Monday, May 21, 2018
Last Friday, we heard once again of another shooting at a school. The narrative so familiar, the words said in response predictable as a record stuck on repeat. We are caught up in a culture of violence. We anger stokes the fire of more anger. We constantly wound ourselves and others. In many ways, we have not named and claimed that part of the violence begins within ourselves. Our running internal commentary and critic shouts at us both about our own short comings while at the same time telling us that, "Those people are the problem." Violence seems to be woven inside us - just think back to the last time you tried on a shirt and the voice said sarcastically, "Don't you look great." Or think about your reaction and response to someone who cuts in-front of you in traffic. Why exactly are we so mad about that? It is because we swim in the sea of violence that starts internally and is expressed and becomes fanned to flames externally by those around us.
To be sure, this is not a new story. It seems as if every culture has struggled with shame and blame. You can page back through our own history. Our country is founded on the fact that England/King was the problem...once we broke free of repressive taxes...everything would be great. We have fought countless wars, yet rarely does the violence solve the problems that plague us or give us lasting peace. Perhaps it is the violence we do with words that is the spark that starts the fire. Rather than listening, we yell louder. Rather than saying that we might be part of the problem, we point the finger more angrily and poignantly and passionately. Social media has become a bullhorn of blasting our frustration to more and more people...the violence we do is rooted deeply around us and within us.
To live non-violently, to embrace and embody the prayer, "Let peace begin with me," means our souls and lives must turn toward another way. We must begin to think about being the prayer. This prayer, for me, is less about words and more presence. Less about distracting ourselves with celebrities or this tweet or that top trending article on Google news. We need to grieve with families whose sons and daughters lost their lives from gun violence. We need to lament and ask God, "How long?" And rather than pounding our fists (as violence begets more violence), we need to embody the Christ-like way of non-violence. Some will say this will never work. Only history tells us through Christ, Dr. King, Gandhi, Oscar Romero, Dorothy Day, and on and on it might just be the only path that does yield fruit. Yet, this road will not immediately or instantly produce everything magically. The journey will be one of persistence and patience. Not in the blink of an eye, but slowly, we draw attention and help people rediscover the "better angel" part of our nature.
I was recently convicted by the words of john a. powell who said, "As people of faith, we talk about love but don't seem to live that love." He went on to say, we may talk about love in church, but outside in the world we compete and compare and constantly try to exert power over rather than power with someone. We need to love not only the victims family but the shooter and his family. It is not the easy path. It is one filled with obstacles and pitfalls. Yet, it is the prayer I long to be in a world that needs to take steps in new directions. Toward talking, toward listening, toward continued action, toward holding our attention on issues for more than a media cycle.
God help me be that prayer in these days and in such a time as this. Amen.
Friday, May 18, 2018
Light one candle for love...one bright candle for love...Christ brings love to everyone, Christ comes, he comes. (Advent hymn)
Summer is beginning to creep and crawl finding ways to settle into Florida for the coming months. Summer sun is starting to shine down, warming our skins.
Humidity has taken up residence in the places and spaces where our seasonal friends, who wisely fled back north now, have left in our wake.
Clouds come rolling in late every afternoon, blocking for a few moments the heat of the sun.
Rain starts to fall, splashing on hot concrete and sometimes causing steam to rise.
The weather report sounds like a record needle stuck.
Hot...muggy today...chance of rain in the afternoon.
Same tomorrow...and the tomorrow after that...and the month after that.
So, I dream of December when the humidity breaks on one crisp morning and the air temperature drops to 60 degrees and humidity moves away from 90 percent.
I dream of a candle lit that dances with delight proclaiming God is here and now.
Yet, this is as true today as summer starts to settle in as it is in the December days.
Love sticks and stays around.
Love weathers the heat and humidity.
Love is not only found tucked under warm covers sipping hot chocolate.
Love is found in the warmth of the sun while guzzling water.
And suddenly still and silent sitting a spell.
