Category: Devotionals

Resilient Fragility

 

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Puerto Rico is as close to what I imagine Paradise to be like.  It’s beyond beautiful. I spent a few days on the Island a couple of weeks ago helping install a clean water system. The forests are growing back and the trees are green again. But you do not have to look too far to find signs of the storm.  I think all of us who have experienced the storms of life are like that.  The storm passes and the water recedes and the shingles get put back on, but the evidence is still there if we look hard enough.

The best word to describe the conditions in Puerto Rico is, “fragile.”  Everything is fragile, from the electrical system, to the water system, to the economic system, to the health care system.  The people are fragile too.  They know they have been through something, and there is a feeling that somehow they responsible for it– as if they could have controlled the weather.  They feel like that should have been more prepared and they are very afraid its going to happen again.   Hurricane season is coming and they aren’t ready for another hit.  The systems aren’t ready and the memory of the past trauma is too recent.  Trauma does that.  We can feel responsible for situations that were out of our control.

While I went to Puerto Rico to help put in a clean water system, I also went out of my own fragility.  I went to heal from my own trauma, my own vulnerability and awareness that things can happen and have happened that are out of my control.  I  went to reclaim the parts of me that had been battered by the storms of betrayal, disappointment, stress and fatigue.  I went to get perspective on the world and to have my understanding broadened.  I went because, I too, am fragile.

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If we are honest, we all are.

But make no mistake, the people of Puerto Rico are as resilient as they are fragile.  They are determined to repair their infrastructure and get things back to working conditions.  They are determined have the measures in place, so that when another hurricane comes, they are prepared.   They may be battered, but they are still standing.

Being both resilient and fragile is the paradigm of all living things.

We are all resiliently fragile.

The other day I was visiting someone and praying for them before their surgery and the son of the person said, “So, like, you just go around and give people pep talks before surgeries and make them feel good?”  Uh. Yeah. That’s what I do.  It’s a humble thing when someone reflects back on you what you do and you realize how insignificant it sounds in the scheme of things.   Prayer seems so silly I guess to people who don’t do it or would ever think about needing.  How pointless my job must seem.

But in the face of our humanity and our fragility and resiliency, is it not the Divine that keeps us afloat in the midst of the storm?  Traumatic experiences remind us that we are all just on this side of heaven.  Traumatic experiences remind us that life disrupting events can happen to all of us at any time, that we are all fragile.  And because storms come up out of the blue, we all need to be gentle with each other. We need to pray even when we aren’t sure anyone is listening.  We need to recognize that when the earth breaks, we all break.  When one person suffers, we all suffer. Destruction of creation is destruction of ourselves. Just as our minds and bodies are connected, so too is the earth and humanity.  If our minds are in pain, our bodies show pain. If the earth is pain, all of humanity shows pain.  If the people of the earth are traumatized by war or disease or injustice, it impacts all of the people of the earth, whether we realize it our not. – We are all connected. I believe that connection to be the love of God.  We are God’s people.  When God weeps, all of creation weeps.  So, coming to someone before a surgery and holding their hand for a few seconds and reminding them that while at this moment they may feel very fragile, they are also very resilient, and they can and will get through this storm… yeah, I think that’s pretty important.

The people of Puerto Rico are recovering from a traumatic event.  Someone said to me, “Everyone here has PTSD.”  Healing from trauma takes time.  Even after the repairs are made, the feelings of worry and uncertainty linger.  There is always the fear that it will happen again.  There is always life before the incident and after incident, and while we do not want to be defined by those moments, they do shape the way we see the world.  We can no longer pretend that we are not vulnerable, that we are not fragile, and even that we are a little broken.  And while those moments are life changing, they do not have to be life defining.

Yes, Puerto Rico is fragile.  It is also resilient.  So am I.  So are you.

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Forgotten Peace

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I have always made the naive assumption that the ultimate vision for the world, was peace.  I believed that world leader’s primary aim and societies lasting goal,was to create and maintain a world that lived together in peace.  Moreover, I have always assumed that those who identify themselves as Christian, hold the prophetic vision and hope that: “He shall judge between the nations and shall decide for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”  But today, I’m not so sure that has ever been the true vision or lasting goal.  Today, I find myself asking the same question Jesus asked the Roman Empire as he road into Jerusalem on that fateful day that the Roman empire also road into the city.   “Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace.”  Indeed, would we even know today the things that make for peace?

