become the father of many, a wrestler, a rock, a humble one.

“This is not your home,” God says. “And that is not your name.”

We don’t get to decide for ourselves who he made us to be. We can kick against the goads or take up passage on a voyage to Tarshish; but if the Potter says to the clay, “Play soccer,” the vessel that emerges from the potter’s wheel, will in fact, play soccer.

Badly. So very badly.

Art to Bridge the Gap

“If we’re really all about helping the poor, why do we spend so much time talking about art?”

It’s a real question being asked by real people when they’ve hung around Soma a while and listened to us talk about our priorities. I think I know where it comes from. The implication is that art is for people who have the luxury to think about such things: for old ladies in pearls who write checks to foundations, and Millennials in torn jeans living in studio apartments like starving artists with no risk of actual starvation. It’s not for real people who have to live in the real world. If we’re making a big deal out of something as “upper-class” as the art community, does that mean we’re just pretending to care about the poor and oppressed?

Short answer? No. Not even a little bit.

A people’s art is their heart beating out where we can all hear it.

Art isn’t just for the privileged. When you walk through an urban neighborhood and hear the beat of hip-hop pulsing under your feet, you are experiencing the feeling of a people. Not just the words, with their rage and longing, but the music itself, the intense and clever and insistent fullness of it all.

When you pass a workman with his radio blaring an entirely different kind of song, a country song that drips pride and regret and determination, there’s a reason that song is what gets him through his day.

When your Mexican neighbors throw a party, and the cumbia is pumping out a call to dance and forget everything but this beat and this moment, that’s your neighbors’ bone-deep desire to make the most out of today’s joy before it’s gone. Can you feel it? Do you want to?

How do you bridge the gap between rich and poor? Between dark skin and light? Between East and West?

Certainly nothing can take the place of personal relationships. We’ve been talking about that a lot lately. It’s vital to build real relationships with real people, to look them in the eye and listen and really hear. But true understanding takes time and patience and swallowing our pride and hurt, and we’d be foolish to neglect anything that could ease that process.

You want to learn empathy for someone you don’t understand? To get past the intellectual and into their living experience? Absorb their art.

A people’s art is a window into their worldview.

When we lived in Argentina, we used to take all our visitors to the National Cathedral in Buenos Aires, not for any kind of religious experience, but just to look at the paintings that hung around the outer walls. Many Catholic churches have something of the kind, paintings that portray the stations of the cross, the events leading up to Jesus’ death. The ones in this particular cathedral are fascinating. Each portrays Jesus in a position of weakness, almost always being lorded over by “Roman” soldiers who look remarkably Spanish. He is also being helped along his way, usually by women, who all look strong and capable and also terribly sad. “Look at all of the paintings together,” we would tell people. “And once you’ve seen them all, you’ll have a glimpse of how Argentines see themselves and God and the world.”  The last thing to notice as you walked a slow circle through the quiet cathedral was that the final painting was Jesus’ burial. There was no resurrection.

You don’t need to parse that. Just let it sit.

A people’s art is a bridge to places outsiders can’t find.

I sit in my living room and open my laptop to be greeted by the pictures of a father in Syria clutching his dead children, of a black man in Minnesota gunned down in front of his girlfriend and her daughter, of Native Americans soaking wet in the freezing cold. I try to wrap my mind around the experiences of these men and women.

I want to untangle the complexities of history and culture that have brought them to the moment they’re living right now, but the task is beyond me. So I pick up books.

I read Between the World and Me and Things Fall Apart and Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee and I look out through the words, trying to see through the author’s eyes.

I search the names of Syrian artists and see what they’ve made and what they’ve said.  It’s not about agreeing or disagreeing with their statements. It’s about stepping into their shoes. And true, it’s only for an hour or maybe two, and then I go back to my white Indianapolis life, but journeys change you if you let them.

This is why we press into the artistic community in our city. Those artists place stepping stones across raging rivers.

Participating in the arts is not just for the rich. It’s not just for people with loads of free time on their hands. It’s not just for the talented or ambitious. It’s for anyone with eyes and ears and hands. It’s for us all.

So what can you do?

Experience art. Lots of art. All kinds of art. Music. Movies. Drawing. Painting. Sculpture. Books. Poems. Dance. Theater. All kinds of artists. Those that are like you and those that aren't. Look. Listen. Read. Push yourself out of your comfort zone and try to really see. Our city is full of art made by people of all ages, races, ethnicities. A lot of it you can experience for free. Get out there. And if your life keeps you at home, thank God for the internet age. Free art for everyone.

Think about art. Think about the art you like. Your music. Your books and movies. The stuff that hangs on your walls. Why do you like it? What does it say about you and your own culture, the way you see the world? As you venture out into new art, do it with your mind open. When you listen to music that you haven’t before, pay attention to what it feels like. When you see a sculpture that jars the senses, think about why it was made. What can you learn about the artist, about the artist's culture, about the truth of the world?

Talk about art. It’s not pretentious try to figure out what other people are seeing in something, to tell them what you see and have a dialogue. Unless you’re only doing it to impress someone, conversations about art are like any conversation. They can help you understand.

Make art. Whatever kind that expresses you and your view the world. I can't tell people what it's like to be African-American. I can't express how being Cuban feels. I can't explain what the world looks like when you're born poor in Texas. But I can talk about what it's like to be a woman. I can give a sense of how the world looks to a child who moves around a lot and has no particular roots. I can find words for my experiences as an immigrant in South America. I have that to offer, so I do. You have something, too. Don’t keep it to yourself.

