Wednesday, October 31, 2018
Just when you think we had encountered the weirdest passage of scripture with Isaiah in the temple and given the worst sermon ever. Just when you think your Bible couldn't get any stranger. We land in Isaiah 8 which opens with this verse:
Then the Lord said to me, Take a large tablet and write on it in common characters, “Belonging to Maher-shalal-hash-baz,” Isaiah is asked to take a tablet (No, not made by Apple...like stone tablet) and told to write down a phrase. It means "Hurry to the spoils!" or "He has made haste to the plunder!" Okay...not the strangest Tweet I have ever read. Not exactly the most inspiring. But given what Isaiah had to preach in his first sermon, I guess this one doesn't exactly strike me as all that odd.
The text continues: and have it attested for me by reliable witnesses, the priest Uriah and Zechariah son of Jeberechiah. Apparently God likes to have divine speech notarized...I get that. If you don't copy write the stuff you put out on your blog...who knows who is going to take these words and turn them into something else. I am not sure God needed to have the phrase legally bound, but who am I to question God?
The text continues: And I went to the prophetess, and she conceived and bore a son. Then the Lord said to me, Name him Maher-shalal-hash-baz; Okay...this poor kid is never going to survive Middle School with a name like that. Actually...wait...even before the torment of pre-teens...imagine having to learn to write your name? I could barely get "W-E-S" to fit on a paper with one of those jumbo sized, thick crayons. You know his parents had to find some kind of nickname, because you could never get all that out of your mouth when you are angry at your child.
The text continues: for before the child knows how to call “My father” or “My mother,” the wealth of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria will be carried away by the king of Assyria. Again, Isaiah, with the doom and gloom? I guess if you have to be the one to first get this notarized and then name a child that...life may not seem all that great.
This passage reminds us that within Isaiah's life trying to help awaken people to God's presence isn't easy. And if it was hard back then, when anxiety hovered, hung in the air...when threats of outside forces surrounded God's people...and life seemed out-of-sync and sorts...that might just be true in all times and places. Trying to point to God...not to mention proof God in a time of "scientism" - of idealizing the scientific method which might not be the only way to process life as we know it - then finding witnesses to help us...naming realities in front of us...and seeing brokenness not as the absence of God but as a moment of God woven with us...might be something we all need more than we know.
I pray that the notarizing, naming, noticing God will move in your life this day with more than a trace of grace that makes all the difference.
Monday, October 29, 2018
And he said, “Go and say to this people:‘Keep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking, but do not understand.’ Make the mind of this people dull, and stop their ears, and shut their eyes,
so that they may not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears,and comprehend with their minds, and turn and be healed.” Then I said, “How long, O Lord?” And he said: “Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is utterly desolate; until the Lord sends everyone far away, and vast is the emptiness in the midst of the land. Even if a tenth part remain in it, it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak whose stump remains standing when it is felled.” The holy seed is its stump. Isaiah 6:9-13
Isaiah goes to the temple one day. Not a special or sacred day. Just an ordinary, average, I don't have anything else to do...I guess I will go to the temple kind of day.
At some point, Isaiah encounters and experiences God.
Not just warm, fuzzy feelings kind of experience of God. We are talking angels sing, smoke feeling the room, floor shaking kind of experience of God. Not just, "Ah, sweet, it's God." We are talking, "What in the world is happening" kind of experience of God.
It is what Annie Dillard pointed at when she wrote, "Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return."
An experience of the divine that is drastic and dramatic.
Isaiah initially thinks, "Good Lord, make it stop!" (Okay, he actually says, "Woe is me." But I really think my translation is worth consideration too.)
Then, the angel flies to the place where sacrifices were done, takes a coal that is white hot with tongs and touches Isaiah's lips. You know, the usual, ho-hum, nothing out of the ordinary here Sunday experience. Never mind Isaiah's lips now have third degree burn. Never mind that the whole scene seems like something out of an Alfred Hitchcock movie...so appropriate for Halloween week I think. Never mind that Isaiah then seems perfectly chill with the whole thing. As if, "Oh yeah, the coal to the lips thing is even better than Prozac."