All that is seen and unseen.
That is the trace of grace we need and lean into every day.
Wednesday, May 16, 2018
The words of this hymn are a beautiful prayer...because if ever we needed help accepting each other...it might be today. It is wonderful to talk about loving your neighbor, until you find out that your neighbor votes a different way or goes to that church or does something that is particularly difficult to accept.
Part of the reason why we struggle to accept others, is we don't accept ourselves. Paul Tillich in the 1950 talked about the struggle to accept that we are accepted. Then, we go to church, which tells us that we should do this, volunteer for that, and give this much (usually not enough). So much of life declares that we are not enough, we need to do more. But fortunately for us, the person saying this can sell us this amazing wonderful product that will clearly solve all our problems. I remember as a child seeing endlessly the commercial for the knife that would chop celery, cut through a tin can, and then cut a tomato. First, who exactly does that?!? Who thinks, "Life is pretty good, but to have two different knives for my produce and tin can cutting is a major drag." Second, is this really going to make my life magically better? While we can laugh...we know today it might not be a knife but it is the latest iphone or car or vacation. We are constantly comparing and trying to keep up. Only now we have the extra benefit of the fact that it isn't just our neighbor...but all our friends on Facebook! We stare at pictures of our friends smiling, basking in the sun, then we look at our little life, where I still don't have one of those fancy knives, let alone a trip to some tropical paradise. Now the score is life -2, me - zero!
We are ourselves accepted. Not because of what we do...but because we are formed, fashioned, and loved into being. We are accepted not because of volunteer hours logged or money given...but because at the center and core of God is love/acceptance/care. When we start here with acceptance, rather than some broken narrative that Jesus had to die so we were such a problem to God. More than just some passive acceptance...like I guess I will accept this iphone 8 even though it isn't the 10. Not an acceptance of settling, but a joyful - whole hearted - enthusiastic acceptance! An acceptance that embraces for all we are - beauty and brokenness - as well as what we will become.
That has power.
That will change our lives.
That is more than a trace of grace and a dash of love we need for the living out of these days.
Monday, May 14, 2018
There are some lines of this hymn that stir my soul and teach me truths about my life.
When we sing out about, "Tune my heart to sing thy praises," that feels to me like one of the deepest prayers for my life I could pray. I want not just the words of my mouth or the countless thoughts to be caught up in proclaiming and praising God, but also my heart - that which is at the center and core of who I am. Yet, the heart is valuable real estate. Certainly my family has a claim on my heart and has left a deep/abiding impression. The people of God with whom I serve have impacted/imprinted their presence and love on my heart. Those who struggle and suffer. Those whose friendship means more than words could ever express. The question becomes is our heart just a parcel that gets divided OR is our heart so inexhaustible and ever expansive that actually the more people we love, the larger our heart grows? (By the way, this is the central question of the Dr. Suess book, How the Grinch Stole Christmas.) Is life just trying to manage the resources OR is life about letting go realizing that even if we could cling to something/someone we can't ever control? Is life basically good and generative and the moral arc heading toward justice OR are all the wheels about to come off the train?
Perhaps it isn't either/or. There is always evidence and experiences in our life/world of both/and. But even as we try to live in the messy middle of both/and thinking...at least for me....I need the constant reminder to hear the good...the challenge to love more...that I can't cling/control everything...that God is still creating and placing commas all around life.
But...you might object...look around. Yes, there is lots of brokenness. But, that has often been the case. Fifty years ago, people's hearts were grieving the tragic death of Rev. Dr. King, only to then hear Bobby Kennedy was shot. One hundred years ago we were engaged in World War One, there was an outbreak of Spanish flu killing people and women couldn't even vote! Brokenness is part of life. But it is not the only truth.
Yet, there are times, as the hymn says, "I am prone to wander". I get lost in the weeds of thinking something is the worst thing ever. I need a hymn like this one to tune my heart and help we wander back to wonder! Wonder of a warm summer day. Wonder of grace that comes unconditionally and unceasingly. Wonder of people whose love really makes all the difference.