Support artists. You don't have to love every kind of music or every illustration you see. You don't have to be moved by all the books you read. But when you do see something that opens your eyes, consider that it might do the same for others. Consider how you can spread the understanding that comes through that. Maybe you have money to buy things or support a Kickstarter or donate to an artist. Maybe you don’t have the money, so you spread the word instead. Maybe you wear the t-shirt or give someone a ride to a show or post links on social media.

Is it possible that if you start doing these things, you’ll look stupid? Maybe. Is it possible you’ll make mistakes and get slammed for them? Most likely. The world is full of critics and mockers. No one ever learned a new language or made a new friend or built something that didn’t exist before without risking themselves. Leaping across chasms isn’t for the cowardly. The view on the other side, though? It’s worth it.

That’s why we keep bringing it up at Soma. Risks are easier to take when you aren’t alone. So we lean out, we take in that long drop, and then we grab each others’ hands and jump together.

Image: "Mother and Child," by Angu Walters

Meet Maddie Schlichter

Seeing someone baptized is one of the greatest privileges we have as a church. We love seeing someone move from spiritual death to spiritual life in Jesus; we also love seeing people make a public affirmation of their relationship with God, so that we can welcome them fully into our community.

We baptized Maddie Schlichter (soon to be Pascascio!) at Soma Downtown a few Sundays ago, and we wanted to share her story with everyone.

My Christian journey all started with control. Since I was a little girl, I struggled with always needing to feel in control. My father was a gambling addict, which often left our family in unpredictable situations. From a very young age, worry consumed my mind. I fought for control because I thought if I could control a situation, there would be nothing for me to worry about. Although that never actually reigned true in my life I spent most of my years letting worry and control effect my every action.

I grew going to church fairly regularly, but the gospel was never a huge focus in my household. When I was in high school, I got involved with a student ministry. I joined a Bible study and participated in their regular meetings, but the main reason I was there was because they had a connection to Shepherd Community Center. They brought students down each week to volunteer with youth on the east side of Indy.

After volunteering just once, I was hooked. I fell in love with Shepherd’s mission and the children they served. I volunteered there every day after school for two years. Although I loved it, I was constantly overwhelmed by the children’s situations. For a girl who struggled with worry and control, this setting was incredibly trying. I couldn’t help but take each kid’s story home and I became incredibly burdened to the point where it was really affecting my life in big ways.

Then in May of 2012, Shepherd decided to shut down the particular program that I volunteered at. A group of volunteers and I decided to swoop up the group of kids we had be working with to start a program we would call Like a Lion. As we started our program, our relationships with the families we served only grew deeper. The struggles they faced and the situations they were in broke my heart. I wanted to be able to fix everything and protect all the kids from anything that may harm them and became very discouraged when I couldn’t.

Throughout this whole process, I thought I was a Christian. But instead of believing Jesus was a savior for me, I believed that people who were stuck in these incredibly hard situations were the ones who really needed Jesus. It wasn’t until I started Like a Lion that I really began to assess what I believed. I knew that the hope of Jesus was something I really felt the kids needed to hear, but I didn’t even really know what that meant. I was about to start teaching these Bible studies to the Like a Lion kids, and I didn’t want to be a hypocrite.

So, when I started Like a lion, I really dove deep into understanding the Bible and understanding who Jesus really was. This process opened my eyes up to the fact that Jesus wasn’t a Jesus for others, but he was my Jesus too. I realized how incredibly sinful I really am. I realized that my worry and desire for control were really me wanting to be my own God and a savior to the people around me. I realized that by seeking to be my own God, I was never going to be able to succeed. I needed Jesus and I needed to let go of the self-righteous thoughts that convinced me that I was able to save myself.

The process of realizing all of this was slow and painful at times, but the joy found in understanding the true gospel and realizing that I don’t need to have everything under control was so incredibly freeing. I started taking my burdens to the Cross instead of feeling the need to carry everything on my shoulders. I let grace cover me instead of feeling like I needed to make perfect decisions in order to control things best. Although I still struggle with control and worry, I can now remind myself that I serve a God who created us, not to go through this world alone, but to rely on his guidance and love. A God who loved us so much that he sent his son to die on the cross for my sins. A God who is good and a God who I need.

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. - John 15:4-5

So today, I am excited to take the next steps in my walk with Christ by being baptized into his kingdom and diving deeper into my relationship with Him.

Settled / Unsettled

“I just thought you’d all be settled by now. I can’t wait until you’re all settled.”

That’s what my mom said to me casually in a conversation not too long ago. I don’t remember the entire context, but I do remember that part.

Settled. I knew exactly what she meant: Married. Motherhood. Homeowner. Full-time job.

None of those descriptions fit my life at the moment.

The Dream and the Nightmare

In all fairness, I thought I’d be “settled” by now too. I’m inching closer to the latter half of my mid-twenties. I feel pressure to have that all figured out by now. Aren’t these the things that I was supposed to work out in my early twenties so that I can start fully living as I transition into my late twenties and thirties?

Settled is the dream.

But there’s another side of me too. Like many of my millennial contemporaries, part of me cringes at the idea of being settled. What would my social life look like if I started a family? Surely those 10p soccer games would have to go. Nine-to-five jobs without the option of working remotely are much too constricting. Renting seems like the better option: buying a house would make it harder for me to move next year if I want.

Settled is the nightmare.

Life is lived in this tension. My single friends dream of getting married, starting families, and buying homes. My married friends with kids long to join my Thursday night indoor soccer league or tag along on summer road trips. After all, the grass is always greener on the other side. But how do we live in this tension in a God-glorifying and honoring way?

