Friday, July 20, 2018

Beauty and Broken


As the bread was broken,
You could see the priests hand work hard,
She sunk the tips of her fingers into the crust,
The tightness of her grip as she tugged,
Crumbs scattered across the white clothe.
It was like brokenness in our own lives.
When we face that which pushes through our tough exterior.
When a word sinks deep into the crust of our skin.
When our hand forms a fist and our soul grips.
When crumbles of our five-year plans scatter and shatter.

Broken bread can be like our lives.
Broken bread is what we see around us.
Children hurting and crying and hungry.
Fellow humans hurting and harmed.
People seen only as a means to an end.
Respect, love, God-bearing become like crumbs on the clothe of our common humanity.

But that is never the last word.
Christ takes a cup.
Ordinary yet beautiful.
Everyday yet extraordinary.
Overflows that cup with more than a trace of God's grace.

We come with hands in the form of a cup ready to receive.
We come ready to take the brokenness we know all too well
And then soak, saturate that bread in the juice.
With the child-like wonder of dunking a cookie in milk.
Because this is life.
Bread and juice.
Hurt and hope.
That which can never be put back together (a broken loaf of bread)
With that which can always be poured back, even when divided (a cup of juice).
Beauty and brokenness together.

This is communion...God's prayer for all creation.
God's dream for today.
Taste and see, God is good ~~ there is more than a trace of grace in this holy moment.

Amen.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Beauty Take Two


I recently listened to an interview Krista Tippet did with Yo Yo Ma.  You can read the transcript or listen to it by clicking here.

And when asked about beauty, Mr. Ma said, "I can't say the word beauty without also equating it with the word transcendence, because it seems like there are so many different things that are beautiful to so many different people. But I think beauty is often an encapsulation of a lot of different things in a certain moment, a frame, let's say.  It could be music. It could be a poem. It could be an event. It could be in nature, and often, possibly most often, in nature. But, when that encapsulated form is received, there's a moment of reception and cognition of the thing that is, in some ways, startling."

Perhaps one of the reasons why we don't talk about beauty is that it is so startling...even unsettling.

Beauty won't be confined to words...or if it will sit still long enough for our human expression it is usually a poem...or song...or painting.  All of which are fleeting and fading.  Even nature itself is constantly changing...so that what we experience on one hiking trail in NC in June...will be different even if we walk that same trail one day later.  It changes...we change. 

Perhaps one of the reasons why we don't talk about beauty is because it is vulnerable....it will reveal something deep within us.

If I tell you I love the music of Yo Yo Ma (which I do)...maybe you will say, "Oh, I don't like classical music."  And then, what?  Do I feel defensive?  Do I feel un-validated?  Do I feel distant now from you because we have pointed out a difference?  Or perhaps so much more.

Perhaps one of the reasons why we don't talk about beauty is because we don't want to sound like someone who is unaware of the brokenness.

Yet, when we are able to hold the both/and of life, that is where the growth is.  Life is not a balance sheet.  God is not some divine accountant keeping score.  Yet, the human mind tends to be that way.  As Quinn Caldwell recently pointed out, "Social scientists call it "moral licensing." Here's how it works: I do a good, ethical thing—give money to a guy in need on the street, say. Having done that, I wind up giving myself license to act worse in the future, worse even than I might have if I hadn't done the good thing in the first place—I'm downright rude to the next person who asks me for money. I've already proven how kind and generous I am; I don't need to keep working so hard at it."

To step into the flow of life is to realize that beauty and brokenness always co-exist and the human experience is one to be open/impacted/embrace and encounter both...for it is in both where the traces of God's grace are found.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Beauty


“Beauty is that in the presence of which we feel more alive.” ~~ John O'Donohue

We don't talk much about beauty any more.

Perhaps it is because we are disconnected from nature.  Perhaps it is because what fills our ears and eyes is the dissonance and discord of division.  Perhaps it is because we sense that if we don't focus on the difficulties around us and within us, we do a disservice to those who are being hurt and harmed.  I don't believe we find the division more captivate or compelling.  In many ways, the constant bad news cycle has rewired our minds in such a way so we are blinded to the reality of beauty within and around.

While beauty can be a distraction, it can always be a window into the deeper truths of the world.  For me, it is the willingness to live in the both/and of life.  Yes, there is too much brokenness.  And yes, there are moments when I am in the presence of that which helps me feel more alive ~~ see the last three posts.  To suggest that the frustration I feel in response to children being taken from their parents is somehow "more true" than the hike I took in NC, is to compartmentalize and categorize.  This is the activity of the mind, which likes to rate and rank.  We want to "know" what is most important.  We want to be sure that we are doing what we are supposed to do.

