Saturday, July 27, 2013

Sorry



According to Goggle...source of all that is true :-)...there are about 4,000 new words added to the English language each year.  Yet, there are some words that could use a little more from the support cast in our daily language.  There are some words that are in the spotlight so often, fall from our lips with such frequency, and honestly cannot bare the weight of the sentiment they are trying to carry.  I think of words like: "Love" or "Beautiful" or "Sorry".

Of course, part of what has emptied "Sorry" of some of it's power is the recent development of the non-apology, apology.  This is when a celebrity or sports star or someone more famous than us, makes a mistakes, stands before several microphones in a room full of media and says something like, "I am sorry, if I offend you."  Or, "I am sorry that you feel that way."  By emphasizing that part of the problem is the way others are reacting to the offense, they pull us into the spotlight to act as a shield against the glare.  It is as if they are saying...well this would be so bad if you were not responding they way you are.

And because each week brings with it some person in public life apologizing...or sort of apologizing...about something it means we are awash in constant stream of the word "sorry" flowing from someone's lips.  So, when people in our own lives hurt us or try to apologize, it can ring a bit hallow in our hearts.

Usually when the word "sorry" is floating in air it is because another person did or said something that hurt. Or we did something or said something that really hurt someone else.  When you say something that hurt another person, to pile on another word like "sorry" may not help.  The other person already has realized the myth of our childhood rhyme: "Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me."  In that moment we think, "Yeah, right.  At least bones mend quicker than hearts."  So "sorry" already has an up hill climb.  And when it is an action that hurt someone else...broke trust...words feel empty in comparison.

I often find myself when my children apologize to me saying something like, "I will know you are sorry if you don't do that/say that again."  Sorry points us to the truth that our words and actions sometimes falter and fail. Truth be told, we'd rather not deal with that reality!  Which is why, perhaps, those public media events are so incredibly painful.  It is hard enough to admit to ourselves we made a mistake...much more under the watchful glare of a media trying to fill 24 hours with news.

And so, why all this on a blog about the church/religion/faith?  The church has for a long time been in the business of saying "Sorry"...usually to God on Sunday mornings in the prayer of confession.  I was raised in the era of self-help...self-empowerment...so the church I attended did not do a prayer of confession.  At that time, the concern was it made people feel guilty...and we wanted people to feel good.  The concern was that too many people were leaving the church...and we needed people to stay.  So, out was a prayer of confession.  But we lost a chance to be honest that we don't always do what we want to do, or say what we know we should say.  We lost the chance to shine a light on our own brokenness so that we might have a chance to change.  A confession is not about guilt, although that may be our first emotion.  And if we only stay in the emotion of guilt...chances are we won't change.  Beyond guilt is the truth that in my relationship with God, just as in my relationship with my wife and my kids, there are moments I get it right and moments I get it wrong.

Confession is the chance to be honest about that.  To be sure, worship and prayer should celebrate the moments I get it right too...see posts on "O" and "Thanks".  But there is a balancing act here.  Saying "sorry" is the first step...unfortunately too often the last step.  I also need to be willing to look around at why I did or said what caused brokenness.  I need to be willing to ask for help.  I need to be willing to accept help.  I need to be willing to be open to God's grace which can help.  This is why often after confession we pass the peace of Christ.  Not because we need a morale boost after being that honest.  Passing the peace is a chance to say, we need something beyond ourselves to love our enemies, forgive and be forgiven, and to not cling to our stuff.  We need...GRACE.  When a community stands, shakes hands, and says, "Peace be with you," we are promising that we will try to support each other in the blessings and brokenness of life.  And the person says, "And peace be with you," the promise becomes a two-way street.

So, this week, I encourage you to ponder prayerfully places where things feel out of sync in relationships with others, with God, and with yourself.  Where does it feel like a winter of discontent, even though the summer sun is shining bright?  We enter into this prayer time not with our heads hung low, but with our eyes wide open for where the light of God's grace can shine and offer us strength.  I think that is the power of a public prayer of confession, we all admit we are sorry and we all accept we need more than just a trace of God's grace, peace, and love...we need as much as we can get.

May the God who promises us more grace, peace, and love than we can imagine move in your life this week.

Blessings~

Saturday, July 20, 2013

O



Ever notice how often during the course of a conversation you say, "Oh".  It is one of those great verbal cues that when paired with punctuation can be used in lots of different ways.  

Someone tells you a sad story and "oh" becomes a sympathetic response.

Someone tells you something that confuses you and you say "oh" with a slight raise in your voice and a quizzical look on your face.

Someone tells you a fact and "oh" said in a monotone acknowledges that you heard them and perhaps that you prefer to not talk about it.

