Monday, October 29, 2018

For my US American Friends: Reflections from November 2016

I wrote the following on Election Day, 2016.

Glad to exercise my right to vote today. I love my country. However, having lived for a time in others, I have seen the resulting agonies of civic collapse. I write this with the prayer that when the dust of this election settles, my US friends will seek ways of peace, and leave their vitriol behind. 

Very dignified, kind and beautiful people and cultures, in nations around the world, have known times of murderous civil unrest, no access to food, fear of neighbor and government. No matter one's views on "American Exceptionalism," a look across the pages of our own history should shock us back into the humbling truth that we US Americans are not immune to these potential horrific realities.

As I read those saying: "I can't wait for this election to be over," I get it. But there is also an underlying implication that we are exempt from the suffering which our fomented hatred and divisive rhetoric can levy.

There is a limit to the amount of pressure a society can take from the raging, hateful, selfish banter rehearsed day after day on our media outlets--especially social media ones. Are we superior to other cultures who have more recent experiences of societal melt-down? I fear that we are not.

This seems to be our take: "Our nation is divided, and I'm on the right side." Before pushing that point too hard, ask yourself if you love your "enemies," or, if you would prefer to live in a war zone? 

We are not exempt.

And so today, nearly two years later, 
  • How do you choose to live and love? 
  • How much news do you need to watch? 
  • How many talk shows do you need to follow in order to memorize "your" beliefs?
  • How are your preferred civic leaders speaking, tweeting or commenting in peaceful ways?
We have turned a corner away from working together, and our new destination is not a pleasant one.

If any choose to comment here or on Facebook, I ask you to keep it civil, humble and (dare I dream?) hopeful. 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Here, There, Believe--Transitional Realities

I'm not usually a poet. But sometimes the genre can say it best for me.

These thoughts were in my heart as I prayed for a nephew, his wife and family preparing to leave their US home for a very foreign land. Those who have left home behind for long distance obedience will likely understand this best.

Transitional Realities
(From one who loves and believes in you.)
by David Hayes

Box by box, 
one armchair and ironing board at a time,
we say goodbye. 
Parting with life—with our reality—
choosing this mad calling, 
over common reason.

And children go along, for the ride, 
and newness, that you, nor they
can imagine. 

You question your decision every day or so,
but only for a moment… 
Soon tossing another memory in the “give away stack” 
with a smile no one else sees,
or understands.

Horns are honking with a foreign tone,
and mouths are speaking of different things,
and there are people who know nothing of you 
or your loves, 
or your sacrifices,
or your life…

There are children playing other games,
and teachers teaching other histories
and other alphabets,
and there are lunches smelling and tasting like something other  
than you’ve ever imagined,
And all of this happens
so very far, 
far away.

You wonder sometimes if you can cross that distance.
(Sure, you can fly and ride and walk into your new home.)
But can you learn games and histories and alphabets and sounds and smells and tastes? 
Can you cover the distance to them
To them, these whom you love before meeting, 
and to whom you give so much, before seeing?
So you hesitate at the chasm, it hits you again— 
the leaving of your close neighbor!  
your dear friends!  
your precious family!

Somehow they, 
THESE strange ones who have captured your heart,
will become your close neighbor  
Your dear friends 
And your precious family

And thus, you hold to this determined audacity not to apologize for your apparent desertions.

Peace to you, from Peace-Source.

Strength to you, from the Mighty One.

God’s hope abound in you, 
        for he who has begun this good work, will be faithful to complete it.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Possibility of Hospitality

Step Out…
Relationships are difficult.  After some time living in a major city, I’m learning that beginning a conversation can be far more difficult in an urban environment, than in suburban or rural areas.  There is one stunning exception, and I’m still testing the waters.  It is the intimidating path 
                                       of descending 
                                              the social ladder.

The Problem: Relating Our Way Past Walls of Fear

People in cities are more walled-off than others.  There are many reasons.  Where I live part-time here in Chicago--and on my street especially, making eye contact means you will likely receive multiple requests for “spare change” from neighbors. And there is a limit to the amount of spare change one can give away.  Eye-contact means potential invasion into my comforts. Plus, avoiding eye contact is a far quicker way from Point A, to Point B.

