Parenting through Disappointment

pictureGimian- Disappointment

There are hard things about parenting. There’s the potty training and the bed wetting, the biting and the thumb sucking. There is the first day of school jitters and the uninvited birthday party.  There’s the struggle to write and tie shoes and sit still and use a pencil. There’s manners and bed time and screen time and video games and the monitoring of phones and i pads and computers.  There’s the neighbor’s cool scooter, and spring break trip to Hawaii and the latest $150 shoes -on sale, “Can I have that too?!”  There’s the stress of academic achievement and the pressure to be in Honors this or in AP that.  There’s the pressure to be. To be excellent. To be outstanding. To be the best.

Yes, there are hard things about parenting.

But the hardest thing of all is walking with your child through disappointment.   Here’s an example: There are just so many spots on the travel baseball team. – And why exactly do we want this in the first place? – But we do!  Because if you don’t sign your kid up for travel baseball, and all of the other parents do sign their kid up for travel baseball, then their kid plays five times more baseball than your kid and then your kid doesn’t have a chance at the next tryout, or at the school try out.  So you suck in the air, write the check, fork over your time and put your kid out their to try out.  And then you hold your breath, and wait for the email to come.  The email arrives and says, “Sorry, please try next year.”  And you have to go into your son’s room, sit on the bed and say, “You didn’t make it.”  Whereby he walks out of the room and slams the door, and you sit there on his bed and wait until he comes back and lays his head in your lap, while he softly cries, but doesn’t want to talk about it.  And then he gets up, wipes his eyes, and goes outside to play some more ball.  And you sit there on his bed,  take a deep breath, cry a little yourself and think, “Man, that hurt.”

It’s at that crystallized moment when  parenting happens.  How we as parents talk about disappointments, respond to the disappointment and move on from it, is what helps create a healthy person with strong self esteem, because life is full of disappointments and if we teach our kids that they were robbed or somehow entitled, we do them no favors.  If we act like everything is o.k. and just pretend like we don’t care, we do them no favors.  If we get mad, throw a fit, or try to persuade with money or power, we do them no favors.

My kids have had more disappointments than “achievements” the beginning of this school year.  They have had visions of what they wanted to accomplish and where they wanted to be and they haven’t achieved those visions.  So we have had to  welcome disappointment to the table.   Here is what we have learned. It’s important not to make disappointment bigger than it has to be.  After all, it was just an audition and there will be many more auditions. It was just a tryout, and there will be other tryouts.   So, we need to settle down and remember it’s not the end of the world.  While disappointment has a voice at the table it does not get to be the only voice.  So let’s not get too crazy.

On the other hand,  it’s important to let disappointment have room to express itself. Name it.  Cry.  Stomp your fist. Shout.  Give kid’s space to express disappointment.  Here’s the kicker – make sure you aren’t crying, stomping, or shouting louder than they are.  If your disappointment is bigger than their’s, then their disappointment loses power.   So keep your ego in check.  We can be disappointed for our kids, but we have to keep ourselves in check and ask the question:  Are we living vicariously through our kid’s lives and thereby not letting our kid’s have their own story?

Disappointment is part of life.  It’s the way it goes. But, building yourself up from a disappointment, getting out there and trying again, not letting the negative out way the positive, having fun, thinking about other kids and building empathy, not giving up, that is the building of some strong bones.  Those bones will support them when life brings bigger disappointments, more life changing disappointments, when a job is lost or relationship breaks up. They will have the resilience to know that they will endure and persevere.

Lastly, I think the best thing I did for my kids this fall was empathize with them.  I told them stories about when I was kid and tried out for a play and didn’t get the part I wanted.  I had my sister, who played ball, call my son and share her baseball scars.  We found stories almost by chance about achievers, people we admired who were had far more disappointments in their life than accolades and kept going.  I let them know they were not the first kid in the world to have that feeling in their heart, and they will not will be the last.  So when they see kids who are disappointed, they can empathize with them and be a better friend.

Then,  when it was all over and we had cried, thought about what we learned from the experience, thought about how they could get better, or not, we moved on, changed the subject and told funny stories. We held each other a little tighter.  And then we went out for ice cream.

It’s just the way it goes.

 

 

 

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The Sinking Feeling: Sermon on Matthew 14:22-33

 

Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom. – Soren Kierkegaard

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Have you ever had a sinking feeling?  It’s phenomenon that happens in the stomach that  we can’t control but we can  always remember the last time we experienced it– when the phone rang, or the report card came, or news came on and we feel like all of the blood has come out of our head and we feel sort woozy and well, out of control.

In all of the times I have had a sinking feeling the primary experience in all of them was a feeling of vulnerability.  I didn’t know what was going to happen and I was scared.  Chemically, what is happening, when you have a sinking feeling,  is that blood is leaving your stomach, because your brain has gone into survival mode and doesn’t think you need to eat anymore.  It thinks you need to survive and that means you either need to fly or fight.

Sinking feelings are o.k. to have once in a while and should be expected in moments like– the first day of school  or the moment the doctor comes in with the test results, or unexpected life event takes place.  It’s when that sinking feeling starts happening all of the time, when it becomes more often than not, that people can get a little twitchy.

That’s the situation the disciples were in in the 14th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel.  By the time we get to the end of the 14th chapter of Matthew, the disciples are twitchy. Here’s why:

At the beginning of the chapter, something awful has happened.  Something that made them realize they weren’t as safe as they thought.  Something that made the disciples realize that being a disciple of Jesus Christ could get you killed. Remember that they are following a Rabbi who fighting the establishment, and the establishment just pushed back, big time.  Do you know what happened?  They beheaded John the Baptist. 