And if all this wasn't enough...which it is...Isaiah then volunteers to serve on a church committee. Clearly we are not dealing with reality as we know it. Most of us would have been out the door if not during the smoke and shaking floor thing...when God started to ask for volunteers. "Would you look at the time, God, I gotta go. See you...well after this worship experience I think I am good for several weeks now."
Again, Isaiah, unlike most of us when someone asks for volunteers and we are studying the ground intently, Isaiah volunteers and is given: THE....WORST....SERMON...EVER. (feel free to let that last word, "Ever" echo as you say it aloud for effect).
I mean read the above quote from Isaiah 6 again. Talk about your Debbie and Donald Downer of a sermon. Tell the people they are blind, deaf, and ignorant.
Try taking an offering after that!
Tell the people that all they hold as holy is about to be stripped away.
Talk about kicking a person when s/he is down.
Tell the people everything is going you-know-where-in-a-handbasket...not one of those fancy Longaberger Baskets either...one of the flimsy ones where weave is coming out, the bottom is sagging, and the handle is only half hanging on.
I love to say that Isaiah may be geographically and chronically removed from today, but it is as close as the newspaper you read this morning.
Right now the news is being dominated by a person who sent pipebombs in the mail; political ads telling us that if the other side is elected you will see the four horsemen from the Apocalypse coming down...never mind the communities still trying to clean up from hurricanes and the environmental strain crying out and children homeless and hungry and pain of those grieving.
Go to people and tell them this, really?
I know, if you read the whole thing...or if you can GET through the whole thing...eventually it talks about a seed in a stump.
If ever we think we understand God...it is good to go back to Isaiah 6.
A bit of mayhem
And quite a bit of more than we can really comprehend.
A single seed in the stump...that we have to wait to see if it ever sprouts.
A single seed in the stump...slowly working out of our sight so we can't even measure progress.
A single seed in the stump...that at some unpredictable moment could break forth with a fragile sprout.
That is the way God works...which confounds me and causes me to re-think everything I think I know. Suddenly I do feel blind to God's movement. Deaf to God's still singing voice. Unaware of the ways God is creating and crafting even here and now. Just as Isaiah said.
Suddenly I do feel what the world gives me to make me feel confident and in control has been stripped away. Just as Isaiah said.
Suddenly, the world as I see/know/understand it does seemed turned upside down. Just as Isaiah said.
So maybe that seed is here and now if we are willing to watch...wait...wonder...and stay open to the One who is still calling and commissioning us to be God's hand, heart, and head in the world today. It is just as Isaiah said.
May there be more than a trace of grace in your life as we sit together with anticipation of the holy movement here and now.
Friday, October 26, 2018
How might we listen for God's love song in the world today? How do we open our eyes, ears, hearts, and whole lives to the beauty alongside the brokenness? Maybe this insightful poem might help provide you an entry point on the practice of paying attention. I hope you find more than a trace of God's grace as I did when I read it.
Litany on an Autumn Late Afternoon by Joanne Esser
Bless the slow walkers of old, gray-muzzled dogs
and the quick ones with their sleek young dogs
and the patient ones with rambunctious pups
they allow to take a dip in the lake.
Bless the new mothers pushing strollers,
cooing nonsense to their babies, tucking in
blankets as the breeze rises.
Bless the boy zooming along the path
on his orange bike who calls out
in his ten-year-old, high-pitched voice, “On your left!”
as he swishes past the white-haired man
pedaling his steady rhythm.
Bless the weathered woman in a wheelchair
and the young woman who pushes her along. Bless
both of their genuine smiles.
Bless the haloed girl riding on her daddy’s shoulders
in slant sun, and bless that man who raises her up
to a place where she can see the world
lit up before her.
Bless the taut-bodied, rope-muscled runners
with their serious expressions,
and the thick-thighed, soft-bellied joggers
whose faces show even more courage.
Bless the whistlers, the hummers and the ones
who choose to walk in silence.
Bless the loud, animated conversations between friends.