Soma has been walking through the book of Genesis and recently finished looking at the life of Abraham. I can honestly say that I have never been able to relate to an elderly man as much as I can relate to Abraham. Talk about living in tension. Abraham was settled: he was married and living with (or at least near) his father for the first 75 years of his life. But then God called Abraham to leave his home and family at the age of 75, saying that God would make him the father of a great nation. Abraham and his wife Sarah became childless nomads. They were settled in that they had each other and they knew exactly where God was leading them. But they unsettled because they had no children to show for it. So they waited. And waited. And waited some more. Finally, 25 years later they had a son, but not just any son. This was Isaac, the promised son through which Jesus would one day be born.

Interestingly enough, Abraham lived to be 175 years old, yet the Bible focuses on these 25 years of tension. We can learn a lot from how he navigated this season.

Believe God’s Promises

One of the biggest keys to success for Abraham was his faith in God’s promises. God promised to make him a great nation. He promised to give him and Sarah a son. Abraham believed. It was this faith that saved him (Genesis 15:6). I also believe that it was this faith that helped him survive the tension. It is a lot easier to live in the present mystery when we have faith in a certain future.

Do you trust God with your unsettled life? Often I feel the most anxiety when I focus on my desires instead of God’s promises. God did not promise that I would get married, but he did promise that when I placed my faith in Jesus I became part of the family of God and the bride of Christ. I can live secure knowing that I am not alone. God did not promise that I would own a home, but he did promise that one day I will live in my eternal home in heaven. Don’t let your earthly desires eclipse the greater heavenly promises from above.

Be Honest with Questions

Have you ever thought of how ridiculous the story of Abraham is? Abraham and Sarah have Isaac when they are 100 years old. I don’t know about you, but my goal is just to be alive at that age, not to give birth. Yes, Abraham had faith, but he naturally had some questions too. He brought those to God, bowing before him completely humbled and exposed.

“Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless?” (Genesis 15:2)

“Sovereign LORD, how can I know that I will gain possession of [the land]?” (Genesis 15:8)

“Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” (Genesis 17:17)

Yes, Abraham believed. But he was also human, so he experienced a lot of doubt. The doubt was a natural part of his humanity. And sometimes this doubt led to sinful decisions, like when he tried to take control and conceived a son through Hagar rather than waiting for God to provide a son through Sarah. However, God is sovereign in spite of our doubt and sin.

Abraham’s faith, on the other hand, was a choice. He had to choose to surrender his doubts to God and to believe in God’s promises. I feel this almost daily. I need to choose to believe that God is providing for me, even if I do not have a house, husband, or full-time job to prove it. I need to choose to believe that God is working things for my good, even when it feels like things are falling apart.

Whether settled is your dream or settled is your nightmare, are you choosing faith like Abraham? Are you choosing to see God’s promises over your desires? God wants you to live fully awake and alert, trusting him in the tension.

Holy Week: Into Your Hands

By Trevor St. Aubin: "Into Your Hands"

For this year's Holy Week, we've had Soma artists create meditations based on Jesus' "Seven Last Words" - seven statements the Bible records Jesus saying during his crucifixion.

Lent is all about being reminded of the human condition. We feel pain, and one day we are going to die. From dust we came and from dust we shall return. Suffering is inevitable.

For the believer, our suffering serves a higher purpose. It is for our good and the glory of God. If our suffering is for the glory of God, we should rejoice because the glory of God is the all-encompassing richness of who God is, and because of Christ we have been brought into that forever.

"And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all." Ephesians 1:22-23

Jesus was about one thing: glorifying his father. All through the New Testament, we see him bringing glory to God. Even as he hung humiliated on a tree gasping for breath, he used his last words to give God the ultimate glory: his life. Those final words teach us everything we need to know about suffering. This is God's story, not ours.

In this song, I compare my own personal "sufferings" with Christ's (I put my sufferings in quotations because I fully understand that my own experiences come nowhere close to what Christ went through. Mine are like a spoiled prom king who spilled sparkling grape juice on his pearly white tux: in other words, not a big deal). In the midst of suffering, I don't understand why it is happening. I just feel everything so deeply. It is a struggle.

I'm struck by how even Jesus struggled with God's plan. He was in the garden sweating blood, asking God to take the cup from him.

But Jesus finishes his struggle with, "not my will, but yours be done." The chorus is about submission. "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit".

Jesus modeled it perfectly. He was equal with God, but didn't even consider himself on the same level. It was all about the Father's glory.

The humility of Christ is something I will never understand.

I thank God for Jesus. I thank God for suffering (even though it is awful). I thank God that this is his story not mine (even though it is impossibly hard).

It is my hope that we as a church learn how to suffer well and rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.

Trevor's piece is inspired by the Word "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit."

Image: "The Entombment," by Peter Paul Rubens

Holy Week: Making All Things New

From Nate Dunlevy: "Making All Things New" (this is presented as an image to keep the formatting)

For this year's Holy Week, we've had Soma artists create meditations based on Jesus' "Seven Last Words" - seven statements the Bible records Jesus saying during his crucifixion.

Nate's piece comes from the Word "It is finished."

Image: He Qi, "Crucifixion"

Holy Week: Unfathered

From Joseph Rhea: "Unfathered"

For this year's Holy Week, we've had Soma artists create meditations based on Jesus' "Seven Last Words" - seven statements the Bible records Jesus saying during his crucifixion.

Words fill and illuminate concepts like candles in a cave; but how to light up a cave infinitely large? Pile on the words, stoke the fire brighter; when will they tag the back wall of eternity andsprint back giggling about what they saw?

