Friday, July 31, 2015

Between the Sun and Storm



It has been raining a lot in Florida.  As in people are making references to building an ark like Noah kind of raining a lot.  This morning as I was out for a morning jog, there was a mixture of sun and storm clouds mingling together in the sky.  The ominous, dark, threaten clouds inching closer, slowly taking over the sunshine.  What a great metaphor for life.  So often in our lives things are going great.  The sun is out, laughter is easy, and life is good.  Everything seems to come up roses.  Food tastes better, the air is sweeter, and you think about writing poetry.  Suddenly, the metaphorical storm clouds roll into life.  The refrigerator breaks, the same week you hurt your back, the same week that neighbor, co-worker, annoying person whose voice is like nails on a chalk board comes into your life breathing all over things.  In short, the rain comes.  Suddenly, things are NOT so great.  Your stomach is in knots, you feel flustered or frustrated or flummoxed in some indescribable ways.

Of course, you'd expect me to suggest that the sun is just hidden behind the clouds.  That the sun will "Come out tomorrow...tomorrow, I love you tomorrow!" (Did I mention I just saw Annie??)  But I think part of the problem is that we don't know how to live through the storms.  Maybe we don't know how to live through the sun either.  But we wish away, pray away, move away from the storms of life.  We have constructed a theology concerning God where God certainly does not cause the storms, but neither do we think that God can be found there either.

Recently, I asked in a sermon, do we leave room for our loving, still speaking, grace-giving God to say, "No."  Not in that "parent voice," but a kind and gentle, "No."  Do we trust God's wisdom enough to listen sometimes when God is not opening windows or doors or anything for us.  Some of the best hymns were written in the storms of life.  Look at the refrain of "It is well with my soul":
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, 
when sorrows like sea billows roll; 
whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, 
It is well, it is well with my soul. 

The composer wrote those words after his wife and child died in a storm.  Now, I don't want to suggest that you should sing these words halfheartedly or as some kind of mask for facing the storms of life.  Sometimes we use religion as a way to hide behind facing the storms.  We sing about trust while our soul wants to cry out like Job, the psalmists, and the prophets.  Then, we drift away from the church thinking it did not speak to our deepest concerns.  The struggle for the church is that there is no one-size-fits-all way to face the storms.  One pathway feels like an umbrella to one person and leaves another feeling all wet.  Another pathway feels like a blessing and balm to another, leaves another person frustrated.  Facing the storm takes time and takes relationships.  

Does your life feel drenched in sun or soaking wet rain right now?  How is it with your soul?  I pray as a church we can allow space for those in all places to express what is in their hearts in worship, in education, and also getting outside ourselves in sharing grace and love with others.  May you sense more than a trace of God's grace in your life wherever and whoever you are.

Blessings ~ 

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Scripture as Telescope



All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 2 Timothy 3:16

Been thinking about what you anticipate, expect, or think about Scripture?  Did you get your Bible off the shelf?  Been flipping through the pages?  If Scripture can be stain-glass or a kaleidoscope, what other images might we draw upon to help us as we prepare to open the pages to read?

Perhaps a telescope.  This amazing invention helps us see things far away, brings them close as our next breathe.  Too often, it is easier to hold Scripture at arms length, less it gets too close and starts rummaging around, rearranging our lives.  (Jesus talking about not worrying, considering the lilies of the field...does he not understand, I am REALLY good at worrying...would totally make the Olympic team in worrying.  But I digress.)  It is safer to keep the Bible on the shelf, less it start speaking to the decisions we make regarding money or that co-worker you poke fun at or how we treat God's good creation.  If you start breathing in Scripture, it will wreak-havoc on our carefully planned lives.  

C.S. Lewis said the Bible is a book for grown ups...but outside of church how many of us study it?  Do we really believe that eight to ten years of Sunday School was enough?  Do we think that one class in college to meet our liberal arts requirement was enough?  We have privatized Scripture and I confess that the usual Sunday morning sermon does little to counter-act that movement.  There I am, all alone, trying to interpret.  I have pushed back on definitions of preaching as me standing at the cross roads of the people of God and the word of God, as though only I can bring the two together.  Baloney.  I want Scripture to be a dance between the church and I together, and somehow I help teach a new step, but that the People of God take, embody, breathe in and most importantly - make their own!  But, it does not always feel that way.

