Tuesday, July 31, 2007
"The most basic place of our sacramental living is in our marriages and homes and families. Here we live together in well-reasoned love for everyone around us. Here we experience the 'sacrament of the present moment,' to use the phrase of Jean Pierre de Caussade. We miss the point of this way of life if we are off conducting prayer meetings and other churchly enterprises when the duty of the present moment is to be home, playing with our children or caring for other domestic responsibilities."
"C. S. Lewis wisely observed, 'the great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one's 'own' or 'real' life. The truth is of course that what one calls interruptions are precisely one's real life--the life God is sending one day by day: what one calls one's 'real life' is a phantom of one's own imagination.'"
-- Richard J. Foster in Streams of Living Water
Sunday, July 29, 2007
JOSEPH THE DREAMER. This week, I found myself absorbing the familiar story of Joseph and his brothers with fresh perspective. For whatever else happens in the book of Genesis after Adam and Eve are driven from the Garden of Eden, the epic concludes with Joseph pointing us in the direction of redeeming grace.
INTO A LIVING NIGHTMARE. Joseph's story (Genesis 37-50) begins with a gifted dreamer incurring the wrath of his older brothers. His life becomes a living nightmare--thrown into a cistern by his brothers, sold into slavery in Egypt, placed in prison for years under false accusations, believed by his father to be dead, far from home. On the other hand, Joseph's life becomes a testimony to trajedy-transcending grace.
Digesting Joseph's story afresh, I come away with four lingering impressions:
1. WHEN THE NIGHTMARE COMES, GOD IS STILL HOLDING ON TO YOU. Genesis 37:18-28, 36; 39:1-4
When the nightmare comes; not if it comes. None of us are exempt from heartbreak, unexpected tragedy, unwelcome conflict, unavoidable crisis, the unjustifiable injustice. When these occur, we are not abandoned. God honored Joseph in Potipher's household and, later, in the prison in which he became the chief steward. As God was still holding on to Joseph, God holds on to us. God's care for Joseph amid his terrible circumstances is consistent with the kind of faithfulness reflected in the Word of God, in such powerful passages as Isaiah 43, Romans 8, and Psalm 46. The challenge and promise is clear: "Do not be afraid. I am with you."
2. LET THE DREAM OF GRACE SHAPE YOUR FUTURE, NOT MISERY AND RESENTMENT. Genesis 41:39-43
Joseph had every legitimate reason to wallow in misery, every right to carry resentment before him all his days. But instead of nursing his wounds and vowing vengeance, Joseph let his life be drawn forward by grace. Perhaps he was enough of a dreamer to believe that there was something to life beyond the present confines, the dark nights, the overwhelming heartache. Perhaps it was a "hope against hope" that displaced resentment and kept his heart and vision clear. We may not be able to choose what happens to us, but we can choose our response to our life circumstances. Don't let resentment poison your future; let grace draw you forward.
3. THE DREAM IS NOT SUCCESS; IT IS GOD'S REDEMPTIVE PURPOSE. Genesis 45:4-11
After incredible humiliation and imprisonment, Joseph achieved or received everything that can be described as “success” in life. As second in command of all Egypt, he is the epitome of achievement. But for Joseph, success is not an end in itself, is not the point. For Joseph, success is granted for a redemptive purpose. In his case, he believed it was to save his family, to be reconciled to his brothers, and to preserve the people of Israel amid famine. There are critical purposes for our lives beyond mere success. Have you explored God's purposes in your life?
4. GOD'S INTENTION FOR YOUR LIFE IS GREATER THAN ANY HUMAN PURPOSE OR SINFUL SABOTAGE. Genesis 50:15-21
After his father Israel dies, Joseph's brothers are worried that he might, at long last, exact vengeance on them for their mistreatment of him. In Joseph's words to his brothers at that moment, we see into the very heart of divine grace: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20). Human manipulation yields only temporary results. Sabotage of God's intention in yours or another's life is a costly detour to be sure, but still just a detour. How can your understanding of God’s purpose and intention for you shape your response to difficulties, temptation, and even sabotage of your dreams?
Saturday, July 28, 2007
“The overruling reality of life is the Will and Choice of a Spirit acting not in a mechanical but in a living and personal way; and that the spiritual life does not consist in mere individual betterment, or assiduous attention to one’s own soul, but in a free and unconditional response to that Spirit’s pressure and call, whatever the cost may be.” – Evelyn Underhill
Friday, July 27, 2007
GETTING INTERESTED. Okay, though I've been an avid cyclist since who knows when, I really didn't tune into the Tour de France in particular until after the year Lance Armstrong won it for the first time. Here was an incredible story: a gifted American professional cyclist who'd ridden the Tour de France and won a stage at age 21, who then had testicular, lung and brain cancer that was successfully treated (at Indiana University Medical Center in Indianapolis), who returned the next year to win the Tour--the world's greatest stage in cycling.
GETTING HOOKED. Since then, I've been on board--big time. Along with many Americans, I've been inspired by Lance Armstrong's saga. I've read his books and I've met him. Not only has he piqued American interest in a predominantly European sport, he's done a world of good in advancing cancer treatment and clinical trials. His legacy off the bike may become greater than what he was able to do on it--win an unprecedented seven consecutive Tours de France. The title of his first book may ring true: It's Not About the Bike.
GETTING COMMITTED. Over the past seven years, I've really enjoyed the Tour de France. I've followed it online and on TV. I love the picturesque setting, intense competition, and subtle strategies. I've come to understand its nature, its language and its terms. I've come to appreciate its finer challenges and dimensions. Lance is no longer riding the Tour de France, but I'm still hooked on it. I now pay some attention to other professional road cycling events and applaud the emergence of great cycling events in America like the Tour of California and the Tour of Georgia. It's not easy to follow because mainstream media doesn't cover it, but there are relatively good online sources for seekers (let me know if you're interested).
