Strength by Andrew Fairfield

Dear friends,

There are times I feel just miserably weak. Whole days will go by and things aren’t right in my head and heart -- it seems to creep up on me, unnoticed, until 1 of 2 things happens: Either I do or say something I shouldn’t, making things worse but at least helping me to be aware of what’s going on; or some alarm bell goes off, some act of God’s grace, allowing me to become aware without having to do any harm first.

I’m trying to teach myself that no matter how I figured out that something’s wrong, my response needs to be the same. Whether I did a dumb thing or whether I just heard the right song, read the right scripture, saw the right bird, or took the right moment to pause and realize that I’m not doing well -- either way, I need to lean harder on prayer as I try to find a way forward.

Of course, if I did do something bad (or failed to do something I should) I need to make it right and ask forgiveness. That’s what I’m used to thinking and worrying about. But that alone isn’t enough - that alone doesn’t get us where we need to be.

This week’s psalm, number 138, says “On the day I called, you answered me, you increased my strength of soul.” It can be hard to recognize that we need help, that our souls need strength even when nothing particularly terrible is going on in our lives -- and it can be doubly hard to recognize that we deserve help when terrible things are in our lives. We need regular reminders that “the Lord is high, but regards the lowly.”

God’s love for us is steadfast, certain. On the days we call out, if we can allow ourselves to relax a bit and feel that love we will be strengthened. And I find it to be a whole lot easier if I do it early, before things have gotten too bent out of shape.

May God’s strength be our strength the same moment we realize something is wrong, and may that realization come early rather than late.

Grace and peace,

God's Light in a Dixie Cup by Andrew Fairfield

Dear friends,

You know, given how wonderful the world is and how good most of us have it, it’s surprisingly popular to say that in the end our lives are basically meaningless (or even worthless!) You hear it especially in the jokes people make, and I guess people find some bitter comfort in saying “vanity, vanity; all is vanity” (as is written in the book of Ecclesiastes.) If nothing means anything, why, that really takes the pressure off!

In this week’s passage from 2 Corinthians, Paul indulges in a little bit of this kind of thinking. He sees pretty plainly that humans are flawed and temporary things; he compares himself (and us) to clay jars, the cheap, disposable equivalent of our modern-day paper cups. Even the bodies of the saints are little more than earth, pressed into shape for a time.

But! Although we may be easily cracked, although we will break down and return to the mud in time, the water of life that we carry inside us is eternal, neither coming from us nor dying with us but flowing from place to place, bringing life to the world. From out of our cheap paper cups shines the light of God, a goodness we cannot claim as our own property. This is what it means to proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord!

So if you sometimes feel like sipping black coffee and smiling bitterly about the absurdity of it all, that’s OK. Paul is right there with you. But never forget the love we carry, the water in our paper cups, that fills our short little existences with light and life, with joy and overabundance for ourselves and others, with meaning and hope far beyond the small silliness of our own understanding. Maybe we don’t feel that love or see that light every moment of every day, but we know it’s there, above, beneath, and behind all things.

May God’s light be seen by us and in us, even (or especially) when we are feeling a bit low.

Grace and peace,

Owning Our Anxiety by Andrew Fairfield

Dear friends,

For some inexplicable reason, I have childbirth on my mind a lot these days. Don’t know why that would be… but in any case, I find myself caught up in a fearsome sense of anticipation, anxiety, appreciation -- just a total jumble of emotions that accompanies looking forward to a new and radically changed future.

The epistle reading from this week’s lectionary, Romans 8:22-27, says that actually this mix of feelings is perfectly normal! The whole world is groaning in labor pains, says Paul, and so if you find yourself stuck between hope and pain, trepidation and anticipation, then that’s just because you have your eyes open!

Most people, especially ancient people, believed that the world never really changes. “There’s nothing new under the sun,” “the more things change the more they stay the same.” There’s definitely some truth to these adages -- but this scripture passage reminds us to expect real, radical change. And furthermore, we shouldn’t expect it to be a painless process: Although we trust in God and place our hope in the belief that the coming Kingdom will be a beautiful place, the fact that radical changes are coming explains a lot of the pain and chaos we see surrounding us now.

So of course the world’s a madhouse -- it’s a delivery room! When you look at it this way, a little bit of anxiety is perfectly proper, it doesn’t mean our faith is weak. But we can’t let it rule us, and we can’t let it drown out our joy in, and anticipation of, the things to come. May God give us fortitude and patience to see it through!

God’s peace be with you,

String Theory by Andrew Fairfield

Dear friends,

Sometimes we really need a little simplicity. Life is so terribly complicated, it can feel like we struggle every day with too much information, too many decisions. It can be a wonderful, even healing, thing to rest our minds on a little simplicity, a straightforward path that we can trust to guide us rightly.

That simple path is exactly what we find in the poetry of this week’s reading from the letter of 1 John. It asserts in the plainest terms that those who truly believe that Jesus is the Messiah are the children of God; that God’s children will obey Christ’s commandment to love, and that those who obey, who are born of God, will conquer the world. Belief → obedience → victory -- a nice simple string, a straightforward path.

What does that string of assertions have to do with physics and "string theory" which I alluded to in the subject line? Nothing, really, except this: String theory is the ongoing attempt to unify and explain what we know about modern physics, and that search continues because of an underlying belief in simplicity -- a belief that underneath all the confusing data and books of numbers and equations, there is a reality that is relatively simple and actually quite straightforward if we could just get to the right understanding.

The New Testament doesn’t do us much good when it comes to finding a simple solution to modern physics. But it does assert, again and again, that when it comes to finding a simple solution to modern life all you have to do is trust in the Way of Christ, allow yourself to be filled with self-sacrificial love, and everything else will follow. Easier said than done, to be sure, but it’s wonderfully comforting to have that simplicity to lean on.

May each of us love as Christ would have us love, our belief leading to obedience, our obedience leading to victory-- a world at peace, simplicity itself.

God’s grace be with you,

Dealing with the Fear by Andrew Fairfield

Dear friends,

It’s always more than a little disconcerting when, in the middle of a bright sunny day, I feel fear creep into my heart. What do I have to be afraid of? Surely I live in one of the most safe and protected environments in the history of humankind! And yet I still get these pangs of real fear -- sometimes directly connected to some worry or another, for my family, my community, myself, for the world at large -- but sometimes the fear comes unattached to any particular worry, a general anxiety that drifts like a cloud over my chest.

We’ve all seen the terrible destruction that fear can create when it takes root in the heart. It can drive people, as individuals and as whole civilizations, to pull away from friends and neighbors and to have no mercy with enemies. People do the most horrible things when they are afraid, as though there is no evil that can’t be justified by sufficient fear.

And that’s why when I feel that disconcerting pang in my heart, I need to lean on the truth spoken in this week’s passage from 1 John: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” I know that my love is not perfect because I still feel the fear -- but I also know that my Savior is still with me, still working on me, still giving me moments where my heart is so full of love that there’s no room for any darkness at all.

Just one of those love-filled moments can sustain me through an eternity of anxiety and can allow my worries to become healthy acts of prudence rather than unhealthy sources of harmful behavior. May those moments be frequent for all of us this week, an antidote to all our pain and a reminder to keep God's perspective in mind as we confront the ups and downs of life.

Joy and peace be yours,