Usually, Scripture feels like that foreign planet we visit for an hour on Sunday...only to go back into the "real" world for a nice lunch after church.  How do we make our home in Scripture?  It starts by gazing through the telescope or kaleidoscope or stain-glass for more than a few moments once a week.  And it deepens by doing this with others.  When I look at stain glass or art or through a telescope, I want OTHERS around to talk about this with.  I don't want to individualize or privatize that experience.  Scripture has always been a communal book.  That is one of the reasons it works so well at the communal gathering on Sunday mornings.  We are all together, listening together, breathing in together...but unfortunately, convention and tradition says, the pastor alone should speak.  If our God is still speaking, I don't think I am the only mouthpiece...thanks be to God!  You are too.  I try to encourage people to read the passage BEFORE coming to church because I want the church to come with ideas, insights, and interpretations of their own.  I want you to lay those beside mine.  Where is there agreement?  Where do we differ?  That kind of exercise brings Scripture as close as our next breathe...and if we do that kind of practice I think there will be more than a trace of God's grace we sense/experience/encounter.

Blessings ~ 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Scripture as Kaleidoscope


All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 2 Timothy 3:16

Over the next few posts, I want to explore Scripture.  In particular, how we approach Scripture.  What happens the moment your fingertips touch the cool, smooth leather-bound Bible?  What is racing in your heart and mind and soul as you begin to flip through the thin pages?  Noticing what is awoken within us before we even read a word of Scripture is vital because that frame effects/affects how we interpret.  Is Scripture some divine rule book?  Some wiki-like source of divine instruction?  Lots of people are fond of the St. Augustine approach.  When he was wrestling with life, and life was wrestling back and winning, he heard a voice say, "Pick up and read."  He did.  He read Romans 13, which talks about putting on Christ and setting aside the desires of the flesh (apparently, Augustine caroused and lived a loose live...he might have just as well turned to the Parable of the Prodigal Son).  That moment changed his life.  So, if it "worked" for him, it might "work" for us, right?  Depends on what you mean by "work"?

What do you expect to encounter when you open the Bible?  That question is vital!  If we don't name and claim our expectations, they will continue to surge beneath the surface, impacting without really being noticed.

Recently, I have been especially fond of thinking about Scripture as a stain-glass...God's light shining through, but in different ways depending on the day.  You could also think of Scripture as a kaleidoscope, with each turn reveals something slightly new.  Or maybe Scripture as a piece of art that beckons to be studied slowly.  The tension starts with the realization that because Scripture is written in our language, we think we should immediately understand.  But, miscommunication happens all the time...just ask my family.  I send a text my wife reads one way, I meant it another.  And it is tough to try to clarify with something a thousand years old.

2 Timothy talks about Scripture being God breathed.  You may have heard this translated as "God inspired" (which usually is used as a defense for taking the Bible literally, as though any other option is less than).  But to breathe in Scripture would mean something different.  To breathe in makes it a part of who we are, not just some ancient text to be studied from a distance (more on that in the next post).  Theologian Karl Barth is oft-quoted as saying, "I take the Bible too seriously to take it literally."  I like that quote, because I want there to be some mystery when I open the pages.  I don't assume I know fully the intention or sacredness inscribed in each tiny word.  I don't assume I get it.  As a matter of fact the disciples in the gospels often miss the point continually, that pretty well describes me too!  I miss the point because there is beautiful mystery that beckons me.

Just as a kaleidoscope is not exactly a picture, but still visually beautiful, so can Scripture be too.  So, what are you waiting for.  Go get that Bible off your shelf...wipe off the dust...and before you open it, what do you hope, pray, anticipate, desire to breathe in as you open the pages?

That question holds more than a trace of God's grace for us.

Blessings ~

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Living Colors


Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates. Deuteronomy 6:9 

I have been doing painting around our house.  Sometimes I have been painting the same color on the wall and doors; making them look fresh, covering over the scratches and scuffs and marks.  Sometimes I have been painting new colors on the wall that makes the space looks different.  Changing the color in some ways is easier, as it allows you to see where you have been.  Keeping the same in other ways is easier, because it blends and the old and new work together.  