WRITING THE TOUR. I'm not typically an overtly excitable person, but a few years ago I discovered that come July I just went into a temporary mania for the Tour de France. So, instead of suppressing it, I decided to focus it. I've posted and e-mailed "My Amateurish Tour de France Updates" for six years as an exercise in sheer enthusiasm. I started blogging through the Tour for the fun of it last year. Again this year, I've had fun with The Tour de France for the Rest of Us. Sometime in the next twenty years or so, I'd like to spend the month of July in France, just following the Tour (of course I'd take my bike!).
TEMPERING MY ENTHUSIASM. Revelations of widespread cheating via doping have challenged my enthusiasm and love for the Tour de France over the past twelve months. Like most professional sports, the use of performance enhancing drugs or blood doping procedures have been a part of cycling for a long time. There is a cat-and-mouse game going on. More sophisticated drug testing is countered by stealth doping methods and undetectable drugs. It's become a sad scenario. In response, cycling authorities have cracked down. No athletes are drug tested more than professional cyclists these days. Any rider suspected is considered guilty until proven innocent.
BAD APPLES SPOILING THE BUNCH. All this came to a rather ugly head at end of last year's Tour de France. American Floyd Landis was found to have used exogenous testosterone in his win. His year-long appeal is still pending. I hope he's innocent, but it doesn't look good for him. And even after heightened efforts to interrupt cheating cyclists and prevent anyone under investigation for doping from beginning this year's Tour de France, a few bad apples are spoiling it again. Three top cyclists--Alexandre Vinokourov, Crisitian Moreni and Michael Rasmussen--have exited this year's Tour due to doping or lying about their involvement with doping.
SILVER LINING. As a result, the news media is having a heyday. "Tour de Farce" read the headlines. Some French newspapers call for the death of the Tour. Evan mainstream American news media and ESPN only get it half right and sensationalize the worst of it. I actually think this is a necessary time of cleansing of the sport. The silver lining of this year's revelations of cheaters is just this: they ARE getting caught. In the past, they've slipped through undetected. Doping controls are working and clean teams are turning up the heat. We may have a virtually clean Tour de France in a few years.
ALTERNATIVE TO WALKING AWAY. The problem with watching or following the Tour de France is the same with watching MLB baseball, NFL football, professional track, or even PGA golf. In the back of my mind I'm wondering: "Is this guy for real, or is his performance enhanced by steroids or testosterone or EPO or a blood transfusion? Is it real or make-believe? At this point in time, with any of these sports, you just can't be sure. So, what to do? Walk away? Dismiss it all? Not me. I write about and appeal for and applaud anti-doping measures in cycling. I want to see it change for the good. And I'm willing to help make a difference in any way I can.
WHAT'S LEFT OF THIS TdF. There are two stage left of this year's Tour de France. The championship is up for grabs. An American is in 3rd place and could be on the podium in Paris, if not outright win the Tour. Watch for Levi Leipheimer. Or, an Australian could win the Tour for the first time. Watch for Cadel Evans. Eighteen stages are complete, two remain. It all comes down to this. It's still worth tuning in.
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
Here is another poem of Ted Loder in Guerillas of Grace (1984, Innisfree Press, Philadelphia, PA):
Wondrous Worker of Wonders,
I praise you
not alone for what has been,
or for what is,
but for what is yet to be.
for you are gracious beyond all telling of it.
I praise you
that out of the turbulence of my life
a kingdom is coming,
is being shaped even now
out of my slivers of loving,
my bits of trusting,
my sprigs of hoping,
my tootles of laughing,
my drips of crying,
my smidgens of worshipping;
that out of my songs and struggles,
out of my griefs and triumphs,
I am gathered up and saved,
for you are gracious beyond all telling of it.
I praise you
that you turn me loose
to go with you to the edge of now and maybe,
to welcome the new,
to see my possibilities,
to accept my limits,
and yet begin living to the limit
of passion and compassion
released by joy,
I uncurl to other people
and to your kingdom coming,
for you are gracious beyond all telling of it.
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
A confession and a prayer for my children
I have so far been able to protect my children
from undue fear and outright violence,
from malnourishment and unjust treatment.
I have not, thus far, competently guarded them
from unbridled consumerism and outright greed,
from justification of all things material.
I have taught them the Lord’s Prayer--
duly recited at each table gathering,
but I have not fully shared with them
our indebtedness to a world we have exploited.
I have cautioned them on drugs and addictions,
and lived an ever-sober life before them,
but I have indulged my appetite for trinkets,
and fed their dependency on branded gadgets.
I have instructed the Commandments to the letter,
and called for living the values they commend,
but I wonder how many gods-not-called-gods
and masquerading idols we return to each Monday?
I have commended my zealous evangelical brethren
for calling out obvious social moral dilemmas,
but we together have swallowed camels,
and overlooked deadly sins that consume us all.
I want my children yet to learn from me
the difference between stewarding and possessing,
that what we possess tends to possess us,
that hearts follows treasures every time.
I want to teach my children, long before I pass,
that there remains an authentic Christian way,
beyond and nearer than I have so far made known;
it ever awaits the heart that hungers for God alone.
Monday, July 23, 2007
RETHINKING THE INCIDENT. Since the mountain bike accident that messed up my torso pretty significantly four weeks ago, I've relived it a few times. I've found myself envisioning heading up that trail bridge. I try to figure out how I got crooked on it at its peak and how I landed. I never lost consciousness in the fall, but I can't yet quite put together these specific details. I must have landed on my upper back with my legs and hips over me, because upon landing I immediately folded like a billfold--thus the broken shoulder blades, processes, ribs and compressed vertebrae in my upper back and the separated sternum in the front. But I don't know for sure. I just wince at the virtual visual of it.