Bless the abandoned pacifier by the side of the path
and the child who is missing it.
Bless the teen in stars-and-stripes shorts
who rides his skateboard bare-chested,
hat on backwards, not meeting anyone’s gaze.
Bless the lovers, tall and short, old and young,
holding hands. Bless their unhurried pace.
Bless the wind, its small hands that pluck
ready golden leaves, twirl them through the air
down onto the grass, onto the sidewalk, onto us.
Bless the chirps of the last crickets, the surprise
of wind chimes someone hung in a tree,
the hush of wind over water
and the buoys bobbing, now empty of their boats.
Wednesday, October 24, 2018
So, last time we heard Isaiah invite us to turn and tune our ears toward God's love song. I invited you to consider ways you might listen and be lured by such a melody. It is important to circle back around to the truth that we cannot ever silence that which will sour our soul. We cannot turn our backs and plug our ears from the harsh, hard realities around us.
We know that even as I sense God's love song in laughter with my family or walking with my wife or being at a PRIDE fest...there is too much hate and violence in our world. There are too many people calling us to take up arms against those people. The vast majority of the 5000 ads I see right now every day are political commercials tell me that if the other person wins it will be the worst thing ever because clearly we can see that the other person might be the most selfish/self-centered ever created. No one comes on a political ad and says, "I disagree with the policy my opponent proposes but s/he is still a beloved child of God." Or at least no ad I've seen.
Here is the problem and it all goes back to grapes.
I have never seen one single grape grow on its own. Rather grapes all grow in bunches. Some of the grapes grow bigger, some small. Some are a deep purple or red or green...others lighter depending on where it grows in the bunch. Moreover that one bunch of grapes trying to thrive is not the only bunch on the vine. In a good, healthy vineyard there are thousands of bunches.
Or as it was once said, "The term individual Christian (person of faith) is an oxymoron." You will never be the you, you were meant to be without a "we". In many ways, we don't get to always select the "we". My children didn't ask to be brought into this world. We don't vote every year to continue to be a family. So, we try to grow together. And to be sure, sometimes a family member or friends hurts and harms us, makes us feel cut off from the vine or shadows us from the warmth of the sun or makes us feel the way we want to grow would be misshaped or a mistake.
How do you balance the both/and part of growing?
And suddenly I wish I was a grape...because it seems to come much more naturally and this is where the metaphor might break down.
Yet, perhaps it is by thinking about the truth that I will never be the I, I was meant to be without a "we" that is inclusive...especially of people I wish would rather go grow on a vine far, far away. I will never be the I, I was meant to be without a "we" who challenges me. Growth rarely happens in a sterile safe environment. Growth for our bunch of grapes happens in the harshness of wind and rain and sun...drought and being drenched...and the most beautiful day you could ever imagine. Are you with me?
Until as people we understand the biggest, boldest, most embracing two letters of "we"...we will continue to struggle to see our interconnected-ness and interdependence. But when we do dare to leap into a "we" that might even include our friend who votes another way or worships in a different church or belongs to that organization...we will always be missing an essential part of the bunch. I pray for you and me in these days that we might find more than a trace of God's grace to be a "we" our families, communities, country, and world needs in such a time as this.
Monday, October 22, 2018
Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. Isaiah 5
One of the great insights Isaiah offers us is the prayer/poet practice of weaving hope and harshness of reality together. He continually returns to both the promise and problems that comprise life today.
In the above passage he invites us to hear God singing a love song to the vineyard. Quick timeout ~ when you see the image of a vineyard that is a metaphor the Biblical writers employ for the people of God. We are to be like a vineyard producing the best, plumpest, most delicious grapes ever! Okay... now back to our regularly scheduled blog.