It is my prayer that as you listen to this hymn there will be more than a trace of God's grace and it will set your heart toward the One who is with us and for us always.
Friday, May 11, 2018
"The voice," both Abram and Sarai said together softly. The words seemed to reverberate and ricochet off the walls. The words slowly settled to the ground like a feather in free-fall floating, riding the air currents. The voice. They had both said it. In their eyes danced amazement, bewilderment, concern, doubt, elation like a burden had been set free, and yet once a secret is on the loose we lose all ability to control or cling to it. Once a secret has been spoken you can never stuff it back into the cage where you had held it. Once a secret is shared, it takes on a life of its own. Now, a secret once thought to be held by one is suddenly not as unique or odd as you thought.
"The voice," both Abram and Sarai said together again, a bit louder. The words themselves were like another presence in the room. Yet, three can be a crowd at times, especially when you are used to being a duo. It took time for Abram and Sarai to sink and settle in all that those two words meant. In eight letters years of history were suddenly unveiled. In eight letters a truth of each life had been offered. It is said that words are like oars...they take you places. But you don't need a sea of words to travel a long way. "The voice," communicated more than any two words had previously for Abram and Sarai. There was a lightness to both of them. It is amazing how in the blink of an eye you can go from fear to joy...from uncertainty to clarity. In one serendipitous moment dread turns to dancing. Which was exactly what was going on as Abram and Sarai were laughing hysterically as their bodies moved closer toward an embrace.
If anyone happened to be passing by outside the tent flap at that precious moment, goodness knows they might have thought Abram and Sarai were half-mad.
Tears welled up in both their eyes as all the energy, all the speeches and words of explanation they both had been swimming in, as all the worry and what ifs suddenly seemed foolish. They cried not out of sadness but a cathartic gladness.
The voice had been moving in both their lives for years. The voice sang them; held them; cared for them; and now was calling to both of them. "Go."
To be sure, this wasn't going to make everything better magically. It wasn't as if the relatives won't still shake their heads and mutter and mumble under their breath as Abram and Sarai started packing up all their worldly belongings. It was as if the relatives won't try to talk them out of listening to the voice. It wasn't as if they didn't have some trepidation and second thoughts. It was one step, but knowing they were in step. The journey of a thousand miles may begin with putting one foot forward and when it is two that step off in-sync it does bring profound blessings. Abram and Sarai, in the tent, that afternoon. Beyond any words that could ever describe or convince anyone knew what they had to do. And more than that...they had flung wide open their lives to an adventure of body, mind, soul, and had so many stories of the voice to share with each other. One moment. One encounter. One voice that sings to us all if only we listen might bring us together. It did for Sarai and Abram in one simple, single word calling them to "Go."
Wednesday, May 9, 2018
Inside the tent, Sarai's nervous energy kept her pacing around, stirring up a cloud of dust from the dirt floor. She couldn't sit still What in the world was she supposed to say to Abram? After all these years, how do you tell someone something you should have said well before now?
For her, the voice constantly made her smile and even laugh out loud! The voice could be a bit sarcastic even. When Abram's relatives made snide comments like, "Oh, Sarai, what I would give to be like you, my children are such headaches." Their words were like daggers. But the voice would say something about the aunt's nose that made Sarai smile and helped her keep on keeping on. To not have children in her day was not a choice. It was seen as a punishment she bore the blame of alone. The voice reassured her to be patient and persist. But how much longer? Sarai was no longer a young woman. While the ancestors had lived welled passed one hundred, there were others who died suddenly because of an illness. Children were your lasting legacy. Children had the obligation to care for you and carried on after you could no longer. Without that physical presence, the voice tried to help Sarai stay strong.