Today, peace is pie in the sky.  It’s not taken seriously.  I dare say the cynic in me questions if its even desired.  I wonder, can the prospect of peace be taken seriously?

My call to discipleship means means working for and living into peace.  It means that if peace is not at the center of the conversation, then neither is Jesus Christ, nor the message of the Gospel.  If peace is not at the center, something else has replaced it:  greed, power, lust,  hatred, aka evil.  It’s only when we invite peace in and strive to achieve it that we are working for  and  following and relying on a power higher than ourselves.  Achieving peace cannot be done without prayer and reliance on God.  This vision of peace is not owned by the Christian faith alone.

The things that make for peace require a different conversation that isn’t nearly as sexy as guns and weapons, salacious commentary, rude behavior, and greed.  If peace entered a conversation on gun violence, it would be laughed out the door, and be seen as weak and spineless.  If we had a parade in Washington DC that showed the power of peace, it would be mocked. We have forgotten that our weakness is what makes a strong.  We have forgotten that love is stronger than hate. We have forgotten that peace is not an adjective, but a verb.  We no longer know the things that make for peace.

I cannot provide the answer to achieving world peace. God knows people wiser than I have tried to teach the ways of peace. But I can provide some insight on how to achieve internal peace, and I believe the two are connected.  We cannot have peace in the world, if we don’t have peace within ourselves.  Achieving internal peace is a daily exercise. You are never one and done.

― Mahatma Gandhi

 

First, you begin with fundamental belief and knowledge that you are loved, held and safe in a something bigger than yourself.  For me, that Something is Jesus.  It begins with  allowing yourself to be wrapped and held in the love and grace of  God.   I don’t know if many people know that they are unconditionally loved anymore, or if they ever have known. But if we want world peace, we have to tell the broken world that God holds them, loves them and sees them and we have to look upon those who have different values and see that they are loved, even if they don’t know it.  The bully in the classroom is hurting as much as the kid being bullied.  What would it take for us to convey to those who we call “thugs, evil, crazy,”  that they are loved, valued and held?  We must teach this to all children. Every day. We have to love the children of this world as if they all our children.

“When I say it’s you I like, I’m talking about that part of you that knows that life is far more than anything you can ever see or hear or touch. That deep part of you that allows you to stand for those things without which humankind cannot survive. Love that conquers hate, peace that rises triumphant over war, and justice that proves more powerful than greed.”
― Fred Rogers

Second, we have to surrender ourselves to that love and put our trust in it.  We are not the center of the universe.  The world was not made for our existence alone.  We are part of something bigger and we have to put our trust in a Creator who has been here far longer than we will be, and will be here long after.  What would it take to surrender all of the stuff we carry, put those things in a bottle and let them float down the river, so that all that is left is our true selves?  As long as we carry greed, arrogance, jealousy, hatred, past hurts, unmet expectations, or addictions, we cannot hold peace.   But if we can surrender that stuff and know that they don’t serve us and just let it go, we can make room for peace. – For the record, this is not easy.   We hold fear and anger and as long we hold those heavy weights, we are weighed down and there is no room for peace.

“Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything – anger, anxiety, or possessions – we cannot be free.”
― Thich Nhat HanhThe Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy, and Liberation

Third, we have to want it more than anything else.  If we do not want peace, peace will not present itself.  It’s not going to force itself on you. When I am not at peace with myself or with others, I feel unsettled, anxious, and self centered. I am not putting my mind on Divine things.  I am Martha, at work, trying to fix, trying to get praise, trying to prove myself, trying to justify myself.  If, however, I can put my mind on divine things, then what I discover is that I have received grace and I can extend grace to those who have hurt me.  I no longer give them power.  Revenge and peace cannot coexist.

“Let the first act of every morning be to make the following resolve for the day:
– I shall not fear anyone on Earth.
– I shall fear only God.
– I shall not bear ill will toward anyone.
– I shall not submit to injustice from anyone.
– I shall conquer untruth by truth. And in resisting untruth, I shall put up with all suffering.

― Mahatma Gandhi

Jesus said, “blessed are the peacemakers, for there’s is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

For Equilibrium, a Blessing:
Like the joy of the sea coming home to shore,
May the relief of laughter rinse through your soul.

As the wind loves to call things to dance,
May your gravity by lightened by grace.

Like the dignity of moonlight restoring the earth,
May your thoughts incline with reverence and respect.

