Month: July 2013

Perseverance: Sermon on Luke 11:1-13

16723732-a-woman-knocking-on-the-door-of-a-house

“It was an answer to prayer.” Have you heard someone say that before? “It was an answer to prayer.” I imagine it was an answer to prayer because whatever was prayed for was received. It can be a dangerous thing when prayer becomes a way of understanding God as a genie who grants wishes or Zeus who brings about joy or despair, for the pure pleasure of seeing people happy or sad.

Very often when people pray Jesus is a physician. We pray for our health and the health of others and we want him to heal us. Other times Jesus is a financial adviser. We want Jesus to help us land a job, get a good grade or get a promotion. You can see the risk of praying for things to go our way. The downside is if our prayers aren’t answered as we have requested then Jesus is somehow at fault, or has something against us, or wasn’t listening, or some other kooky idea. You will note that all of these prayers are in spoken our of fear. The unknown diagnosis, the unknown financial security, the scary stuff that keeps us awake at night.

We typically have two ways of being. One is when our heads are clear and our lives all make sense. Things are going along pretty good and our lives full of purpose. The other way of being is when we feel unbalanced, afraid, and anxious. Our daily lives are a tension of these two modes of existence. We waver between our lives feeling meaningful and meaningless sometimes back and forth throughout the day. Jesus teaches his disciples to pray this morning, understanding that we live in this tension.

He begins teaching the prayer that is familiar to us.
Our Father, who art in Heaven…

He acknowledges God as both personal and ethereal. God is the Holy Parent, relational and caring, in heaven, hallowed, mystical, intangible. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done. Frederick Buechner comments on these powerful lines and warns that we not take them lightly. He writes, “When we say, ‘Thy will be done’ “We are asking God to be God. We are asking God to do not what we want, but what God wants. And if that were suddenly to happen, what then? What would stand and what would fall? Who would be welcomed in and who would be thrown the Hell out?… To speak those words is to invite the tiger out of the cage, to unleash a power that makes atomic power look like a warm breeze. We can do nothing without God. We can have nothing without God. Without God we are nothing.” (Whistling in the Dark)

After Jesus teaches what to say, he teaches how to say it. He says we are to pray with perseverance and he tells a story about a neighbor who goes to a friend at midnight and begs for bread. Jesus suggests that prayer is like driving for days to get to a friend’s house, whom you haven’t seen in a long time and you wonder if they will remember you and if they will be as glad to see you as you them, because you really haven’t kept in touch as you had promised, and you are so excited, so anxious to give them a hug and say “hello” but you don’t get there until it’s very late and all the lights are out and wonder if anyone is home and you stand in the dark. And you stand at the door and knock. It’s hard to tell if there is movement inside, any sign of stirring, it is so quiet. But there you are. You have driven so far to see them. You have nowhere else to stay. You can give up and go away, thinking they have given up on you. Or you can stand at the door and knock and knock and knock. And standing there, if you are persistent, who is to say that the friend will not answer? Jesus assures us the door will be open.

“Ask and you will receive,” Jesus said. “Search and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened for you.

The point of prayer is not to get what you want. The point of prayer is to have relationship with your Creator. When Jesus says, “ask, seek, and knock” he doesn’t mean if you pray hard enough, ask, seek, and beg long enough you will win the lottery, have perfect kids, and never be sick. When Jesus says, “ask, seek and knock,” he means to be relentless in your pursuit of your relationship with God. Seek first the kingdom of God. Seek first the righteousness of God. Jesus says be persistent in asking God what to do and how to fulfill the vision for the kingdom of God. Seek first the kingdom of God. And if you do this, all things and more will be added unto you.

Now hold on. Let me be very clear, I am not preaching the prosperity Gospel. In case you every guessed, I am not a fan. I am not saying if you focus on God and His Kingdom you will get the car you always wanted, or if you set your mind on Jesus he will reward you with no cavities. No. If you seek God first in all things, then your soul is in the right place and your soul will be able to receive all it needs and more. If you seek personal gain, personal pleasure, or personal reward, you are asking the wrong question, seeking the wrong answers and knocking on the wrong door. But if you seek God..Seek God..Seek God in the quiet of the morning, in the hearing of the Word, in the space between the exhale and inhale, you will come to know that all is well. All is well, All is well. For all will be given unto you and more. Trust in God. Go to him.