They killed Jesus’ cousin.  They sent out a warning shot to stand down, because this is what happens when you mess with the Roman Empire.  Imagine the sinking feeling they had when  the heard the news that he was killed.  Imagine Jesus’ grief and vulnerability when he learned of the news.  It is this context of deep grief and shock that the disciples try to get away. Matthew says they retreated.  You could say that the sinking feeling resulted in flight.

Sometimes we look at the atrocities of the world and we read stories so horrendous you can’t help but wonder how in the world could something like that happen?  Or, even how could God let it happen?  Or where is Jesus when the world appears to be falling apart?  And the news and all that it is in it, can make someone just want to fly away and live on the island of Denial.

Sometimes there is too much chaos.

But, here’s the bad news, being a follower of Jesus Christ, desiring a spiritual life that is rich and meaningful cannot be achieved by running away. Henri Nouwen put it this way:  “The spiritual life does not remove us from the world but leads us deeper into it.”

And so as the disciples try to move into a retreat, they find they are being followed by the pain of the world.  Five thousand people come to this barren land.  They are hungry and thirsty and sick and broken and Jesus looks out at all of those people and has pity on them and the disciples look out at all of those people and they have a sinking feeling and think there is no way we can address all of these needs.  Jesus says “that’s right,  you can’t, but I can,  let me work through you” and by his miracle, the disciples are able to feed the five thousand.   Sometimes when we have a sinking feeling, instead of running away, we think, “No way. It’s impossible there is no way I can do this.”  The sin here isn’t in the defeatist attitude. The sin is thinking that we are the ones who perform miracles in the first place.

So when we are in chaos, or see our brothers and sisters in chaos, we do not flee, we feed. We clothe. We share. We clean. We move. We give a hand. We look out on to sea of people who are hungry, frightened, and uncertain, just as the disciples did, and we trust that there will be enough for everyone to be fed, and by the grace of God and the hands of the disciples, they will be.

At last we come to the end of the 14th chapter of Matthew, and why a I say that at this point the disciples are now, twitchy.  They have had their share of sinking feelings.  They have witnessed violence they never thought they would see and they have seen 5000 people crying out for help.

So Jesus  put the disciples on a boat and he goes off to pray. – What can go wrong?

All of the disciples are in a boat, out to sea, sort of like how all of the church is the body of Christ in the world,  and a storm comes upon them and they once again get that sinking feeling, although this time they really might sink and they are really uncertain they are going to make it to shore, or survive and then they look out into the sea and see what appears to be a ghost moving toward them and now they are really afraid. More afraid than when they heard about John the Baptist, more uncertain than they were when they fed 5000 people.

And Jesus speaks out and says, “take heart it is I, do not be afraid.”  And Peter, who is known as the Rock, the Father of the Church says to Jesus, “Lord if it’s you let me come to you… ” Which is  strange thing to say.  Couldn’t he have asked for a safer litmus test?  He says “let me come out on the water” and Jesus says, “sure come out” and Peter starts walking toward him, full of faith and hope and then he suddenly gets that sinking feeling, Um this impossible.  It’s impossible to walk on water. What if…. What if it’s not Jesus. What if I’m crazy, after all I just stepped out of a boat. What if I drown?  What if he can’t save me?  And Peter sinks into the Ocean and this is my favorite part,  Jesus, reaches out his hand and saves him.  That gets me every time.  He reaches out his hand and saves him.  You know that tells me?  That tells me that Jesus wasn’t very far away from him at all, he was close enough to reach out and grab him and bring him back to the boat.

And then Jesus says incredulously, “you of little faith, why do you doubt?”  These are words none of us want to hear.  Why can’t I have more faith?  Why can’t I trust God?  Why do I let fear take over my faith?   I believe I am in God’s hands, but when I feel vulnerable or afraid, I start to sink. When have faith, but then when turn on the news, or get sick, or lose a friend and we  start to sink.  What if Peter hadn’t sunk?  What if he had just slung his legs over the side and  just walked on out there and given Jesus a high five?

That may have been an exciting story, but that wouldn’t have been our story. Like Peter we have faith and we have doubt.  We have hope and we have fear.  They are not mutually exclusive.  We are both, people of faith and doubt. They exist at the same time, allowing us to rise and fall in they storms of our life.

So take heart, Jesus gets it.  He does not judge your doubt, or punish you for it, he only asks you why?  Why do you doubt?  Think on that for a while… when you have doubts  in your faith life, why are you doubting, is it because you are angry, or hungry, or broken, or sad or disillusioned or anxious?   Jesus doesn’t condemn Peter, rather he says, “take heart….”

Madelyn Lengle – “As long as Peter didn’t remember that we human beings have forgotten how to walk on water, he was able to do it.”

It suggests that at one point we were able to do it and have forgotten.

What are all of things we have forgotten? –  Have we forgotten that Jesus  has always asked  his disciples to do impossible things and his disciples continue to do impossible things every day?

God is constantly asking people to impossible things.

He asked Mary to be the mother of God.

He asked Moses to change the course of history.

Jesus asked the disciples to feed 5000 people

Sell everything and give it to the poor.  Impossible

Love your neighbor – even your social media neighbor. Impossible.

What are impossible things that people try?

We fight diseases that have non existent cures. Impossible

We go to Haiti – the poorest place on the earth and try bring clean water and stop cholera. Impossible

We believe in forgiveness.  Impossible.

