Saturday, May 30, 2009

WHAT CAN I BELIEVE?

This is a poem by Ted Loder in Guerrillas of Grace

O God, I am so fragile:
my dreams get broken,
my relationships get broken,
my heart gets broken,
my body gets broken.

What can I believe,
except that you will not despise a broken heart,
that old and broken people shall yet dream dreams,
and that the lame shall leap for joy,
the blind see,
the deaf hear.

What can I believe,
except what Jesus taught:
that only what is first broken, like bread,
can be shared;
that only what is broken,
is open to your entry;
that old wineskins must be ripped open and replaced
if the wine of new life is to expand.

So, I believe, Lord;
help my unbelief
that I may have courage to keep trying
when I am tired,
and to keep wanting passionately
when I am found wanting.

O God, I am so frail:
my life spins like a top,
bounced about by the clumsy hands
of demands beyond my doing,
fanned by furies
at a pace but half a step from hysteria,
so much to do,
my days so few and fast-spent,
and I mostly unable to recall
what I am rushing after.

What can I believe,
except that beyond the limits
of my little prayers and careful creeds,
I am not meant for dust and darkness,
but for dancing life and silver starlight.

Help my unbelief that I may have courage
to dare to love the enemies
I have the integrity to make;
to care for little else
save my brothers and sisters of the human family;
to take time to be truly with them,
take time to see,
take time to speak,
take time to learn with them
before time takes us;
and to fear failure and death less
than the faithlessness
of not embracing love’s risks.

God, I am so frantic:
somehow I’ve lost my gentleness
in a flood of ambition,
lost my sense of wonder
in a maze of videos and computers,
lost my integrity
in a shuffle of commercial disguises,
lost my gratitude
in a swarm of criticisms and complaints,
lost my innocence
in a sea of betrayals and compromises.

What can I believe,
except that the touch of your mercy
will ease the anguish of my memory;
that the tug of your Spirit
will empower me to help carry now the burdens
I have loaded on the lives of others;
that the example of Jesus
will inspire me to find again my humanity.

So, I believe, Lord;
help my unbelief
that I may have courage
to cut free from what I have been
and gamble on what can be,
and on what you
might laughingly do
with trembling me
for your incredible world.

Friday, May 29, 2009

MOLLY GRADUATES

An unabashed parental brag

Indulge me this post, please. It's an unabashed parental brag. Molly, our third child of four, and our second daughter, graduated from Ben Davis High School this evening. The attended public school all 12 grades. She was placed in an academically gifted and talented program at Westlake Elementary School in Wayne Township (Marion County) in fourth grade. She continued on this track into advanced placement and honors courses through high school. She made straight As from start to finish. On a 4.o scale, her grade point average is 4.87. She was one of two students at Ben Davis to become National Merit Scholar Finalists. She ranked third in a class of nearly 900 students.

Molly started and lettered all four years on the Ben Davis Girls Soccer Team and was a team captain. She recieved Academic All-State recognition in soccer. As a Freshman, Molly qualified for the Indiana State Track & Field Finals in the 4x800 relay. She recently received the Air Force Athletic and Academic Excellence Award.

Molly had leading rolls in school musicals from Junior High through her senior year at Ben Davis. Most recently, she had the role of Jo March in "Little Women, the Musical." She sang in choirs in elementary school (including Circle the State with Song), Junior High, and in High School was a dance captain for Premiers Show Choir, which placed 3rd in the state this year. She also sang in the Purple Aires concert choir that placed 3rd in the state this year--the highest ever finish for BDHS.

These are only the outward accomplishments. Through all this and running beneath it is a spiritual depth, critical perspective, wisdom, and fire that is readily observable in Molly. This breadth of achievement and capacity along with a depth of character and spirit is a joy to celebrate at this particular milestone. I am thankful and proud as I can be.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

TODAY I AM FIFTY

A reflection on my 50th birthday

Blogging for a few minutes without forethought or something churning in me. Just wanting to check in and reflect on what it feels like to turn fifty years old.

I haven't approached this day with loathing. It hasn't loomed heavily out there as something to dread. I've been able to look at fifty with some fun. You know, the thing about fifty being the new forty (or thirty!). All that over-the-hill stuff isn't striking me right now as anything but comic relief. So, I'm feeling rather lighthearted today...at least right now.

