Monday, August 13, 2018

Poem, Prayer, Praise


This poem has been sitting in my soul since I first read it...

“Some Say You’re Lucky” by George Orr

“Some say you’re lucky
If nothing shatters it.

But then you wouldn’t
Understand poems or songs.
You’d never know
Beauty comes from loss.

It’s deep inside every person:
A tear tinier
Than a pearl or thorn.

It’s one of the places
Where the beloved is born.”

There is a parable in this poem.  It takes our conventional, common sense, cliche that suffering is always bad...and turns it on its head.  If I never struggle, I miss an important part of the human condition.  If I never come across the sharp shards of life, I miss something that tethers me to other featherless bipeds who walk this earth. 

After all, who wants to go see a movie or read a book where there is no plot twists or where our hero or shero doesn't face obstacles.  Would we watch someone who sails through life?  Would we be compelled by a story that essentially said, "Everything is awesome" (which if The Lego Movie taught us anything it is that rarely is everything awesome.)

Richard Rohr reminds us that often what brings us closer to God is either great love or great struggle.  Anne Lamont says our most heartfelt and honest prayers are, "Thank you!" and "Help!!"  Unfortunately, we are sometimes better at the "Help" prayer than the "Thank you!" prayer.

The tears in life can open us to something we might never had experienced.  I remember when I am hanging on by a thread that is coming unraveled and there are insights from that place and space that won't occur anywhere else.

To be sure...I would much, much rather to learn lessons in moments of laughter/grace.  But I also know when I am faced with my own facility and vulnerability there is truth in that space that cannot be manufactured or made up.  It is in those moments where love is born, because you start to realize who stands with you when the chips are down.  You realize whose love can help you take one more step when you are tired, weak and worn.  You realize God's grace is not abstract but comes from people who hold your hand and don't try to explain or rationalize away the pain.

Is there a place right now where lift feels torn?
Some place where God as a seamstress is slowing stitching you back together, one pull of the thread at a time?
Is there any truth you have encountered here that previously was obscured?

I cannot say that all suffering teaches us something.  Nor should we seek out pain.  But when difficulty and struggle arrive unannounced on our doorstep for a visit, perhaps sitting in that moment can offer us more than a trace of God's grace.

With great hope and many blessings ~~ 

Friday, August 10, 2018

Ecclesiastes take nine


 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:  

1. a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; 

2. a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; 

3. a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 

4. a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 

5. a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; 

6. a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; 

7. a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace. Ecclesiastes 3:1-11

The seventh couplet is a struggle.  Is there ever a time to hate or for war?  Scholars suggest that actually this couplet breaks the mold because it should really read, "A time to love, and a time to hate; a time for peace and a time for war."  This would keep the rhythm of couplet where there is a word of unity and then a word of dissonance...a word of hope followed by a word where hope has faded.  But rather than reading, "a time for peace and a time for war," the Wisdom writer reverses this.  Perhaps because so often those times of hate lead quickly to a time of war...and a time of war struggles to find that time for peace.

Many authors today suggest that what is so troubling about today is how quickly we de-humanize the other person who holds a different opinion.  Once we de-humanize someone it is easier to disregard him or her.  I recently heard someone say, that if all we do is tolerate a person that is the lowest bar and leaves the least impact.  If I tolerate you, when you are no longer here, it really doesn't change me very much.  To love someone...to seek your shalom/well-being/peace is the challenge of faith.  To love our enemies....to seek the shalom/well-being/peace of those who we disagree with is the Jesus way.  To be sure, the church doesn't always get this right.  We are quick to seek the shalom/well-being and peace of people who believe like us/vote like us/march in the same protests as us, especially because we can define the other side as "other". 

The question for me concerning an action or word is, does this bring more love and peace into the world?  Or does it bring more hate and war/violence/division?  Brian McLaren has talked about how many of the human kingdoms we build are based on the false promise that everything will be better when we are in power...rather than God's kingdom, which we pray for every Sunday, where everyone can find space/place.  We can pour much of our energy into our kingdoms rather than God's.

