Thursday, September 15, 2011

Fully Formed

Recently I have found myself frustrated by the choices I've made. I have said some things in retrospect I wish I had not said...done some things in retrospect I wish I had not done. To be sure this is not a new situation for a human to find himself or herself in. I think Paul said it best in Romans chapter 7:15

Yes. I'm full of myself - after all, I've spent a long time in sin's prison. What I don't understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can't be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God's command is necessary. The Message

Most of us prefer the language of mistake to sin. Most of us try really hard to cover up our mistakes rather than publicly tout them. Most of us find it hard to look at the reflect staring back at us in the mirror and see that we are: fully formed, unconditionally loved, and surrounded with unceasing grace.

We see the mistakes...or sins.

We see those moments our mouth gets ahead of our brain...a problem I have. We see those moments we laugh at the expense of another...or always make myself out to the bumbling butt of every joke. We see the shortcomings. That is important to be honest. We are not perfect.

What makes the good news so GOOD is that God sees our worst, our warts, AND our gifts, the time we get it right. God sees the moments I lose my temper AND when the moments when my energy is so low but by God's grace I sit down and play a game with my kids rather than zone out watching TV. God sees us as fully formed, because that is the promise of the beginning. We are created in the image of God. Not just a small part of us commonly called a 'soul'. All of us. To be fully formed is the promise we celebrate at baptism. This small child with drips of water running down her forehead is fully claimed, loved and formed to living into God's presence around her and within all of her. Our hands, hearts, heads, feet, voice, our laugh, our off-key, rhythmic challenged way I sway to hymns...all of that God sees as fully formed.

Often what happens for me is I get out of sync and in those moments I am not living into, living out the whole identity God formed and calls me to be. When I start stressing too much about tomorrow rather than trusting that manna (Exodus 16) will be there. When I start over planning for five years down the road rather than noticing God's presence and promise right here and right now. When I start seeing the glass half empty and thinking ONLY I can get it filled again. I am not living into that fully formed promise of God.

I don't think the goal of life is that I get it right all the time. But maybe I can notice when I am relying too much on myself and not enough on the traces of God's grace in my life. Maybe I can help people see the water level in that proverbial glass for what is: not as full as it could be, but full of God's presence and life and love nevertheless. Maybe by leaning into life, I won't stop all my mistakes but see them as part of the profound truth that I am fully formed.

May the truth and promise that you are fully formed lead you to lean into life and notice the graces traces this day.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Lessons from Golf

Last summer I took up the game of golf. It has at once been one of the most joyful and difficult things I've done. It never ceases to amaze me how much the rhythm of golf teaches me about life. For example I have learned from golf:

1). Relax...if you are shoulders are tense the chance of you hitting a bad shot go up enormously. Likewise, when I go into an event, experience, worship service or meeting feeling all the weight of the world on my shoulders my words slice off like a golf ball right into the woods.

2). Look around. The whole point of golf in the upper Midwest is you get to be outside. That may sound a bit strange to our friends in the south...but winter here can drag on and on and on. Golf gets you outside and often with friends. Enjoy the shade of the tree or the warmth of the sun on your face, enjoy the laughter and someone else to smile and cheer when you sink a putt or stand silently by when you shank a shot...that is all part of leaning into life.

3). Practice...practice...practice. I've l;earning that golf is a game of training your body to move in a certain way and getting comfortable with that. It takes time. What surprises me about this learning is how often people expect to come into church after a whole week of living one way and expect that an hour will change all of that. It is like me expecting to go out once a month and hit a whole in one.

I was recently reminded of a great quote from To Kill a Mockingbird where the main character says, 'I can't live my life one way in my house and other way outside my house.' We can't live our life one way on Monday morning and a complete opposite way on Sunday morning. It just doesn't work. Sunday morning is practice. Which when you think of it is completely odd. Not many of us sing to organ music on Tuesday afternoon or pick up the Bible or listen to a sermon during the week. But maybe we should!

If every day was practice for Sunday morning...maybe our Sunday morning would feel, sound and be more meaningful and aware of the grace traces of God all around us.


Lean into Life

So often today we struggle trying to make sense of the blur we call "life". This is most profoundly true at the extreme times.

Someone we love dies

We lose our job

We are offered another job, better pay and we have to sort all that out if we want to leave our current job

We notice that a significant relationship in our life either suddenly changed or over the last several years has slowly changed in such a way that we no longer recognize it

To be sure such rough, rocky times in life we might find what helps us through is a pint of Ben and Jerry's ice cream. Or perhaps for others something even more addictive or even destructive. I recently heard we are the most overweight, addicted, medicated, in-debt adult Americans.