Sometimes it’s a matter of language.  
  • There are 39 languages spoken in my neighborhood alone. Thousands of people around me come from another part of the world.
  • At other times it is simply a matter of unclear channels—there is much mental illness in my corner of Chicago. It is on reason for the community of those living the winter in tents under a nearby bridge.  I’ve had several failed conversations, because the one with whom I attempted to speak was simply living in a different reality.

My Dad taught me the importance of eye-contact. But the rules of engagement here are different. Try to make eye contact with those on the street, and they will fear what you are thinking. Or what you are wanting. 

Or, they will ask you for something. 

What do we, who call ourselves by the name of Christ, have to offer them?  

Ice Breaker #1:  Need Looks Eye-to-Eye with Need

Step Up….
If you look closely, you’ll find margins—intimate spaces where a question might be welcomed. For instance, if you need directions while riding a bus or train, you will probably be greeted with kindness and assistance. If you need neighborhood information while sitting in a coffee shop, there is the possibility of hospitality.  

Once a woman with a bad reputation made a scene over Jesus at a dinner party. I love the story as found in Luke 7:36-50.  The “righteous” ones that hosted the dinner resented the intrusion of this woman.  They didn’t see her; they were embarrassed by her.  

“Then he (Jesus) turned toward the woman and said to Simon,
Notice how Jesus’ love is reflected beautifully in verse 44 when he speaks truth to the host.  Notice how he does not look Simon the Pharisee in the eyes as he speaks to him, but instead he looks at the “sinful woman,” and he speaks to Simon:  

“Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”
Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

The woman needed and found grace.  
Jesus needed, and found someone to whom he could 
express His Father’s love and grace.

Need looks eye-to-eye with need.

Is there some love you need to give away?

Ice Breaker #2:  Humility Overcomes Dominance

Step In….
Especially where humanity is compacted into tight spaces, dominance is feared. There is a lack of trust—or at least diminished confidence in those with more power and thus privilege. The lower the economic class (or privilege) of city neighbors, the lower their trust in those who have life easier.  

On my block in Chicago, I have privilege.

People tend to resent those with more….more money, more power, more privilege.  And when we come into the presence of those with less, we quickly devise fears of their every possible advantage; advantages such as 
  • violence, 
  • street savvy, 
  • or mooching off of my tax dollars!

John, a first century follower of Jesus said,  John 4:18 

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, 
because fear has to do with punishment. 
The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

We are called to live beyond fear, and beneath our privilege. The Christian’s privilege is to humbly serve, when we could be served. This is why Jesus said this to his followers in Luke 22:27: 

For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? 
Is it not the one who is at the table? 
But I am among you as one who serves.

Step Down….
So where can we find the possibility of hospitality? Is it possible that Jesus’ wisdom teaches us to find the possibility of hospitality, 
not by climbing the social ladder, 
rather by descending it?  

If you hang out with the privileged, they think they don’t need what you have.  If you hang out as a needy one—
as Jesus did—
with the underprivileged, 
you may find a place of rich welcome. 

I’m still testing the waters.  
I’m seeking to learn my way into 
the possibility of hospitality 
from a position of need, and 
a position of humility.

My daughter wrote this haunting lyric. I wish you could hear the music.  It reminds me of the call of Jesus to forsake our privileges, and to seek out humility.  

Is it time to be empty?
time to be empty
Have we felt that, maybe, 
We don't need to be filled?
Afraid to know what it's like
Not to overflow?

When was the last time,
I sought fulfillment for someone other than me?

It's time to be tired
It's time to pour out
And to feel the strength 
of being empty
Make us uncomfortable
Take away all our fear
Show us your power
When we are empty. 

Place us in the agony
Of the world outside our door
Place us in your river
Where we can feel the water roar.

We need to feel you
Moving and changing the world. 

(lyric by Alyssa Stanley)

In Luke 14:13-14, Jesus said, 

But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

I challenge you to new steps in the year ahead.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Life Around the Corner (For the Winter Weary)

Three nights ago, the forested hills surrounding our home were smothered in the thick of snow.   Warmer days and dismal rain uncovered dull brown earth—and urged us toward despair; the remaining icy white patches threatened yet to have the last word.

While there is no sign of LIFE in the soil or branches out my window, I cherish the certainty of it. 