Yet, within faith "O" signals something else.  O is when we are lost for words in God's presence. The psalms often pair O and God together.  "O God how majestic is your name," sings out Psalm 8.  Or one of my favorite Christmas carols is "O come, O come Emmanuel".  There is a deep longing that is found in the use of that single letter "O".  There is something that wants to be expressed but words seem in adequate.  So, we settle of "O" hoping that some how in some way we convey what is in our hearts.

Within our lives, O and Oh fall from our lips interchangeably, countless occasions, and in a variety of situations.  

I also think "O" can be a prayer.  So often we think of prayer as being words upon words.  As a pastor I know that the part of the problem is that moment in worship called the "Pastoral Prayer" where I try to cast the net wide.  But what if, one Sunday, I stood up and simply said, "O God...." and then left silence for the people of God both to offer the depth of their hearts as well as listen in silence?  You see, "O God" is not only an invitation for us to fill in the blank...it is also an invitation for us to hear what God is saying and pay attention to how God is moving.

O opens the door for the presence of God to enter.  O opens the door for us to notice the presence of God.  

So, this week, what if you tried to compose your own prayer?  Start with "O God" and see what pours forth from your heart.  I encourage you to first to read a few psalms.  Get a sense of the honesty and the rhythm and then let loose!  There is no emotion too deep or raw for the psalmists.  There is no experience outside of God's presence.  There is nothing we cannot say to God.  And one way to start the conversation is "O".

May the traces of God's grace surround you as you offer what is in your heart to God.

Blessings!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Gratitude



What are you grateful for today?  What is it that when you look around your life brings a smile to your face?  

When I think about responses to those questions, some answers that immediately come to mind are: my family, my work, and sun shine.  I could think about the joy of running yesterday...okay the joy when I was done running yesterday, the indescribable feeling that stirs within me when I listen to music, or having a few days of rest.

Practicing gratitude in our world today is counter-cultural.  So much in our world today says to us, you need more...you don't have enough...don't slow down...don't quit.  Gratitude is the practice of taking a deep breath, stopping, and surveying our surroundings long enough so we can actually see what is around us rather than the blur of our usual frenzied pace.  Gratitude says to a world of constant consuming..."No, I am good right now."  Gratitude says to a world of constant criticism, "Yes, there is joy right here and now."  Gratitude shouts out with hope to the world.

To be honest, there are a lot of objects your mind might raise to gratitude.  What about kids who are hungry?  People who are grieving?  Or countries in turmoil?  One of the ways we deal with our own gratitude-deficiency today is the mental Jedi-mind trick of detachment.  We try to poke holes in other people's gratitude so we don't have to look at the holes in our own.  

Yes, there is too much suffering in this world.  Yes, we don't share food in equal ways.  Yes, injustice is an offense to God.  And so is missing the beauty of God's creation and the wonder of God's presence here and now...see my last post for that.

The point is not that it is all joy or all pain...the point is that life is a mixture of both.  People who travel aboard often comment on the joy, gratitude people in other countries have.  People who are grieving often have the most genuine laughter, even as tears are streaming down their faces.  

David Lose in the months after Easter kept a gratitude journal.  Every day he wrote down one thing he was grateful for.  This was in the midst of some major transitions in his life.  While I was inspired by this, I must confess that my own attempts fell flat.  I got busy, preoccupied with other things and forgot to list one thing I was grateful for.  It seems so silly that I could not pause for just one moment each day and give thanks to the present God in my life for one thing.  

That is why I say being grateful and practicing gratitude is counter-cultural.  It is a shift from our normal way of being.  Yet, I also think if the first step into prayer is noticing God in our life, the second step is saying "Thank you for this most amazing day!"...to quote e.e. cummings;

And I have not yet given up.  I keep trying to be open to God in the present moment and to say thank you for: walk with my wife last night, the joy of cooking homemade waffles with my kids this morning, the opportunity to share my thoughts with others...

One of my favorite quotes is from Meister Eckhart who said, "If the only prayer you ever prayed was 'Thank you' it would be enough."  I am still trying to live into that wisdom today.

thank you, God.  Thank you, God.  Thank you, God for this most amazing day.

May the traces of God's grace surround you this day and fill you with gratitude.

Blessings ~

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Words

 
One of the best books I have read recently on prayer is Brian McLaren's Naked Spirituality. In the book, Brian offers twelve words that can ground our prayer life and immerse us into the presence of God.  He groups these words into four sets of three; one he says for each corresponding season.  Here is a quick glance at the way the book is laid out:

The Spring-like Season of Spiritual Awakening
The three words are:
Here
Thanks
O
The Summer-like Season of Spiritual Strengthening
The three words are:
Sorry
Help
Please
The Autumn-like Season of Spiritual Surviving
The three words are:
When
No
Why
The Winter-like Season of Spiritual Deepening
Behold
Yes
[…] or silence

Whether you have read the book or not, my hunch is that some of those words make frequent appearances in your prayer life, while others perhaps rarely fall from your lips.  Which of the twelve words do you find yourself saying most to God?  Which do you say least?