HELMET, CAMELBACK & FRIENDS. I've been thinking, also, of the saving value of wearing both my helmet and my Camelback that day. I always wear a helmet. Only occasionally do I wear a water-filled backpack. A Camelback is not intended to be a safety item; it is intended to be a source of hydration on the trail. Because of how I fell and landed, however, I'm convinced it cushioned the impact and prevented much worse damage. Also, I ride solo 95% of the time; on June 20th, however, two friends--one whom I'd never ridden with before--were with me. To me, they were angels that day.
SPINE NIGHTMARE. Recently, I had a nightmare about my spine. I dreamed that I moved the wrong way and one of the two compressed vertebrae in my back--or fragments from one of them--somehow severed my spinal cord, leaving me paralyzed. Wow! Talk about waking up in a cold sweat and feeling for my hands and feet! Such is part of the post-trauma ordeal, I suppose. I called a physician friend who's seen my accident data and medical reports and asked him about the possibility of this actually happening. Extremely slim to zero, he told me. I'm breathing easier with that assurance. "Shape your worries into prayers," the Bible says. So, I do. I continue to wear the torso brace, take the prescribed medications, move carefully, get good information, and pray for a full and speedy recovery.
BEING STILL OR GOING STIR CRAZY? The Bible says, "Be still and know that I am God." I am trying, I am trying. And I am going stir crazy. "Quit trying; just do it," someone advises. Hmmm. I'm having trouble equating my temporary forced immobility with the contextual intent of those "be still" passages in the Bible. Good exegesis and responsible hermeneutics won't let that equation stand. But I am being relatively still. And I am praying and contemplating thru this part of my journey. While my immobility makes me feel relatively useless regarding what I typically would be doing, it also challenges me to consider who and what I am in relationship to God, to my family, friends, the church, community and world apart from my actions. I think of Christina Rosetti's line regarding Joseph at the occasion of Jesus' birth: "Don't just do something, stand there." Easier said than done.
Saturday, July 21, 2007
I always try
to give the benefit of the doubt,
to bear with strange notions
and unfamiliar or unusual ideas,
to look beyond apparent weirdness,
to accept people as they are
as far as I can;
to withhold judgment
for the sake of hope,
to suspend reaction and critique
for the sake of learning,
to reach across barriers
for the sake of understanding
and finding common ground;
and, where possible,
to stand in the gap
for the sake of grace.
Sometimes, this strings me out;
sometimes, I get burned.
Sometimes, however, I grow,
and so do others.
Thursday, July 19, 2007
GOD’S POLITICS. When it was first published, I worked through Jim Wallis’ book God’s Politics with a diverse group of friends. We discussed the role congregations and Christians might have in honestly addressing issues that are currently trivialized, buried, or unknown. There ARE buried and unpopular realities which are just as important as the oversimplified truisms about America which we most often hear and repeat. I offer this Wallis quote as a contribution to this unveiling.
POLICIES THAT ANGER THE WORLD. “Many people in the world may not be mad at America for ‘our values’…but for ‘our policies.’ But the U.S. policies that most anger people around the world are generally unknown to most Americans. Perhaps the religious community can play a critical role here because it is itself an international community and not just an American one. We also should have the capacity for self-criticism and even repentance, while national governments are seldom good at either.”
DID YOU KNOW? “The truth that most of the world knows is that the U.S. government has far too often supported military dictators in Latin and Central America, Asia and Africa who have murdered as many or more innocent people as Saddam Hussein. The truth is that the United States has not been an honest broker for Middle East peace and has not sought the proper balance between Israeli security and Palestinian human rights.”
AMERICAN IMPACTS. “The truth is that American and Western appetites for oil have led to a corrupt and corrupting relationship with despicable Arab regimes. The truth is that the United States sits atop and is the leader of a global economy in which half of God’s children still live on less than two dollars a day, and the United States will be blamed around the world for the structures of injustice that such a global economy daily enforces.”
HARD CONVERSATIONS MAY HELP. “To speak these truths is very hard, sometimes especially in American middle-class congregations, but speaking hard truths is part of the prophetic religious vocation. Yet such a hard conversation could illuminate the confusion many Americans feel and could actually help in the necessary process of national healing while offering practical guidance for preventing such atrocities in the future.”
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
DEVILISH DELIGHT. Didi Senft of Germany, aka El Diablo, leaps as a breakaway group of cyclists in Stage 10 of the Tour de France fly by on their way to Marseilles today. Senft has been at the roadside of most stages of the Tour de France for years. He may not be the Tour's #1 fan, but he certainly is its most recognizable.
WIDE OPEN. This edition of the Tour de France is sparkling with fresh faces, young winners, and resilient contenders. The field is still wide open for its eventual winner, unlike the years when Lance Armstrong so dominated the race that, barring him crashing or getting sick, it was essentially over before it began.
BLOGGING THRU THE GLORY. An American, Levi Leipheimer, is definitely a possibility for the podium in Paris. I'm pulling for an old (36 yrs) Frenchman named Christophe Moreau. I just think it would be good for the race and good for the sport to have the new champion speaking French. Leipheimer is currently in 9th place; Moreau is in 6th. I'm having fun blogging thru the Tour at The Tour de France for the Rest of Us. Jump over and check in on this incredible annual epic; it reaches Paris and the Champs-Elysees on Sunday, July 28. Until then, they're grinding it out thru some of the most beautiful landscapes, quaint villages, and metropolitan areas you'll ever see.
Did you know that the weight of the bikes ridden in the Tour de France must be at least 14.9 lbs? They are just that...barely. The average road bicycle weighs from 25-35 lbs.
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
William Stringfellow on pain & suffering
FOR ALL WHO SUFFER PAIN. If you read my previous posts of William Stringfellow's reflections on pain and suffering, you will appreciate the following quote. It balances or puts a fuller perspective on the ambiguity and power of pain. Stringfellow sees in the Resurrection a this-life, this-worldly reality--particularly when we face the many personifications of "living" death. If find this word from Stringfellow consistent with Biblical theology and very promising for all who suffer pain.