We believe in mercy. That our salvation comes from grace. Impossible

We believe in prayer. That we can personally speak to God. impossible

Parents watch their children grow up and then they have to let  them go – impossible.

People go to cemeteries and hope they will see their loved ones again – impossible

Only a short time ago, we watch in horror as hate and fear march through the streets of Virginia and  we wondered how can this be happening? End racism in our nation? Impossible.

Now we are glued to our news footage as we see the thousands of people impacted by great flooding, and we wonder how can we serve all of these people?  Bring order out of chaos? – Impossible

And suddenly walking on water doesn’t sound so impossible when up against all these impossible things.

It is impossible unless, we hold fast to Paul’s words: “ love bears all things, believes all things,  endures all things, love never dies”

 

If you are sinking, take heart, be not afraid.  He knows the impossible thing he is calling you to do  and he will not let you sink.  Take his hand. He’s not so very far away. Amen

Lord Hear our prayer,
For those who have lost everything.
For those who are stranded
For those who are frightened
For the elderly
For the child
For the parent
For the rescue worker
For the aid provider
For the police officer
For the reporter
For the lost
For the weary
For the sick
For the mentally ill

God, move your loving Spirit over each broken heart tonight and settle yourself on their shoulder. Pull them close to you and rock them back and forth, back and forth and say to them, “I will not leave you, I will not leave you, I will not leave you.”

Strengthen them for the journey ahead. May angels intercede and hope come from despair. We pray your light outshines the darkness.

Lord In your mercy. Hear our prayer.

The Thing about Friendship

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But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.”  (Ruth 1:16-17)

I have only transcribed one book from Hebrew into English, and it was the Book of Ruth.  If you are going to sit with the ancient language of Hebrew, I recommend sitting with it in the book of Ruth.  It’s a beautiful story of family and friendship, of heartache and perseverance, of sacrifice and my favorite Hebrew word, Hesed,  which means, “steadfast faithfulness.”

The thing I love most about the summer, is that it provides a season for family and old friends to re-unite.  This summer I spent a week with my cousin, whom I haven’t seen in three years and my oldest friend, whom I hadn’t seen in over five.  Being with them, it was like not an hour had past, since we had last been together.  There is something so enriching and humbling about the people who have known you forever and still love you today!  They love you just the way you are. They are like plants with deep roots.  They are planted deep in your soul and cannot be easily pulled.  They provide steadfast faithfulness.

Today is the first day of school for many of our kids and I know that the biggest concern isn’t what they will be learning in science class, but rather, who they will sit with at the lunch table, Who will be their friend?  True friends are hard to find.   Some of our children will start the year reading E.B. White’s, Charlotte’s Web, where they will read the conversation between Wilbur and Charlotte:  “Why did you do all this for me?’ he asked. ‘I don’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you.’ ‘You have been my friend,’ replied Charlotte. ‘That in itself is a tremendous thing.”
There is an old hymn called, “What a friend we have in Jesus.”   When I think about Jesus and his friends I remember his vulnerability and grief when Lazarus died.  I remember that he did the most human thing: he wept.  My parents are starting to lose their friends. Yesterday we learned that one of my mom’s oldest friends, and my first piano teacher passed away.  She was in a word: a gem.  It seems like every time I call home, there is another friend with a diagnosis, or has passed away.  As I watch my parents accept this stage of life, I see how deep and meaningful these friendships were.  I see that there was steadfast faithfulness in these friends who came to the hospital, kept a T-time, walked every Tuesday, met for Bible study, sent a card.  These friends are the ones who gave life to life.  True friends are hard to find.

Henri Nouwen wrote on friendship:

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”

The gift of friendship is a gift from God.  It’s rare and real.  It’s steadfast faithfulness.

One final quote to sum it up:

“It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn’t use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like “What about lunch?”
― A.A. MilneWinnie-the-Pooh

Peace,

Shelly

 

 

 

A Conversation on Civility

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 ci·vil·i·ty \sə-ˈvi-lə-tē\“

Now there is a final reason I think that Jesus says, “Love your enemies.” It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. Just keep being friendly to that person. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load. That’s love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love. There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies. (from “Loving Your Enemies”)”

― Martin Luther King Jr.A Knock at Midnight: Inspiration from the Great Sermons of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.

We do still believe in civility. – Don’t we?

I always believed we were a society that was striving not for wealth and prosperity, but rather that humanity was always striving to be more decent, more humane, than the generation before them…that our common purpose was to not make the mistakes of the past.

Have human beings regressed?  As we have advanced in technology, have we declined in our maturity?  Maybe we weren’t ready for such technological advances.  Maybe our species can’t keep up with the rapid movement of technology and by using it, we have lost the foothold we had on the capability to reason, forgive, and have empathy.

As a species, homo-sapiens are given a conscience.  A mother duck abandons her baby duck because the duckling is weak and we say, “well, that’s nature” and we accept her behavior.  A mother human abandons her child, and we say, “that is unconscionable” and we have an emotional response to that decision and say, “that is unacceptable”.  We expect more from our fellow human beings than we do from nature, because we believe that human beings are creatures with a conscience.

I want to believe that most of us human beings around the globe want a civil society.  I want to believe that greed and economic gain is not our highest value. – Although, I confess I am becoming more cynical on that one.  I want to believe that we all want our great grand children to breathe clean air and drink clean water and be tolerant of people from other religions and cultures.  I want to believe that as a society, we care more about ethical behavior and civility and justice, then power and wealth.

