Sunday, December 29, 2013

Beginnings, Resolutions and Getting Ahead of Ourselves

Beginnings are fraught with opportunity. At the beginning of any game, an underdog has an opportunity. When we start the engine of our car, we can aim them down any highway we desire…and that aiming has everything to do with where we will go. When we open our eyes in the morning, who's to limit what could be accomplished, change or develop during that day.

Today, I’ve been wondering about our resolutions. We want to lost weight, or gain income or travel or retire or build our career. And we imagine ways to help us accomplish these things. We map a course with every intent to keep to it.

But what if our plans are not the best ones? What if our prejudices are not wise? What if our desires will not accomplish what is best? What if the Mighty One wants to do something more mysterious, more altruistic, more big-picture? 

I’ve been thinking—in a somewhat lighthearted way—about Joseph and Mary of scripture. What if Joseph had a resolution to keep a good name for himself the year an angel told him to take a pregnant girl as his wife? What if Mary’s passionate resolution had been to stay thin for the year? What if the Wise Men had resolved to stay near home that year? What if Herod had vowed to exercise his mighty authority, even if it required vicious and hateful action? (Oh, evidently he had.) 

Getting Ahead of Ourselves
Are we getting ahead of ourselves? I guess what I’m getting at is the importance of leaving room for God to do God stuff with your plans. Maybe we shouldn’t be so certain that we know exactly what is best for us? Maybe God's priorities are different than our own?  Perhaps approaching a new year in humility quoting Mary's "Let it be for me as your Spirit wills it," would be the wisest of attitudes.  

Just wondering…

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Enemies? Or Those With Whom We Disagree?

My childhood was marked by the fear of my nation's cold war adversary--the USSR. As sad as it is to admit it, as a very young child, I once questioned if it might be best if my country would get the war over with by launching a first nuclear strike. In my childish way of thinking, that would solve the problem. I was following the ways of fear.

Not My Enemies
Today I know people who would have been destroyed in such a horrid act of violence. These people are not my enemies. They have names. I've lived in their neighborhoods, eaten in their homes and worked, worshipped and played side-by-side with them. They are my family. I love them.

Jesus' teaching, that we should love our enemies, is possibly best obeyed by getting to know our enemies--until they are our enemies no longer.

Action Step
Is there a nation or a people whom you fear enough to hate? Is there a religion or system you despise? Could you take the initiative to meet with one of these "enemies" long enough to know them? Have dinner with them? At your house or theirs? I did not say to meet them in order to agree with them; but for the purpose of knowing them--(even serving them). And if you know them, mightn't you love them? For the Christian, the answer of course is: "Yes."

If fear rules, which it does midst unknowing (or ignorance), then my enemies will remain enemies. I will live with a desire for their demise and for my own safety.  The only path to safety seems to be through destruction of the other.

Why Not?
Fear brandishes hateful weapons with the intent of relieving fear.

Love delivers goodwill with the intent of bringing peace.

More on this, and what brought it to mind, coming soon.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving Meditation

Pilgrim Gratefulness
Is it possible for us to be truly thankful again? We have so much. So little is left for which to pray. 

We agonize over new styles for each season, not over our children starving in harsh ones. We put back for retirement, rather than winter meals. Our prayers are for more, while theirs were for enough. We text and sext and post and tweet for attention. They petitioned the Almighty for blessing. Is it possible for us to know pilgrim gratefulness?

Momentary Happiness
Is it possible for us to know more than momentary happiness? Our joys come from what we acquire, possess and own. Theirs came from believing they had received sustenance from Divine hands. We drive by fields of corn destined for fattening calves or filling fuel tanks. They saw kernels of corn, measured out in weathered hands, so many grains per family member, per day. Their children, at risk of not surviving winters, ours at risk of childhood obesity. Is there anything that can make us happy—once and for all?

Extreme Living
Is it possible for us to be satisfied? Our candies must be sour, our sports extreme, our closets walk-in, our lawns without dandelions, our temperatures perfect, our cupboards full, our churches mega; all of our dreams must be fulfilled. We are drunken with plenty and sated with what was once a king’s envy. And we cry out for more, we kick and we scream like spoiled children because we haven't yet found enough. 

And we will not, until we humble ourselves and seek something Higher than our own wishes.

And Jesus Says
God blesses you who are poor, 
    for the Kingdom of God is yours.
God blesses you who are hungry now,
    for you will be satisfied.

What sorrow awaits you who are rich,
    for you have your only happiness now.
What sorrow awaits you who are fat and prosperous now,
    for a time of awful hunger awaits you.  (Luke 6:20b-21a & 24-25a NLT)

—and he also said—

“I’ll say it again—It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!”  (Matthew 19:24 NLT)

And in Mary’s famous “Magnificat,”
    “He has scattered the proud and haughty ones.
He has brought down princes from their thrones
    and exalted the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things

    and sent the rich away with empty hands.  (Luke 1:52-53 NLT)

Is it possible for our hands to be so full of stuff, they leave our hearts empty of gratefulness and satisfaction?