NOT JUST AT THE TERMINAL POINT. "The resurrection is impregnated with all that has gone before. These encounters of Christ with death and its powers in history mean that his triumph over death there shown is offered for human beings and for the whole world. His victory is not for himself but for us. His power over death is effective not just at the terminal point of a person's life but throughout one's life, during THIS life in THIS world, right now."
HERE AND NOW. "This power is effective in the times and places in the daily lives of human beings when they are so gravely and relentlessly assailed by the claims of principalities for an idolatry that, in spite of all disguises, really surrenders to death as the reigning presence in the world. His resurrection means the possibility of living in this life, in the very midst of death's works, safe and free from death."
EVEN FOR THE PRINCIPALITIES AND POWERS. "Christ's resurrection is for human beings and for the whole of creation, including the principalities of this world. The reign of death and, within that, the pretensions to sovereignty over history of the principalities, is brought to an end in Christ's resurrection. The claim of a nation, ideology, or other principality to rule history, though phony and futile, is at the same time an aspiration for salvation, a longing for the reality that does, indeed, rule history. In the same reality in which the pretension of the principality is exposed and undone, how and in whom salvation is wrought is disclosed and demonstrated. In Christ is both the end and fulfillment for all principalities, for all humanity, and for all things."
From A Keeper of the Word
Sunday, July 15, 2007
William Stringfellow on pain and suffering - 3 of 3
AN AMBASSADOR OF DEATH. "To endure pain is to suffer anticipation of death, in both mind and body. The experience of pain is a foretaste of the event of death. Pain is an ambassador of death. Pain is one of death's disguises, though not one of the more subtle ones."
PERSONIFYING DEATH. "It is the surrogate, servant relationship evident between pain and death that causes me to write of it so much in personified terms. Death, after all, is no abstract idea, or mere a destination in time, nor just an occasional happening, nor only a reality for human beings."
A LIVING MORAL POWER. "But, both biblically and empirically, death names a moral power claiming sovereignty over all people and all things in history. Apart from God, death is a living power greater--because death survives them all--than any other moral power in this world of whatever sort: human beings, nations, corporations, cultures, wealth, knowledge, fame or memory, language, the arts, race, religion."
AN ACOLYTE OF THE POWER OF DEATH. "One speaks appropriately and precisely of the power of death militant in history after the same manner in which one refers to other moral powers or, indeed, after the manner in which one makes mention of God. And then, since pain partakes of the reality of death, it is meet as well as accurate to think of pain personified: to regard pain as an acolyte of the power of death."
From A Keeper of the Word, anthology of William Stringfellow's writings edited by Bill Wylie Kellerman
BEYOND PAIN. Stringfellow's reflections on pain, particularly as a personfication of death as a principality and power are spot on, I think. But, lest you think he writes of this with resignation or dreary fate, I will follow up these three excerpts on pain and suffering with his incredible take on the power of resurrection at work in this life amid pain and death's work. It is inspiring.
Saturday, July 14, 2007
Friday, July 13, 2007
I must choose
I must choose to forgive
and to seek forgiveness
in the most near and common relationships
I must choose to let go resentments,
releasing grievances, self-pities and jealousies
that would barnacle and weigh down
I must choose to release my will to control outcomes,
realizing I cannot control people or things,
only influence with love
I must choose grace over judgment,
mercy over a sense of self-justification and
entitlement to redress
I must choose to see beyond my needs and desires,
to perceive my complicity and responsibility
in the basic survival of millions far
and neighbors near
I must choose to express the Kingdom
instead of hiding my light or squandering
the gifts I've been given,
the opportunites before me
I must choose gratitude over complaint,
joy over solemnity,
peace over disharmony,
hope over despair,
life over death
I must choose to awaken to the life of God
given to me as a precious gift
to generously give away
"Is it possible to live in peace and happiness when you know that two-thirds of human beings are suffering, hungry and poor? To be human we have to have compassion. This solidarity is really the defining factor of our humanity and is gradually being lost in a culture of material values. It’s not only the cry of the poor we must listen to but also the cry of the earth. The earth and human beings are both threatened. We must do something to change the situation..." -- Leonardo Boff
Thursday, July 12, 2007
LEONARDO BOFF'S VOICE. Here's a reflection from liberation theologian Leonardo Boff. This line of thinking and spiritual formation is, to me, critical to engage in. It is a far cry from the theologies of escape and political pandering to American evangelical consumption.
THE DEFINING FACTOR. "Is it possible to live in peace and happiness when you know that two-thirds of human beings are suffering, hungry and poor? To be human we have to have compassion. This solidarity is really the defining factor of our humanity and is gradually being lost in a culture of material values. It’s not only the cry of the poor we must listen to but also the cry of the earth. The earth and human beings are both threatened. We must do something to change the situation..."
TO BELIEVE CHANGE IS POSSIBLE. "There won’t be a Noah’s Ark to save only some of us. To meet people’s fundamental concerns change is needed. The world as it is does not offer the majority of humanity life but rather hell. I believe that change is possible, because I cannot accept a God who could remain indifferent to this world, but only one who cares about the poor and the suffering."
QUESTIONS I ASK. So, to what extent am I listening or tuning in to the "cry of the poor" both within America and in distant communities? To what extent do I sense myself and my daily actions as connected to their well being? Do I realize connectivity and complicity? Am I willing to live with the pain of this tension or am I more likely to tune it out? Do I believe God is interested in change in the face of such disparities and injustices? Am I willing to begin with a prayer of confession, seeking understanding, repentance, and an openness to be part of change? Am I willing to change my ways, adjust my lifestyle, become an advocate for hope instead of a consumer in status quo?