I want to believe that most of us want civility, ethics and reason to be front and center of societal norms.

Those with voices of reason, calm and integrity must speak out.  If you are a mature, critical thinker, who has been watching all of the world events from the side line, reading the editorials,  watching history roll out before your eyes, and wondered, “When are the reasonable people going to show up?”  – You are it.  Ghandi  is not coming back.  You are the one the world is waiting for.  There are no other reasonable people left, but you.

If you are waiting for civility to return to our nation, it will not happen unless you fight for it.

Wringing our hands on the side line while evil pervades, puts evil in the place of power.

There are more people who identify themselves as centrists, moderates, balanced thinkers, and its time they speak up.  We have got to stop blaming, shaming, and hating those who disagree with us.  Because when they strike the nuclear bomb, nobody is going to care where you stand on an issue.  When the ice caps melt and the planet does what the scientists tell us is going to happen, no one will care if  you believed it would happen or not.

If you feel hatred, I mean real hatred, towards another person or kind of person, because you think they are evil, or destroying our country, or blind to reason, or see the world differently from you, and if you actually hate them for that, then evil has won and the plan, intended or not, to bring neighbor against neighbor is working.

We need to be more civil with one another, so that when we see true evil rear its head, we stand more united then divided.  We must name evil when we see it.

Being tolerant of other people’s point of view does not devalue your point of view.  We have somehow convinced ourselves that our world view is the only world view.  We have fallen to the lowest common denominator.

Edwin Friedman said something to the effect of, “it’s much harder to be the most mature person in an immature system, than the most immature person in a mature system.”  We are living in a immature system.  It’s time to grow up, or as my dad would say, “get your head on straight.”

We are regressing as a society.  What I mean  can be best explained by Friedman:

“By the term regression I mean to convey something far more profound than a mere loss of progress. Societal regression is about the perversion of progress into a counter-evolutionary mode. In a societal regression, evolutionary principles of life that have been basic to the development of our species become distorted, perverted, or actually reversed. Chief among those evolutionary principles are:  self-regulation of instinctual drive;   adaptation to strength rather than weakness;    a growth-producing response to challenge;    allowing time for maturing processes to evolve; and    the preservation of individuality and integrity. Emotional regression, therefore, is more of a “going down” than a “going back”; it is devolution rather than evolution. It has to do with a lowering of maturity, rather than a reduction in the gross national product. One needs to view societal regression in three dimensions, not two. At the same time that a society is “pro-gressing” technologically it can be “re-gressing” emotionally.”
― Edwin H. FriedmanA Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix

Let’s work on self regulating and not just reacting with an emotional response.  Let us work toward identifying our strengths and focus on where we see possibility.  Let’s remember that the fast speed way in which we work is not necessarily the right way.  We need to slow down.  For the love of God, we need to stop just thinking about our self interests and thinking that we are more righteous than our neighbors.

We need to stop blaming, othering, triangulating, shaming, and fighting.

We need to start listening, learning, pausing, communicating, and forgiving.

In other words:  We need to get our heads on straight.

Hold Fast

20158044_10214020877984918_5158460179042341788_oHe grew up in a house that could easily catch fire.  The roof was made of tinder wood and at night mice would scurry along the roof with the makings of their nest,  forming a match that would put the house ablaze.  He would get up, sprint two miles to his grandparent’s house where he could get help.  Once he would get there, with sweat soaked pajamas, he would vomit from fear and fatigue.

He stayed in school until his was 15, working as the school janitor at night to pay his way.

When he was 17, he was forced to leave his Missouri home –too many mouth’s to feed.  They gave him a pony, his few belongings and maybe a dollar or two, and he was on his own to figure it out, survive and somehow live.   I often think about that day when he left home.  What went through his mind?  Was he sacred?  Determined?  What did he carry with him that was not seen?  Did he carry integrity?  Humor? Honesty?

This is a snapshot of my grandfather’s life and events that took place in the 1930’s.  A time that seems long ago and yet, in the grand scheme of things, was not so very long ago.  A time when everyone knew something about being poor, and childhood wasn’t worshiped and life was hard and yet somehow, ironically easier than today.  He had no cell phone. He would need both hands to catch rabbits and squirrels for supper.  He had no education beyond 8th grade.  He never took an AP class, or was on a formal athletic team, or read Jane Eyre, or typed on a computer.  He knew every tree, bird, plant, how to wrestle and take apart a car and put it back together.  He was forced to enter adulthood before childhood ended — if he ever knew childhood at all.  And when he was old, his childlike curiosity attracted everyone to him.  No one ever told him to stop being curious. Nobody worried about his future.  Nobody really worried about him at all.

Why, am I telling you this story?   Because all of us have moments in our lives when it feels like our house is on fire.  We all have moments when we have no control over what is happening to us,  or the people in our family or in our country, or in our world.  Because life brings about adversity all of the time, and it is how we live to tell the tale that matters not only for the present day, but for the future.   How we confront the fires in our life impacts how future generations will face future fires.  Because it’s easier to tell a historical story of adversity than a present day one. It’s easier to talk about someone who overcame, than to confess a story about how hard it is to overcome.

We have all been told, and I’m sure it’s true, that character building comes through the hardest moments that you mark on your time line as a time of adversity.

The time you were rejected.

The time you were lonely.

The time you failed.

The time you got up and tried again. And failed again.

The time you realized the world was bigger than your own world.