So, God sings to the grapes...sings to us. How do we hear God's love-song to us? Especially amid the tweets and 24 hour news cycle and almost 5000 ads we encounter every day (by the way, in 1970 you encountered only 500 ads every day...so to say there is an increase is like saying water is wet!). Now, some suggest you have to get away...clear away the clutter out in creation. Others will tell you never, ever pick up your cellular device. Others will say it is the church. Others will say it is community service. It seems like most people are convinced they have the musical sheet God will sing off to you. But, I am not sure God is only singing in one way. What if God sings to you as you read this blog. As you sit in silence for a few moment to hear the bird squawking outside. As you go for a walk with a friend. As you attend a PRIDE fest. Just as I love to listen to a variety of music, so I believe God can sing in many, many keys/tempos/styles.
But Isaiah will say that even as we try to listen to God's love-song...there are moments we are still sour grapes or wild grapes. Moments you and I gripe and grumbles...get cynical and critical...think nothing will ever change and this is the absolute hands down worst things have ever been!
When the love-song is drown out by the toxic deluge of name calling. When the love-song is set aside because we want our people to have the power...not those people. When the love-song is silence because we will play again when things are more to our liking. Remember, Isaiah is preaching poetically and prophetically to people who felt deep fear...who felt surrounded by enemies...who didn't know who to trust...who was saying if it wasn't for bad news there would not be any news at all.
Isaiah is preaching poetically to us.
We need to be grounded in God's grace in such a time as this. What will nourish and nurture our lives is staying connected to the source that can fill us with peace...even when the rest of the world thinks we are foolish. How do you stay open to the love-song...while not ignoring the fear...but also not letting that fear pick the radio station? How do you listen to the One whose voice may not always be the loudest in our shouting/cacophony of a culture...but is here and now and still singing?
Take a moment...be still...listen...I pray you hear the sacred song...with more than a trace of grace.
Friday, October 19, 2018
If Isaiah is more than a prophet or pastor...but a poet; it might behoove us to read some poetry prayers from today. Here is one in particular I read this week that stirred my soul:
“We Are All Writing God’s Poem”
by Barbara Crooker
Today, the sky’s the soft blue of a work shirt washed
a thousand times. The journey of a thousand miles
begins with a single step. On the interstate listening
to NPR, I heard a Hubble scientist
say, “The universe is not only stranger than we
think, it’s stranger than we can think.” I think
I’ve driven into spring, as the woods revive
with a loud shout, redbud trees, their gaudy
scarves flung over bark’s bare limbs. Barely doing
sixty, I pass a tractor trailer called Glory Bound,
and aren’t we just? Just yesterday,
I read Li Po: “There is no end of things
in the heart,” but it seems like things
are always ending — vacation or childhood,
relationships, stores going out of business,
like the one that sold jeans that really fit —
And where do we fit in? How can we get up
in the morning, knowing what we do? But we do,
put one foot after the other, open the window,
make coffee, watch the steam curl up
and disappear. At night, the scent of phlox curls
in the open window, while the sky turns red violet,
lavender, thistle, a box of spilled crayons.
The moon spills its milk on the black tabletop
for the thousandth time.
May these prayerful, poetic words be more than a trace of God's grace in your life today.
Wednesday, October 17, 2018
As we explored and entered into in the last post, Isaiah is called to be a poet, prophet, and preacher in a time of upheaval and pain. He ministers in a moment of tension. Isaiah is willing to shine a light BOTH on the brokenness as well as God's blessings co-existing in that that time. Isaiah calls people to accept both that we have fallen short of God's dream/prayer/love for the world...but that God isn't finished with us yet either.
From theologian Walter Brueggemann - the difference between a whiner and a prophet is that the prophet brings HOPE. The prophet doesn't lead us to despair just so we can all have a pity party about how bad things are, the prophet calls us to act with faithfulness that God is still creating and speaking and singing in our midst today.
Too often today we get caught up in only seeing that which is broken and painful that leads us to cynicism and being overly critical. While there is much that is wrong in the world today, I also acknowledge that human's capacity to hurt and harm each other has been with us for a long time. I think of women fighting for the right to vote but being laughed at or our African-American brothers and sisters having a fire hose turned on them or beaten on a bridge or LGBTQ+ being told they are less than lovingly created in the image of God. Or any of the above groups living in fear of violence and abuse. The prophet always calls us to accountability in the ways we are using power. And those with power are always going to defend and deflect and deny wrong doing.