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
TROUBLE IDENTIFYING PAIN. “I learned it is difficult to identify pain, unless by its apparent absence. In the early days of my disease when the pain was episodic, it seemed to me that I could distinguish what pain is, but whatever facility of discrimination I then had, I lost as the illness deepened and the pain became relentless and, paradoxically, so familiar that I ceased to think of myself as in pain. I am not talking about bearing pain with a stiff upper lip or any kind of stoicism, I am referring to a state of the person—body and mind—that becomes so vulnerable to pain that there remains no comprehension of what freedom from pain is.”
WORKING THRU PAIN. “While en route to this extremity, I sought respite in various diversions. The aim in such exercises is to find a distraction sufficient to temporarily displace the pain as a fascination. It is, I suppose, a form of delusive sublimation…I persevered in trying to work...to finish a manuscript… More helpful, for a while, was work involving great but brief concentration combined with manual effort. I learned how to make bread…"
PSALMS AND SEARS CATALOG. “Reading proved more effective in providing diverting intervals from the pain... Two things to which I most often turned to read, for my purpose, were the Psalter [the Psalms] and the Sears, Roebuck and Company catalog. I had not previously done more than scan either, though I had frequently been in circumstances where each would be cited as authority… The Psalms, with their terrible esteem for the godliness of God, and Sears, with its infinite attention to the creatureliness of human beings and its nice detail of American culture, make apt companions for a Christian as a common reader.”
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
William Stringfellow on pain and suffering – 1 of 3
A THEOLOGICAL CONTEMPLATION ON HIS PAIN. Harlem street lawyer and lay theologian William Stringfellow knew physical pain very acutely. The latter part of his life was lived in excruciating pain after surgeries and therapies for healing failed. Stringfellow writes as poignantly as any writer I’ve encountered regarding pain and suffering. I want to post an extended reflection of pain, based on his own experience of it, in a few installments. This is excerpted from a Stringfellow anthology edited by Bill Wylie Kellerman titled A Keeper of the Word.
AN EXQUISITE AMBIGUITY. “There is an ambiguity in pain that is truly exquisite. It is no wonder that medical science is so ignorant about what pain is, beyond knowing what any victim of pain realizes without asking a doctor: pain involves a delicate joinder of physiological and the psychosomatic and is never but one or the other of these.”
DENYING PAIN OR CONSIDERING IT PUNISHMENT. “Nor, given the dignity of the mystery of pain, is it very surprising that so little has been uttered since Job himself, concerning the theology of pain. American religiosity (as distinguished from Biblical faith or theology), meanwhile, remains so hapless and absurd that, generally, it denies the reality of pain or else treats pain as punishment for immorality.”
WHY WE’RE INDIFFERENT TO SOCIAL INJUSTICE. “It is such religious attitudes about pain that explain the profound and primitive indifference of institutional religion in America to human suffering occasioned by social injustice.
BUYING PAIN RELIEF OR DESERVING PAIN? Moreover, the association of these typical views of pain with the equally entrenched notion that acquisition or control of money or credit is an evidence of virtue is what has allowed the commercialization of medicine, of which the previous complaint has been made. Obviously, to the religious, if pain is either an illusion or a punishment, and if money or its equivalent signifies moral rectitude, then one must be able to purchase the absence or relief from pain, and those who cannot do so have only themselves to blame for it.”
Monday, July 9, 2007
I went back to the hospital for a follow-up with the orthopedic trauma specialist this morning, 19 days since my mountain bike accident. Fresh X-rays revealed not one, but two fractured scapulas (shoulder blades). The film confirmed that my left scapula, previously overlooked, is a more extensive fracture than the right. That brings the fracture total to 17. What to do? Nothing, really. Just continue low mobility with this torture chamber of a back brace for the full six weeks. Fun, huh? My occasional frustration with being relatively immobilized is countered by my gratitude that injuries were not more extensive and my efforts to make progress by remaining active.
Sunday, July 8, 2007
FROM OUT OF NOWHERE. But within the last 200 meters, there he was--a wound-up coil sprung with power and speed that caught all the other top guns off guard. Robbie McEwen, the little dynamo from Queensland, Australia, made the impossible look easy. Overcoming his fall and painfully working his way past 188 other riders, McEwen darted in front of the world's leading sprinters to grab his 12th Tour de France stage win. McEwen won the Green Jersey (given for sprint points) in last year's tour (and three out of the last four years). This finish signals his readiness to defend it in 2007. The drama has begun!
Saturday, July 7, 2007
I'm reading The Maytrees (Harper Collins, 2007, released June 12), Annie Dillard's latest gift to life and literature. One would be hard pressed to find a more theologically astute, refreshing and challenging writer.
One character, Deary, an odd soul of a woman living alone in the dunes of Cape Cod, shares her take on pain.
--What happened to your hand?
--I'm one step closer to death. She was enthusiastic.
Deary crossed her legs. --You see, she said to Lou, as soon as you arrive, you start hurting yourself. You burn this fingertip. Later you cut yourself--right there, on the side. Paper cut in the webbing, and years later, another beside where it healed...Another time you bang a knuckle, and maybe twenty years later you pinch its other side. With each injury you learn how that patch of you feels. It wakens. Until it heals, you're aware of those nerves.
--This is a privilege?
--Of course. Every place you injure adds that patch to your consciousness. You grow more alive. And the point of all this is--she beamed up from the sand at Lou--that when you have hurt every single place on your body, you die! Once you have felt every last nerve ending, at least on your skin, then you have lived in full awareness. Then you die.
Friday, July 6, 2007
STARTING IN LONDON. The 94th edition of the greatest spectacle in bicycling begins tomorrow, July 7, 2007. The Tour de France initiates, for the first time, on the streets of London. What an awesome sight that will be. Daily TV coverage will be on Versus (formerly OLN) and several online resources will carry live audio and periodic updates and graphic summaries of the progress of each stage. It is estimated that over 3 billion people will tune in to the Tour de France at some point during the next three weeks.