He had no beginning; no point at which he became an “I am.” Always and always and always back, “I am, I am, I am.” Before the universe itself was set off like a firecracker, he was there. He was there when there was no there, or when the only there to speak of was him. He was there, he was then, he was everythere and everythen and any/every/omni/ubi-everything, because He Was.

And They were with him. They were him, were with him, personalities without borders. The Spirit: soft-spoken, warm, always gushing over some detail of their screenplay. “This cardinal!” “Look at this alphabet!”

And the Father.

His Father. His light, his canopy, his foundation. He’d been forever; and forever he’d been the proud Son of his proud Father. They cooked up Time itself and and all things cozy enough to fill with words like a Soapbox Derby car in the garage. Whose idea – the Everglades, the tickle reflex, quantum entanglement – was whose? Didn’t matter; they loved it all.

The Father had been there when they were all the there there was. The Father had been there for thirty-odd years of human life: there to delight over the smell of roast lamb. There to cry on, when he had feet that cut themselves on rocks, brain chemistry that could plummet without warning into the blues, a sin nature that pressed him to rip their family ties. The Father was there in the Garden, when he cried so hard his capillaries broke and asked – for the first time in all time and before – if they might rewrite the script.

Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?

They punched iron through his wrists and ankles into the tree. Hammered the thorns into his scalp. They hoisted him up so he hung suspended on his own screaming nerve cords, turned gravity into a giant kneeling on his lungs …

… And the Father was gone.

But not gone. Something worse than gone. Gone the smile, the warmth, the bright cables of joy. Instead …

Hollow, howling desolation.

The lightless silence of a trapped caver.

And the weight. The searing, world-pulverizing weight of their own wrath against the sin that had envenomed their world. Every desecration of their masterpieces. Every decision to scorn their rightful rule and establish bitter kingdoms of one. The pride, greed, and lust that shredded the tapestry of human nature. An anger sober as justice itself, with the pressure and power of the plasma at the core of suns. A red darkness that – for the first time in a history beyond time – eclipsed the face.

In that silence, he became a Son with no Father.

No Father.

There was only the wrathful absence, the furious void, the fullness of silent Nothingness. Hours passed for the body; but what was that to a mind that remembered the arcs of every electron tethered to every atom? A limitless soul filled with an anger of limitless holiness. The body would find relief before long; the self felt it to the edges of eternal wakefulness, with the clarity ofomniscience.

There was no Father. Only a Wrath, a Silence. A crushing Justice unalloyed by mercy or love.

Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?

Forsaken. God torn asunder from God. A mystery to give centuries’ worth of theologians indigestion. A gash the opposite color of logic. A scar – a new scar – on the hands and feet and ribcage of Eternity Spoken.

Surely he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed. – Isaiah 53:4-5

Joseph's piece is based on the Word "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

Image: “The Crucifixion,” by Leon Bonnat

Holy Week: I Thirst

From Ashley Buenger: "I Thirst"

For this year's Holy Week, we've had Soma artists create meditations based on Jesus' "Seven Last Words" - seven statements the Bible records Jesus saying during his crucifixion.

A man and his son walk up the mountain.

The son bears a bundle of sticks on his back. His father carries a lit torch.

When they reach the right spot, they stop. The man plants his torch in the ground and the boy removes the bundle from his back.

The man arranges the bundle and then speaks to his son.

“Turn around. I am going to bind your wrists.”

The boy obeys.

“Sit down. I’m going to bind your ankles.”

The boy obeys.

The man picks up his son with great difficulty, since he is a man of many years. Trembling, he places his son on the bundle of sticks.

He kneels next to his son and bows his head.

Then he unsheathes his knife. He raises it up above his son. The boy does not flinch.

A great light shines, and a loud voice says, “Abraham! Abraham!”

Shaking harder, the man, “Here I am.”

“Do not lay a hand on the boy. Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

The man lowers the knife and weeps. His back heaves up and down.

The son is still.

The man stands and cuts the ropes on his son’s ankles and wrists. He lifts him up and embraces him.

“Father?” says the son.

“Yes.”

“I am thirsty, father.”

The man takes a waterskin from his belt and hands it to his son.

###

A woman cowers in the corner of her house. A crimson cord is whipped by the wind outside her window.

The spies had told her to tie it up to mark her house. They had also told her not to be afraid.

But she is afraid.

Outside her door: screams, crashes, wails of despair.

Her city is being destroyed. But that’s not what is scaring her.

She is afraid that she won’t be accepted by them — the people taking her city, the people who worship the mysterious God who made the Egyptian gods seem weak as so many pebbles.

She covers her head and prays.

She doesn’t know if she is doing it correctly, but she doesn’t care.

“I am a prostitute in this city,” she begins to say to God. He must know the truth. She hopes he accepts her anyway.

Two men rush through her door in the middle of her prayer.

“Rahab! We have to go now.”

They lead her and her family safely out of the city. They try not to look too hard around them. Destruction is everywhere.

Once they are safely outside the walls, the woman grabs the arm of one of her rescuers.

“Your God,” she says, “I want to understand him. Tell me how.”

“You will,” he says. “He was the one to rescue you. You may live among my people, and you will learn about God.”

His eyes are bright, and she sees that this man knows God well.

Rahab turns and watches her city collapse. She does not feel remorse or sadness.

She feels relief. She is no longer Rahab the prostitute.

Her new life with these people will be different. She looks at her rescuer. He is taking a drink of water from a sheepskin bag.

“Are you thirsty?” he says when he notices her watching him.

“Yes.”

She takes a long drink.

###

A man wipes the blood off his sword. He counts the bodies around him. Probably close to a hundred.

He silently thanks God for the victory.

He has had many victories. He is a man of war.

It’s not a life that he would have chosen, and the brutality of it still surprises him.