The time your heart was broken.

The time you weren’t invited.

The time you were embarrassed.

The time you felt vulnerable.

The time everything fell apart.

These are the times that build character.  It’s not the awards or the accolades or achievements.  It’s the hard stuff of life that we all have more of than we care to admit and that we try to numb or avoid or pretend aren’t occurring as we paint perfect pictures on social media and to the world. —  It’s the hard stuff that creates character.  You cannot know humility if you have not been humbled. You cannot know perseverance if there was not something you needed to overcome.  You cannot know forgiveness if you have not sinned.

If we want our kids to people of strong moral character, and I believe most of us do, then we have to accept and know that their character will only be built out of struggle, humiliation, pain, loss, disappointment and heart break.

But, dear parents,  here is my word to give you,  two words actually:  Hold Fast.  Hold Fast.  I know this parenting journey is a rocky road. I know you look at your kid and think, “Will they be o.k.? Will they overcome that friendship that has gone sour, or that challenging subject, or the pressure to fit in, or whatever obstacle they are facing?”  The answer is “No, of course they won’t overcome it. They will face it, deal with it, grieve it, grapple with it, and then and only then will they overcome it.  And you will find that they have new skin on and they have weathered the storm and they are better person because they went through it.  So, hold fast. Hold Fast.”

Everyone one of us has a story of a relative who found themselves in places that were not of their choosing and they had to decide how to  survive and persevere.  We stand on their shoulders.  We need to believe that our kids are as capable of overcoming adversity as those who came before us were.  Indeed, we need to believe that we are as capable of overcoming adversity as our ancestors were.  We need to accept that really challenging, awful things will happen in our kid’s lives and in our lives, and instead of fearing them, we need to welcome them, because it’s the struggle that will work the muscle of faith.  It’s the struggle that will build compassion.  It’s the struggle that will make a person of character.

Let’s hope and pray that we adults can pass the character test we are facing  today, so that our children will some day tell our story of how we confronted the fires in our world, and overcame. If we want our kids to be grounded in strong moral character, and I believe most of us do, then we have to remember our humanity.  We have to remember where we came from. We have to remember the people whose shoulders we stand.

Hold Fast.

 

 

 

In the Faith that Looks through Death

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In the faith that looks through death.

This is one of final lines in William Wordsworth’s poems:  “Ode to Intimations of Immorality.”   It’s a line that I have meditated on and repeated in my head over and over again as I have walked into a crisis, held a hand, received disturbing news, heard of another tragedy, prayed in a time of uncertainty:

“In the faith that looks through death,  In the faith that looks through death,  In the faith that looks through death.”

Wordsworth writes, “Though nothing can bring back the hour of the splendor in the grass/of glory in the flower/ we will grieve not, rather find /Strength in what remains behind/In the  primal sympathy which having been must ever be;/ In the soothing which spring out of human suffering/  In the faith that looks through death.

Today marks the 16th year of my ordination as a minister in the Presbyterian Church.  Of all the words I have read, all of the books I have my shelves, all of quotes that I have clipped and saved,  these 7 stanzas were the first on my tongue 16 years ago, and they remain my favorite today.

This middle of career place where 16 years ago,  29 seems like a lifetime ago, – I was 29 once, right?  and imagining ministry 16 years from now, at the age of 61, seems hard to imagine. –Just how many more Christmas Eve sermons can I write?  How many more deaths can I face?  How many more tragic stories?  How many more night meetings, visioning projects, stewardship campaigns – What will the future be?   I see how quickly the past 16 years have come and gone, and know how quickly the next 16 years will pass by.  I am also ashamed to to find that I have the same fears and uncertainty today as I had then.  – Maybe it’s time to learn something and stop being uncertain of what will come. Maybe it’s time to let go of what I do not know and hold on to what I do know.  Maybe its time to shed a fear and replace it with conviction.  What time will I have wasted worrying when I look back 16 years from now?

And yet if I have learned anything these past 16 years, it is that one cannot expect another sixteen years. Today is all there is.  It’s cliche, I know, to talk about the gift of every day, of recognizing the frailty of life. We can’t live every day like it’s our last all of the time.  We can’t constantly be in that Thin Place.  We have to live as if there will be college campuses to visit and retirements to plan and vacations to take.  But every now and then, we need to go to the Thin Place where we sense that we are just on this side of heaven, and heaven is not so far away.

Wendell Berry expresses that feeling in this poem – another of my favorites, when he says, “sometimes here, we are there… and there is no death.”

“Some Sunday afternoon, it may be, you are sitting under your porch roof, looking down through the trees to the river, watching the rain. The circles made by the raindrops’ striking expand, intersect, dissolve, and suddenly (for you are getting on now, and much of your life is memory) the hands of the dead, who have been here with you, rest upon you tenderly as the rain rests shining upon the leaves. And you think then (for thought will come) of the strangeness of the thought of Heaven, for now you have imagined yourself there, remembering with longing this happiness, this rain. Sometimes here we are there, and there is no death.”
“1996, V”  [“Some Sunday afternoon, it may be”] by Wendell Berry, from This Day: New & Collected Sabbath Poems 1979-2012. © Counterpoint, 2013.

What I am trying to say is this is what I know:  sometimes here we are there, and there is no death and when we can see through death, we know that healing happens. Healing, in the truest sense of the word, is holy.  Healing, in the truest sense of the word, is human. It is the threading relationship of God and Human together in the wrestling  of Jacob, in the dark night of the soul of Jonah, in the blood sweat night prayer of Jesus, in the heart breaking cry of Mary, in the courage of Ruth, in the humanity of David, even in the shame of Judas. One cannot be healed if one does not have something that needs healing.  It’s only through the dark valley that we can recognize the light.   This is what it means to have the faith that looks through death.