Praying takes courage. It takes courage to ask for help and be real in whatever it is your feeling. It takes courage to muster up the honesty to seek God and say “help me, I am lonely, afraid and worried.” Ask for help. God is listening.

It takes perseverance to seek God, to seek a new way of living when the rut you are in is no longer working. When your relationships are shaky and your life feels unhinged. It takes perseverance to seek answers to questions, and to find light in the darkness. Seek God out. God is listening.

Finally it takes great nerve to knock on the door and be willing to fall into the arms of the One who is on the other side. If you knock on the door, you have to be willing to face the One who knows everything that’s going on, and how hard it’s been and what you did and accept that the One who answered the door still loves you and is so happy to see you. The door will be answered and you will be received and welcomed and heard. Keep Praying. God is listening.

Would you sing with me?

Seek Ye First the kingdom of God and his righteousness. And all these things will be added unto you. Allele, Alleluia.

Advertisements

Diving In! Devotional

http://youtu.be/hXqXIicm8uU

image

DIVE, Stephen Curtis Chapman

Songwriters: Cobain, Kurt / Novoselic, Krist
The long awaited rains
Have fallen hard upon the thirsty ground
And carved their way to where
The wild and rushing river can be found
And like the rains
I have been carried here to where the river flows yeah
My heart is racing and my knees are weak
As I walk to the edge
I know there is no turning back
Once my feet have left the ledge
And in the rush I hear a voice
That’s telling me it’s time to take the leap of faith
So here I go

I’m diving in I’m going deep in over my head I want to be
Caught in the rush lost in the flow in over my head I want to go
The river’s deep the river’s wide the river’s water is alive
So sink or swim I’m diving in

There is a supernatural power
In this mighty river’s flow
It can bring the dead to life
And it can fill an empty soul
And give a heart the only thing
Worth living and worth dying for yeah
But we will never know the awesome power
Of the grace of god
Until we let ourselves get swept away
Into this holy flood
So if you’ll take my hand
We’ll close our eyes and count to three
And take the leap of faith
Come on let’s go
Steven Curtis Chapman
‘Dive’

image

I always blared this song as my kids came in to Youth Group on Sunday nights. They tolerated it well, knowing that I loved this song.

What does it take to take a leap of faith? How many nets have to be underneath you before you jump?

My diving experience has been that first you must have people behind you who believe you can make the jump. They cannot push you off, or tell you when to jump, but they have to believe you can do it.

Second, there needs to be a measure of risk. It has to be scary or it’s not a leap of faith. Have you ever noticed how related faith and fear are to each other? “Fear The Lord” the Bible tells us. Not fear in a horror movie sort of way, but fear in a awe-inspiring sort of way. Fear in a “Lord oh Lord how majestic is your name in all the earth” sort of way.

image
Third, you cannot dive in without being will to change. Once you jump, you will never be the same. “In a twinkling of an eye.” “Transformation is something I cannot explain – too much analysis might destroy it.” – Sophia Loren

image

Fourth, to take a leap of faith, requires movement. Standing still, talking about it, analyzing it, does not mean you are doing it. “Fear less, hope more, eat less, chew more, whine less, breathe more, talk less, say more, hate less, love more, and good things will be yours.” – Swedish Proverb

Lastly, when you jump… and you WILL jump….Trust and know you are not jumping into a great abyss. You are leaping into the arms of One who has great plans for you.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
Jeremiah 29:11

So, come on, let’s go!

image

http://youtu.be/hXqXIicm8uU

The Village

image

I have been made profoundly aware of the number of people who are helping me raise my children.