This final couplet challenges us to see the ways we do bring about more hate and peace than we would ever claim out loud.  Recently I was in a worship service where during the prayer of confession we considered the ways we are like Herod, using our power to hurt rather than heal.  The ways we discount people, especially people who are prejudice or don't hold same values.  The ways we cling to a narrative of might makes right rather than a realm where the differences can be held in tension.  The symphony of human life needs more than the violin voice I might add.  And the symphony would not be as rich without the cello, even as the sound is drastically different.

I pray you will let this passage continue to sit and simmer in your soul.  Go back and re-read the entire passage.

What new insights did you glean over the last ten posts?
Where do you still struggle or push back on the passage?
What questions linger?

And how can we give thanks for what has been rather than point out was wasn't?

May there be more than a trace of grace in such prayerful pondering for you!!

Blessings ~~

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Ecclesiastes take eight


 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:  

1. a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; 

2. a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; 

3. a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 

4. a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 

5. a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; 

6. a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; 

7. a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace. Ecclesiastes 3:1-11

The sixth couplet is one that I find to be helpful in so many ways.  There is a time to be distant and a time to be close...a time to speak and a time to keep silence.  We need time alone and time with others.  We need time to talk and times to refrain - or listen.  This couplet reminds me again that Ecclesiastes isn't trying to say or suggest that one of these is good and the other bad.  It isn't about either/or thinking, but one that can see the good, the bad in all of these moments.

Sometimes being apart can be a blessing...hence the cliche, "Absence makes the heart grow fonder."  And there is truth to that.  Right now, my kids are at grandma/grandpa's house.  I miss their energy and presence.  I find myself focusing on the ways they bring me joy rather than how they leave dirty clothes on the floor.  Being apart can also hurt us, especially when we don't know when we might reconnect.

Likewise, bringing things together (sew) isn't always what we should seek.  This is true certainly in times of abuse, but also when we need space to process pain.  To rush or race into bringing things together can sometimes be done haphazard, with the connecting thread hastily woven and uneven.  I think back to my home economics class and my first attempts at sewing.  It was not a gift of mine.  No matter what I could not get the sewing machine to sew a straight line to save myself.  It was jagged and zigzagged all over the place!  The pillow I made was not a circle, but some mis-shaped hybrid of a circle, square, and rhombus all thrown together.  Sure mom said she loved it, but then tucked it away in a "special" place.  I think in a world where we microwave and immediately tweet our lives...where instant gratification is the cultural norm... we struggle with the slow work of the Spirit.

Equally, in a world where we feel like we have to react to everything, keeping silence can be counter-cultural and even revolutionary.  To be still...let God get a word in edgewise...or just breathe and be.  Those invitations are what our souls long for and rarely find. 

What do you need to let go of right now?  Is it a tangible item or a relationship that is causing more harm than help?

What do you need to bring together?  How can you slowly sew the thread in prayerful ways to bring one piece of your life with another?

Where do you need to speak?  And where would it be better to be quiet?

I pray as you let those questions simmer in your life, there will be more than a trace of God's grace.

Blessings ~~ 

Monday, August 6, 2018

Ecclesiastes take seven


For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:  

1. a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; 

2. a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; 

3. a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 

4. a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 

5. a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; 

6. a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; 

7. a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace. Ecclesiastes 3:1-11

Living in Florida means that I see many people face the reality of the fifth couplet.  I witness how people are initially excited to shed their winter gear for the warmth and sun.  I see how they settle into the Florida life there is a sense of relief to be done with the snow and a sense of grief at friendships from up north that will now consist of emails exchanged or Facebook posts liked or the week long visit in January.  The initial euphoria of the move to the Sunshine state, one that as Ecclesiastes states was, "sought"...mixed with the loss, perhaps not foresaw, but now as real as the humidity in August.

One of my favorite quotes is that a single, "Yes" contains a thousand, "Nos".  I can say, "Yes" to an opportunity, but it will mean I won't be able to do something else.  And sometimes that reality means that we can get stuck in analysis paralysis.  Because the options all have their appeal, we don't want to say, "No" to any of them.  There can be the very real "Fear of missing out" (FOMO) on something.  What would happen if you set an intention to be joyful for what is rather than what was not?  Or as my daughter said at the end of our last vacation, "Don't be sad it's over, be happy that it happened."  Wise words worthy of Ecclesiastes to be sure.