Yet, Isaiah doesn't just say everything is going to you know where in a hand basket, so whatta gonna do about it? He shines a light on the pain and hurt and says there is hope. Hope of a day when swords will be no more. Hope of a day when creation will be reordered and renewed. Hope that God is still doing a new thing. While Jesus doesn't quote that exactly or verbatim, Jesus does say, "Your will and Your kingdom come." A kingdom not of leaders with power over, but a God who shares power with us. A kingdom not of hierarchy or hegemony, but of equality.
Again...we can say, "Yeah right, Isaiah. Are there talking/flying ponies too?" Our sarcasm is our way of deflecting our own responsibility or for us to blame others as the ones who are the problem. When we are compelled by the vision of God, it will make a demand upon our actions...not only when we feel like it but all the time. All the time, especially when we don't feel like it and especially with that person.
Makes me think of one of my favorite quotes from G.K. Chesterton, "Christianity has not been tried and found lacking...it has been found difficult so left untried." Or we have shaped Christianity into something more palatable for our consumer society. We talk about God wanting you to be successful or that God believing exactly the way we do. When we talk about God, Karl Barth said, we talk about ourselves with a megaphone.
The poet/prophet holds up a mirror so that if we are courageous enough, we might actually stop to see that we want others to bend their swords into plow shares first...or we want our enemies to change so perhaps we don't have to. But, if we don't start letting Isaiah's vision inspire, challenge, and call to us, who will? If we don't let these words interrupt and disrupt us now, when will we? When the stock market is better or our political party is in power or when we have time for it?
Isaiah didn't just preach to people back then and there, he is preaching to us here and now. So, perhaps if we are brave to listen, we might get caught up in more than a trace of God's grace.
I pray it might be so for you and me.
Monday, October 15, 2018
It all started with Doctor Seuss. His one fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish, not only helped me catch a love of poetry, but to my type A always multitasking personality, Seuss also helped me learn my colors and how to count. The love of poetry was fanned to flames by Shel Silverstein who humorous tells of a child listing all these reasons why she cannot go to school today because she has, "the measles and the mumps, a gash, a rash and purple bumps. Her mouth is wet, her throat is dry. She is blurry in her right eye. Her tonsils are as big as rocks, She counted sixteen chicken pox.” And after a long list of ailments when she hears that today is Saturday does she say she is really okay and going out to play. Whether it is Robert Frost’s inviting us to see two road in a wood diverging or his playful commentary on how fences make for good neighbors; whether it is Mary Oliver asking that powerful and profound question, “What is it that you intend to do with your one wild and precious life?” Poetry for me sloooooows me down. You cannot rush, race through poetry the way you would a novel or essay or blog post from some random pastor! Poetry continues to be a prayer practice in my life. I love what Eugene Peterson says about poetry. That it helps clear out our eyes from all our gawking and clear out our ears from too much squawking. The poet’s job is not just to describe the world as it is, but how it could be. To widen our imaginations beyond what we simply see.
One of the ways we can engage and encounter Isaiah is listen to his call to be a poet, pastor, prophet in the days before the Babylonian exile. Quick Bible history lesson in two minutes. The defining and distinguishing moment in the Hebrew Bible is the exodus, God liberating God’s people from enslavement in Egypt. They wander for forty years in the wilderness because Moses won’t ask for directions. Eventually the people end up in the Promised Land. Over centuries they have a series of leaders, the most famous being King David. But after David things went gradually downhill and on a steady decline, no one quite measured up to the man, myth, legend of David. Eventually, the northern part of the Promised Land broke away from the Southern part. Isaiah is born into a people who are struggling to find unity in the midst of diversity. He is born into a world where people fear the other both from other countries as well as internally, where they are not quite sure who to trust any longer. He is called to preach to a people who don’t agree politically, socially, religiously on what to do. You can stop me any time this starts to seem relevant to today. While Isaiah might be distant geographically and chronically, he is also as close as the newspaper this morning, Isaiah dares to stand before people to say, “God is not finished with us yet.”