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Subtle Slide of Individualism

No Compromise

An uncomfortable realization shook me from a discussion with my wife and dearest friend yesterday.  (One would think that after all our years of marriage, our accumulated wisdom would kick-into-gear each time we have a decision to make.  Right?  Nope.)

We were working through a question, and suddenly, each of us slid into our individual preference.  It was so natural to slide into an answer that matched our individual desires.  I wanted what I wanted.  And she wanted what she wanted.  (And for those of you who are engaged or newly married; after thirty-four years of marriage, our desires still differ.  Thank goodness, we still have varying ways of doing life and perceiving issues.)  In this case, there was no hint of understanding the other’s position on the matter.

No Compromise

Now, I know what you are probably thinking.  This is the time for compromise.  Both of us must be at least somewhat comfortable with outcomes.  Right?  This type of thinking was precisely the problem.  We had gotten onto the subtle slide of individualism.  

As people who seek the ways of Jesus in our lives, “comfort” should not be our goal.  “Preferences” should not reign supreme.  Our personal positions are not what we signed-up to defend, or took vows to follow.

Higher Ways

And so yesterday morning, we were suddenly confronted with our self-seeking preferences.  We needed to remember that the most comfortable, desirable, logical or acceptable ways--are not necessarily our way.  We need direction from the One to whom we give our allegiance.

Not, WWJD.  No.  But, as we pray and seek and live toward wisdom, what does he ask of us?  And so we agreed to abandon the subtle slide, drop our preferences, and pray for wisdom that is higher than ours.

After this time of seeking, we may still disagree.  His direction may require some “middle road.”  But not for our own sakes.  There is a higher way, and we can’t afford to slip-slide away from it.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A Day in the Life

Ten hours of solid, sweet sleep birthed me into this day.  Sweet prayer, a cleansing shower and a fruit smoothie took me to my office where nothing would go as planned.

Need took me to meet with the Sherriff, then to purchase two very large McDonald’s breakfasts for a homeless couple whom I encouraged and sent on to better help.  

Another couple wept with me as they tried to find a ways to forgive one another, and as I tried to help them see how very worthy of love each of them are.

A beautiful young woman who has invested most of her life in a relationship wept as she wondered at the future left in it.

A day of surprises and unexpected blessings and challenges.  Another day in life.  Most things I planned to do were left undone. 

And its OK.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Long Before the Finish Line

I just stood in 83 degree heat, on the edge of a a sun-soaked highway for twenty-five minutes waiting to see someone I've never met, nor likely ever will.  And I missed him.  He had already gone by. 

Long Race
And so, I grabbed lunch with my wife, then ran off to the same highway, and this time had to wait only minutes to cheer and encourage someone else I don't know.  His name is Mark Pattinson, and he is from the United Kingdom.  He, and many other men and women are passing through my hometown as they compete in the RAAM--Race Across America.
They started at noon, one week ago today, and have ridden from the west coast, covering just under 2,300 miles (so far), and are on their way to a finish line on the east coast at Annapolis, Maryland.  A race--on a bicycle--of 2,996 miles.  So far, the ones passing me today have traversed roughly 330 miles each day.  Desert, mountains, heat, and only catching a hour or so of sleep per day....want to sign-up?

Once when I ran a  mini-marathon (a tiny, inconsequential accomplishment by comparison), a gentleman of a different race, from a different city ran alongside me--long before the finish line--for a full minute shouting encouragement into my broken spirit.  He must have seen it in my eyes. He clapped. He told me I was doing great! He shouted: "Great job!" He told me I was almost there.  He was not a participant in the race, yet, he was. His encouragement got me to the finish line. 

Today it is my turn.  I'm following the racers online, and when they pass the bottom of my hill--long before the finish line--I'm going down and cheering them on.  To Mr. Pattinson I said, "You're doing great!"  I clapped and screamed: "Great job!"  And he waved with a weary hand, looked at me and smiled.  His support van was right behind and some inside said to me:  "Thank you."

Thank ME?

I reflected on what I yelled to the rider.  They were the same words that a sixty-plus year old black man shouted to me when I wanted to quit on a 13.1 mile run.  Somehow, in the great big picture, I was able to give back what was once given to me.  And as cliche as it may sound, I had to hold back tears of joy.

We Can Help
I'm reminded that somewhere in my life--every day--there is someone trying to accomplish something, and they may doubt that they can finish. Some are friends that I know; and others I may never know, or ever see again. Some are tired, some are tempted to quit, or doubt that they are really making a difference. They need my assurance, they need my encouragement that they are doing a great job!

I guess I'm just asking you to keep an eye out for someone doing something...maybe for a cause you are not a part of. You may just give them the shove they need. Your encouragement may be what gets them to the finish line! Who can you encourage today?