As we have prepared to leave our community, the village that has raised my children have become more apparent. Did I take them for granted? Did I see that they were nurturing them, loving them? Did they see it themselves?

There are the adopted grandparents who have taken care of our little boy since he was 7 months old. When he visits on occasion,the now almost 7-year-old, runs into their house and grabs the chocolate pudding from the fridge and spoon from the drawer. He knew it would be there, waiting for him.

There is the beloved music teacher who makes every child feel they are remarkable.

image

There is the coach who gets my daughter and has patiently worked to build her self-esteem and help her find her inner athlete.

There is the piano teacher who welcomes you into her elegant home and makes your child feel that she elegant too.
image

There is the couple from church who take our kids fishing and to craft shows and over for tea. Just to make a connection with them.

There is the violin teacher who plays games so it doesn’t feel like practice.

image
There is the principal who stops over to see how things are going, the counselor who calls to check in and the teacher who sends a special note.

image

There is the doctor who sits to listen five-minute longer, the nurse who lets me pop in for a question.

There is the neighbor who blows our leaves, and drops by with May Day baskets and “Boos” us on Halloween.

There is the Mom down the street who leaves bags of clothes on the front porch for my girls. Special dresses that belonged to her older daughter that can’t just go to anyone.

There is the church who let my kids run around in it and play and sing and call it “home.”

image

This village is filled with colorful people who paint bright shades of joy, love, grace and welcome. Its rich with lessons of hospitality, care, comfort, and safety. This village teaches self-discipline, hard work and responsibility. These colors are the palate that have made my children who they are today.

Thank you.

Choosing the Wiser Part: Sections of Sermon on Mary and Martha

Luke 10:38-42
38Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” 41But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Worried and distracted. Two powerful words that can suck us dry, and keep us from living. It has been said, “Worry is most often a prideful way of thinking that you have more control over life and its circumstances than you actually do.” We worry about money, time, safety, the unknown, and the unspoken.

I believe that worry and distraction prevent us from being our true selves. They serve as defense mechanisms that steer us from being vulnerable and genuine.

This is not a text about over functioning, it’s a text about not listening.

Now, Jesus doesn’t say, “Martha, Martha, you need to stop working. “ Jesus is not is suggesting that Martha burn whatever it is she has cooking in the oven. He doesn’t say, “sit down, stop serving” he says “you are worried and distracted.”

Why is she worried? She’s annoyed that Mary isn’t helping her, but’s for reasons other than she needs help setting the table. Undoubtedly, Martha has needed help before. She’s worried, you see, she’s worried because Mary is a woman and has no right to sit at Jesus’ feet, in fact she is wrong to do so. Martha is worried because the rules say, Mary needs to be working and if they rules are broken Mary and maybe even Martha could be in trouble. The law says Martha has a right to be worried. Martha is upset because a social code has been broken and it distracts her from serving.

Jesus says to Martha and to the disciples and to every person who has ever read the book of Luke, women can be spiritual leaders. Women can sit at Jesus’ feet and hear him and learn from him and yes even teach about him. The better part of Mary is the sitting still and listening part. This is the better part for Mary and it will not be taken away from her. Mary is acting in the way God had called her to be.
  
Cynthia Jarvis writes, “…a community that is hospitable to Christ is a community marked by the attention the community gives to God’s word. A church that has been led to be ‘worried and distracted by many things’ inevitably will be a community that dwells in the shallows of frantic potlucks, anxious stewardship campaigns, and events designed simply to perpetuate the institution…This often leads a congregation to get downright ornery. Night after night, members leave home to crank out the church and return as clueless and empty as they were when they walked out the door. Endless meetings breed resentment in otherwise pleasant Christians because the church’s business is being done without any word of the God whom they thought they had agreed to serve.”  

We are so very good at creating anxiety. We are so talented at staying busy. It’s a like a drug. We sort of suck on it like a melting cherry popsicle thinking that somehow if we suck it all down, to protect us from showing our true fears. Jesus teaches that true wisdom comes from choosing what makes us faithful to him, without judgment. Let faith be genuine. Let it express the joy in our being. Jesus wants us to be present with him. To be ourselves. To sing badly, loudly. To pray without ceasing. To cry and laugh out loud. To be genuine. As genuine as Mary and as earnest as Martha. May we choose the wiser part.