Since I really don't like birthday cakes, preferring birthday cookies, I bought a 12-inch birthday cookie at the supermarket last evening to share around the table at our Wednesday morning round table discussion at Unleavened Bread Cafe. Glad God created chocolate chip cookies for us to enjoy!

I think I dreaded my forties as they approached. I remember having the distinct impression that many people seem to "lose it" in their forties. I noticed that folks in their 40's tended to divorce, fall off the wagon, have affairs, change careers, go through some traumatic mid-life crisis, etc. I wondered what would happen to me? I determined to try to hang in there during the decade from age 40 to age 50, not so much trying to remain the same or resist change (how foolish!), but to journal and contemplatively pray my way through whatever terrain may come. Guided by a mission statement and with a lot of grace, I've landed at 50 in one piece.

I'm too close and it's too early to say definitively that I've done anything other than survive my forties. I am not declaring "victory." But I don't think I've unwittingly or intentionally put off necessarily-needed soul and relational work until after my forties were safely past. I have been changed, either by choice or by circumstances. I have made changes in what I do in light of my sense of being and mission. I have grieved and grieve losses or lack of development of hoped-for dimensions of life and relationship. I continue to grapple with some challenges I have faced earlier in life.

But amid all this, I pause with gratitude for grace. "'Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far..." I could complain and sometimes do, but I also confess the words of Psalm 16 that impressed me in my early twenties: "The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places....I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken."

I suppose that is as good a place as any from which to begin the journey beyond 50. I am not naive. I do not expect smooth sailing or an easy journey forward. Another 50 years is less likely than the first 50. In some ways, I feel like all to this point has been but a preparation for responsibilities and privileges, challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. I believe I can approach the future with less anxiety and more faith and confidence than I approached my early adulthood. We'll see. "Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken."


In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

GO WITH ME IN A NEW EXODUS

This is a poem of Ted Loder in Guerrillas of Grace

O God of fire and freedom,
deliver me from my bondage
to what can be counted
and go with me in a new exodus
toward what counts,
but can only be measured
in bread shared
and swords become plowshares;
in bodies healed
and minds liberated;
in songs sung
and justice done;
in laughter in the night
and joy in the morning;
in love through all seasons
and great gladness of heart;
in all people coming together
and a kingdom coming in glory;
in you name being praised
and my becoming an alleluia,
through Jesus the Christ.
Amen.

Monday, May 25, 2009

WE MUST FIND A BETTER WAY

Instead of glorifying war and perpetuating
the spirit of militarism, this holiday affords
us an opportunity to contemplate how far
we have to go as a nation--and as a human
family--in transforming our means of
defending liberty, advancing democracy,
and procuring justice. War--and those
whose lives are snuffed out or haunted by
it--gives us every indication that we have
not yet explored or employed our best
intellectual, spiritual and material
resources for preventing or addressing
conflicts. Every Memorial Day is an
opportunity to consider: given the cost in
these precious lives, we must find a better
way, not just repeat the past again and again.


In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

MEMORIAL DAY: WHAT DO WE HONOR?

Memorial Day calls for discerning between two distinct meanings and trajectories

NOTE: Most of this post was published as a "Letter to the Editor" in the Sunday, May 25, 2008 edition of The Indianapolis Star.

CLARIFY WHAT WE HONOR. For anyone who might be wondering: Memorial Day (originally named "Decoration Day") honors all who have lost their lives in military service to America. Veteran's Day honors all living and deceased military Veterans who have served in an American war. I find it valuable to consider the specific purposes of--and distinctions between--these two national observances. Otherwise, they can--and often do--morph into occasions for militarism to parade, reinforce and expand its omnipresence and omnipotence in American civil society.

GREATFUL & DISHEARTENED. I have a quandary with the Memorial Day holiday. On the one hand, I truly feel gratitude for men and women who have died while serving to defend America. On the other hand, I feel disheartened that American leadership has so frequently trumpeted militarism and war as its dominant method for preserving or advancing freedom and democracy.
DISCERNMENT & DIALOGUE. I want to duly honor those who have died in America’s wars without reinforcing the notion that war is the primary, rational, and/or inevitable way to ensure that freedom will continue to ring. For me, the Memorial Day, Independence Day and Veterans Day holidays bring this paradox to the surface, calling for public discernment and dialogue.

HONOR LIVES GIVEN. Whether or not I think a particular war is justified, whether or not I think war can any longer be considered a viable approach to resolving international or intra-national conflicts, I can--and do--honor all who have given their lives in times of war. For me, Memorial Day affords an opportunity to express my profound respect for those who have served--often involuntarily, often with grave reservations, often in the face of terrible options, and often with little awareness of how they were being deployed and for what particular noble or ignoble objectives.