It's one thing to keep on keeping on when things stay the same. You wake up, you slip on sandals and make your way across the sea of sand to the well. You bring back water, make food, clean up after, tend to the tears in the tent or clothes, care for the animals, make more food, clean up, go get more water, make more food, until the stars start to twinkle their tiny lights over your heads, you share stories around a camp fire until your eye lids grow to heavy, and you fall asleep wrapped in a blanket you know you need to mend tomorrow. The cycle gets stuck on repeat and replays day after day; year after year. There was comfort in the rut, routine. It was like Sarai's well worn sandals, hugging her feet.
The voice sang songs while she washed. The voice offered wisdom when Sarai seemed to need it the most. Of course, she had to listen. Sometimes the voice seemed to be silent or perhaps Sarai was distracted by all the daily tasks. Sometimes days would pile up without hearing the voice. Then, out of the blue, in the middle of making food or especially in the middle of the night when Sarai would stare out into the darkness, the voice would start softly again. No matter how long it had been, the voice was like an old friend. They picked up right where they had left off. Sarai learned that silence was the first language of the voice. Just a presence that she could feel wrapping around her. Sometimes a song that lightened her heart. Sometimes a word from Abram she needed to hear. The voice could shift and take many shapes.
She never said anything about the voice. First, it was hard to describe to others. How do you tell someone in a rational way that you have this running dialogue with a voice that has no body? How do you explain to your mother and father a voice that can warm your soul like the sun warms your skin? Not to say there weren't opportunities. She remembers her mother standing over her yelling, but Sarai had been listening to the voice talk about lush green grass, cool crisp refreshing waters, mountain top vistas surveying miles and valleys where each step seems like a struggle. She was so taken by the song, that she had missed her mother's voice. And her mother was not exactly happy about Sarai's less than prompt response to her request. But what was Sarai supposed to say, "Oh sorry mom, this voice you cannot hear was telling me about the beauty of creation." Sarai might as well tell her mom their goat was about to do a dance; which Sarai was sure would cause less concern.
So Sarai kept the voice to herself. She didn't even tell Abram. Again, not that there weren't moments when her heart surged and she felt the words on the tip of her tongue. Especially at night when Abram was tossing and turning, she would take his hand into her own, feeling an energy between their fingers that seemed to calm them both. But words seemed to all evaporate or escape before she could speak them.
So, she kept this voice, pondered all the love it sang and spoke of in her heart. But now, now the voice was saying she and Abram had to go. This wasn't the way the world worked. Women didn't decide what the family should do. If they were going to leave, it would be Abram who would say so. And the chances of that were less than the whole goat dance happening. You didn't leave your kin. You don't set out toward the far horizon where your whole life dangers and fears seem to reside. You stay put. You don't jump, you dig deep into what was known, even when if was too tattered or shattered. Why this was, Sarai always wondered, but could never bring herself to talk about it with anyone. No one else seemed to question the way of life. This made Sarai certain that she was the only one who could hear the voice.
But here she was. The voice clear, "Go." Sarai had wanted to argue or ask for more details, but she was too stunned. Her mind raced and reeled as reason began a list of why she had to stay. The voice did say Abram should go too. This helped. When you have lived with someone for so long the sound of their chewing is actually comfortable, you know that to be apart can be unbearable. Plus, to go beyond what was known without someone else to travel alongside seemed not only foolish but dangerous. Humans were not meant to go alone. Not that you needed a spouse. Sarai knew others who walked the world as friends, whose emotional support was a source of strength. But to have someone who tells you stories that make you laugh, who wraps an arm around you when tears won't stop flowing, to just be with, was a blessing.
She could hear Abram rustling outside the tent, probably putting away his staff and tying up the flock. "Come on, voice," Sarai insisted, persisted, "Now would be a great time to give me the words I need." Silence. Like the voice had already left the room, heading out in the direction beckoning her to come along. Sarai saw the tent flap flip back. Fear causing her heart to race. Some how she was able, perhaps by accident, to meet Abram's eyes. She saw something there she had never seen before. Something was stirring. In that moment, before her mind could offer an objection, she looked at her husband...the one she loved...the one she would go to the end of the world and back...the one who knew her better than any one else. Through the dry mouth, she uttered the words, "The voice."