3547 KILOMETERS IN 21 DAYS. The Tour route is different each year, but always provides a wide range of terrain, beauty, and pageantry as it circles around France, making forrays into England, Belgium, Germany, and Spain. The Prologue (a time trial on Saturday, July 7) and 20 day-long stages will cover 3547 kilometres (that's 2204 miles) of riding, starting in London and ending in Paris. There will be 11 flat stages, two individual time trials and six mountain stages, including three grueling mountain-top finishes. The three-week ordeal will include two rest days. What better way to enjoy "dog days" and the month of July?
LEADING AMERICAN. Levi Leipheimer is the best-placed American in this year's Tour. Now riding for the American-based Discovery Channel team developed by Lance Armstrong, Leipheimer has placed in the top 10 several times. He has a chance to finish on the podium in Paris (top three). Leipheimer will be assisted by a strong team that includes former Armstrong lieutenant George Hincapie.
TOP CONTENDER A KHAZAK. The experts and many of the Tour de France participants think that Alexandre Vinkourov of Khazakstan will be wearing the Yellow Jersey, the Maillot Jaune, when the Tour concludes in Paris on July 29. Vinokourov has been a hard-charging rider for several years, performing well both in time trials as well as mountain-climbing stages. He has won several stages in past Tours de France. "Vino" is explosive and powerful, but tends to be ride like a lone ranger. It is yet to be seen if he can work well enough with his team to win the race outright.
DOPING CHALLENGES. Make no mistake: charges and confessions of the use of banned performance-enhancing substances have thoroughly rocked the world of professional cycling over the past year. The verdict is still out on what happened with last year's Tour winner American Floyd Landis that his blood samples showed elevated levels of exogenous testosterone after one stage. One former Tour de France winner, 1997 Danish rider Bjarne Riis, has confessed to using EPO the year he won. Top contender Spaniard Ivan Basso has confessed to working with a physician to hide his use of banned substances and blood transfusions. Others have confessed or been accused. Laboratory integrity and anti-doping procedures have been called into question, also. It's a grand mess right now. Still, any rider currently under investigation for doping in any way will not be permitted to start this year's race. All riders are subject to urine and blood samples at any point during the race. Doping remains a challenge for this and many other professional sports and athletes.
BUT THAT WON'T SPOIL IT. While some riders may somehow slip through the doping dragnet and others may be falsely accused, the system in place is trying to vigorously address illegal doping to end it. Still, when we look at the raw challenge of the Tour de France, we are looking at one of the greatest physical and mental tests in the world of sports competion. These cyclists are incredibly-trained, highly-disciplined, and thoroughly-dedicated athletes. They are riding over the most challenging course (parcours) in the world. It will test them in every way. We will witness a thing of beauty. Hope you can tune in at least every now and then.
TO FOLLOW THE TOUR DE FRANCE. Again this year, like the past five years, I will likely be sharing my enthusiasm and comments on my TdF blog, "The Tour de France for the Rest of Us." I am no expert, just a big TdF fan. For really expert race coverage, here are a few links I use to track the Tour de France:
Cyclingnews - Online coverage: updates every two minutes, good daily summaries and photos for each stage. Also, good video clips. Follow appropriate links.
Official TdF site - Online coverage: updates every two minutes, daily summaries and some video clips. Not a good source for photos. Follow appropriate links.
Velonews - Online coverage: periodic updates during each stage, some streaming video, and daily summaries. Follow links.
Cyclingfans - During the race, this site offers links to live streaming TV/video coverage via various internet TV sites around the world. Patchy, but fun to watch online when available.
Yahoo!/Eurosport - Online coverage similar to Cyclingnews, but offers more of a European perspective and slant.
Thursday, July 5, 2007
Wednesday, July 4, 2007
MAKING THE CASE FOR LIBERTY. I love the Independence Day holiday. I started the day by reading online "Common Sense" by Thomas Paine. What a succinct, pointed, powerful statement of the case against the monarchy and England's treatment of the American colonies! He lays out the arguments for independence and democracy so well, it is no wonder Paine's tract convinced colonists who had been riding the fence up to that point in time. A strong case for the power of the printed word.
DEPENDENCY. Given my currently relatively immobile and dependent condition (it's been two weeks since the accident), I mulled over the distinctions between dependency, independence, and interdependence. Most of us don't think of dependency as a necessary thing in certain situations. Children are dependent, but the purpose of this necessarily extended dependency (longer than any other species) is to move them beyond it in a healthy way. Dependency, carried beyond necessity, can breed unhealth. We describe unhealthy relationships or family systems as codependent. I am currently dependent on a narcotic to help me cope with pain. I am less dependant than I was a week ago and I hope to be independent of this now-necessary aid as soon as possible.
INDEPENDENCE ISN'T THE GOAL. My goal is not simply to become or be independent or self-sufficient. Often portrayed as the ultimate goal of freedom, democracy and a capitalist economy, independence is a means to an end, not the end itself. That is the myth of rugged individualism. Those who proclaim they are "self-made" people are very short-sighted and arrogant. The most vociferously independent person you know is vastly beholden, whether he or she is able to see or admit it or not. Beware those who claim self-made status and independence; such people may also act as economic and social predators. They tend to live privately and "independently" at everyone else's expense.
RECOVERING INTERDEPENDENCE. We were not created to be independent. We were created to be interdependent. We are at our best when we use our capacities freely to help one another. Freedom's purpose is to better the community. I move from dependency to independence to contribute to the common good, to serve others in their move out of mere dependency. Interdependence is the path toward the shining city. This is a critical and ongoing issue in our society, one that Robert Bellah has so eloquently documented and described in Habits of the Heart and The Good Society.
BALLGAME & FIREWORKS. I've been going a bit stir crazy, limited in my mobility as I am, so my family loaded me up in the car and we went downtown to take in an Indians baseball game and the July 4th fireworks this evening. My back brace enabled me to sit through the game (it included four home runs, two caught by the same fan!) and enjoyed the fireworks afterward. The excursion exhausted me and made me sore, but I considered it worth the effort. We celebrated America's 231st birthday with our fellow citizens.
