Making Room for Glory

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I keep thinking that the container matters when it comes to God’s glory. But it doesn’t.

A poor, unwed Jewish girl was not a container that would have been chosen for glory. And yet she was.
A place for animals would not have been a container chosen for the birth of the Glory One, and yet it was.
The body of a baby would not have been the container to display the power and glory of the Almighty God, and yet it was.

Then Jesus comes as a baby and we breathe, Glory.
Then Jesus is born with animals and we sing, Glory.
Then Jesus walks among ordinary people, healing and teaching and we are in the presence of Glory.

Jesus is the glory of God displayed on earth as it is in heaven, and somehow, now, I keep missing the point. I want God’s glory. But I keep thinking the container matters.

I recently read Pastor: A Memoir by Eugene Peterson. His words had a way to celebrate the ordinary … bringing together the language of the Almighty God with the daily ordinariness of being human on this earth.

In building their church that started in a basement, there was a season when Peterson’s congregation questioned the architectural design for a new church. To them, it didn’t look like a church. They had expected a porch, white pillars and a steeple—a colonial representation of what church should look like in their minds.

It was then that he told them an old rabbinic story of shekinah glory passed on to him by a friend, the rabbi from a synagogue nearby.

Shekinah is a Hebrew word “that refers to a collective vision that brings together dispersed fragments of divinity. It is usually understood as a light-disseminating presence, bringing an awareness of God to a time and place where God is not expected to be—a place.”

Shekinah Glory is meant to encourage, affirm, or reveal a reality we do not yet have eyes to see.

The story goes like this:

When the Jews were returning from exile in Babylon, they had permission to rebuild the magnificent temple originally built by King Solomon. It had been destroyed by the Babylonians, along with the city of Jerusalem. People felt hopeful—finally the temple that had been the center of their faith and literally the place where God’s presence had rested, would be restored. But when the people returned home, they did not see magnificence. The once glorious temple looked to them like paper shack—nothing like they had hoped. They started weeping.

There was so much loss. Their hearts were broken and their hopes dashed. They could never again have that glorious temple and the glorious presence of God.

Or so they thought.

As they wept, something happened. The glorious, dazzling, Shekinah presence of God descended upon that paper shack of a temple. Glory came and settled in.

It wasn’t about the container. It was about the presence of God, choosing to visit them in their broken-heartedness and their tears. That was the glory.

It’s not about the temple. It’s about the Glory—the magnificent, presence of God, with us and in us.

A temple is stone, bricks and clay—dust—without the presence of God.
Our bodies—also temples—are mere dust, without the presence of God.
Our lives remain one-dimensional, flat, bland and dry without the presence of God.

Sometimes we think we create such magnificent temples—our efforts to manufacture the glory we long for—when, in reality, it is void of the presence of God.

***

When the latest president was elected by the people of the United States in 2016, 81 percent of the people who voted for him were white evangelicals. It felt like the temple—evangelicalism—that had been held up as such a magnificent representation of the glory of God, tasted like dust in my mouth.

I was not unfamiliar with the crumbling of ideas and ideals. It had happened when I was 16, when I realized the church I had been worshipping at Sunday after Sunday was part of creating and perpetuating Apartheid in South Africa. The vision of Jesus and a loving God who loves all the nations did not align with a church that excluded every person of color.

So, when it happened again in 2016, I was deeply grieved, but not surprised. While some other white Christians watched this crumbling, disillusioned with evangelicalism and the heart of the church that was exposed as racist and bigoted, I wasn’t as surprised. I had seen all this before. My friends of color were not surprised at all. They had seen this all before, but now there was evidence. Facts and numbers revealed the racism.

The church that had been seen as this mighty and glorious movement of God, no longer looked so mighty and glorious. To me, it seemed stinky and disappointing. Manufactured and not a container for the true beauty, glory and majesty of God.

Still, there is a remnant.

A remnant of people of faith in North America repentant, horrified, compelled to their knees.
A remnant of people who aren’t surprised to find Jesus among the ordinary, the least of these, the despised and rejected.
A remnant who worships the God of all Creation; not just the God of the healthy and wealthy.

When the Jews who returned to Jerusalem saw the temple–the once majestic temple that was now like a shack in comparison, they wept … What I find so compelling about this vision, is that God met the people in their tears. God met them in their broken-heartedness.

God showed up to their tears.

The Shekinah of God visited and reminded them of the God who dwells in lowly places. The Shekinah presence of God reminded them of a vision of God that is so beautiful, so whole, so encompassing, so vast, that it didn’t need majestic temples to contain it. It didn’t need majestic temples to display it. Godself is majestic. It is the presence of God we need and with the presence comes the glory. The glory is made visible in ordinary temples. Ordinary vessels.

If we try so hard to display the glory of God, we’ve already missed the point.

The glory of God is the GLORY of God.
God is not at our discretion. God is not in our power. God is not at our command.

Success is not evidence of God’s glory.
God’s glory is evidence of God’s glory.

How many of us would have missed Jesus, because he did not look like our vision of God’s glory?

A baby, not a mighty king.
Born to a poor, unwed teenager, not a royal princess.
Born in Bethlehem, not Rome.
Born and laid with the animals, not in a golden, royal crib.

Where are the places we least imagine Glory to show up today? That’s where I want to look.

Where tears are flowing.
Where failure is written.
Where disillusion is weeping.
Where pain is present.
Where regrets and disappointments line the streets.
When we weep for the state of God’s temple on earth, may the glory of God again come visit us in our tears.

May God meet us in the most deserted, divided, disillusioned, fractured and hopeless places. Not because we have perfect containers, but because our hearts are making room: in humility, weeping, repenting, seeking and longing for the presence of God.

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Idelette McVicker
I like soggy cereal and I would like to go to every spot on the map of the earth to meet our world’s women. I dream of a world where no women or girls are for sale. I dream of a world where women and men are partners in doing the work that brings down a new Heaven on earth. My word last year was “roar” and I learned it’s not about my voice rising as much as it is about our collective voices rising in unison to bring down walls of injustice. This year, my own word is “soar.” I have three children and this place–right here, called shelovesmagazine.com–is my fourth baby. I am African, although my skin colour doesn’t tell you that story. I am also a little bit Chinese, because my heart lives there amongst the tall skyscrapers of Taipei and the mountains of Chiufen. Give me sweet chai and I think I’m in heaven. I live in Vancouver, Canada and I pledged my heart to Scott 11 years ago. I believe in kindness and calling out the song in each other’s hearts. I also believe that Love covers–my gaps, my mistakes and the distances between us. I blog at idelette.com and tweet @idelette.
Idelette McVicker

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