A SOBERING CHALLENGE. Humbly honoring our war dead does not, however, bless war. It is not an occasion to justify an insatiable and accelerated level of militarism that more than ever defines America in the world’s eyes. On the contrary, reverently mourning the loss of even one soldier’s life and contemplating its cost in lost potentials, relationships, creativity, and community contribution over a generation confronts us with a sobering, gut-wrenching challenge.

PREVENTING & ADDRESSING CONFLICTS. Instead of glorifying war and perpetuating the spirit of militarism, this holiday affords us an opportunity to contemplate how far we have to go as a nation--and as a human family--in transforming our means of defending liberty, advancing democracy, and procuring justice. War--and those whose lives are snuffed out or haunted by it--gives us every indication that we have not yet explored or employed our best intellectual, spiritual and material resources for preventing or addressing conflicts.

WE MUST FIND A BETTER WAY. Every Memorial Day is an opportunity to consider: given the cost in these precious lives, we must find a better way, not just repeat the past again and again.

Friday, May 22, 2009

VIOLENCE, IDOLATRY, AND AMERICA'S VIOLATION

Walter Wink's insight about "the myth of redemptive violence" is important to incorporate into our reflections on America

OVERLOOKED GIFT. Walter Wink’s gift to the world is found in the pages of his trilogy—“Naming the Powers,” “Unmasking the Powers,” and “Engaging the Power.” Used for considerable dialogue in seminaries and schools of theology, Wink’s trilogy is largely overlooked (or intentionally ignored) in the marketplace and halls of government, where it might have its most profound impact. I think of what has occurred and continues in Iraq (a war I vociferously opposed) and reflect anew on what Wink wrote in “Engaging the Powers” in 1992:

A FORM OF RELIGIOUS PIETY. “Violence is the ethos of our times. It is the spirituality of the modern world. It has been accorded the status of religion, demanding from it devotees an absolute obedience to death. Its followers are not aware, however, that the devotion they pay to violence is a form of religious piety.”

AN ACCEPTED ABSOLUTE NORM. “Violence is so successful as a myth precisely because it does not seem to be mythic in the least. Violence simply appears to be the nature of things. It is what works. It is inevitable, the last and, often, the first resort in conflicts. It is embraced with equal alacrity by people on the left and on the right, by religious liberals as well as religious conservatives. The threat of violence, it is believed, is alone able to deter aggressors. It secured us forty-five years of a balance of terror [the Cold War]. We learned to trust the Bomb to grant us peace.”

AMERICA’S REAL RELIGION. “The roots of this devotion to violence are deep…When we trace them to their source, we will discover that the religion of Babylon—one of the world’s oldest, continuously surviving religions—is thriving as never before in every sector of contemporary American life, even in our synagogues and churches. It, and not Christianity, is the real religion of America.”

VIOLENCE UNDERGIRDS SOCIETY. “The myth of redemptive violence [that sanctioned or sacred violence is necessary to hold back anarchic, criminal, or profane violence] undergirds American popular culture, civil religion, nationalism, and foreign policy, and that it lies coiled like an ancient serpent at the root of the system of domination that has characterized human existence since well before Babylon [geographically present-day Iraq] ruled supreme.”

USING GOD’S NAME. “The myth of redemptive violence is nationalism become absolute. This myth speaks FOR God; it does not listen for God to speak. It invokes the sovereignty of God as its own; it does not entertain the prophetic possibility of radical denunciation and negation by God. It misappropriates the language, symbols, and scriptures of Christianity. It does not seek God in order to change; it claims God in order to prevent change.”

IN VIOLENCE WE TRUST. “Its God is not the impartial ruler of all nations but a biased and partial tribal god worshipped as an idol. Its metaphor is not the journey but a fortress. Its symbol is not the cross but a rod of iron. Its offer is not forgiveness but victory. Its good news is not the unconditional love of enemies but their final liquidation. Its salvation is not a new heart but a successful foreign policy. It usurps the revelation of God’s purposes for humanity in Jesus. It is blasphemous. It is idolatrous. And it is immensely popular.”

GOD ABOVE COUNTRY. “I love my country passionately; that is why I want to see it do right. There is a valid place for sensible patriotism. But from a Christian point of view, true patriotism acknowledges God’s sovereignty over all nations, and holds a healthy respect for God’s judgments on the pretensions of any power that seeks to impose its will on others.”