Monday, May 7, 2018
Prologue: The call of Abram is recorded in Genesis 12, you can click here to read. The call is surprisingly succinct with both God and Abram being short on details. It can also feel abrupt. If you look at chapter 11, you get a genealogy leading up to Abram, then the next word is God telling Abram to leave...to go...at age seventy-five. This makes me wonder, what happened between Genesis 11 and 12? What happened between Abram's birth and age seventy-five? Was this the first time Abram was introduced to God? What stories might fill the small space in the Bible between these two chapters? This is one amateur attempt to fill that gap.
Abram licked his lips, in the cracked crevasses he could taste the small grits of sand that silently hid there. His mind was racing and reeling. The voice seemed so clear telling him to, "Go". But that inner critical voice with its constant running commentary was working overtime right now. "You were just imagining it. Besides, who do you think you are that the sacred would speak to you?" Then, there was the matter of trying to find the words of what to say to his wife, Sarai. He could hear her now, "So, let me get this straight, some voice tells us to go, and we are going to pick up our whole lives and leave behind everything we know. And...and, we don't even know the exact destination we are heading?"
A single small step in a new direction can feel like a leap of faith. And the forces of familiarity, comfort, the ruts and routines of life add other obstacles. And then the people in our lives want to add their unsolicited advice.
But this voice had been there in Abram's head, heart, and soul for years. Standing in the sea of sand that he had known for seventy-five years, sand he had breathed in, sand that was woven into his very soul; he recalled and remembered how the voice as a child began to steer him in certain ways. When he first took the sheep out to graze, it was that voice that calmed the fear causing his heart to beat so loud it echoed in his ears. When he first saw Sarai, it was the voice that gave him courage to swallow and find something to say. When year after year, while others had children, and Abram had none, the voice spoke with a soothing tone. The voice didn't solve his problems, but was a companion through them.
Up until now, the voice was subtle, speaking with soft verbs. When Abram was out in the fields away from everyone else, it was the voice that would sing to him and keep him company. When he lay away at night wrestling, tossing and turning, it was the voice that would help him see things that in the blinding, board daylight were too obscure. The voice had always been there.
Yet, what did Abram really know about this voice? The voice had never formally introduced it's origin. The voice had never said, "Hi Abram, you might know me from such famous moments as crafting the stars over your head and flooding the earth centuries ago." He wondered if others heard the voice too? He had never asked. Not that he hadn't started, but his parents seemed busy. And when he and Sarai had moved from the awkward courting phase of their relationship to the stable, steady moments of knowing the sound of each other's breathing, the window of opportunity to ask seemed to close too quickly.
Perhaps, Abram didn't ask because he wanted to keep the voice to himself. In this way, the voice was safe from other's opinions. We all have secrets held in the corners of our souls, kept watch over by our own sense of vulnerability. The voice seemed content to reside in that space, but now was clamoring to be let loose in Abram's life. The voice wanted to turn everything upside down and inside out. Leave behind what was known? Let go of relationships with the relatives in the village? This wasn't done. Living in the hostile world, where you are never sure what waits over the next hill, you stay with your own kin. And yes, the ties that bind us, sometimes gag or confine us. Yes, Abram's uncles would say things that made his skin crawl. Yes, the comments from his aunts about Sarai made his blood boil. But leaving seemed overly drastic and dramatic and just wasn't done.
What was it with the voice? Why would it nudge him out to the edge of what was known? Why would it sing to him to end the world as he knew it? Yet, somehow he felt fine. There was a strange peace and warmed heart.
He had always wondered what was beyond that far horizons where his ancestors said the dragons lurked and lived. After all, if there where dragons and monsters out there, what prevented them from storming into their small camp someday? Besides the voice seemed to have a different perspective about the beauty of the world.