Cynthia A. Jarvis, Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 3, Pentecost and Season After, ed. David Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010, 264.

The Church’s Memoir

image

Lately I have taken up reading memoirs. I have read stories of people who grew up in extreme poverty in the United States, one about a woman who hiked the Oregon trail, one about a guy who grew up in Northern Ireland during The Troubles, and now I’m reading one about a woman who is following her life story and associating it with the food she ate at different times in her life. All of these authors are from my generation, so I can relate to their memories of watching Different Strokes or eating Ding-Dongs and Cool-aid and Bologna sandwiches on white bread with mayonnaise.

I like memoirs. I appreciate their honesty. Writing a memoir seems like good therapy.

I have been struck by two common threads in my reading. One is how God, faith, and church seemed to have very little real meaning in the author’s lives and second how each author experienced loneliness and desire for belonging throughout their lives.

Religion is mentioned like something other people did or as a control mechanism in early childhood to keep the author from smoking, or disobeying their parents, or having sex. But genuine connectivity with The Divine is missing.

I have been talking with colleagues lately about the shrinking church. “Where is everyone on Sunday morning?” Once people move to assisted living, or die, worship numbers drop and there is a is a feeling of loneliness in the building. Where did everybody go?

As a pastor I feel responsible for numbers. I feel like that’s on me to get people in the pews. That some how I need to be the dashing, white teeth, skinny jean speaker that will get them to worship. I recognize what a dangerous, egotistical mindset this is. Do I think I have so much power and charisma that I can enter people’s minds on Sunday morning and transport them to church? And once they are there, do I think I alone have the words to say that at the end of the hour they will think, “that was so amazing, my life is better for this, I’m so glad I didn’t sleep in. Hallelujah!”

No. This is offensive to the church. The church isn’t the pastor. Ever. She has been around a lot longer than any pastor and will outlive all of us. It’s offensive to her memoir to think we as clergy are the reason she exists.

If the church could write a memoir there would be stories of conflict and war, abuse and betrayal, pettiness and bickering. She would tell you truths from her long history that have been hidden from us still today. She knows. She has watched it all. She knows.

She would also tell you stories of faith and justice. How people did the right thing, when it was the hardest thing. How the Word poured out of pulpits like a waterfall and flooded the people with Living Water. How stones shouted, when those frozen chosen cracked a smile. How Samaritans were welcome. Misunderstood, scary people were not feared. How plates of steamy potatoes and roasted chicken were served out to the hungry. How people spoke the truth to power. How things were said and feelings were hurt, but people came around and forgave and moved on. How children were embraced, how the elderly were heard, how the challenges of the world were addressed.

She would tell her story from a place of strength and conviction. She would tell you she is only as perfect as the people who walk in the doors.

She would tell you that she will not die. But we all will. She would remind you that she knows death, and that it has been defeated. The One who sent her has given her all she needs. He did the suffering, the dying and the redeeming. She needs to do the living.

My God there is so much loneliness in the world. There is so much detachment from the awareness that we are part of something greater, that we belong to God. The church’s memoir would lament this truth. She is groaning in labor pains for her doors to be open and for life to spring forth.

It’s time to sing a new song. The story is far from over.

Peeling the Onion: Sermon on Luke 10:25-37

getty_rf_photo_of_sliced_onions

Chances are if you grew up going to church you know the parable of the Good Samaritan. It’s up there with the Prodigal Son as the premier parable. It’s a good one. It’s my favorite parable of all parables. For one thing, it’s a good story. It’s timeless in its message and its challenge. It’s a multi layered story that we oversimplify. It’s a lot like an onion. We have to peel it to get to the core of the message.