Even now beneath chill-soaked soil, brown pulp is weaving cheery yellows and whites of nascent daffodils.  While we slept last night, the dogwood and redbud were quilting ribbons in their hidden, mysterious places. Petalled greens and lavenders and yellows and pinks and whites and rubies are being born from wooden stems, papery bulbs and spongy clay.  

Like a surprise welcome party for weary and unsuspecting travelers, LIFE awaits us around the corner.  

Can you believe in that?  Hold on. Listen. Watch.  It's going to be a great show.  

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Love in a Mesa Hotel Breakfast Room

At breakfast this morning I saw him. He sat in his wheelchair, looking like a wounded soldier.  Blood seeped from a gaping wound, through a bandage wrapping his head. (I felt the bandage so unworthy to receive his blood.) His slump reminded me of an oddly broken branch.  And--


I prayed for a way to express my love for this middle aged man.

Soon I saw her, the angel delivering his simple breakfast.  His sad and loving wife tucked a napkin gently under his chin.  (I felt the paper to be so unworthy of such a high calling.)   Moments later she stood at the breakfast bar, next to me—weak and mighty; her face displaying agonizing doubt, rugged determination. She spoke of his brain cancerAnd--


I could not continue to simply gaze in admiration at their beauty. I approached, so deeply moved by my love for them, no longer able to hold back. I sat down with them—listening, caring, loving, patting, blessing, praying, smiling, assuring, comforting, these dear ones in their pain. They were sick and I visited them at the table next to mine. And--


And it was not as if I had a choice. This flame of Love in me leapt with passion as I gazed on their beauty.  The love was so deep that I could no longer see them.  I saw Jesus. And-- 


Daily they pass me by, looking angry, broken, haughty, busy, important, lost, happy, or peaceful. They co-exist in my spaces and places.  Do I miss the opportunity to see their glory?  The glory of the Only Begotten?  That--


                   Can’t you see HIM

(Matthew 25:31-46)

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

How to Start Toward a Cross

Each year I post this article from Barbara Brown Taylor.  I think it is a worthy read, if you dare say you would follow the way of the one who went to the cross.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Thoughts From Beside A Vacation Fire

The Need for Good Wood
We heat our home with wood.  I enjoy the primal way of staying warm.  Daily trips to carry in firewood, and the occasional hauling out of ash, help connect my mind and my body to my existence.  

Our stove is a newer model, and is highly efficient.  When well-seasoned fuel is used there is much heat, little ash, and the chimney breathes free of dangerous creosote.

I’ve learned however—from many seasons of heating with wood—the importance of gathering wood a full year-of-months before it is needed.  Firewood requires time to season, allowing quiet breezes and noisy winds to blow.  It needs a summer of heat to prepare it for its winter use.  Firewood needs time to be reduced to nothing but fuel.

I can hear readiness in the musical clank split wood makes when thrown into the sheltered pile for its final weeks before burning.  I feel the difference in the weight when I carry it into our family room. When the wood is ready to burn, it tells me.  

But oh those awful winters when fuel is gathered too late to season well.  There is no song as it collides in the pile.  It begrudges being carried to the fire.  It hisses and simmers on the coals as it seasons in the stove—releasing toxic moist creosote up the chimney in dark smoky rebellion.  The stove glass clouds, then stains a sickening brown with the polluted bi-product of wet unseasoned wood.  It resists service at all costs. 

Seasoning the Soul
My spirit also needs seasoning.  I’m simply not my best when the moistures of media, constant e-communications and over-busyness saturate my days.  There is a clear correlation between seasoning-quiet, and soul-efficiency.

For those who create for a living, taking the time for seasoning is a tough investment to make.  It is the act of burning, after all, which pays the bills!  Is not production what matters—what is noticed?  

Tough Questions for Those Who Create for a Living
How long has it been since you have stepped away and allowed your soul to season?  How long has it been since you’ve felt the kick of creativity?  Have you been forcing production, and not joyfully creating?  Have you found yourself doing “new” work, while feeling no joy in the process?  Are you hissing and simmering and producing smoky sludge, when you know you can light-up and inspire!  When you’ve known yourself to be a source of renewal and life to those for whom you burn?

Step away.  Put yourself on hold.  Stop giving yourself to a simmering half-yield.  Reserve your forced attempts at production, until your heart sings and transports lightly to the nascent coal-bed of creation.  

Give again!  Live again!