SEPARATING OURSELVES. “There is a place for a sense of destiny as a nation. But it can be authentically embraced and pursued only if we separate ourselves from the legacy of the combat myth and ‘enter a long twilight struggle against what is dark within ourselves.’ There is a divine vocation for the United States (and every other nation) to perform in human affairs. But it can perform that task, paradoxically, only by abandoning its messianic zeal and accepting a more limited role within the family of nations.”


In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

TALKING AFFORDABLE HEALTH CARE

I've shared these thoughts publicly on why affordable health care is a critical spiritual issue

ACROSS FAITH BORDERS. I was recently asked by the folks at Sojourners if I would consider participating more directly in a developing initiative among various ministers and congregations across the nation to advocate for affordable health care for all Americans. As I see this as a nonpartisan public policy issue with critical theological and ethical ramifications, I agreed to do so.

RADIO SPOT. On Wednesday, I recorded a radio spot that will air on Indiana radio stations over the next week. You can listen to it and learn more about the Faithful America initiative. I did not speak for the congregation I serve, but from the real urban context of congregational and community ministry in which we are engaged.

PRESS CONFERENCE CALL. I also participated on behalf of Faithful America, Faith in Public Life, and Sojourners in an hour-long national press conference call today. The following is the statement I shared. The full conference call can also be accessed at http://www.faithfulamerica.org/:

"As a pastor of an urban congregation in Indianapolis, I see the toll that
inaccessible and unaffordable health care has on families in our congregation. I
know parents who put off medical attention for their children as long as
possible and then rush to the emergency room because they can't afford basic
preventive or clinic care. These parents do the same for themselves--letting
illnesses become chronic before they get help. It seems to me that the economic
cost to everyone is much higher this way, to say nothing of the physical and
emotional cost to children and parents. This is not an exceptional situation. It
is the norm for many low income working households we serve. This is the same
America that pays hospital executives, insurance administrators, and physicians
top dollar and offers concierge health benefits to those who have the means to
pay. This is why I am advocating for accessible, affordable, equitable health
care for all now. The health care and health insurance system as it currently
exists in America is neither ethically defensible nor spiritually sound. We can
and must do better."

INDY STAR BLOG. Following the press conference call, I was contacted by an Indianapolis Star reporter, Bobby King, who posted a piece about it on a StarNews blog called "Thou Shalt."

Here's the comment I added to the "Thou Shalt" Blog at IndyStar.com:
"Just a note that there is very much a diversity of opinion within our
congregation regarding health care reform and the involvement of government in
it. As I speak to this issue, I do not speak from any official position of
our congregation or the Free Methodist Church. But what seems to be common
threads are: (1) quality health care needs to be accessible and affordable for
all and (2) access and affordability of health care is an ethical and spiritual
issue, one that confronts us as individuals, households, congregations, and as a
nation right now. If we follow the principle and pattern of Jesus, we will
respond with compassion for the sake of the healing of our neighbors."

SPEAK OUT? OR STAY SILENT? Given the real health and economic realities many folks within our congregations and our neighbors in the broader community are facing (including filing bankruptcy due to medical bills), it seems to me to be morally contemptible to stand on the sidelines and say and do nothing (which is, in actuality, a decision to promote the status quo) than to try to bring discussion, understanding, and advocacy on this critical ethical and spiritual issue.

RELIEF? OR CHANGE? If Christian pastors and Christian laity continue only or primarily to provide relief and words of comfort and consolation for neighbors who are being waylaid by the current expression of the health care industry, we aren't being true to the spirit of the Gospels or the teaching and ministry of Jesus. We have demonstrated in the past our readiness to stand up with slaves against the slavery industry, to stand up with women against unjust traditions, and to stand up with the poor against abusive industries and public perceptions. It seems like standing up with more and more neighbors and friends who cannot afford or access quality health care is a no-brainer for pastors and caring Christians.

Happy to talk about this with anyone.
--------------
May 2 Follow-up: I was quoted in the Washington Post today regarding this -- at this link.

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Monday, May 18, 2009

THE HUMBLING OF SIMON PETER

First in a 3-part reflection on the restoration of Simon Peter

WALKING WOUNDED. I wonder what percentage of the people you and I know are walking around with feelings of shame, unresolved guilt, deep regrets, major disappointments, or feelings of failure? 10%? 25%? 50%? More? Probably more than we think. Try to imagine the mindset and heart feelings of living continuously under such clouds.