At the outer layer, the first message lawyer’s simple question, “ what do I have to do to obtain eternal life.” This question is like the question that causes teachers to cringe when they hear, “What do I need to do get an A?” Just give me the formula to get the letter to pass. Good teacher’s hate this question. They much prefer the question, what will I learn? Or how I will I improve?

Now to be fair, this is a loaded question. If the Bible said that a man on the street asked this question we might be more apt to believe that this was a genuine question. But it’s not just anyone who asks. It’s a lawyer. And lawyers back then and today are taught to never ask a question in which they already have an answer. And the lawyer has the answer. And Jesus knows that the lawyer thinks he already knows the answer and so he says, “you know the law, tell me yourself”
The lawyer answers quoting law. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might. And love your neighbor has yourself.

Jesus says, “good job.”

The lawyer presses, “but who is my neighbor?”

The onion begins to be peeled.

You see it’s one thing to respond to the question: “Are you a Christian?” and say, “yes I believe, I go to church, I have values based on the teaching of Christ that guide my life choices.” A lot of Christian religion stays on the surface. It doesn’t allow for critical thinking or space to ask questions. It just asks, “have you been saved?” Yes. “Do you believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and savior?” Yes. “ Good deal. You are good to go.” That’s all the law says you have to do. Don’t think about it. Just obey the rules.

But then what if you have questions? Like, “but, who is my neighbor?”

Jesus tells a story.

The story takes place on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho. This road was, and still is a notoriously dangerous road. The road between Jerusalem and Jericho is a seventeen-mile hike of narrow rocky passages, and of sudden turnings, which made it easy for robbers to take advantage of travelers. This would have been common knowledge for the original listeners of Jesus story…and no surprise that a human being was mugged and beaten along the side of the road.

That’s all we know about victim. That he was a human being. We don’t know if he was Jewish or a Gentile, if he was wealthy or poor, a conservative or a liberal, a good person or a bad person. He’s just a naked, completely vulnerable, beaten person, for dead on the side of the road. The only thing we know about the victim was that he was a human being.

We know more about the people who passed him by, or at least we know about their professions. The first passer by was a priest. The priest, was the most knowledgeable of the law and knows that if he would touch a dead man, he would be made unclean and would lose his role in the temple. The priest abides by the rule book of an ethical and theological system. – His life was a system of do’s and don’ts. He doesn’t stop and help because he wants to save his job. To be fair, he may have had compassion for the man, but job security kept him from doing the right thing. The listening lawyer would have understood this.

The second passer-by was Levite. The Levite would not have had as many restrictions as the priest. He could have rendered aid and not been legally in trouble. – And we see that he does approach the man. Luke says, the Levite came to the place.
Scholars speculate that there are three reasons why he passes by:

First, in all likelihood he knew the Priest had passed by before him, and if the Priest did it, then shouldn’t he also? Or maybe he was afraid the same fate would fall on him, so scurries on by out of fear. Lastly, maybe he doesn’t know his religion or class, and does not see him as a neighbor, or deserving of help. The listening lawyer would have understood the Levite’s predicament.

The third passer-by was a Samaritan. This is like saying, “the low-life, good for nothing, scum of the earth came by.” The centuries of animosity between the Jews and the Samaritans is reflected in the wisdom of Ben Sirach which was written in 200 BC which says:

There are two nations that my soul detests, the third is not a nation at all, the inhabitants of Mount Seir,(Edomites) and the Philistines and the stupid people living in Shechem. (Samaritans)

The Samaritans were cursed daily in the synagogues and prayers were lifted up hoping that the Samaritans would not be partakers of eternal life. That’s pretty significant hatred, if you pray for someone to go to hell.

This Samaritan goes above and beyond reasonable expectations in helping the beaten man. He binds his wounds, gives him his clothes, puts him on his horse, takes him to an inn, pays for his room and food, comes back to check on him.
Having told that story, Jesus now says to the lawyer, “So, you now define the term ‘neighbor.’ Who proved to be the neighbor in this story?”

The lawyer cannot bring himself even to spit out the word “Samaritan.” He simply mumbles, “The one who showed mercy.”
“Go and do likewise,” said Jesus.