This I know.  It’s really the only thing I know for absolute certainty.

Healing always happens.

Healing comes and people live and sometimes healing comes and people die, but healing always happens.

Healing happens through time and endurance and blood and bone. It happens deep in the soul and in the breaking of the heart.  It happens when the unseen are seen and the unheard are heard.  It happens in rest. It happens in laughter. It happens in time. It happens in pain.

It is healing that allows us to have the faith that looks through death.  That healing occurs only  through suffering. Only through loss and rainy days and times of loneliness. It is in moments like these that soothing thoughts come through suffering and help us to see a way through.

We must never give up on the human heart for it is where the Holy resides.  We must never give up on the belief that healing of mind, body, spirit, relationship, community, world, does, can and will happen.

Though nothing can bring back the splendor in the grass/the glory in the flower, we will grieve not, but rather find strength in what remains behind

…..

Thanks to the human heart by which we live,/ Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears/ To me the meanest flower that blows can give/ Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.  (William Wordsworth, 1770-1850).

 

 

A Mother’s Day, Without a Mother

sal1

When my children were little, there were some standard books that we read every night before bed: “Good Night Moon,”  “Is Your Mama a Llama?”  “If you Give a Mouse a Cookie,”  “Are you my Mother?”  The Sleeping House,” and “Blueberries for Sal.”  I can recite them all for you now, if you would like.

AreYouMyMother1

I can still hear the cadence of the writing, and feel the little body breathing on my chest, as we turned the familiar pages of these weathered books for the 100th time.  I can still remember the routine of bath, book, bed; the soft, cotton pajamas and the padded feet.  Night time rituals change as children get older.  Bed time becomes a requirement, instead of a sacred ritual.

Many of the books I read to my children,  are the same stories my mother read to me.  I loved when my mom read to me. I loved her voice. I loved the way she curved sentences  and how her voice changed with characters.  I loved the way she painted pictures in my mind by taking me into a story.  When I was little, our favorite books were, “Are You My Mother?”  and “Blueberries for Sal.”  Later, we would fall in love with “Little House in the Big Woods” and “A Wrinkle in Time.”

As I look back on these stories, and their underlying messages, there is similar message of comfort and safety in each of them, and that is “your mother is always with you,” and “if you are lost, she will pursue you, and until she finds you.”  These messages stay with us into our adulthood, and we trust in them like scripture.  So it’s a soul-shocking moment when one day our mom isn’t around anymore.  We only get one mom, and nobody really believes in us like they do.  This Mother’s Day,  my heart is heavy for those grieving their mothers.

But here’s the thing about our mothers – they pursue us even after death.  The children books we read about the pursing mother, aren’t giving us fall hope.  Nothing can separate us from the love of our mothers. They are relentless that way.  She’s with you.  She’s the voice that reminds you to wear a coat and to mind your manners.  She’s the smells of Sunday dinner and clean sheets on the bed.  She’s dirt on your hands, as you plant flowers for the spring and the touch of pages of the hymnal as you sing her favorite hymn.

To all of you have lost your Mom’s this year, I know Mother’s Day is going to be really, really hard, and you will want more than anything to see her laugh and let her tell you her opinion on your outfit.  I know you will feel like the little bird, looking for his mother.  Remember, the mother bird wasn’t really that far off.  She was always right where she was supposed to be.  I know you might feel lost and frightened, like Sal, but do not worry, she’s not very far off- she’s just on the other side of the mountain.

Close your eyes.  See her face.  Hear her voice.  See, she hasn’t gone far after all.

You are loved, always.

Peace.

97801405016983

 

 

 

 

No Longer Silent

Ecclesiastes tells us there is a time and season for every purpose under heaven.  A time to be silent and a time to speak.  Over the past four months I have found myself silent, when I have wanted to speak.  I have internalized, lamented, swore, studied, and sought wisdom.  I have let other people carry the burden of speaking out for issues that I have agreed with, but have held back.  I have done this mainly because like it or not, I am a public person and I have not wanted to offend or isolate those whom I am called to serve. I care more about them, than my personal opinion.

Our society is so tribal right now. I have tried in vain to stay out of my tribe and move into a higher level of thinking – one that honors all people, sees that we all breathe the same air, walk the same earth, and fundamentally, I believe, share common values of loving our families and our country.   I refuse to place people in categories of “good or bad.”

That being said, as I have sat mainly on the sidelines and watched issues that are fundamental to my core values and beliefs be put on the auction block, I have sat on my hands, held my tongue, and closed my eyes.  I knew that there would be a time to be brave and now was the time to be wise.  So I sought wisdom. I sought higher understanding. I sought God.  I found Him on a brief spring break, when I visited the ocean.  The ocean didn’t seem to know what was going in the world. It didn’t seem to know that there was conflict on every continent that the ocean reached. dad's sunset The breathing waves just kept rolling, kept pulsing a heart beat as if to say, “I have been here long before you and I will be here long after.  There might not be any fish, or choral, or life in me, but I will still be here.”   As I sat on the warm, white beach of my childhood and felt the sun on my face, I realized again, how small we are and how big God is, and how much God trusts us to take care of what has been given to us. I told God that He might want to rethink that decision.  I sat on the beach, and cried for the creatures and for my great grandchildren, and I wondered if they would ever know the beauty of the ocean. – I still remained silent.