By the way: you can track the racers by clicking on this link: .

Let me know if this gives you any encouragement targets the rest of us can use.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Faith's Channel Markers for the Spiritual Journey

Sometimes, I fear we drift about the sea of faith, not knowing for certain where we are going or have gone. How do we measure loving God with "all of our heart, soul, mind and strength?"

There are many willing to set buoys, marking religious channels for us to follow. Some offer us checklists for the voyage. It is all so simple, definable and settled. "Pray (instruct God about what God needs to do and how to do it), journal (in this $14.95 blank book with a cross on the cover), read scripture (from a specialized bible for 'grandmothers who crochet,' for 'teenagers who are cool' or for 'fishermen who have a bass boat,' or from one of roughly seven-hundred and sixty-seven other bibles) and all should be well."

I'm looking for channel markers of a different sort. For now, I've decided to look for some "fruit" the first missionary said will show up in my life if I'm intimate with God. Love, joy, peace, goodness, kindness, patience, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. (Galatians 5:22 & 23a) Although I can think of plenty of that fruit born from my living along the way, the baskets aren't really overflowing in my life right now. I need help. I'm going to the Source.

Yes I'll pray. I'll even pray some of my own words. But I'll also pray the prayer Jesus taught us, and The Jesus Prayer and others from saints through the ages. And I'll certainly pray using scripture, pleading from my barren heart for vital Life-giving nutrients to siphon their way up from the soil of faith and into my living. And I'll seek God's presence in candlelight, Gregorian chant on Pandora, hikes, scents, art and in the presence of other seekers. (You'll need to find your places.)

I'm looking for the Holy One, and choosing to join my sojourners in faith on the road marked before us. And hopefully, the breadcrumbs we leave behind will look a great deal like the handholds and footholds of those throughout history who have been desperate for the fruit.

Lord have mercy, and grant us longing hearts.

Any markers of your own? Any places where you find the Holy about which you'd be willing to share? Please feel free to comment here.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Abandonment of Mystery

Last week I stood in a holy place, a building where worship has happened for more than sixteen hundred years. I came face to face with mystery. And it was beautiful, though I cannot describe just how or why. And I don't want to try.
Candles flickered. Incense smoked from a censor. Ancient chants enfolded the space. But they were not in themselves the manifestation of "presence." No, that was invisible, yet very real.
From the perspective of my protestant background, these expressions are foreign at best--unnecessary at worst. Yet--as the years roll on, and I journey along the path of faith; I sometimes feel bored with the pathway. It is so well lit with bright incandescent bulbs, and swept clean of any ritual. It is safe and explainable. I can stand with a couple reciting wedding vows, or in the waters of baptism or at the table serving communion and tell you exactly what is happening, reciting which things are symbols of what realities. But in my heart I know that I am standing in the midst of the unexplainable, misrepresenting what I know...and don't know.
Is there no longer any patience or room for mystery in our Christian world? Must all be clearly explained, sung about and performed with precision? Three points to learn or eight reasons why or seven sins to avoid. All things so tidy, so complete, so concise...and so grossly inadequate.
I struggle with how we wrap up the almighty into such trite and mundane formulae. If God is anything, God is mystery. And our desertion of that mystery has made God seem inane and unnecessary to the souls around us.
We need mystery. We need the unexplainable. We need God, not a definable idol. Bishop Kallistos Ware speaks of this reality in The Orthodox Way, a book which has probably impacted me over the past ten years more than any other. He says something like this:
Moses first saw God in a burning bush. Bright and clear.
Then he saw him in both fire and cloud. Bright and dark.
Then he met him in thick cloud of unknowing. Dark and unclear.

Is it possible that spiritual maturity could be marked by decreasing spiritual clarity? Isn't it plausible that in our relationship with God, the closer we get, the more mysterious God is to us?
Loved and dear, but so very distant and longed for.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

First Church of the Clueless

The wise men--kings or magi--whatever they were, they were curious about holy things.  They were curious enough to study stars and then travel across desert lands and borders and into a foreign territory.

Such spiritual curiosity, desire and hunger is all around us. And often, like in the story of the wise men, that seeking is done by those beyond the boundaries of where holy folks hang out.

Cluelessness, like that of King Herod, is fairly common amongst God's people. "WHAT? A king? Who? Where?" That was the best response the guy in charge of God's capitol could come up with when the "unholy" ones came seeking.

Do you see the irony? Outsiders "getting it." Insiders, "Meh, not so much." Outsiders longing for God and finding their way toward God, while insiders are singing holy songs and eating holy meals at First Church of the Clueless?

How long has it been, Christian, since you have followed an inkling that God was up to something? And acted on the belief that God wanted you to go out of your way to discover and honor the birth of Something New...and Vital...and Life Changing?

Often, for me, it is easier to sing God-songs and show up at God-events, than it is to tune my radar into the current broadcast. 

I pray for a hungry heart.