We are at the second layer of the onion. The point of the story isn’t “what do I have to be good with God.”
This is more than just a story about morality and about being nice.

Because anybody can be good. But a Samaritan? Can a member of the Teaparty? Can a member of Move On.org, a member of Pita, a member the NRA, a kid in a hoody buying skittles, a neighborhood watchman, a Catholic, a Protestant, a Jew, a Hindu, a Muslim, a democrat, a republican, a skinhead?

Wait. Who again is my neighbor?

If Jesus just wanted us to take home the golden rule from this passage the title of the parable would have been “the Good Person.” It’s not. It’s the Good Samaritan.

It’s a parable, and parables always have something shocking, surprising, unexpected, something to be wrestled with and puzzled over, and in this story, it is the fact that an unwanted, rejected Samaritan is the one who shows mercy to his enemy.

There is a story that is told in the movie Ghandi in which A Hindu man came before Ghandi one day and reported that a Muslim had killed his eight your old son. The grief-stricken man told Ghandi he was going to kill a Muslim in return for his son’s life. Ghandi stopped the man, and told the Hindu instead to a find an orphaned eight year old Muslim boy and adopt him as his own. With disbelief in his eyes, the man stood up and went searching for his new son. That is what it means to show mercy to your enemy.

We are at the third layer. It’s one thing to know the right thing, it’s another thing to do the right thing. Remember the lawyer? He knows the right thing to say, and Jesus probably knows he is being condescending in his questioning. But Jesus pushes him to think not with his mind, but with this heart and this is what the parable is about: a change of heart.

Robert Wuthnow, a professor at Princeton University, once conducted some research about why some people are generous and compassionate, while others are not. He found out that for many compassionate people something had happened to them. Someone had acted with compassion toward them, and this experience had transformed their lives. For example, Wuthnow tells the story of Jack Casey, a rescue squad worker, who had little reason to be a Good Samaritan. Casey was raised in a tough home, the child of an alcoholic father. He once said, “All my father ever taught me is that I didn’t want to grow up to be like him.”
But something happened to Jack when he was a child that changed his life, changed his heart. He was having surgery one day, and he was frightened. He remembers the surgical nurse standing there and compassionately reassuring him. “Don’t worry,” she said to Jack. “I’ll be here right beside you no matter what happens.” And when Jack woke up again, she was true to her word and still there.

Years later, Jack Casey, now a paramedic, was sent to the scene of a highway accident. A man was pinned upside down in his pickup truck, and as Jack was trying to get him out of the wreckage, gasoline was dripping down on both of them. “Look, don’t worry,” he said, “I’m right here with you, I’m not going anywhere.” When I said that, Jack remembered later, I was reminded of how that nurse had said the same thing and she never left me. Days later, the rescued truck driver said to Jack, “You know, you were an idiot, the thing could have exploded and we’d both have been burned up!”
“I just couldn’t leave you,” Jack said.

We are at the center of our onion now. You see at the core, we are all the man in the ditch. Yes our dear listening lawyer represents the man in the ditch. Naked, vulnerable and in need of help. We all have moments when we need someone to reach out pick us up and give us hospitality, even at great cost to themselves.

You see in order to love your neighbor you have to let your neighbor love you.

What if in this parable the lawyer represents the man in the ditch and the Levite and Priest represent law and order? Then guess who Jesus might be? Could Jesus be the Good Samaritan. Now I’m not saying that Jesus wants us to place him there in this text. I’m not suggesting it’s intentional. I am suggesting that Jesus always is in the other. He is always in the eyes of the person we cannot look upon. He is the one people despised and rejected, but who comes to save us, speaks tenderly to us, lifts us into his arms, and takes us to the place of healing. As Paul said, “while we were still God’s enemies, God saw us in the ditch and had compassion, and in Jesus came to save us.”