The second part of the couplet is equally as powerful in the place where I am.  Daily I see folks needing to downsize or move into care facilities.  They go from a two bedroom to a one bedroom to a shared room.  Each move means letting go of things.  I am convinced that this is not about clinging to possesses, but because so many of those items have the fingerprints of those who love who are no longer with us.  Or because the act of touching the tactile thing can transport us back to a meaningful moment.  To us it may look like a half used candle but to someone else it was on the table at a fifty anniversary.  To us it may look like a shirt, but to the one letting go, it was what they worn the last time she saw her spouse.  Sometimes the church can sound so harsh that we should only cling to God and we can let everything else go.  But God gave us communion ~ tactile bread and juice ~ because grace is something we need to touch not just talk about.  Part of the reason why it is difficult to let things go is that we tend to rush in the transition rather than slow down.  We tend to do this work alone rather than with others who can hear our story about the candle and shirt.  I don't have some magical answer, but I do think that if we invited someone to help us in times of moving to smaller space...if we shared the story of the candle or shirt or ticket stub...we would know that the story of love now lived in another, which might help us let go a bit easier. 

I pray that if you are in the midst of losing or letting go...you would seek out others who can walk that valley alongside you.  And I pray even more than there would be more than a trace of grace in that experience for you both.

Blessings ~~

Friday, August 3, 2018

Ecclesiastes take six


 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:  

1. a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; 

2. a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; 

3. a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 

4. a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 

5. a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; 

6. a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; 

7. a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace. Ecclesiastes 3:1-11

I find the fourth couplet to be one of the most helpful and insightful.  Gather stones and getting rid of them...embracing and not embracing.  Or as Hamlet said, "To be or not to be, that is the question." 

Stones for me are a metaphor of all the stuff I carry around my life.  I carry around events/experiences/encounters.  I carry around emotions.  I carry around a desire for God.  I carry around the past moments, I have not processed.  I carry around fictional future moments that I have created/crafted and may not ever really happen.  I carry around the present moment.  All this makes me think of my kids backpacks.  When they leave for school every morning the backpack holds binders and pencils and lunches and homework and water bottles and umbrellas.  Chiropractors might see future clients!  I see a parable for life.  I may not carry a real backpack but there is an equal amount of stress and strain in my shoulders. 

Sometimes we need to set/throw stones aside.  This is what we do when we process the pain of the past.  I am no longer going to let the anger/hurt/frustration of what someone said or did fuel and feed my life.  I set/throw stones aside when I refuse to be afraid of the future.  Or as Liz Gilbert said, "I will not let fear pick the radio station in the car ride of life."  This is what I do when I stop rehashing old arguments or replaying the brokenness.  Because the more we carry what was, the less we are able to see what is.  There is, the wisdom writer says, a time to carry this. 

I think about my mom's passing.  It was a very difficult time, fraught with emotions for a variety of reasons.  On top of it, we were in the process of moving.  To say, there was stress is an understatement.  It wasn't until a retreat almost three years later that I full grieved and came to terms with the anger/hurt I felt.  Sitting among the trees, thinking back to all that had happened, the tears began to fall.  A few at first, then the dam of holding back burst open.  Chronos time gets wrapped up in the three years...kairos time says that it was a holy moment that was waiting for the opportunity.  And, it isn't as though, everything is now chocolate rivers and pony rides.  There is still grief, but the waves are a bit smaller and I have found ways to anticipate their ebb and flow. 

Seasons of life that happen simultaneously within and around us...seasons of life that invite us to sense the fullness and richness.  Seasons of life that are always more than any words can capture or contain or delineate or divide or compartmentalize and categorize. 

What stones are you carrying?

What needs to be set aside?

What calls forth as needed and necessary as you continue life's journey?

May these questions, and especially the responses you listen to from your own heart/life, offer you more than a trace of God's grace today.