If you had to choose one color (Like Harold in the Purple Crayon) to describe your life right now, what would it be?  And why?  The church has liturgical colors: blue at Advent for anticipation and waiting.  White for Christmas and Easter for festive days, celebrating God's presence (although I wonder if the above picture would be a better visual on those days with its kaleidoscope of colors that show how life swirls and comes together in news ways on those high, holy days).  Purple at Lent to symbolize the royalty of Jesus.  Pentecost is red for the tongues of fire that was part of the church's birthday.  Then, you have the long season of green for the ordinary after Pentecost until Advent rolls back around again.  Or maybe you would choose a non-liturgical color, which can be every bit as sacred.  Would you select orange or periwinkle or pink or maybe just one feels to limiting and you need more than that.

What if you would wear that color each day letting it speak to your life?  Our still speaking God is also still creating and casting new colors around and within us.  When the People of God came into the Promised Land they colored their door posts as a visual reminder of God's presence.  The tradition often encouraged them to touch those words they painted: that the truth would be transported from the fingerprints to their hearts.  The words they painted were the Shema: "Hear O Israel, the Lord is One."  Visually you'd see the words, opening your hearts and ears, not only inside the safety of your home, but outside in the world.  Do you practice that kind of openness?  Looking, listening, sensing God every time you walk out your door?

There is a great children's book called, God's Paintbrush, which asks a number of thoughtful questions for noticing God in our lives.  Can we as adults think about which colors connect us to God, why?  Where do you feel closest to God, why?  Where are you distant, why?  Note that it is not only the questions, but delving deeper into why you feel the way you do that can provide such insights. 

For me, painting in our house is therapeutic.  I enjoy completing a room.  It helps make the house we bought a year ago feel a bit more like ours, putting our signature and fingerprints on the space.  Plus seeing a project completed brings its own satisfaction.  You don't even have to go to the extreme of painting a room to engage in this practice...a piece of paper and crayons will do the trick...and be less of a mess too.  I pray this week you will notice the colors of creation, God's dazzling array of hues that dance around us and awaken us to beauty.  As you do this, may you sense more than a trace of God's grace...may you be drenched and saturated by the vast array of colors that surround us everywhere we go.

Blessings ~    

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Reflections



Our lives are the unfinished house in which we dwell...Philip Simmons

I recently finished re-reading this book.  Written by a New Hampshire author who lived near the White Mountains and faced ALS, Simmons slowly saw his body shut down.  In the midst of physical limitations, Simmons set down to reflect on the world around him.  He writes about the list of projects we all have around our house, rooms we want to improve, and ideas to make our house better.  Sometimes we are slow to act on those ideas, because we like the idea of dream about our homes more than the actual work.  Simmons writes about mud season in the Northeast, that time in-between winter and spring, when the seeds beneath the ground are doing the messy work of growing.  He writes about the art of doing nothing.  That is the chapter I struggle with the most.  All the personality tests I have taken tell me that even on vacations I need to feel like I accomplished something.  It can be as simple as "taking a hike" or reading a book, but I need to plan.  There is an obvious downside to being so structured...not only is it harder to go with the flow...it takes energy to always have a plan.  Yet, the point is not to feel back...the point is that the blessing can be found in the imperfections...rather than our successes.

That is actually very Biblical.  Read the stories of Noah (who gets drunk after the flood...but you would too after being stuck for 40 days on that boat) or Jacob who schemed his way into a blessing or even the goody-too shoes Joseph who plays a trick on his brothers...and that is just Genesis.  Scripture is full of story after story.  Even Jesus at one point treats an unnamed woman as less than a beloved child of God...calls her a dog...to say we all have unfinished lives means all of us, even the very Son of God.

But more importantly, Simmons is the embodiment of the truth that our spiritual life is not separate from our actual, day-to-day lives.  Going to the store, watching fireworks, eating a picnic, going to church, our work, our volunteering, etc...all of that is our spiritual life.  Trying to find God in the midst of the ordinary, the imperfect and beautiful and broken life, is an invitation for us all, especially for us as people of faith.

This week, I invite you to look at your calendar...really, get it out...I'll wait for you.

(insert hold music here)

Okay...now look at it.  Every activity...how does that bring you closer to God?  And because I believe God's still speaking and creating presence can be woven into everything....how does eating, sleeping, going out or staying in or going to the doctors or moving about your daily life bring you closer to God?  I invite you to ponder that prayerfully this week.  As you and I do that...may we all sense more than a trace of God's grace.