You see I think it’s one thing to put ourselves in the role of the Samaritan and hope that we would model his behavior. It’s another thing to put ourselves in the role of the man in the ditch and hope that we receive help from the person we see as our enemy. When Jesus says “go and do likewise,” he means to see the unseen. Love the unloved. And allow for someone to see and love you.

Teacher, what do I have to do to have eternal life?

“My dear child, you must love me with your whole heart and you must love your neighbor. And by neighbor, dear one, I mean people you don’t trust, don’t like and don’t want to be around. And by being a neighbor I mean you have to also let them be a neighbor to you. Let them serve you, as you serve them. As you do, you will know me. You must let me love you. Let me look up you with mercy, pick you up out of whatever ditch you are in, and give you healing. And then dear one, go and do likewise.”
Amen.

Acts of Compassion: Caring for Others and Helping Ourselves
Robert Wuthnow
Princeton University Press, Aug 23, 2012

Devotional: Hatched

image

It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.
C. S. Lewis

You know the story of the farmer who in his backyard had chickens, and [one] was a little odd-looking. It behaved like a chicken. It was pecking away like other chickens. It didn’t know that there was a blue sky overhead and a glorious sunshine until someone who was knowledgeable in these things came along and said to the farmer, “Hey, that’s no chicken. That’s an eagle.”

Then the farmer said, “Um, um, no, no, no, no man. That’s a chicken; it behaves like a chicken.” And the man said, “No; give it to me please.” And he gave it to this knowledgeable man. And this man took this strange-looking chicken and climbed the mountain and waited until sunrise. And then he turned this strange-looking chicken towards the sun and said, “Eagle, fly, eagle.” And the strange-looking chicken shook itself, spread out its pinions and lifted off and soared and soared and soared and flew away, away into the distance.

And God says to all of us, you are no chicken; you are an eagle. Fly, eagle, fly. And God wants us to shake ourselves, spread our pinions, and then lift off and soar and rise, and rise toward the confident and the good and the beautiful. Rise towards the compassionate and the gentle and the caring. Rise to become what God intends us to be–eagles, not chickens. – Desmond Tutu

image

Be Not Afraid
(Bob Dufford, S.J., a Catholic Hymn)

You shall cross the barren desert
But you shall not die of thirst
You shall wander far in safety
Though you do not know the way.

You shall speak your words in foreign lands
And all will understand
You shall see the face of God and live. You Shall Live

Be not afraid
I go before you always
Come follow Me
And I shall give you rest.

If you pass through raging waters
In the sea, you shall not drown
If you walk amidst the burning flames
You shall not be harmed.

If you stand before the pow’r of hell
And death is at your side
Know that I am with you, through it all.

Be not afraid
I go before you always
Come follow Me
And I shall give you rest.

Blessed are your poor
For the Kingdom shall be theirs
Blest are you that weep and mourn
for one day you shall laugh.

And if wicked men insult and hate you
All because of Me
Blessed, blessed are you!

Be not afraid
I go before you always
Come follow Me
And I shall give you rest.

Dancing in the Kitchen

Every family needs a family song. We have a few, depending on our mood. The rules to a family song are:

It must be singable for a 4-year-old and 74-year-old, for when Grandpa comes over.

It must be able express how you feel about each other.

It must be dance worthy.

When the craziness takes over in our family and we are overwhelmed with laundry, bills, the calendar and the order of the day, I find a little disorder helps bring us back to balance. Crank up the music, grab a hand, and dance in the kitchen!

The Ground of Your Being and When a Child Disappears

image

“IT IS A STRANGE THING how sometimes merely to talk honestly of God, even if it is only to articulate our feelings of separation and confusion, can bring peace to our spirits. You thought you were unhappy because this or that was off in your relationship, this or that was wrong in your job, but the reality is that your sadness stemmed from your aversion to, your stalwart avoidance of, God. The other problems may very well be true, and you will have to address them, but what you feel when releasing yourself to speak of the deepest needs of your spirit is the fact that no other needs could be spoken of outside of that context. You cannot work on the structure of your life if the ground of your being is unsure.” Christian Wiman, My Bright Abyss

I think I know it better when I am not grounded.