Blessings ~~

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Ecclesiastes take five


 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:  

1. a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; 

2. a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; 

3. a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 

4. a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 

5. a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; 

6. a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; 

7. a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace. Ecclesiastes 3:1-11

The wisdom writer certainly starts off big, with major moments.  Birth/life ~ taking life/sustaining life.  I find the third couplet the opportunity to dig deeper.  We cry and we laugh.  We grieve and we dance.  And again, sometimes not only separately, but simultaneously.  I think of celebrations of life I lead where there is both laughter and tears...where there are moments my soul is heavy and other times light as a feather. 

As we move deeper into where the wisdom writer is inviting us...we realize that in chronos since we separate time...in a kairos time there is an expansive embrace that everything can belong.  I think about it this way ~ when my kids were born there was new life...there was an un-containable joy...there was the peacefulness of holding a baby.  And...and there were things that ceased to be ~ which is to say those things died.  On a basic level, a good night's sleep went out the window... and I wonder perhaps never to return.  No longer could my wife and I just drop everything and go out to dinner.  We had to get a babysitter.   No longer could we just think ourselves...the same could be said of weddings...we go from being a one to a two.  It is no longer just about "Me, Myself, and I"....or at least not if the marriage is going to last long.   

Or I think about how sometimes I break something down to build it up.  I deconstruct to get down to the raw building blocks and start over again.  The cliche is always that as one door closes, another opens.  While that is not always true, the door closing can still cause us to turn another direction and see another way we were not looking when focusing on the door!  It is a both/and moment.

Which brings us back to crying/laughing...grieving/dancing.  In the most honest sense to grieve is a sacred dance.  To cry/laugh is a cathartic release out of the soul.  We need both and I believe there is more than a trace of God's grace in both. 

I invite you to reflect back on the both/and moments of life.  With every new job/house/relationship something begins while another ends.  As someone once said, "Every yes...holds a thousand nos".  I hold onto this truth.  I celebrate the yes...and know that in the kairos of time the no was a holy decision too.  I pray such reflection helps you in the midst of such a time as this.

Blessings ~~

Monday, July 30, 2018

Ecclesiastes take four


 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:  

1. a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; 

2. a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; 

3. a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 

4. a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 

5. a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; 

6. a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; 

7. a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace. Ecclesiastes 3:1-11

The wisdom writer starts off with noticing and naming the extremes of life ~ birth and death.  She follows that up with the every day experience of the earth yielding and offering food to sustain our life.

It is the next couplet that I struggle the most with.  I realize that killing is a reality.  As a country, it has been almost seventeen years since 9/11, there are too many school shootings, and countless other acts of violence.  We hear about these daily...they weigh heavy on our hearts...and I think, over time, do something to our souls.  The problem is that we can think...maybe you have even heard a sermon...that suggests what the wisdom writer is saying here is that God is controlling all this.  Or that God even ordains or has a plan for this.  If there is one prayer I have for my ministry is to take such theology and remind people of what Karl Barth once said, "When we talk about God, we are talking about ourselves with a megaphone."  Such reasons and rationales, that God would okay killing someone or that it was a part of a plan, makes my soul ache.  God is not a puppet master pulling strings or commanding/demanding us to follow some script. There is choice woven into our human condition.

God doesn't cause the tragedy, but God can be found in the midst of those heartbreaking moments.

To quote Mr. Rogers who said, 'In times of pain, look for those who are doing good; this is where God is.'  And maybe, we can be part of what is good in the face of tragedy.  Some might say that takes power away from God.  But I think it takes the power out of is a sense that God stands on the sidelines in the face of brokenness.  When we say, "God has a plan," it actually might relieve us of having to respond.  When we say, "God has a plan," it is because we would have to admit we don't have a plan.  In some ways, we are placing God on the hook so we don't have to be.  We can say, "God has a plan," when innocent children die in a shooting because otherwise we'd have to talk about our country's clinging to guns.  We usurp our responsibility/accountability and call it theology.

Part of what the wisdom writer is saying is that in the both/and kairos of life, there is too much hurt and there are moments of healing.  There is too much division and there are times of coming together.  Mr. Rogers helps us see and guide us toward where we might direct our gaze.  We do this not to deny the hurt, but to say there is healing.  Not to shrug our shoulders but to roll up our sleeves.

I am not sure that is exactly what Ecclesiastes meant...but I know I find more than a trace of God's grace in seeing these words of life in this way.

Blessings ~~