As water takes whatever shape it is in,
So free may you be about who you become.

As silence smiles on the other side of what’s said,
May your sense of irony bring perspective.

As time remains free of all that it frames,
May your mind stay clear of all it names.

May your prayer of listening deepen enough
to hear in the depths the laughter of god.”

― John O’DonohueTo Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings

May the peace of Christ be with you.

 

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When God Hits You Over the Head

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It’s taken a long time to get to this place. – Five years, maybe longer. – No longer, maybe my entire life. I remember, as a teenager,  looking up to people who seemed to be able to balance it all, look good, get every achievement and never look or appear tired, grouchy or stressed out.  I remember wanting to be them. I wanted to be that Student Body President with the 4.0, who could both perform and play a sport and essentially do it all.  I was competitive, driven and had an overwhelming feeling of needing to be important. I carried this self importance with me through college, grad school, seminary, ministry, etc.

Now, at this midlife marker on my time line – if 46 is midlife, and I think it still is, I am find myself at a threshold of what is behind and what is ahead.  The day after my 46th birthday I was hit over the head.  Actually, I was hit in the head.  Hard.  I knew the moment it happened that it wasn’t good.  The pain was severing.   At first it was blinding.  I remember a metallic taste in my mouth and thinking, “don’t pass out, you are home alone.”  I willed away the pain, pretended like it didn’t happen, finished what I was doing, which was sweeping the kitchen floor, got on my coat and left for a church meeting.   I lasted one hour, before I told the group I needed to go home, as I was seeing stars and thought I was going to throw up.  Since then, my days have consisted of doctor visits, a concussion diagnosis, some tests, a massage, a visit to the chiropractor, some walks, and lots of naps.  The only way to recover from a concussion is to rest.  The orders are no screens (yes I am on one now), no driving, no reading,  and lots of resting.

This hit over the head, I think was the only way I was going to be forced to stop and look at how fast I am going, how hard I am trying to will the world right, and most importantly, how far away I have gotten from any practice self care and rest. It’s embarrassing to admit that my self care practice is taking a shower.  That’s nothing to be proud of.

For those of us who carry an over sense of responsibility, we can believe that our existence depends on the success or failure of whatever it we feel we are responsible for.  For me, the two things I feel ultimately responsible for are: the church and my kids.   I have convinced myself that I am responsible for saving the church where I serve.  – Yes, I realize the ego in that statement.  I have also convinced myself that I am responsible for making sure my kids are o.k.  –  It is impossible for me to not feel responsible.  It is impossible for me to not believe that I can fix things, work harder, try something else, keep going, sleep less, do more and then everything will be alright. –

But then I got hit over the head.

And I realize that for a good while now I have been more of a human doing than a human being.  The doing is a way to avoid the loneliness of leadership, the acceptance of failure, the reality of death, the truth of aging, and the acknowledgement of time passing.  In other words: grief. – And the truth is the work of grief requires rest. You can’t work your way out of grief, you have to rest in it.

It’s a crazy thing to realize you forgot you were a human being. Just a person, with no special powers to save anything, as much as you would like to.

I know this injury will heal and I will get back to “normal” soon enough. I will be able to return to the routines that are so addicting. The question I am asking myself is  “Can I obey God’s call to rest?”  Can I relinquish my over sense of  responsibility and take that yoke off of my shoulders?  Can I give the space I need to grieve?  Of course the irony and the sin is thinking that I can save anything on my own, that I am in control, and that I am more than just a human being.  The sin is the ego thinking that it doesn’t need God.

Since the beginning of the year I have been studying the work and writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. – If anyone was responsible and and courageous in leadership,  it was Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  If anyone grieved the loss of his church and his friends  and his own freedom, it was Bonhoeffer.  His theology is very clear that he was not responsible to the church, but to God.  His relationship to the church and to the world  was rooted in this constant, steadfast reminder that he belonged to God.  He wrote from his prison cell:

“In me there is darkness,
But with You there is light;
I am lonely, but You do not leave me;
I am feeble in heart, but with You there is help;
I am restless, but with You there is peace.
In me there is bitterness, but with You there is patience;
I do not understand Your ways,
But You know the way for me.”