Abram felt peace as he faced the most radical move he had ever made.
Abram felt strength even as he knew others would not understand.
Abram felt called, blessed that he had to share.
But what would he say to Sarai?
He found himself standing outside the tent they had shared for many years. The laughter was woven into the fabric. The smell of meals shared lingered. Even has his fingers touched the flap, he felt the surge like when he had first laid eyes on her. Strange how life can cycle back around on itself. Feelings you thought dormant awaken in fresh ways. Even as his feet felt heavier than ever, he knew what he had to do.
Friday, May 4, 2018
At the end of the week...
I look back over words said...
Meals that fed...
How do you evaluate 120 hours?
Pain let go
Projects crossed off
Who is to say what makes a week, "Good"?
Our boss may have one definition...
Our spouse and children another...
Our neighbor and person in need another...
Our lawn that needs to be mowed yet another...
Who is to describe and define a week as "Sacred"?
Maybe that is why our Jewish brothers and sisters stop on Friday night.
Do nothing for an entire day.
Let your body feel the exhaustion coursing through your feet.
Let your soul catch up with your heart.
Let the wind baptize your skin and bird sing to your heart while you sit outside.
Maybe prayer is less about words soaked into dark wooden pews.
Maybe prayer is less about seeing results.
Maybe prayer is just this one moment...so full of past...so ripe with the present...so hopeful of the future.
Maybe prayer is more than can ever be said and in the still small silence, we inhale and exhale and say, "Amen".
Wednesday, May 2, 2018
Rejoice sounds like to re-joining in the joy around us and within us.
Rejoice tastes like letting an ice cream dripping slowly down the back of your hand.
Rejoice looks like the wink from your wife across the table.
Rejoice feels like holding hands with someone or a hug from a friend.
Rejoice smells like bread baking in the oven.
Rejoicing engages our whole selves.
Yet, I think the blurry pace of modern day life blocks us from these small experiences bring us much joy. Instead of listening/hearing the joy, we let Tweets take over. Instead of tasting, really tasting each bite, we shovel the food in our mouths before racing off to our next commitment, which we are already late for. Instead of seeing, really seeing the person in front us, we glance around or check our phone to see who just texted us. Instead of feeling, we become numb...instead of smelling we don't even notice the roses.
Our ancestors would probably shake their heads at the pace of life today. Around about the time I was born, the average American took about 20 days off from work a day. I think about those old black and white photos of vacations in the family car ~ where people headed out west. About the time I began my career in 2001, was a steady decline in vacations with the average American taking about 14 days off. Last year there was an increase for the first time in almost eighteen years with Americans taking 16.8 days off. Yet, 662 million vacation days were left on the table last year.
On top of this...even when we are away...we are not away. I check email on my day off. I respond to texts. I do this because I somehow believe that it would be rude to not respond. I see this in my kids who physically look tense if they don't right away reach for the phone when it blinks or beeps. I don't know if this tide can be turned. Yet, I also know that doing nothing is essentially leading us down the same rut.
And I don't think it is something we can think ourselves into a new way of living...nor does it mean you have to drop off the grid for months on end. What if, for one afternoon, you put the phone away and went for a walk. Start slow. One hour is great. Guess what...you can respond to the text when you get back. And try not to apologize. Help your friends learn that you are seeking to practice the prayerful art of being present to more than just your Apple device. It's okay if you don't immediate text, tweet, and tell the world what you are doing.
This is one of those posts where I am preaching to myself. I need to practice the prayerful art of being unnecessary and unneeded for awhile. Yes...the world will go on without me. Yes...that might tarnish my superhero status...but so does the fact that I can't leap over even a small building or save someone. I can be present. And sometimes pay attention to something besides a screen holds blessings beyond description. I pray this week these words might sing to your heart and stir your soul. And may stepping away offer you a chance to see, taste, smell, and feel more than a trace of God's grace. And more over, may that moment give you exceeding joy.