He had such a peaceful life as a shepherd. He thinks longingly of lying on the lush hills, staring at the sky.

He sheathes his sword.

He is a man of obedience, and the God he loves calls him to battle. It is in the name of God that he fights. That he wins. But he would choose the life of a shepherd if he could. He would dance and sing and write poetry, only responsible for his sheep, not for the thousands of men in his army.

He longs for a drink of water from the well near his hometown of Bethlehem. But his enemies have captured the city, so it’s impossible.

The man looks down at his calloused hands. He is thankful.

He gets on his knees and raises his hands up to the heavens. He cries loudly, a cry that turns to a song that turns to tears falling down his face.

His soldiers begin to gather and look at their king. Some of them join him in his song.

Once the song is over, many of the men leave. Three remain with him.

He says aloud, “I am so thirsty, I wish I had a drink from the well of the gate near Bethlehem.”

Then he falls asleep.

The three men fasten their swords. They turn toward Bethlehem, David’s hometown.

Their king is thirsty. They will bring him a drink.

###

A woman groans. Her face contorts as the waves of pain wash in and out.

The man with her gently rubs her back. He is trying to hide the fear on his face.

They are surrounded by animals. They watch the scene with empty eyes.

The woman yells. The man rubs her back faster. Whispers to her.

“It’s close now. The baby is close now,” he says, even though he has no idea if what he is saying is actually true.

Her eyes meet his, looking for reassurance. The man smiles and nods.

The woman yells again and closes her eyes against the pain.

She is sitting on straw with her knees drawn up near her elbows. The man comes around her to watch for the baby.

“I can see his head,” the man says. The woman doesn’t seem to hear him; she groans again.

“Now I can see his shoulders, keep pushing.”

A final cry, and the man catches the baby in his arms.

The baby cries.

The man trembles while slowly counting the baby’s fingers and toes. All twenty. He smiles.

The woman holds out her arms for the baby. The man gives the baby to her.

“Jesus.” The woman says to the baby. “That is your name.”

She nuzzles her face close to the baby’s.

The man gets up and retrieves a small satchel.

“Mary, are you thirsty?” he says.

She doesn’t hear him.

###

A man looks up at the sky as if he looking for rain. The sky is a sickly wash of gray and green, much like a storm is coming.

The people standing around the man look up at the sky when he does, following his line of sight.

They are waiting. Time is moving slowly.

The cross on which the man hangs creaks under his weight. His head droops forward.

They are waiting for death, not rain.

It’s a matter of minutes now.

The man on the cross looks down at the woman near his feet.

She is his mother, and she has not moved since he was first hung. He already made arrangements to ensure she will be cared for. Because even in death, this man is thinking of others before himself.

He is ready to die.

He knew that he would.

He knew that this would be the way that it would happen.

He looks at the sky again. Everyone around him looks at the sky too.

The man on the cross is not expecting angels. He is not expecting earthquakes. He is expecting peace.

“I thirst.” He says to the guards nearby.

One of them puts vinegar water on a sponge and raises it to the dying man’s cracked lips.

Image: "Crucifixion" by Ang Kiukok

Holy Week: Behold Your Son

From Deb Dunlevy: "Behold Your Son"

For this year's Holy Week, we've had Soma artists create meditations based on Jesus' "Seven Last Words" - seven statements the Bible records Jesus saying during his crucifixion.

God the Son was alone.

Suspended in suffering. Overpowered by pain. In a haze of blood and suffocation and thirst, his agony was only his. No one to ease it. No one to share it. No one to help him bear it.

Into an eternity of perfect, joyful unity with his Father and his powerful Spirit had come this hour of piercing isolation.  

Cut off. Abandoned. Left by his own Father to die.

The one Person who could have stopped it turned away and left behind only the helpless.

--

She stood alone in the crowd.

Watching her heart, the son of her body, out of reach. Feeling his pain in her bones but powerless, as she had always been powerless, to do anything to stop it. Unable to bear it for him, unable to share it, unable even truly to understand.

He had lived inside her once, a pale imitation of the oneness he shared with his Father, but a oneness just the same. She had knit the web of his earliest memories. In years since, that connection had weakened, but now … now it was severed.

Cut off. Abandoned. Left by her own son to live a mother’s worst nightmare.

--

Then, somehow, impossibly, he looked down through the veil of his desolation and suffering, and he saw. His mother.

In that moment, when his own loss should have blinded him to anything else, his eyes fixed on her. In that moment, when any man would have thought only of his own pain, he proved that he was God: he thought of hers.

“Woman,” he said, “behold your son.”

--

He had come alone.

Standing among the women, cloaked in his shame, reliving the moment when he'd panicked and fled. And now, oh even now that he had steeled himself to return, he watched his master gasping for breath, crying in agony, and John shuddered with fear that he might share such a fate.

Weak. Cowardly. Faithless.

Still, he watched. This teacher who had taken him out of his boat and unlocked the mysteries of the ages. This prophet who had denied him the promise of powerful position but had poured out a new kind of love instead. This God whose glory had shone out on a mountaintop. Even in that moment, he had not seemed so far away as now.

Cut off by his own unworthiness. Abandoned by the rest of his friends. Left with only the weakest offering of devotion: bearing witness.

--

The disciple that he loved, his true friend. The best gift that he could give her.

“Behold your mother,” he told him.

The ultimate act of forgiveness. No matter that you ran away with the rest, I will entrust you with my most precious responsibility.

Now neither of them would be alone. They would have someone to lean on, to weep with, to care for. They would have someone who needed them to be strong, and so they would be stronger.