But has Mary Oliver asks in her beautiful poem, The Summer Day,  after confessing that she has been laying in a field watching a grasshopper, "Tell me, what else should I have done?"

In a world where we are so busy life becomes a blur.
In a world where we are fed tidbits of "news" that are meant to pull emotional strings.
In a world where we struggle to keep up...and rarely stop or slow down or breathe.
In a world where pain and brokenness clamor and seem to always have the last word.

Beauty sings sweetly, "No."
Beauty beckons deliciously, "Come."
Beauty gently whispers, "Look."

Not as a demand or as the only way.  But as a way to a deeper sense of truth and a way to taste more than a trace of God's grace.

Grace and peace ~~

Friday, July 13, 2018

Just One More


At the risk of feeling like my parents when they would get out the old slide projector and show us hundreds of pictures of past vacations...I want to show you one more picture from my hike.

This one is near and dear to my heart because:
1.  I love rocks.
2.  I saw this rock initially by the side of the road at the start of my hike...almost picked it up and then didn't.
3.  Then saw it again at the end of my hike.

Life for me is like that.  Sometimes I have a stirring or murmuring or inkling to do something.  I might hesitate or talk myself out of it.  But as I continue on, my thoughts return to my initial idea.

Sometimes an idea needs time to marinate.
Sometimes, even if we try, we might not be able to find the idea again.
Sometimes, like the rock above, we get a second change.

Is there something in your life right now that you circle back to again and again?  Maybe it is a place you want to visit or a friend you want to call or an experience you long to have.  Or maybe the rock is something else. 

I hope this is another helpful metaphor that might provide more than a trace of God's grace and blessing right now and because I could not resist....

One last photo from my hike.




I really promise this is the last one. 😊

Grace and peace and blessings ~~

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Life and Death


Another photo from my hike.

I love this one because it shows the juxtaposition, the intermingling of life and death.  In the foreground you see another tree that has fallen ~ albeit smaller than the one from the last post (which is another way to imagine the different size of obstacles). 

Now, I could focus on the tree that has fallen - the death part of the picture.

Or I can focus on the lush life of greenery all around it.

Or I can focus on both!

This holds true for our daily lives too.  There are things right now that are broken in my life.  Things that are not going anywhere or growing.  Things that feel cut off or hanging by a thread.  Things that I wish were better.  I can think of examples in my ministry, in my relationship with God, in my connections with family.

And there are amazing things happening...things that are going and growing new directions.  New ideas springing forth.  Consider these photos as one example...they have been on my phone for about a month before inspiring this series of posts.  Or I think about a great vacation I had last week with my family that still brings a smile to my face.

The point for me isn't that I have to focus on only the places of brokenness or greenery...both are a reality.  Both are part of the snapshots of life.  Both have something to teach and tell us.

So, where are trees fallen metaphorically in your life?  Where is there still life growing in amazing ways?  How do both combine beautifully in your life?

May there be more than a trace of God's grace in such prayerful pondering today for you.

Blessings ~~

Monday, July 9, 2018

Obstacles


A few weeks ago, I was hiking in NC.  I came around a corner and saw this!  I am not sure the photo does justice to how massive the tree was that had fallen and was blocking the trail.  When you got right up to it, the truck was as tall as I am.  I have been prayerfully considering this image for the past few days.  So often when we reach an obstacle in life, we can tend to think:

1. I have done something wrong or that I have failed!
2. I will never be able to get over or around this obstacle!
3. I will never be able to clean the whole mess up...look how large it is!

This is why, I love what those who maintain the trail did in response to the tree.

1. They didn't assume they had failed or done something wrong.  Trees fall in the midst of storms.  Obstacles happen as we are hiking life's trail.  And we can get angry, upset, frustrate, blame, hoot and holler all we want...but in the end the choice is either press forward or turn back.  To be sure, there are times when it is safer and wiser to turn back.  But there are also times we need to not let the obstacles...no matter how large...stop us.
2. Those who work the trail knew they couldn't just expect people to hoist themselves over the tree.  They could have built steps and a bridge over it.  But ultimately, they cut away just enough to keep the trail going.  To be sure, that was still a lot of work!  When we come to obstacles, real ones, it will take effort and energy to work through.  No obstacle, worthy the name, will be overcome without struggle and sweat.  Yet, I can only imagine the sense of relief and joy when the work was done.  When we face obstacles, it takes persistence and patience to push through.  I can image the chain saw might have needed to be sharpened or the workers had to rest.  It wasn't just a few minute process.  Yet, they got through. 
3. But, the workers did not feel the need to cut through the all of the tree.  As a matter of fact, they left the vast majority of it.  How often, when facing obstacles, do we think we need to solve every thing...right now...or we have done something wrong and failed?  Notice how that line of thinking can lead you back to #1 above, which can make you feel like you are stuck in a vicious cycle or some kind of analysis paralysis.  Is there some way through the obstacle, dealing with what can be dealt with today?  Is there are portion or piece that is most important?  There is no formula to be applied to all times and places, simply questions we can prayerfully ponder.