If I am honest with myself, I confess that I am often more rooted in anxiety and fear than God. Anxiety is like stepping into a quicksand. I keep stepping and stepping and I never find something solid upon which to stand, and I find yourself sinking slowly into muck until suddenly you are stuck, and I think, “how did this happen?”

If, however, I stand still and feel the ground underneath me, and the air above me. If I can be a tree, with myself firmly grounded in the earth, and remember that I came from the Earth, and to the Earth I will return, then I realize that the quicksand of anxiety is a facade. It’s not real. It’s there because it fills a purpose. It teases the brain into thinking that worry insures control.

The other night we were at a beautiful, crowded park for the Fourth of July. We were in a new town with new people. The fireworks were over, I went to put some trash in the recycling, I came back and my six-year-old was missing. “Where’s Jackson?” I said. He had disappeared. The crowd was dispersing and it was dark and Jackson was nowhere. “Jackson! Jackson!! Jackson!!!” My nine-year old started to cry and hyperventilate.

We were both thinking our ultimate fear. We were thinking about the little girls who were abducted and killed in our very safe community back home last summer. “Jackson!!!”

We ran to the playground and the bathrooms. Oh my God, where IS he?

Quicksand.

“We found him!” said a guy in a yellow vest. “We took him to the main station.”

“Jackson! What happened?”

“I turned around, no one was there. I was trying to find you and I got lost…..can we pretend like this never happened?”

“Yes, but first your sister needs to see you.”

“Oh Jackson, you are ok!” Madelyn embraced her brother as tears streamed down her face, “I kept thinking about those little girls.” She sobbed as she held tightly to her little brother.

We stood on the ground, in a moment and our souls were exposed. Our deepest spiritual need was realized. We need each other.

As we walked our chairs and baskets up to the cars, I held tightly to Jackson’s hand.

“Mama, isn’t funny how sometimes everything can be ok in one moment and the next moment it can be scary?”

“Yes, Jackson, that is funny….

I love you Jackson.”

“I love you too, Mama.”

image

Mildred

image
Mildred is a 94-year-old poet. She carries a deep wisdom, a quick sense of humor, a Katherine Hepburn sense of style, and the ability to unravel a story.

She can no longer write and she struggles with keeping her train of thought. Yet she can hold court like Dane Judy Dench.

I love Mildred. She’s a story-teller. Today she told me about when she was a little girl, riding her horse to school and about how her horse saved cattle from a raging river.

When she was 10 years old, her Father bought a farm sight unseen. The guy he bought it from said he would really like it. So the family traveled through the Iowa prairie on a winter day. Her Dad had gone ahead and lit all the stoves in the house. When Mildred, her mother and sister arrived, they found a large farm-house with five rooms. They went upstairs and there on the floor were thousands of dead bees. No one had lived in the old farm-house for years. Mildred and her Dad found the rope for the attic. They pulled the attic door down and found a zither! Immediately Mildred and her Dad sat down around the dead bees and started playing the zither. Her mother said, “I need to find the kitchen!”

image

“Did you like your new home, Mildred?”

“Oh Honey, things went from bad to worse. The house was not insulated. There was no warmth in the house. One spring two tornadoes came through our backyard and two years later the Depression came and we lost the farm.”

As I sat and listened to Mildred unravel her story, tears came to my eyes. I knew I was on Holy Ground. Friends came around her and held her hands. Her 97-year-old friend Lavena who was dressed all in black with a gold and black jacket and her friend, Bethel, the young chick of 88, dressed in coral and gold sandals. These classy women with their stories of triumph and struggle. And I, half their age, seeing their beauty and respecting their journey. What stories will I remember? Who will listen?

Mildred gets frustrated when her brain won’t let her tell the stories she wants to tell.

“Mildred, dear, elegant story-teller, your stories are still alive even in your inability to retell them. They do not diminish. They are alive in your imagination.”

Music can be played, joy can be found, even among the carcases of dead bees. Just open the attic door.