He was taking their sin and their suffering and their pain and their death, and now he took their isolation, too.

The Son of God died alone, so those he loved would not.

And the earth trembled.

“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” - Isaiah‬ 53:5‬, NIV‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

Deb's piece is based on the Word "Woman, behold your son ... Behold your mother."

Image: Hendrick Ter Brugghen, "Crucifixion with the Virgin and St. John"

Holy Week: Paradise

By David McKissic, aka Davey ASAPH: "Paradise"

For this year's Holy Week, we've had Soma artists create meditations based on Jesus' "Seven Last Words" - seven statements the Bible records Jesus saying during his crucifixion.

To be fully known yet fully loved and accepted is what the human heart desires above almost everything. When Christ declared, “Today you will be with me in paradise,” it was comfort for the worst sinner that trusted Christ that rang out through the universe and for eternity. The thief that hung on the cross – a bloody, guilty mess - looked our suffering savior in the eyes and bet his eternity on the sinless man. If that man was actually God, he’d know everything the thief had ever done. Every part of him: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Yet Christ desired him.

So I wrote “Paradise” in the reality that Christ laid his life down for the worst, most undeserving sinner that would turn to him and trust him.

If that idea of “the worst, most undeserving” makes you start thinking out names … Stop and look inward. We are the worst, most undeserving sinners we know. This should produce praise, worship, gratitude, obedience, and humility.

I wrote this from the perspective of the thief, who is now our brother in the faith. But it’s also from my own perspective, because I got lost in the narrative of Luke 23:39-43 and the overflow of grace and love that was offered from our King to the thief. He was a thief, used to taking and not paying; yet the savior was hanging there paying for his life. I felt his perspective was so unique and deserved communicating, as we all can relate to it.

Lastly, one line sums up the song for me. It is “I’m the prince of thieves loved by the King of kings.” We should all weep singing those lines! I hope you enjoy it and reflect on the grace that Christ gave and gives for the worst parts of you! 

David's piece is based on the Word "Today, you will be with me in Paradise."

Image: Titian, "Christ and the Good Thief"

Holy Week: View of the Point

By Em Bricker: "View of the Point."

For this year's Holy Week, we've had Soma artists create meditations based on Jesus' "Seven Last Words" - seven statements the Bible records Jesus saying during his crucifixion.

Is it our view of the point
or the point of view that matters?
in our best attempts at good
we shred the world in tatters
cuz’ no matter if we’re orphans,
saints, liars or ISIS
the human eye can’t perceive
the vast extent of our vices.
the damage ain’t done,
it’s doing, doing,
spewing consequences far
outside of our viewing
but in hindsight we point the finger away
say “they were to blame!”
like we aren’t capable of the same thing

we’re doin’ the right thing

we’re doin’ the right thing

we’re doin’ the right thing, they said
as they thrust the crown of thorns
on God’s head.
navel-gazin’ eyes raised just high
enough to see him
on a chopped-up-tree-turned-crucifix
turned God’s new paradigm of freedom
while these pride-drunk soldiers
lickin’ soul-wounds
exposed the heart of humankind,
a portrait of depravity
‘neath the shadow of the divine
innocent convict hung high
on the brink of extinction
breathin’ deep of the lingerin’
vinegar concoction he’d been drinkin’
then the phrase that grazed his lips
revealed the sole omniscient point of view:

Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.

they know not what they do

they know not what they do

the King of the Jews,
mutilated and scorned
adorned with whip-slashes
and deep gashes they’d torn,
fresh wounds bore the story
of rebellion and disease
affliction and wrath,
poured out to appease
not from without
but deep from within
for the climax of creation
now soiled with sin
and in this dark hour,
our redemption in mind,
a cry reached the heavens
from the man who would die
for us
who would buy
salvation,
make propitiation
for us.

then as God Almighty
turned his face
forsaking the Christ
for us to embrace
he answered the prayer
and extended his grace
forgiveness is ours,
come see and taste.

Em's piece is based on the Word "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

Image: Caravaggio, "The Crowning with Thorns"

"Better Than:" The Spirit of Fasting

If, like me, you didn’t grow up marking Lent, the whole practice of fasting may seem strange to you. I want to love God more, so, I don’t eat? Or maybe I do that juice cleanse I’ve been thinking about, because hey why not? It was kind of a New Year’s resolution and I bombed it in January, so I can try it now.

A few years ago, I came across a psalm that transformed my understanding of what fasting is supposed to accomplish.

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.
So I will bless you as long as I live;
in your name I will lift up my hands.
My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
when I remember you upon my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
for you have been my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.
My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me. (Psalm 63:1-8)

David wrote this psalm “in the wilderness of Judah” – during one of the times he was on the run for his life. The “wilderness diet,” so to speak, would have been pretty lean: scarce water, scrubby plants, no fruit, maybe the occasional lean and gamey deer if you’re lucky. David is likely spending his days with the hollow feeling of not having enough to eat.

That makes the visceral imagery he uses to describe his longing for God all the more powerful. Instead of asking for a no-longer-dry tongue, “my soul thirsts for you.” Instead of asking for a full belly, “My soul will be satisfied [in you] as with fat and rich food.” He’s letting his hunger turn his heart to long for God more.

The emotional crescendo is verse 4:

Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.

That’s where the light came on. The spirit of fasting – what we’re supposed to understand when we give things up for God – is captured in the phrase “better than.” God’s love is better than life. God’s spirit is better than a spring of water. The memory of God is better than a steak dinner.

Fasting is giving up a good thing to remind ourselves that God is better than that. It’s temporarily depriving ourselves, not to practice self-control or feel like dirt, but to try to direct that longing to the ultimate good. As Augustine said, “Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.”