“Lord Jesus Christ,
You were poor
And in distress, a captive and forsaken as I am.
You know all man’s troubles;
You abide with me
When all men fail me;
You remember and seek me;
It is Your will that I should know You
And turn to You.
Lord, I hear Your call and follow;
Help me.”
― Dietrich BonhoefferLetters and Papers from Prison

I am at the beginning of this Epiphany Season, that began with a hit over the head.  I am only beginning to see what I had become blind to.  It’s humbling thing to confess how far from God I feel, and how exhausted I find myself, and how much grief I have shelved.  I share this not for sympathy but in hopes that maybe if you find yourself overly responsible trying to save something, that you don’t need to run into a wall – as I did (the corner of a kitchen cabinet), but can stop, rest, breathe, slow down, light a candle, and just be a human being.   That’s enough.

Peace.

 

 

 

 

 

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).

 

 

The Way of Wisdom

13 Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding,

Proverbs 3:13

wayofwisdom

ˈwizdəm/

noun

  • the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment; the quality of being wise.
  • the soundness of an action or decision with regard to the application of experience, knowledge, and good judgment.
  • the body of knowledge and principles that develops within a specified society or period.

 

We are living in a time of high volatility.  Every click on the computer and swipe on the phone, causes a reaction, a feeling of threat, or defense, anger, or fear, frustration, or confusion.  People are on high alert and they take their reactivity with them into every day life,  at checkout counters, the doctor’s office, parent-teacher conferences, and on the highway. Events that would have been looked over, now cause a reaction.  People feel free to say unfair, unkind, and untrue statements that create a toxic fume that permeates the atmosphere.  All someone needs to do is a light a match.

This season of unpredictability makes us jumpy and we often find ourselves in a state of reactivity.  It would behoove the world, to move away from being right and into a place of being wise.

Think for a second:  When was the last time you sought wisdom?

Wisdom is different from knowledge. One can be intelligent and not wise.  Wisdom is not seeking answers, it is seeking understanding.  Wisdom comes from experience. It comes from suffering.  It comes from observing. It comes from a place of humility. Wisdom begins by being more connected to God and less connected to the world. – Not that we forget about the world, but rather, we spend less time being driven by it.

We seek wisdom, by finding solitude.  Henri Nouwen wrote:

 “Solitude is the furnace of transformation. Without solitude we remain victims of our society and continue to be entangled in the illusions of the false self. Jesus himself entered into this furnace. There he was tempted with the three compulsions of the world: to be relevant (‘turn stones into loaves’), to be spectacular (‘throw yourself down’), and to be powerful (‘I will give you all these kingdoms’). There he affirmed God as the only source of his identity (‘You must worship the Lord your God and serve him alone’). Solitude is the place of the great struggle and the great encounter – the struggle against the compulsions of the false self, and the encounter with the loving God who offers himself as the substance of the new self.”

― Henri J.M. NouwenThe Way of the Heart: The Spirituality of the Desert Fathers and Mothers

The season of Lent is here. The wild month of February has ended, and the liturgical calendar beckons us to come into the wilderness, into a season of solitude.

Solitude is not found at the spa or on the beach,  it’s found within yourself.  It’s found when you quiet your mind, go deeper into yourself, so that you may come out wiser, more self-aware, less reactive, more compassionate. Solitude is found when we fast from that which keeps us from God, and when we feast on that which draws us to Him.

Fast from judgment, Feast on compassion
Fast from greed, Feast on sharing
Fast from scarcity, Feast on abundance
Fast from fear, Feast on peace
Fast from lies, Feast on truth
Fast from gossip, Feast on praise
Fast from anxiety, Feast on patience
Fast from evil, Feast on kindness
Fast from apathy, Feast on engagement
Fast from discontent, Feast on gratitude
Fast from noise, Feast on silence
Fast from discouragement, Feast on hope
Fast from hatred, Feast on love

What does solitude look like?

“In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion.” 

― Albert CamusThe Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays

If you want to understand the world, step away from it.

  • Turn off Facebook for 40 Days.
  • Limit your access towhatever your news choice is and allow yourself only the headlines. If you watch one news station that is more to your ilk, read another news choice that is not of your liking. Read enough to understand, but not so much as to be consumed.
  • Take a screen Sabbath.
  • Spend more time creating, get a bird feeder,  bake,  give, read, and be kind to strangers.
  • Take all of the time that you spend worrying, annoyed, frustrated, angry, or sad and turn your energy to your soul and connecting with God and thinking about God’s love, God’s grace, and God’s forgiveness.
  • Be in a more intimate relationship with God than you are with your phone.
  • Every time your mind is triggered with worry or frustration, stop, say a word, and reconnect with the God of all human history.
  • Spend more time thinking about what you for, than what you are against. Spend more energy on love than on hate.  Think on these things.