But Isaiah talks about the wolf and lamb laying down OR turning swords into plowshares; Isaiah, the poet and pastor, begins not with the usual religious route of telling us what is wrong and that we are at fault. Rather, Isaiah understands that you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar. He starts with a vision where all people are coming to God’s holy mountain (chapter 2). And to be crystal clear here, the all means all. Not just the people we like. Not just the people who believe as we believe, vote as we vote, think like we think but also those other people. Those people who frustrate us or we might even call our enemies. Please, please remember that Isaiah is saying to people who are living in fear of Babylon bursting and breaking into their country, that there will come a day when we will no longer let that kind of violence define our relationships. And if that wasn’t bold, or perhaps naive, enough, which it is; Isaiah goes on and says that because the only thing we have to fear is fear itself, there will come a day when the weapons we craft and create and cling to; that often give us a false sense of security, we will no longer need those. We will take swords and tanks and tools of destruction and drones and turn them into tools for hope. And perhaps Isaiah here is sounding more like Dr. Seuss or Shel Silverstien. We might say, “Seriously, Isaiah, you can’t possibly believe that all that could ever happen?” What could we possibly learn from ancient words spoken to a people living in brokenness and fear?
Isaiah is a poet, who understands that sometimes the only thing that can break through the fear-filled noisy cacophony of life today is softly to say, “It doesn’t have to be this way.” Theologian Walter Brueggemann says that it is the, "Vocation of the prophet to keep alive the ministry of imagination; to continue conjuring and proposing futures alternative to the single one the leaders propose as the only thinkable one." And often, because we don’t know what to do with poetry, we try to silence the poet. We silence the poets in our midst by saying, “Might makes right” is the only way. Today, we silence the poets by suggesting and saying that having diverse people connect can only happen in kindergarten classrooms. Today, we might silence the poets by suggesting and saying, “Swords will never become plowshares.” And if that is the word and wisdom that feed and fuel our lives, then perhaps Isaiah’s words will never become reality. But, what if, like Frost, we decide to take another road, the one not taken? A road that will lead us away from only thinking in terms of winners and losers. A road that takes us away from pitting ourselves against each other. A road that stop trying to decide who is in and out, but that in God’s presence all belong. A road that might not even appear on most people’s maps of what they believe to be possible or probable. A road that will cause us to journey with those who worship in different ways and in no way at all. A road that will link us to people with whom we have nothing in common. A road that will say you don’t need sharpen your words or weapons, for on this mountain God’s peace and presence invites us to just be - no ranking or rancor. That road some will say doesn’t exist, but for those who are making the road as we walk in the world today, we laugh and join the poet in proclaiming this path less traveled might not be seen, but it is prayerfully possible when our words, actions, and very presence take Isaiah’s profound vision to be our truth, our vision, and what guides us every moment this day and this week. So may the poetry of Isaiah leap from the page today and find expression in our lives for such a time as this with more than a trace of grace to sustain us. Amen.
Friday, October 12, 2018
For one second...just be and breath like a bubble sitting for a blink of an eye on the water.
For one second...nothing to produce or prove.
For one second...nothing to do other than be open to the mystery and majesty of right now.
For one second...suddenly five or ten seconds have piled up
And the world is still spinning...and CNN hasn't broken down your door with breaking news...and nothing has imploded without you running yourself ragged.
How could this be?
How could everything just keep moving when we are not?
When did we get this sense that to rest is to rust?
When did we equate breathing and being with laziness?
When did we adopt the stink thinking that we are only what we produce or consume?
Perhaps like a sly, sneaking fox at the hen house, these words have been working and wiggling in our lives.
Perhaps like a stream over a rock slowly working away at the granite, these words have set up for us a false choice:
Either you work yourself into a frenzy or you freeload.
But to simply be in the stillness...
To intentionally and prayerfully set aside this second and the one after that and even...yes...the one after that might actually be good rather than avoided at all costs.
Just look...you have now been sitting there for over a minute.
Still no one has broken down the door to see if you are okay.
What would happen if such a regular practice was part of your life?