Blessings ~ 

Monday, July 6, 2015

Wholeness


The other week, our family went to go see the new movie, Inside Out.  The story is about the five emotions who live in a tween girl's, Riley, head.  They are pictured above (anger, fear, joy, disgust and sadness).  The movie is insightful and inspired.  It tells a powerful story about the power of emotions, how some emotions in some of us are more dominate than others, and how we need all our emotions to be whole and healthy.

Which emotions tends to run the show in your head?  Or, what is your natural, normal reaction to a situation: anger, fear, joy, disgust or sadness?  Of course, we feel all these emotions and it depends a lot on the situation.  But over time, which one do you feel most in a week?  Emotional health has not always been a topic of research.  There was a time when solider's returning from war or people going through crisis were told, "Just get over it."  As though paying attention to our emotions was not worthy of our attention or energy.  If you Google, "emotional health or intelligence" there is a plethora of information.

Click here to read a post from Psychologist Today.

Or click here to read an article from The Atlantic from another perspective.

What both agree on is that emotions are part of our life.  They do impact and influence what we do and say.  Trying to ignore what is going on in that grey matter between our ears or when our gut aches from something someone said or posted about us on-line, only pushes down what will inevitably come back.  Or, "Pain that is not processed is passed along."  The image of someone getting yelled at, who in tune yells at someone else is truth.  We know it.  We've done it.  We've been on the receiving end of that.

While the church talks about "Love" and "Joy" as emotions, we rarely talk about anger, disgust, fear (other than to quote the angel at Jesus' birth about not being afraid) or sadness (except at a funeral).  Perhaps that sense is we should all be happy...but as we learn in the film...totally spoiler alert... emotions need each other and to feel one emotion, we need the others.

I invite you to consider your own emotional health, notice your natural reactions and responses this week.  And as you do that may the grace of God enfold you, reminding you we are created in the image of God...that means all of us...from our heads to our toes...for our emotions to our reasons... from our connections to our sense of who we are.  May that truth guide you in the living out of these days.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Caught Speeding



Slow down. Take a deep breath. What’s the hurry?  Why wear yourself out? Just what are you after anyway?  But you say, ‘I can’t help it.  I’m addicted to alien gods. I can’t quit.  Jeremiah 2:25 (The Message)

It is so easy to get swept up in the modern day pace of life.  It is frenzied, wake up in the morning already feeling being, constantly on the go, make sure every available space in our calendar is filled... but ever wonder, "Why"?  Why have we accepted this as the meta-narrative of our life?   We live in the midst of a paradox involving choice.  There are so many options out there.  Look at the cereal aisle in your store, how many do we really need?  And we end up often with analysis paralysis.  We can't decide, so we need up filling our lives, every second, until we fall exhausted into bed.  Only to get up and repeat the cycle the next day.  

Jeremiah was a prophet during the exile, when the People of God in Israel were conquered and forced to live in a foreign land.  Their temple was destroyed, smoldering in ash.  Jeremiah asks a question that echoes over the centuries, "Why?"  Why live this way.  The people say, "I can't help it.  I am addicted to alien gods."  That might just be one verse of Scripture that little comment by me.  We are addicted to alien gods of consumerism, spending our way to happiness, and believing that our self-worth comes from how busy we are.  I worship at those altars, sometimes more than I want to admit out-loud.

A few weeks ago in a sermon I asked the question, "What is the speed limit of your life?"  The follow up question could be, "Does someone need to give you a speeding ticket?"  It was one of those questions that came out of my mouth unscripted, but it is one that I cannot outrun, no matter how much I try to fill my day.  We all need to slow down, learn that the speed of life is not the speed of sound or light, but much slower.  

What is the speed limit in your life right now?  Are you moving too fast, is life a blur?  Or are things moving slow?  When in the valley moments of life, it can feel like time moves at a snails pace.  Moments of pain seem to fill and bog down the second hand of our watch.  Then, there are moments of joy when you look up and wonder, "Where did the time go?"  And our minds know that time cannot move slower or faster, it is our perception and interpretation of it.

How is time moving for you right now?  Or to put that question one other way, How is it with your soul?  Maybe you prefer one of the other questions above to that one, which feels vulnerable.  I hope one of the questions in this blog will sit with you and stay around your life.  I don't know that I will every answer the above questions once and for all, but they are good questions for me to ask and let God get a word in edgewise.  

May you ponder prayerfully your speed limit and may there be more than a trace of God's grace in the responses.  Then, may that grace guide you in the living out of these days.

Blessings ~