But now, today, something is happening, and I can no longer only seek wisdom.  It’s time to be brave.  Today, the President of the United States will  sign an executive order that will repeal the Johnson Amendment.

What’s the Johnson Amendment?

 It is one of the brightest lines in the legal separation between religion and politics. Under the provision, which was made in 1954, tax-exempt entities like churches and charitable organizations are unable to directly or indirectly participate in any political campaign on behalf of, or in opposition to, any candidate. Specifically, ministers are restricted from endorsing or opposing candidates from the pulpit. If they do, they risk losing their tax-exempt status.  (Jeremy Peters, February 2, 2017, New York Times.)

When I read about this in  February, 2017, I prayed it would go away, be forgotten in the piles of administrative priorities.  But today, on this the National Day of PrayChurch-and-State-300x200er, the President will be signing an executive order that will diminish that bright line that separates church and state in our country. By doing so, the President will open the door for a slippery slope of where the demarcation of church and state rest.

Let me tell you why this is dangerous.

In 1934,  almost immediately after the Nazi seizure of power in 1933, Protestant Christians faced pressure to “aryanize” the Church, expel Jewish Christians from the ordained ministry and adopt the Nazi “Führer Principle” as the organizing principle of church government. In general, the churches succumbed to these pressures, and many Christians embraced them willingly. The pro-Nazi “German Christian” movement became a force in the church. They glorified Adolf Hitler as a “German prophet” and preached that racial consciousness was a source of revelation alongside the Bible. But some Christians in Germany—including Lutheran and Reformed, liberal and neo-orthodox—opposed the encroachment of Nazi ideology on the Church’s proclamation.

At Barmen, this emerging “Confessing Church” adopted a declaration drafted by Reformed theologian Karl Barth and Lutheran theologian Hans Asmussen, which expressly repudiated the claim that other powers apart from Christ could be  God’s sources of God’s revelation.

Adapted from Robert McAfee Brown,Kairos: Three Prophetic Challenges to the Church, published in 1990 by Eerdmans.

The Barmen Declaration states:

1. “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life; no one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold through the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved.” John 10:1,9

Jesus Christ, as he is attested to us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God whom we have to hear, and whom we have to trust and obey in life and in death.

We reject the false doctrine that the Church could and should recognize as a source of its proclamation, beyond and besides this one Word of God, yet other events, powers, historic figures and truths as God’s revelation.

2. “Jesus Christ has been made wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption for us by God.” 1 Cor. 1:30

As Jesus Christ is God’s comforting pronouncement of the forgiveness of all our sins, so, with equal seriousness, he is also God’s vigorous announcement of his claim upon our whole life. Through him there comes to us joyful liberation from the godless ties of this world for free, grateful service to his creatures.

We reject the false doctrine that there could be areas of our life in which we would not belong to Jesus Christ but to other lords, areas in which we would not need justification and sanctification through him.

3. “Let us, however, speak the truth in love, and in every respect grow into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body is joined together.” Eph. 4:15-16

The Christian Church is the community of brethren in which, in Word and sacrament, through the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ acts in the present as Lord. With both its faith and its obedience, with both its message and its order, it has to testify in the midst of the sinful world, as the Church of pardoned sinners, that it belongs to him alone and lives and may live by his comfort and under his direction alone, in expectation of his appearing.

We reject the false doctrine that the Church could have permission to hand over the form of its message and of its order to whatever it itself might wish or to the vicissitudes of the prevailing ideological and political convictions of the day.

4. “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to have authority over you must be your servant.” Matt. 20:25-26

The various offices in the Church do not provide a basis for some to exercise authority over others but for the ministry [lit., “service”] with which the whole community has been entrusted and charged to be carried out.

We reject the false doctrine that, apart from this ministry, the Church could, and could have permission to, give itself or allow itself to be given special leaders [Führer] vested with ruling authority.

5. “Fear God. Honor the Emperor.” 1 Pet. 2:17

Scripture tells us that by divine appointment the State, in this still unredeemed world in which also the Church is situated, has the task of maintaining justice and peace, so far as human discernment and human ability make this possible, by means of the threat and use of force. The Church acknowledges with gratitude and reverence toward God the benefit of this, his appointment. It draws attention to God’s Dominion [Reich], God’s commandment and justice, and with these the responsibility of those who rule and those who are ruled. It trusts and obeys the power of the Word, by which God upholds all things.

We reject the false doctrine that beyond its special commission the State should and could become the sole and total order of human life and so fulfil the vocation of the Church as well.

We reject the false doctrine that beyond its special commission the Church should and could take on the nature, tasks and dignity which belong to the State and thus become itself an organ of the State.

6. “See, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matt. 28:20 “God’s Word is not fettered.” 2 Tim. 2:9

The Church’s commission, which is the foundation of its freedom, consists in this: in Christ’s stead, and so in the service of his own Word and work, to deliver all people, through preaching and sacrament, the message of the free grace of God.

We reject the false doctrine that with human vainglory the Church could place the Word and work of the Lord in the service of self- chosen desires, purposes and plans.

The Confessing Synod of the German Evangelical Church declares that it sees in the acknowledgment of these truths and in the rejection of these errors the indispensable theological basis of the German Evangelical Church as a confederation of Confessing Churches. It calls upon all who can stand in solidarity with its Declaration to be mindful of these theological findings in all their decisions concerning Church and State. It appeals to all concerned to return to unity in faith hope and love.