Practice...not an obligation or demand...practice as in a basketball player taking free throw after free throw...not because she makes everyone perfectly...but actually because she wants to see what happens when she doesn't...learning from mistakes not success.
Let the stillness of these few fleeting seconds sing to your whole life today and tomorrow and may there be more than a trace of grace in this.
Wednesday, October 10, 2018
A time to transition from summer heat to cooler breeze...
A time to transition from long sun-drenched days to darkness draping the world earlier...
A time to transition from hazy, even lazy, summer days to moments our schedules crowd out space
A time to transition from one year toward the next, new year.
The trees teach and tell us about transition. Not clinging to leaves ready to fall or pushing that final one off the thin twig to leap to the ground.
Not by hiding when they vulnerably shed all the glorious green leaves or radiant fall colors.
Not be saying, "It's okay." Or "Nothing to see here."
Rather the tree audaciously cry out with fireworks of red, yellow, and orange...only to lose the spectacular-ness in less than fifteen minutes of fame to stand bare before the brutal winds of winter. Why would our lives be any different?
Just when we get the corner office, we feel the stress and strain.
Just when the bathroom remodel is complete, our eye goes to that one place the paint isn't perfect.
Just when life is harvesting the slow growth of seeds, we start counting down to Christmas.
This moment of transition when what was is no longer and what will be is not yet...there is something beautiful in this moment, in this morning, and it is more than a taste of God's grace found in a cup of coffee, slice of apple, a piece of sweet potato pie all put together.
So may you, in these transitioning days of October, experience and explore God moving in your midst in amazing and life-changing ways.
Monday, October 8, 2018
“The simple rose, at each moment of its slow blossoming, is as open as it can be. The same is true of our lives.” - Mark Nepo
I recently heard this quote on a podcast with Parker Palmer/Carrie Newcomer and was struck by it's profound and powerful wisdom. These words invite us to let the truth of nature sing and speak to our lives. We can get caught up in wanting to race and run through the stages of growth. We are always longing to be at the next place. Our phone pings with breaking news taking us out of the present moment or our calendar dings reminding us we need to leave...now...right now...okay now you are five minutes late. The texts and emails pile up.
Some of the difficulty with slow blossoming is being present. It is hard to notice what is right around us when we are being pulled and pushed in all kinds of directions by our to-do lists and phone calls and countless other things all demanding our attention. Some of the difficulty with slow blossoming is a world that keeps moving along with pressures that cause our shoulders to slouch and souls to stir uneasily. Some of the difficulty with slow blossoming is the reality of comparison. As an author once said, "Comparison is the thief of joy." When we look at what our neighbors or friends on Facebook/Instagram or anyone else has in relation to us, our rose of a life often seems closed or cluttered or chaotic.
The quote also suggests that where we were yesterday was exactly where we needed to be. We don't need to hold onto the pain of regret or remorse. I said or did that thing two years, two months, two weeks ago, because that was where I was. You don't hear a rose bud saying, "Everything will be so amazingly awesome when I finally open." Or, "I can't believe how closed off I was two days ago, that was so childish of me." Humans have a unique ability to criticize ourselves to the point of harm and hurt that won't heal.
What do you hear in this quote? How might it give you permission to be who and where you are right now? Not holding the past or fearing the future, just being and breathing in the present?
May those questions open you to more than a trace of God's grace in these days!
Friday, October 5, 2018
What is stirring in your soul right now?
Right in this moment as you are pausing over breakfast to read this blog... or checking it quickly over lunch ~ hopefully that I am not too long winded?
To pay attention to what is within us is the first step into the door way of prayer.
But too often we stay on the threshold of what could be rather than venturing too far into the room.
We fear that if we go sit on the couch with prayer it might make us as uncomfortable as the plastic on the sofa at grandma's house.
We fear that if we go too deep into the house of prayer it will be like a library where we are constantly being told to, "Shhhhhhh!"
We fear that we will just shift uncomfortably and try to spill in God's presence.
But prayer is about being fully open...even when it is messy.
But prayer is loud sometimes....especially when our emotions are on edge.