We are trying to find joy, meaning, hope, peace, maybe even numb the pain, in some way. So, the new pair of shoes are great and you get lots of compliments the first time you wear them. Only a month later to see the scuff marks and your friends praising someone else for her new hat. Or your new cell phone amazes your friends out at the bar...until something else comes along.

It is important not to suffer from historical amnesia. This didn't happen over night. This didn't happen because of 'young people' today...who honestly shoulder too much of the blame. And adults who utter such a phrase should be more aware their behavior was the model as those 'young people' grew up!

What drugs (prescribed or not), alcohol, gambling, food, football, shopping, and other experiences can do when we turn to them time and time again. When we act like the whole reason for life is that particular item or thing or event is actually numb the way we experience life. Have a hard day, stop off at the bar like Cheers or perhaps the coffee shop like Friends.

What we struggle to do is lean into life. To lean into the difficulty we are having at work. To ask ourselves if there is something of God's presence even in that struggle. When we self-medicate, it clouds our emotions and thought process. To lean into the difficulty is not the way I live my life. But it is the way I long to live. I long to be someone who keeps his eyes open even when I am not sure what I am looking for. I long to be someone who trusts in God even in the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23).

Yet, others tell me, why bother? Advertisers tell me an Ipad 2 will help me feel cool. Or the new McCafe will relax me even as my kids run around screaming. Still others we see shrink or run away from the problems.

Leaning into life, all of life, is where we encounter God most profoundly. It does not always work out. Sometimes we lean into the pain and feel more pain. However, I have yet to find a time though when the pint of Ben and Jerry's was truly, honestly a better escape than actually feeling, noticing, and opening myself to all the present moment.

I pray you and I will have the strength to lean into life....and that we will notice traces of God's grace in those, all those, moments.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Tell me a Story

We live through stories. If you want to know more about someone get her to tell you a story. It is how we communicate our deepest feelings, hopes, the way we see our self, and countless other details.

Stories, most often, come straight out of our experiences.

I can tell you the story of how I met my wife.

I can tell you the story of the first time I saw my son and daughter.

I can tell you the story from a summer vacation.

The list goes on and on.

Because we make sense of our life through stories that come out of our experiences, it is very difficult not to get caught up in thinking, acting, believing that our stories and our experiences are the only truth.

I'll tell you a story. I was visiting with someone the other day who told me a story about a visitor who came over from England and was amazed that people in our countries had actual lots their houses sat on. The person then went over to England and saw first hand row houses and how confining that was compared to Midwest housing development. That story effects how I see my own house and my community.
Or the story of a young man who went to Nicaragua and saw first hand the mixture of poverty and pain and deep joy of a young child's face. It changed his life. And his story is now woven into my story and expands (if I let it) how I see the world.

Our experiences and stories are at once powerful and profound; as well as limited given the diversity of our world.

Growing up in the Midwest gave me a particular way of processing things. I would be different if I grew up in the South. Growing up in a lower middle class home gave me a particular way of seeing the world. I would be different if I grew up in a different economic bracket. Growing up white, male, and heterosexual continues to impact what I view and believe is normal. Growing up on the 80s on a steady diet of the Smurfs has certainly shaped my understanding of the world.

Now, to be sure, I don't preface every story I tell with the above list of disclaimers. But the stories I tell are shaped because of who I am, where I am and when I was born.

The stories you tell both proclaim truth and don't quite fully hit the nail on the head for all times and places. The stories you tell both proclaim who you the extent that you choose to tell some stories while keeping others to yourself. The stories you tell are both sacred and could use some fact checking.

When I say the Bible is a sacred, holy story, I mean that in the most honest sense I can. It points us to deep truths of who God and Jesus and the Spirit were and are. It points us to the promise of God. It points us to the reality that humans can be incredibly faithful one moment and making a golden calf to dance around the next moment. Are there contradictions? Sure. So too in the stories I tell every day. Does it make you or I any less trustworthy? Does it make us dishonest people? Should we leave stories behind because they not always perfect? I don't think so. It makes us fully human and fully created in God's image. I believe God loves a good story God delights not in dissecting the details of a story, but in the flow and connections and pain and joy and truth stories point to. God delights when we talk about a fish this big or the vacation where the suitcases got lost or the time we were driving to Des Moines, IA.

Which reminds me of a story....

May the traces of grace be heard and found in the stories you share and listen to this day.


God's Calling - We don't have it all figured out

  A few weeks ago, I offered the analogy of the Slinky as a serendipitous example of the ways calling can go off course and still end up in ...