Photo: Molly took this photo of me in my "Yertle the Turtle" back brace, decorated for July 4th with flags, at the Indians baseball game.
Here are a few excerpts from Common Sense, which I read anew this morning. Thomas Paine's tract, more than any other single document, convinced American colonists of the need for independence and moved them to action.
"Every quiet method for peace hath been ineffectual. Our prayers have been rejected with disdain; and hath tended to convince us that nothing flatters vanity or confirms obstinacy in Kings more than repeated petitioning—and nothing hath contributed more than that very measure to make the Kings of Europe absolute. Witness Denmark and Sweden. Wherefore, since nothing but blows will do, for God’s sake let us come to a final separation, and not leave the next generation to be cutting throats under the violated unmeaning names of parent and child."
"To say they will never attempt it again is idle and visionary; we thought so at the repeal of the stamp act, yet a year or two undeceived us; as well may we suppose that nations which have been once defeated will never renew the quarrel."
"As to government matters, ‘tis not in the power of Britain to do this continent justice: the business of it will soon be too weighty and intricate to be managed with any tolerable degree of convenience, by a power so distant from us, and so very ignorant of us; for if they cannot conquer us, they cannot govern us. To be always running three or four thousand miles with a tale or a petition, waiting four or five months for an answer, which, when obtained, requires five or six more to explain it in, will in a few years be looked upon as folly and childishness. There was a time when it was proper, and there is a proper time for it to cease."
"Small islands not capable of protecting themselves are the proper objects for government to take under their care; but there is something absurd, in supposing a Continent to be perpetually governed by an island. In no instance hath nature made the satellite larger than its primary planet; and as England and America, with respect to each other, reverse the common order of nature, it is evident that they belong to different systems. England to Europe: America to itself."
"I am not induced by motives of pride, party, or resentment to espouse the doctrine of separation and independence; I am clearly, positively, and conscientiously persuaded that it is the true interest of this Continent to be so; that every thing short of that is mere patchwork, that it can afford no lasting felicity,—that it is leaving the sword to our children, and shrinking back at a time when a little more, a little further, would have rendered this Continent the glory of the earth."
"…America is only a secondary object in the system of British politics. England consults the good of this country no further than it answers her own purpose. Wherefore, her own interest leads her to suppress the growth of ours in every case which doth not promote her advantage, or in the least interferes with it. A pretty state we should soon be in under such a second hand government, considering what has happened! Men do not change from enemies to friends by the alteration of a name: And in order to show that reconciliation now is a dangerous doctrine, I affirm, that it would be policy in the King at this time to repeal the acts, for the sake of reinstating himself in the government of the provinces; In order that he may accomplish by craft and subtlety, in the long run, what he cannot do by force and violence in the short one. Reconciliation and ruin are nearly related."
"But the most powerful of all arguments is, that nothing but independence, i.e. a Continental from of government, can keep the peace of the Continent and preserve it inviolate from civil wars. I dread the event of a reconciliation with Britain now, as it is more than probable that it will be followed by a revolt some where or other, the consequences of which may be far more fatal than all the malice of Britain."
"… I make the sufferer’s case my own, and I protest, that were I driven from house and home, my property destroyed, and my circumstances ruined, that as a man, sensible of injuries, I could never relish the doctrine of reconciliation, or consider myself bound thereby."
"…If there is any true cause of fear respecting independance, it is because no plan is yet laid down. Men do not see their way out. Wherefore, as an opening into that business I offer the following hints; at the same time modestly affirming, that I have no other opinion of them myself, than that they may be the means of giving rise to something better. Could the straggling thoughts of individuals be collected, they would frequently form materials for wise and able men to improve into useful matter."
"A government of our own is our natural right: and when a man seriously reflects on the precariouness of human affairs, he will become convinced, that it is infinitely wiser and safer, to form a constitution of our own in a cool deliberate manner, while we have it in our power, than to trust such an interesting event to time and chance."
"…O! ye that love mankind! Ye that dare oppose not only the tyranny but the tyrant, stand forth! Every spot of the old world is overrun with oppression. Freedom hath been hunted round the Globe. Asia and Africa hath long expelled her. Europe regards her like a stranger, and England hath given her warning to depart. O! receive the fugitive, and prepare in time an asylum for mankind."
Tuesday, July 3, 2007
I came across the following observation by Dr. Paul Brand (center in photo), quoted in Where Is God When It Hurts by Philip Yancey. Brand, who worked extensively with persons with Hanson's disease (leprosy), points out the importance of feeling pain--to the body, society and the Body of Christ.
"Individual cells had to give up their autonomy and learn to suffer with one another before effective multi-cellular organisms could be produced and survive. The same designer went on to create the human race with new and higher purpose in mind. Not only would the cells within an individual cooperate with one another, but the individuals within the race would now move on to a new level of community responsibility, to a new level of relationship with one another and with God."
"As in the body, so in this new kind of relationship the key to success lies in the sensation of pain. All of us rejoice at the harmonious working of the human body. Yet we can but sorrow at the relationships between men and women. In human society we are suffering because we do not suffer enough."
"So much of the sorrow of the world is due to the selfishness of one living organism that simply doesn't care when the next one suffers. In the body if one cell or group of cells grows and flourishes at the expense of the rest, we call it cancer and know that if it is allowed to spread the body is doomed. And yet, the only alternative to the cancer is absolute loyalty of every cell to the body, the head."
"God is calling us today to learn from the lower creation and move on to a higher level of evolution and to participate in this community which He is preparing for the salvation of the world."