But prayer says all the wrong things in the presence of God who loves us unconditionally and loves us anyways and all ways.
When openness...fullness....willingness all sit down with you in the living room of prayer ~~ that is when the fun begins.
So, what is stirring in your soul right now?
Go ahead and let God know...it might just completely change your day, your outlook, and your whole world.
May you know more than a trace of God's grace this day.
Wednesday, October 3, 2018
The above quote from Mandela has been sitting and simmering on my soul all week long. So often I believe our choices are more grounded and guided by fear than by hope. Fears that someone might make more money than us, gets us up early in the morning into the office. Fears that our neighbors might have a better vacation keeps us always trying to feed Facebook positive images. Fear is the tool our political parties seem to return to time and time again. This is not new.
When Jesus was born, Herod was so paranoid by a baby that he ordered all male infants killed...so Jesus and his family fled in fear. During Jesus' life, the Pharisees feared that Jesus was eating with the wrong people so they accused him of being a glutton and drunkard. Jesus died because he was misunderstood by people. Crucifixion was a weapon of fear. Jesus came to confront fear. This doesn't mean that fear is completely removed from our lives...perhaps far from it.
We know fear all too well. And we misunderstand fear all too often. We think fear should always be avoided at all costs. Just look confident. Fake it until you make it. Just puff your chest out and look like you are in control...even as your insides churn relentlessly.
Jesus faced fear. I believe, Jesus felt fear too. He prayed in the garden for God to remove this cup. Fear is part of our life. We cannot avoid it or admonish it. But as another one of my favorite author says, Elizabeth Gilbert, "Don't let fear pick the radio station."
That is one of those quotes, along with Mandela's above, we nod enthusiastically to right now. But then...then when something happens in the news, fear comes knocking on the door. But then...then when the political party that is not align with you does something that you are against and feel powerless....fear is suddenly in the kitchen making you a taco. But then...then the doctor utters some words you never wanted to year...fear is now not only as close as your next breath but feels caught in the back of your throat.
We cannot control fear. We acknowledge it. We listen to why it is here. One of the ways you take the power away from fear is to stop denying it and instead start a dialogue with it. Fear will always break down in the face of our logical and loving sides ~ especially when those two sides team up.
So, what is it you are fearing right now? In your life, in your family, in your community, in the country and the world? Name the fear...notice that it is always there. But don't only listen...talk back to fear. Tell it, in a calm and centered voice, that you know where it is coming from...but there is also that song of hope that wants to be heard from our heart. The hope that today is not like yesterday... and tomorrow has promise and possibility of its own too.
Tell fear that it needs to rest its case...and then let hope take the stand to offer a testimony that life is more than just one side.
And may there be more than a trace of God's grace in this practice for you this week.
Monday, October 1, 2018
What pops into your mind when you hear the word, "normal"?
Do you think of your daily routine and rhythm?
Do you see "normal" as positive?
Or is it negative?
As in, normal is boring?
For the past four weeks, we have been remodeling our house. There has been no normal! There is no normal when you are making daily visits to Home Depot to stare at plumbing fixtures. There is no normal when a thin lay of dust covers every possible surface. There is no normal when you are trying to balance work, kids, and life.
So, after all these days, normal sounds like an amazing place.
This can be true when you are going through grief or trying to heal or struggling in any way. You start to crave normalcy. You begin to want normal not just a place to visit for a few hours...but want to take up permanent residency.
Normal has some tremendous positives. You can know what to count on when you are in a normal state. There is almost a grove...it might now be the most exciting beat to dance to, but it is steady and smooth and doesn't sound like a screeching tires coming to a stop. Normal has an upside of being predictable and persistent. Normal is also good after living in a state of chaos or feeling out of control.
I get why normal is scene as less than ideal. But after a few weeks I have a much better appreciation for the positives of normal. So, with the bathrooms nearing completion. With the house finally clean. With life settling back into the groove, even rut, of day-to-day, I give thanks for the state of normal.
May you find more than a trace of God's grace in the midst of the normal moments of life this week.