Once we have spent time in solitude, finding ourselves closer to God, then we are to the world – then and only then, can  we respond to the world.

Take that time in solitude to pray.  Pray for your enemies.  Pray for the liberal. Pray for the conservative. Pray for the immigrant.  Pray for the teacher. Pray for the leader. Pray for your neighbor. Pray for the employer. Pray for the picker. Pray for the reporter. Pray for the parent. Pray for the child. Pray for the water. Pray for the air. Pray for the trees. Pray for the wealthy. Pray for the poor.  Pray for the greedy.  Pray for the generous.  Pray for the church. Pray for the mosque. Pray for the temple.  Pray for the Native American. Pray for the Latino. Pray for the African-American. Pray for the Asian. Pray for the White. Pray for the Gay. Pray for the Straight.  Pray for the married. Pray for the single.  Pray for the lonely. Pray for the homeless. Pray for the hungry. Pray for your enemies.  Pray for those you love.  Pray for people you do not understand. Pray to be understood.

“We live, in fact, in a world starved for solitude, silence, and private: and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship.”
― C.S. LewisThe Weight of Glory

If we can find a way to solitude, we will gain wisdom. If we can gain wisdom, we will know God. If we know God, we will speak the truth not be afraid.  There is a time to be brave. Bravery will come when wisdom is discerned.

You are wiser than you give yourself credit.  After all, God abides in you and you in him.  Seek God and you will know peace.

Next week I will write about finding wisdom in the hardest moments.

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The Wolves We Feed: A Reflection for Inaugeration Day

 

wolf-2Do you remember this Cherokee parable?

A grandfather is talking with his grandson and he says there are two wolves inside of us which are always at war with each other. 

One of them is a good wolf which represents things like kindness, bravery and love. The other is a bad wolf, which represents things like greed, hatred and fear.

The grandson stops and thinks about it for a second then he looks up at his grandfather and says, “Grandfather, which one wins?”

The grandfather quietly replies, the one you feed.

January 20 has become a date that many of us are excited about and many of us dread.

It’s a day that all Americans take pride in, as we celebrate the mark of a peaceful transition from one leader to another. It’s democracy in all of its splendor.

It’s a day of parades and music and poetry.  It’s a day that marks a transition into a new era.

It’s supposed to be a day to feel good about being an American, and for many. many people it will be just that. They will feel very proud and excited and hopeful. It will be a great day.

For others, the day will be a day of fear and uncertainty. It will not be such a great day.

For others, it will be neither a good day or a bad day, but a”wait and see day,” a “give him a chance day.”

It would be great if we all had the same day on January 20, if we all felt equally excited and hopeful. But we know that is not going to happen. We are a divided nation and we really don’t want to try to understand each other.  We really don’t want to take Atticus Finch’s advice and walk around in another person’s shoes.  We are too angry to even try.  We are too angry for the past eight years for failed promises and hallow speeches.  We are too angry at the rhetoric that offends and divides.  Which ever side we are on, the last thing we want to do, is try to understand the other person’s point of view.  But, I wonder, if we could be brave enough to try?  I wonder if we could love our country enough to try to heal it?  I wonder if we could all try to feed the same wolf?

Every single one of us, regardless of our political persuasion has these two wolves living in us.  No one person gets through life without both wolves sleeping in our psyches.  When the wolves wake up, we have a choice of which one we feed.  We alone have the option to be feed fear or bravery.  We have the choice between feeding hatred or kindness.

It’s in us to decide the kind of people we want to be and how we are going to live and treat each other in this world.  We can choose to feed kindness, bravery,  and love, but let it be known that you have to choose to feed it. It’s a choice we make every day. If you do not feed it, it will starve.

I believe that most people, are genuinely good at heart. I believe most people  love their kids and  love this country, and want it to be a country that stands for liberty and justice for all…..We all just may not like each other…but we can still choose to be kind to each other.We may not share the same values, but we can find a way to respect each other in our differences.

We  have to have enough self-resolve to feed the wolves we choose to feed.  No one makes us feed hatred, we choose that. No one makes us feel afraid, we choose that.  No one makes us feel greed, we choose that.  We can choose another path.