Moreover, how is your prayer life going right now?  If you would have asked me that question before I read Brian's book, I might have honestly said, "Rotten!"  I was out of sync with prayer.  I think my most frequent word that fell from my lips was, "Why?"  I wanted to pray, but found my words sounding hallow, like my soul was empty and the words echoed around with no grounding.  Over the last few weeks I have been trying to work my way through these words.

I started  simply at the beginning.  For the last several weeks I have been trying to notice God here in the moment in which I find myself.  Whether I am hitting a golf ball, playing with my kids, writing a blog post, listening to someone in my church, how is God present right here in that moment?

To be honest, it is not easy.  It takes practice.  Lots and lots of practice.  I still get caught up in my own thoughts/ideas/agenda and miss God.  I still move too fast in my life and God's presence is blurred.  Yet, it is a great place to start.  If God is here, right here as you are staring at the screen reading this post, how might God be then and there?  When you are at work?  When you are out in the garden pulling weeds or mowing?  When you are going about your daily routine.  Awakening to God's presence is the first step into prayer for me.

Brother Lawrence, a Catholic monk, once wrote a book about practicing the presence of God.  Now maybe that sounds easier if you were living in a monastery, where prayer was expected and encouraged all the time, around people who were engaging in the faith daily.  But, you might argue, we don't live in a monastery, we live in a world where people cut us off in traffic and our co-workers get on our nerves.  Here is the thing, Brother Lawrence came up with this idea and engaged in this prayer practice of noticing God as he was washing dishes.  Is there anything more mundane and ordinary than washing dishes?  Yet, if God can meet us there in the stuck-on muck of leftover cooking and half-eaten food, perhaps God can meet us in other places too. 

Or perhaps, it is not so much about inviting God into our everyday-ness, rather it is about noticing God is already there.  God is already there when I am in my office working, God is already there when I go to a meeting, God is already there when you come to church or drive home.  Are we willing to be radically open to God being here, right here, in our lives?  To respond, "Yes" is the first step into prayer.

I pray that as you notice God here in your life, you will notice the traces of God's grace too.

Blessings ~

 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013


12 Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

13 You shall not murder.

14 You shall not commit adultery.

15 You shall not steal.

16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

17 You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

No one likes to be told, "No".  As a matter of fact, we do everything possible to avoid hearing that word in our lives.  No seems to carry more weight than it's counter-part, more positive sounding, "Yes".  When I am standing at the door on Sunday morning, twelve people could say, "Yes" to the sermon and one could say, "No" and for some strange reason, my mind will dwell with the "No".  We want to try to turn "no" into "yes".  

I don't know why the last five commandments were written in the negative.  While our theology struggles against a God who would say "No", what I often hear in these words is God shining a light on human actions that causes brokenness and injustice.  These last six commandments are fairly straight forward.  Yet, they are also among the hardest for us to live.  

We all have rolled our eyes at our parents, we have all looked at our neighbor's new car/boat/big screen t.v. with envy, we have all gossiped about a co-worker, we have all looked the other way when the clerk forgets to charge us for some item.  We struggle with issues of violence and death as a nation and a world.  We know people who have cheated on a partner, whose relationships go south.

Part of what these last commandments do is remind us that life is messy.  And I don't think we always want religion to remind us of that.  We want a religion to make us feel good to face the messy, give us a pep talk and send us out to play the game of life.  But perhaps religion is less about some sacred space set apart from life and MORE about living life.

In order to live, we will bump/brush up against other people.  And when we do, there are going to be desires/emotions/thoughts that are awoken within us.  Some of those can lead to brokenness, some can lead to pain/hurt that will leave a lasting scar, some of those desires/emotions/thoughts will cause injustice.  So, God say, "No".  

That is good.  I don't want to worship a God who is warm and fuzzy, just spewing positive sayings all the time.  I need to hear "No", to know where the boundaries are.  Like that robot from Lost in Space who would say, "Danger, Will Robinson", I need to know when I am getting close to actions and words that will do damage and hurt others.  

The reality is that we can cross over into the danger zone quite easily.  We can ignore the "No".  And we do...lots of time.  In fact, most of the daily news we consume has at least some connection to stepping over this line God drew in the sand.  

And our human nature is that we want to know exactly where that line in the sand is and we want to look for any loop hole we can.  The book of Leviticus contains 600 laws that pretty much try to address the loop holes the People of God were trying to find with the 10 Commandments.  600 laws!  And friends, rabbis today are still discussing, re-defining, what it means to live these Commandments in our time.

While the child in me does not always like hearing the word "no", the spiritually thirsty and questioning faith part of me feels like I have a cool, refreshing stream.  

I invite you to re-read these six commandments this week...one for each day.  Listen to the news for connections and more importantly, look around your life too.

May the traces of God's grace guide you in hearing the wisdom of these words.