Monday, July 2, 2007
LOOKING FORWARD. I looked forward all last week not only to feeling a bit better, but to keeping a wedding promise and striving to see if I could preach on Sunday. I am convinced this "forward looking" may well speed my recovery. I suppose I could wait for healing to occur, hoping it might happen. Instead, I choose to forward look toward fulfilling some promises and focus on moving toward some goals. The focus changes from merely measuring pain and coping to striving to heal for the sake of learning, serving, and growing.
SATURDAY WEDDING. For some time I have been working with a young couple in premarital counseling and their long-scheduled wedding date was Saturday, June 30-- nine days after my biking accident. Knowing it was a stretch, I still wanted to fulfill my promise of officiating at their wedding. So, with a back-up plan in place in case I could not muster the energy or ease from pain to guide the wedding, we forged ahead. The couple met in my home last week for one last session. I made it to Friday's rehearsal, standing the whole time. And, without faltering and in my kevlar back brace (who knew it wasn't just a rather odd-looking cumberbun?), I was able to unite this couple in Holy Matrimony on Saturday evening.
PREACHING ON SUNDAY. I was also pleased to be ready and able to preach on Sunday morning. It was an exceptional service, at that. We occasionally share a combined service with our sister congregation, Comunidad Cristiana, singing and speaking both in Spanish and English. Yesterday was the scheduled day for the service. It sailed without a hitch. Pastor Nicolas Estrellas translated my sermon. It was fun. After the worship service, we had a pitch-in dinner. A good ending and beginning! I am taking it easy and being careful, but I cannot be a couch potato!
Sunday, July 1, 2007
Ten Bible Stories that Build Outgoing Disciples - Story 1
TEN BIBLE STORIES THAT BUILD OUTGOING DISCIPLES. A few months ago, I was impressed to develop a preaching/teaching series that will explore ten great stories of the Bible for their power to develop outgoing disciples. These are not my “favorite” Bible stories, but ten instances in which people are called to define their futures--and the futures of those they love--with actions of faith. This is a synopsis of the first installment – Lost and Found.
LOST AND FOUND PARABLES. In Luke 15, Jesus shares three linked parables. They come as a striking response to religious peoples’ concern that Jesus is spending inordinate time with sinners, outcasts, and undeserving characters. Thru these parables, Jesus makes crystal clear to his would-be followers: we must refocus our attention, priorities, and energies on the one who is wandering, wounded, and lost.
SEEKING, SEARCHING, CELEBRATING. In each parable, something is lost and found. One sheep out of 100 wanders way. The shepherd leaves 99 in the fold to seek until he finds the one—then calls for a celebration. A woman loses one coin out of 10; she searches diligently until she finds the one—then calls for a celebration. One of two sons demands his inheritance from his father. The son takes the money, goes far away, wastes it all, and ends up feeding pigs. Coming to his senses, he decides to return to his father, not as a son, but, hopefully, as a servant. The father, scanning the horizon, runs to meet his lost son, restores him and calls for a celebration.
THREE CHALLENGES. The insights to be found in these “lost and found” parables of Jesus are numerous. But looking at them from the perspective of building our capacity to become outgoing disciples, here are three that I see:
1. Embrace as valuable whatever, whomever God embraces as valuable--even if everybody else writes them off.
BAPTIZE YOUR PERCEPTION. The context of Luke 15 makes clear: we've got to shake ourselves loose from valuing people and things the way the world values people and things. Our way of perceiving must be baptized; our perspective on people in really vulnerable social, economic, and political situations must be sanctified. This transformation begins when we (1) recall our own lostness…and the joy of being found, healed, restored; and (2) when we begin to challenge the prevailing foregone conclusions about persons and groups of people.
IMPLICATIONS FOR LATINO NEIGHBORS. We must ask and answer: Who are some people or groups of people in our world today who are being “written off,” dismissed, criminalized, or treated carelessly? What do these parables of Jesus indicate of their value assessment in God’s eyes? I am convinced that many in the American public have crossed the line into blatant racism regarding Latinos in our communities. These are individuals and families we need to embrace--regardless of what the hate-mongers are saying, regardless of their documentation. Perhaps our friendship will be the only redeeming action in an uncertain future for these neighbors.
2. Focus on recovering something or someone wandering, wounded or lost with passionate actions of seeking, healing, and restoring.
REACHING OUT. While the self-righteous relgionists and the older brother think the focus should be on nice, rules-keeping, culturally-appropriate people like themselves, Jesus shines the light elsewhere. The shepherd leaves 99 for one, the woman seeks the one lost coin, and the father longs for his lost son. This runs counter to "leave them alone and they'll come home" thinking. Reaching out sets in motion a process of changed futures for all.
REVERSE UNHEALTHY INSULATION. “Saved” persons often develop a spiritually unhealthy pattern of distancing and insulating themselves from “unsaved” persons and unstable situations. Why do you think this happens? Whatever the reason or "excuse," Jesus shows us a radically different response in these parables. Write down three or four changes can you make that will help you keep seeing real lostness, looking outward and moving toward wandering, wounded people.
3. Rediscover the power of celebrating emergent breakthroughs and small victories.
CELEBRATION REFLECTS FAITH. There is a note of authentic celebration in each of these stories. When what is lost is found, it's time to celebrate. Why don’t we celebrate the good things that happen for--and in--other people more frequently and more robustly? Do we suspect it's not "real?" Do we not want to "waste" our time on such small things? What are we holding out for? Our lack of celebration not only reflects lack of belief and faith, its absence impacts those who have been found or brought near. Remember: what is “just a coin” to one person is a week’s wages to another. Keep focused on the value God places on people and the “day of new beginnings.” Now: How will you celebrate the next spiritual breakthrough of a loved one, friend, or neighbor?
THE PARTY WOULDN’T BE COMPLETE I love how Frederick Buechner puts a note of celebration in his description of grace: “The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn't have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It's for you I created the universe. I love you. . . . There's only one catch. Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you'll reach out and take it. Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift too.”