I think this is true not only for our individual lives, but also our collective lives as well.  So often we want to solve big issues (discrimination or violence) right now...right away.  Rather than realizing that the power has been in the process...and the process is always two steps forward, one back. 

What obstacles are you facing right now?  Maybe it is your health (physically, mentally, emotionally) or maybe it is spiritual struggle or maybe it is a relationship.  Is there something you can do or is it time to turn around? 

It is my prayer that you will sense more than a trace of God's grace and guidance and especially love in these days.

Blessings ~~

Friday, July 6, 2018

Unplug


85 times.

That is how often each day people check their cell phone. 

85 times of seeing if you have an email or a Facebook update or a Snapchat...of course all these apps will conveniently ding and buzz the second they come through with a push notification.

Or sites claim that we spend almost four hours a day...or others say the equivalent of 23 days a year.

Needless to say, its a lot of time.

Needless to say, right now you are staring at a screen reading this post.

We all need to unplug...stop gazing at the thousand pixels and turn toward other ways of engaging.

By no means am I saying we become a Luddite and eschew technology. 

I am not going to give up my smart phone or computer or Netflix account.

But I am also going to realize that I am a person beyond and outside of those things.

I don't have to rush, race to answer every text immediately.

I don't have to surf endlessly on a screen for entertainment.

I don't have to binge watch every episode...after all...they will be there tomorrow or the next day or the day after that.

God called the 7th day Sabbath for rest, renewal, a cease from working, to be. 

God rested and still rests on the 7th day.

God invites us into a rhythm and a beat that isn't about production, but about a persistent and patient love that sees us as more than what we make or consume.

So, perhaps the best way to end this post, is to go outside right now...what do you hear? Smell? See? And encounter/experience?  May there be more than a trace of God's grace in that moment.

Amen.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Poem for the 4th of July



On this 4th of July, I am drawn to the words of the poet, Langston Hughes who lived from 1902 - 1967.  While his words are now over 50 years old, they still sing to my heart for our homeland.


 Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

The free?

Who said the free?  Not me?
Surely not me?  The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!

Monday, July 2, 2018

Vacation


This week, our family is heading out on vacation.  I am amazed how one word, "vacation," carries so much baggage, perhaps both literally and figuratively.  On the positive, vacation brings anticipation and excitement about getting away.  Vacation brings a different rhythm and routine.  Vacation brings new sights, sounds, smells, tastes and encounters which can expose us to different parts of the world.  Vacations open us to new and different.  On the other hand, sometimes we can build vacations up so much that they don't measure up to our hopes.  Vacations can bring us to the bring of where we feel comfortable or in control.  Vacations can sometimes leave us exhausted.  I know I have uttered the words, "I need a vacation from this vacation."

One of the parts of meditation is to set intention.  We can get so wrapped up in packing, preparing, making our lists and checking it twice, trying to get the last bit of work finished before we depart that we don't step back...breathe...and think about what we hope to get out of vacation. 

This week, my intention is first and foremost to spend time with my family.  Suddenly, this can shift perspective.  So what if we have to wait for something?  If we are waiting together, this has room to move in my intention.  So what if we are late to something?  We are late together.  To be sure, this doesn't alleviate all stress...especially because I loath being late to anything.  But it can help.

Another intention is to rest.  This means that if I am sitting in a chair by the pool while the kids swim, my top two intentions are a lived experience and encounter in that moment.  This means mentally shifting the to the "off" switch.  This means, my body might start to feel some aches that I had been outrunning the last few months.  This means, my soul might have some things to say and emotions that have been waiting in the shadows.

Notice my intention is not, "This will be the best vacation ever...ever...ever."  It may or may not be.  But that isn't the point.  The point is to be, to reconnect, to rest.  The point is that is more than enough.

May you sense more than a trace of God's grace this week.