If we want to feel better on January 21, we as nation have to decide which wolf we are going to feed.

No matter how you feel on January 20: overjoyed or overwhelmed, that is your truth, and it has value and it matters.

But also know this truth, and be equally proud of this;  it’s a truth we all share:

We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal.

 May it be forever so.

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The Pastor’s Christmas Eve

christmas eve

It was Christmas Eve.  It was about midnight and we had just finished the third and final service of the evening. My colleague had just preached, Joy to the World  had been sung and the benediction given. I was greeting people at the door. A woman walked out, shook my hand and said, “that was the worst Christmas Eve sermon I have ever heard, and you can tell him I said that.  People don’t want to hear about war and bad things on Christmas Eve, they want to feel good, not worse.”  I stood there, a freshly minted ordained pastor, and said, “Well, I hope things get better from here.  Merry Christmas!”

It was Christmas Eve. My friend and colleague had just finished a long night of Christmas Eve services.  He came home, had a glass of Merlot, and crawled into bed.  An hour later, his 7-year-old was by his bed saying she didn’t feel well, and proceeded to throw up all over their bedspreads. He spent the rest of the night cleaning sheets and hosing off blankets in their front yard.  The next day we showed up for work at the same time.  “How was your Christmas?”  There was no response.

It was Christmas Eve. I wanted to make sure my kids weren’t short-changed because they had a mom who worked on Christmas Eve. I decided to bake a home-made braided roll. I stood in the kitchen in my black suit and high heels and proceeded to roll dough into three strands. Within minutes I was covered in flour. Covered. Later that night, as the choir sang, “Bring a Torch, Jeanette Isabella,” I picked dough from underneath my fingernails. The braided roll never made it to the oven.

It was Christmas Eve. My colleague was on the fourth and final service of the evening.  He stood behind the Table with the Bread and the Cup.  He lifted the Cup and said, “This is the Cup of the New Salvation.” Suddenly, one of his contacts fell out of his eye and landed in the Cup of juice and started to float to the surface.  He took his finger and scooped it out, laying it on the Table.  “Do this in remembrance of me.”

It was the end of Christmas Eve.  Families were mingling about and taking pictures by the tree. We were just turning off the lights, when someone handed me a note, written on the back of a giving envelope.  “The church has failed me.  You did not visit my mother enough when she was in rehab. You didn’t pray enough for her.  Merry Christmas.”  Of course, because I take responsibility for everything, I assumed that by “the church,” the writer meant me.  The line,  “you have failed,” “you have failed,” “you have failed” sang in my head so much louder now than the words, “let heaven and nature sing.”  “You have failed.”  Merry Christmas.

The truth is we all fail at Christmas. That’s why we come to the manger every year: to remember grace.  We go in our complete imperfection.  We go as vulnerable as Mary, as stressed as Joseph, as unlikely as the shepherds. We go in our tired, weary, imperfect selves and receive the one thing we need more than anything else, grace, grace, grace.

Every Christmas Eve, pastors try to tell a familiar story in a new way. They try to be traditional and provocative in the same 15 minute sermon. They try to give people what they want, and be true to the Gospel at the same time. They wish, pray, lament and grieve that people will come back the Sunday after Christmas.  They wonder if their words make any difference, or if they should just get out of the way of the candles and the singing of O Holy Night.  They worry a lot about what people said about the service, as if its one more Christmas show they attended, and you hope it’s as good as the “Holiday Extravaganza” they attended last week.

And suddenly we are no longer singing with the angels, “Glory to God in highest heaven!” We are singing, “Glory to ourselves for putting on such an awesome show!”

Lord, have mercy on us.

We have turned Jesus into a movie star, when he was born right in the manure of it all.

I think we diminish his birth, by denying that truth. We diminish his birth by denying that grace.

He was born in the imperfect, tired, violent, bodily fluid, muck of this world and cried, “peace, peace, peace”.

Thank God. Thank God indeed.

 

From Surviving to Living

running jack

And just like that, my life is not my own. Not that it ever really was, but at least I could pretend I was in control for a while. Now that it’s over, I’m back to being at the mercy of some strong force I cannot see,

What’s over?  Why summer, of course.

I have been out of sorts these past few days as I have checked off the checklist:

  • check ups
  • hair cuts
  • forms
  • paper
  • pens, pencils, markers, tape
  • gym shoes
  • open house night, meet the teacher night,
  • wine
  • I think I’m forgetting something….