That means that instead of just depriving ourselves, fasting accomplishes its fullest purpose when we replace that lack with something of God. We replace a meal with time meditating on the Bible. We spend time in prayer instead of with Netflix. We practice silence and solitude one evening instead of time with friends.

The good things in life are good; but God is better. If you’ve never practiced fasting before, consider these questions:

1. What is one “good thing” in my life that I think I need more than I do? (that I’m afraid to give up for a time)

2. How can I let go of that thing and “replace” it with God, to remind myself that God is better than that?

Image: "St. Jerome," by Leonello Spalla

Glory and Dust: Why We Observe Lent

Lent is a season of preparation and repentance prior to Easter Sunday. In the ancient Church, new Christians were only baptized on Easter Sunday; just as Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness before he began his public ministry (Matthew 4), so those about to make the public step of baptism were asked to fast and prepare their hearts for a life of trusting in and living for Jesus rather than themselves.

Even though we baptize more often than that, we see value in taking a special season to focus on two deep truths of the Christian life:

1. We make way too much of transitory things

The most public practice of Lent is fasting, which is giving up a transitory good to drink deeper of an eternal one.

Because we live in the most materially prosperous society that has ever, ever existed, we're generally out of the habit of telling ourselves "no." We get so absorbed with the things around us - 3+ meals a day, a social media feed, another new pair of shoes - that instead of enjoying them to God's glory, we crave them and think more about them than about God.

Fasting is letting go of one of those goods and giving that time, attention, or emotional energy to God for a season. "Feasting" on God through prayer rather than a sandwich for your lunch break. Reading the Bible when you would normally read a news feed. Memorizing Scripture in the time you'd normally watch Netflix.

Fasting isn't about the giving-up as much as it's about the filling: reminding ourselves that God is even more satisfying than those good things.

We'd invite you to consider some good thing you may be holding to a little too tightly, that you'd benefit from letting go of for this season.

2. We are mortals whose only hope is an immortal God

We begin Lent with Ash Wednesday (join us for services!), which commemorates the fact that, as God says to Adam, "You are dust, and to dust you shall return." Our culture worships youth to the point of neurosis, but we die, and the Bible tells us that wisdom requires owning that we die. Our life on Earth has an ultimate limit: our existence is bounded.

In Lent, we pay attention to that reality because we should always be looking at life through the lens of mortality. We should ask ourselves, "Is this preparing me to die well? Is this worth hours that I'll never get back? Is this making me more or less ready to meet God as the judge of all creation?"

That would discolor everything we experience in life, were it not for the fact that death is an end, but isn't the end. Instead of diminishing our life now, reflecting on mortality reminds us that the better life isn't on this side of eternity, but on the other one. The happiness there is richer than the happiness here; the virtues there trump the virtues here.

And that future is certain for anyone whose hope is in Jesus. Lent is a 40-day reminder that we're living for a better world than this one.

Jesus' resurrection - the victory over death we mark on Easter Sunday - is the sealed promise that we have hope of a life to come. Lent prepares us to see Easter with all the glory it deserves.

Talking It Out: Mike Lockett and Ryan Lambert on learning to discuss race and culture

At our All-Congregational Gathering in January, Ryan Lambert and Mike Lockett shared about how they began having intentional conversations about race - initially in the context of their missional community, and then on into a growing friendship. We thought their story was so powerful that we wanted to share it, along with some followup words from Mike, with our congregation:

Ryan

Just about seven months ago, in July of 2016, police killings of African American men in Louisiana and Minnesota made national news. Subsequently, a peaceful protest in Dallas became violent, leading to the deadliest single incident for law enforcement officers is the U.S. since 9/11.

Here at Soma, these events led our leadership to hit the pause button on a Sunday message to address these issues lament the loss of life and to consider our response as Christians in our community, our neighborhood and our own church family.

I walked out that day feeling burdened, without a clear understanding of how I could become engaged and involved in these issues and what an appropriate response looked like. I wanted to say something that day to my friend Mike, but I didn’t know what to say, how to say it or if I was even allowed to say anything for fear of offending him, appearing trite, or disingenuously forced into it by the emotion of what we had just heard. So I couldn’t bring myself to say anything of substance and left.

A few days later, Mike sent an email.

Mike

After the two police shootings of unarmed black men happened in July, and soon after the police shootings Dallas, I was very burdened and grieved the days following. As a black man living in this country, not only was I saddened by the shootings that took place, but also by the divide that I was beginning to notice within the body of Christ between whites and blacks (and other minorities). After processing these events for a few days, I decided to send an email to everyone in my Missional Community. My goal in sending this email was to share my heart surrounding those recent events, my experiences as a black man in this country, and how those events affected me personally. My goal was to open up dialogue within our group, and to let them know that I was willing to dialogue further within anyone who was interested in stepping into the conversation.

After sending the email, I quickly received a lot of positive feedback from members of my MC, thanking me for opening up and sharing my heart. One of those emails was from Ryan Lambert. He told me that he very much appreciated me opening up to the group and for sharing my personal experiences. He said that he would love to get together for coffee or a meal, and have a time where we could dialogue more and share our experiences surrounding race. About a week later we did just that. We met up for dinner and had a chance to have a deeper dialogue, ask questions, and share our stories regarding race.

Ryan

Two guys from a Soma MC having dinner at Twenty Tap doesn’t really seem like much of note, but I was definitely apprehensive. On one hand I was excited to have the opportunity for this type of conversation but on the other hand, this was something brand new to me.