Verbum Dei manet in aeternum.
The Word of God will last for ever.

I don’t know if I can fully comprehend the bravery it took for the authors of the Barmen Declaration to write these words in Germany in 1934, under the barrel of Hitler and the Third Reich.   I do know that I will not let their brave words, which are part of my tradition’s confessions, be forgotten.

Furthermore, let me say this:  any pastor who uses the sanctity of the pulpit for their own political views, or the political advancement of another person, desecrates the integrity of their position and the Word they are called to preach.

Regardless of what the President does today, I call on clergy of every stripe to stand firm in their integrity and say they will not violate their calling to preach the Word alone and not become mouth pieces and pawns for the political flavor of the day.

The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of the Lord stands forever.

 

 

 

 

Turmoil

When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?”  The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Matthew 21:10-11

Tur·moil

ˈtərˌmoil/
noun
  1. a state of great disturbance, confusion, or uncertainty.

I have read the account of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem at the beginning of Holy Week for almost 20 years and this was the first time that I noticed that word:  Turmoil.

Matthew says, after Jesus came into the city, fulfilling the prophecies foretold in Isaiah and Jeremiah, that the city was in turmoil.

When my dad was growing up in Danville, Illinois, he and his neighborhood frienimagesds would play in the back allies of their neighborhood.  They would play baseball, basketball, kick ball, and run the neighborhood with freedom and curiosity.  One day, the boys were playing along a back fence overgrown with tall grass and weeds, the boys came along a suspicious looking piece of nature and instead of leaving it alone, they, like most boys, decided to poke at it, take it down and hit it.  That suspicious looking piece of nature was a beehive.  The bees were not happy to have their home plummeted so they took off toward the boys, and the boys ran screaming down the ally, and into their homes, where the bees chased them into their house, where there happened to be company, and tea and cake, and a card game, and women jumped on the chairs and screeched as they shook their dresses and the boys dove under tables trying to escape the enraged bees.

Turmoil. ” A state of great disturbance, confusion or uncertainty.”

I was speaking to a parishioner the other day about church and worship and what people need and why they are coming to church, or should be, and she remarked that people are really scared.  She did not specify what people are scared of, only that they are scared.  Maybe what they are afraid of is obvious and goes without saying, or maybe naming the fear is important.

Here are some the fears I have heard expressed in the past three months in meetings, or over a meal, or in emails, or conversations.

  1. There is going to a Third World War, a nuclear war, or another civil war.
  2.  The economy is going to get so bad that the United States will become a third world country.
  3. The National Parks, the air, the water, the earth, natural resources, and animals are in great peril.
  4. Our education system is on the edge of collapse.
  5. Our health care system is in ruins.
  6. Our freedoms are being taken away. Our rights are being denied.
  7. “They” are going to take over.
  8. What fears have you heard? 
  9. Whose fears do you think are unfounded?

When people are afraid, they only see their fear and they really can’t see much else. Their fear defines them and the choices they make are driven by those fears.

I remember people were afraid the world would come to an end in the year 2000.  They started storing up canned goods and boarding up windows just in case.  Those of us who did not share that fear thought they were a little crazy.    They feared turmoil to the point that they created turmoil.

Is turmoil the same as fear?  Or is it more like anxiety?

The Gospel of Matthew tells us that the people were turmoil.  Why?  Were they more afraid or anxious? Maybe both.  Either way, they knew that something was going to happen and that after whatever it was, everything would be different.  The NIV says, that the people were stirred,  which sounds less intense than turmoil doesn’t it?

When the Prince of Peace arrived in Jerusalem, there was turmoil in the city.  There was chaos.  The city felt like a provoked beehive.  Things were stirred up.

I wonder, is that the state we are in?  Are we in turmoil?  Are we stirred up?  Do we feel disturbed, confused and uncertain?  Do we have good reason?

Maybe Jesus is in the city.  Maybe Jesus has kicked the beehive of humanity and stirred us up.  Maybe there is a disturbance,  a greater sense of uncertainty, and maybe there should be – because Jesus is over turning the money changers in the temple.  He is speaking truth to power.  He is advocating for the poor.  He is praying in the garden.   He is breaking bread.  He is pouring the cup. He is washing feet.   He is sweating drops of blood. He is suffering.  He is forgiving.  He is dying.

Turmoil reminds us that Jesus is in the city.   It’s the paradox of peace.  You cannot know peace if you don’t know unrest.  Order comes out chaos.  Chaos comes first.  So where ever there is unrest in our lives, personally or globally, where ever we find ourselves running away from, whatever is inflamed, Jesus is there. – We best pay attention.

34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn

“‘a man against his father,
    a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
36     a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’

37 “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it. –  (Matthew 10:34-38)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moments of Clarity

creating sacred communities

There are moments when I wonder why I am a pastor. I get frustrated with denominational dilly-dallying, Presbytery pandering and session snarkiness. Sometimes I wonder if ministry matters. The world tells us that the church matters less today, or it matters in a different way today than it has in the past. Sometimes I get tired of the process, the budget, the need to over communicate, and the politics. Sometimes I can worry if my profession will become obsolete.

And then God gives me moments of clarity.

When I talk to children about Jesus dying on the cross and we draw pictures of heaven, and one little boy’s depiction looks like the set from “Dance Fever” and he tells me that heaven has a dance floor.

When an elderly woman walks out of the sanctuary, clutching her cane, with tears down her face because she is in such pain, and…

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