OUT OF THE ASHES
When you lose someone close to you, you think about death in a way or a frequency you wouldn’t otherwise. And if you stay there, it kind of freaks you out and you wish you could just get back to life and not think about it. But then you start thinking about what you’re going to do with your life, and what your life’s work will be, and how much of it you’ll get done before you die. And there it is: you can’t escape thinking about it. It’s as if we are all Tolkien’s character Niggle, hoping we get our painting done before it’s time to go on our journey, but mostly spending our time thinking on other matters.
Except now we really are thinking about death and time and what we should do with our lives and there has to be an answer. If the end for us all is at best to lay withered in bed, and we have a God who has set us free and is restoring all things—why the wait? Why do I maybe have fifty years and then I’ll just slip away like Grandpa did?
You throw that question out there like a boomerang into time and space, into all the great stories and it seems the only answer that comes flying back at you is this: our work as restoration begins now. Beyond anything we could have imagined, God is keeping us here so we can join him in working to restore all things. And you know that answer has to be true because you sent the question flying into the heart of reality and it came right back to you as simply as you sent it away.
Maybe we realize that we have been set free but we haven’t budged beyond the ashes of our own dysfunction, or brokenness. Take note of the beauty of the story so far though: we sit there covered in ashes, our former life’s work smoldering, our identities falling apart, and it’s right there out of the ashes we are forgiven, set free to rise to a new life, a new heartbeat.
A heartbeat can be defined as “the vital center or driving impulse,” and perhaps you could say that everything we do has a driving impulse. And if you’re talking about a life’s work, you might as well get your thinking clear on what that is—or what it should be—from the beginning.
On the front end of creating LIBERATUS, there were and are all kinds of driving impulses, or different thoughts building to create a brand around this idea that we have been set free and we need to think of liberty as the creative pursuit of truth and beauty because it would change everything. Finding one word was an adventure in itself—but what about a symbol?
Saying we’re going to speak a story of truth and beauty into American politics and culture kind of assumes that’s not the story we’re living as a nation. But it also assumes there is a deeper reality of Truth and Beauty we haven't yet discovered. It assumes we can both talk as free and live as free. Working in politics—or observing it—could be and should be as alive as an ocean wave crashing over you, as inspiring as an Olympic champion, enduring to the end through impossible odds, receiving the olive wreath for a crown, and as awesome as a torch in the darkness shouting out “there is hope, and life and adventure to be had”.
The phoenix—as we have presented it—rises out of its own ashes, to new life, a symbol of rebirth. Its wings, stronger than ocean waves, spread out as if on fire, shake off what is dead. It carries with it olive leaves. We have endured. The war is over. Now it is time to live in the peace and freedom and adventure of a new heartbeat, a new life.
“If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.”
The parallels begin, and grow stronger. Do a quick Google search on the phoenix and you find rumors that it was used by the early church as a symbol of Christ himself. And then in reading Waking the Dead I find that all the early church wanted to talk about was the resurrection, and the cross didn’t even become a symbol in use until four hundred years later. The idea of new life was the point.
And the parallels continue, from running the race with endurance and receiving an imperishable prize, to putting off the old and putting on Christ, light shining in darkness, and of course as mentioned the idea that we are forgiven in the middle of our despair, in our ashes – and out of them, out of death – we are called to live again. We don’t earn the prize by rising first.
So what does all of this have to do with the workings of American politics?
“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.”
The phoenix rises, carrying not just the olive leaves of an Olympic champion's crown, but perhaps leaves from the tree of life, declaring liberty and life and healing for the nations. This verse from Revelation can only mean the nations are in deep need of healing. Which can only mean this creative pursuit of truth and beauty is only the beginning of this new heartbeat, crying out for restoration, and a new Kingdom. For any working in the political process who follow Jesus, this changes everything.
When Niggle made his journey, he found the tree and the landscape he had dabbled with painting were real—an actual landscape and an actual tree with all of the intricately crafted leaves as he had imagined. We are called out of the ashes to connect our work today with the life that's coming.
We need work cultures of creativity, communication that’s beautiful, and lifestyles that include rest and fitness and health because all of our days now are a work to bring healing to our nation, and looking beyond our borders to bring healing to other nations. We’ve been called up into a grand adventure, and there’s no going back now.
The phoenix rises out of the ashes, its heart beating wildly—caught up in the air, a picture of the ascension.
“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”
We know how the story ends. And the story’s end will begin a new story, one that in our work we can begin writing today, our hearts beating, our arms outstretched to heal, our voices rising in a unified anthem, LIBERATUS—we are set free!