It’s not the “going back to school” part that makes me irritable. Although I do join in the litany and pray for good teachers, good friends, good health, and good teachers.  It’s not really about the passage of time and my babies being one step closer to leaving home.  After all, letting go is part of life.

What makes me irritable, is the feeling  that as summer ends, I find that I am no longer living, I am surviving.

To live means to have room to rest, play, create, travel, eat, visit, explore, read, and watch sunsets. These are the gifts of summer.

To survive is to just make it through the day, not aware that the sun neither rose, nor set, because your biggest achievement is just getting through it.

We have done this to ourselves. We have allowed the pressure cooker of school calendars, sport calendars, music calendars, and church calendars to push us to the point that we aren’t really living through the day, we are just surviving it.

This mentality sets us up for failure. It turns us inward. It sets us up for feelings of inadequacy, because we can’t have it all together, all of the time.

I don’t even know what “it” is.

Here’s what I do know.

We only get one time around in this life.  We assume that we will have a good 80 to 90 years to get “it” all done. This is an arrogant assumption. We take advantage of the day, thinking that we have a lifetime to live, when really, the only day we have to live, is today.

What would it take for you to live your life, not just survive it?

We have become a society of people surviving, and this will kill us.

It’s impossible to be a living community, when we are all trying to survive individually.

When we are surviving, the mentality is, “what’s in it for me?”  We treat each other as goods and services who are working for or against our personal survival. “They dropped the ball.”  “They didn’t call.”  “They messed up.”  “They sent out the wrong information.”  We forget that all of us desire the same thing: to live more fully.

When we are living, the mentality shifts.  We treat other people as people who have good intentions and trying to do their best.   Living requires loving. And loving always requires grace.

All of us need to know that we have value and worth and are more than just surviving. So be kind to the cashier at Target, the secretary at the junior high, the teacher nobody wants, the cook in the kitchen, the teller at the bank, remembering that we all desire to do more than survive.

Slow down. Nothing has changed.  You still have 24 hours to live your day. May it be full of life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where the Soul Rests

stormy lake

Where the Soul Rests

See this old sign?

It looks pretty beaten up doesn’t it?

Its weathered a few storms,

and survived.

It’s watched vacationers come and go.

watched them

awe at the Eagle,

listen for the loon

be still for the mother deer and her fawn.

This is the place where my soul rests.

It’s the place

where I want my ashes spread

where my truest self is known.

A place of rest and restoration.

A place of peace and imagination.

A place of simple hope.

It’s how I imagine the Kingdom of Heaven to be.

Do you know where your soul rests?

Where your soul is the most content?

Like a yellow lab who always brings back the ball….Where does your soul return?

Think on these things. Think about your soul.

Have you paid attention to it lately?

Do you know where your soul rests?

Beware.

If you go to your soul and you allow yourself to be restored, you will see where you are lacking. Like the missing letters in this old sign, you will see where you have been battered, weathered and worn.

You will see the pain.

The weathering of life.

It’s not the same, but you are still there.

Do you know where your soul rests?

Go there.

And be at peace.

 

 

Make it Sound Like America

Make it Sound Like America.

I heard a recording of Aaron Copland working with an orchestra and conducting his famous piece, Appalachian Spring.  He explained how it should sound this way, “Make it sound like America,  don’t play this like Tchaikovsky, make it sound more bouncy, less sentimental and more…cool.”

I love this piece of music, and sorry to say, I feel very sentimental about it. I walked down the aisle on my wedding day to Simple Gifts. The first movement always makes me cry. (Hit “play” now if you haven’t already).

It was this question, posed to Copland that has gotten me thinking…

How does America Sound?

I know how I want it to sound.

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I want it to sound honest, pure, genuine, gritty, and lovely.

 

 

 

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I want it to sound hopeful, peaceful and life-giving.

 

 

 

 

rainbow in the dessert

 

I want it sound like a rainbow in the desert.

 

morning

 

Like a morning, unblemished.

 

dad's sunset

Like gratitude.

 

This is how I want it sound, and maybe it does some places.

But it also sounds

tired

hungry

pillaged

polluted

plastic

fractured

violent

abused

divided

I do not believe we can hear America without hearing all of it.

Today, on this Fourth of July, as you watch a parade, eat watermelon, wave flags, set up lawn chairs, and hear the sizzle of a fire cracker, listen.  Listen,

How do you think America sounds?