I think to fully understand this story, some context is appropriate. When we started the night, one of the first questions I asked Mike when we sat down was, ‘as an African American, when you were growing up, or even now, what areas around Indy were you taught to avoid?’ The reason I asked this question was because I was confident that I already knew the answer. I knew my hometown, the place I was born and raised, was going to be on his list. In fact, it was one of the first places out of his mouth. I grew up in Morgan County, on the southwest side of the city; and for those who lack education in historical Central Indiana race relations, I’ll simply say that Morgan County has a race reputation and history, and I mean that in the least positive way possible. To say the least, entering in to this type of conversation wasn’t something I had done or felt like I had the opportunity to do before.

By the end of the night, I was so appreciative of Mike’s openness to my history, and to sharing his own personal experiences, concerns and fears. He basically gave me a green light to ask questions and to try to better understand a community that I had never really had to intersect with in my life. On the other hand, he had the go ahead to challenge me when he thought I was off base on a topic or needed to see another perspective, which fortunately, he was willing and comfortable to do.

Mike

Leading up to meeting Ryan for dinner, I was excited but also a little nervous. This would be the first time that I was having an intentional conversation pressing into the topic of race with someone from within the church (outside of a few conversations here and there). God would quickly show that he would bear much fruit from this time together. Overall, it was a great time of learning from one another. Ryan asked lots of intentional questions wanting to know my experiences as black man, both in society and in the church. He also shared with me his experiences growing up in his hometown, and how these experiences shaped much of his view of race. I made a point to let Ryan know that he could be open to ask any questions that were on his mind, and that he shouldn’t hold back from fear of offending me. My hope is that this freed him up to ask questions and learn new things that he might not have had the opportunity to know in prior experiences. Looking back on that time, one of the biggest blessings from the meeting was simply having a brother from a completely different racial context pressing into this issue, and showing care and concern. Ending that meeting, we made a commitment to not let the talks end that night, and to continue dialoguing in the coming weeks and months.

Ryan

From our initial conversation until now, one of the biggest things I’ve gleaned from this relationship is the opportunity to view things from a new reference point, which has led to the ability to see or hear things through a different perspective. Today, instead of taking news stories or clips and thinking about my own point of view and how it impacts me and my family directly, I think about Mike, his family and how the impact of that very same thing may look different in his life or the lives of others in the black community.

Mike

In the weeks and months following that initial meeting with Ryan, God continued working in our own lives and in the lives of others in the church. Ryan and I were able to meet up a number of times in those following months, and have continued a dialogue on racial reconciliation. We began to ask the question of what it would look like for our church to truly begin pursuing racial reconciliation with one another. This dialogue has also sparked conversations with others in church, and it has been encouraging to see what God is starting to do in within our body.

Ryan

Within these expanded conversations, God has opened my eyes to experiences I never realized I didn’t have in my life.  After a race conversation with Mike and some other guys from Soma a few weeks ago, it got me thinking about a couple months back when my family went to the Lockett’s home for dinner. It was so within the normal of our lives and friendship that it didn’t dawn on me until that later point, that in 38 years, I had never been invited to, or had dinner in, the home of an African-American family.  That fact, as surprising as it was to me, made me think about the rest of our Soma family. I wondered how many others might be able to say the same or similar things and how this story could be used as a way for them to take a step into a new experience.

Mike

I have also been able to meet up consistently with two other brothers in the church in Max Goldenberg (who initiated these meetings) and Jingo de la Rosa. These meetings have focused on talking about our experiences surrounding race, and ways that we can press into this topic as well as encourage others to do the same. These ‘meetups’ (as we like to call them) with those brothers have sparked conversations with others that have joined us in those meetings. Others who have been able to join these meetings have been Pastor Phil Edwards, James Pascascio, and James Armstrong, who have all offered their wisdom and encouragements on how we can continue to press into this topic as a church. It is clear that God is moving within our body, and I am looking forward to seeing all that He does in the months and years to come.

I would like to leave those reading this with two encouragements. The first would be to not let fear or discouragement prevent you from entering into this conversation with others. I believe that God desires His church to pursue deeper relationship within community, and entering into this conversation is a major, if not vital, part of this. My second encouragement would be to stay committed to this for the long haul. It will not take only one or two conversations to then move on from it. Instead, what is needed is lasting commitment from those of all ethnic backgrounds to continue to press in and seek true unity. As we continue to be intentional in pursuing racial reconciliation as a church, I am confident that God will use our church to impact our city in helping to bring restoration and unity among all people groups.

Image: Norman Rockwell, "Moving In"

Our Priority for 2017

Yesterday, we celebrated our third All-Congregational Gathering at Broad Ripple High School. It was a fantastic time of worshiping God and celebrating what we've seen at Soma. We also shared the elders' vision for a ministry priority for 2017; the one way we'd like to focus our attention as church leaders this year.

If you didn't get a Priority Card yesterday (don't worry, they'll be at your congregation's Connect Table this Sunday!), the text is below. We're excited to be working with you all in this coming year!

We are deeply grateful for the work God has done in and through the Soma community over the last several years. In light of where we are and where we feel God leading us as a church, we want to focus our vision on one key priority for 2017, with five strategic goals growing out of that priority.

Elder Priority

 

Increase Ownership of Soma’s Vision: We want to see even more of our people “live like an owner” - embrace, articulate, and embody our vision to see the gospel change everything in the places and the people to which God has called them.

Strategic Goals

Specifically, we plan to increase ownership by...

  • Simplifying our language, systems, and expectations
  • Launching Soma Northwest in the fall of 2017
  • Practicing authentic racial reconciliation through hospitality
  • Equipping people to better care for one another in community
  • Casting vision for a new citywide student ministry