EXTENDED DISAPPOINTMENT. Having come through some cycles of disappointment, I can tell you that it’s a heavy burden. At first, I used my old wrestling coach’s dictum: “Suck it up!” But frustration continued. Over time, disappointment became more frequent and extended in multiple directions. I was alternately disappointed with people, disappointed with institutions, and disappointed with myself. I confess that I have also felt disappointed with God.

EMERGING LEADER, QUICK DESCENT. During this time, I came to identify with Simon Peter like never before. Peter emerged as Jesus’ leading disciple and we admire his boldness, certainty, and outspokenness. But Peter experienced rapid descent into regret and confusion when he—to his own surprise—three times denied even knowing Jesus. He let Jesus down, let his fellow disciples down, and let himself down. His response, the Bible says, was to go out and weep bitterly.

WHEN HE'S DOWN. It is the Simon Peter we encounter after his denials that becomes so helpful to us and to all who grapple with disappointments, regrets, guilt, shame, or feelings of failure. At this point in his journey, Simon Peter is low. It's not his usual or ultimate condition. But what he experiences and learns in this humbled place is a key to becoming what Jesus declared he would be: petros, Rock. And it is what Jesus does for Peter to restore and redirect him that holds promise for us and for all who experience these realities.

More in my next post.

Graphic: Ethiopian, 17th Century

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

PAINTED PANIERS

These paniers on a woman's bike at the Bike to Work Day event look Vera Bradley-ish

Friday, May 15, 2009

BIKE TO WORK DAY...ANY DAY

Save your heart, save your money, save bumper-to-bumper stress--commute by bicycle

I'm getting ready to head out of the house for work on my bicycle. I do this about 20% of the time in cooler weather, more in warm weather. But it's good for any weather. Folks in the Netherlands have the highest per capita rate of bicycle commuters in the world.
I read a good article on the economics of bike commuting at Active Cycling. It costs just $.03 per mile to ride a bike, compared to $.70 per mile to drive an automobile with a single driver. When you convert the amount of energy stored in one gallon of gasoline to food calory equivalents, bikes get 900 miles per gallon, compare to the 15-35 mpg of an automobile. Of course there's the stress factor of bumper-to-bumper traffic subtracted from your commute. And there's the exercise factor, too. Commuting by bike is a twofer--no need to hit the gymn after your stressful, gas-guzzling commute home.

Welll, gotta ride. Think about it.

--------------------

Post Event Update: About 400 folks who rode to work in Indy showed up on Monument Circle at 8 am for the Mayoral Proclamation. Free breakfast. Free goodies. Lots of info and folks talking cycling's impact on sustainability. Found some of my cycling heroes/heroines on the Circle. Nancy Stimson (with me in photo) is a minister who operates Free Wheelin', which receives old used bikes, teaches repair to urban kids and gives them a bike. Richard Vonnegut (yes, he's related to Kurt) oversees the Hooiser Rails to Trails initiative.

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

WHERE'S YOUR BIKE?

Great comeback

Yehuda Moon gets it right:

"Little girl, where's your helmet?"

"Big lady, where's your bike?"

Hey folks: Friday, May 15, is Bike-to-Work Day in Indianapolis. Why not? If you DO choose to burn more fossil fuel, please watch out for me and my fellow pedal pushers! If you bike, please DO wear a helmet. I never ride without one.

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

I AM ONE IN THE MIDDLE

Can't remember how many years ago I wrote this, but feeling it afresh these days

Pushed and pulled
Squeezed and pressured
Looked to and pointed at
Expected and set up with hidden expectations
Asked to lead and criticized in the leading
I am one in the middle

Foregoing securities
Risking for hope
Believing in community
Trusting for guidance
Putting it on the line
I am one in the middle

Casting off convention
Out on a limb
Digging for truth
Straddling disciplines
Witnessing grace
I am one in the middle

Past and future
There and here
Those and these
Them and ours
That and this
I am one in the middle

Transition
Opposition
Redemption
Reconciliation
New vision
I am graced to be in the middle

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Monday, May 11, 2009

DISPEL DISAPPOINTMENT

Reacting to disappointment gives it power over us, but responding to it activates grace.

DIFFERENT DIRECTIONS. I have disappointed. And I am sure I have at some time been described as "a disappointment." On the other hand, I have been disappointed. And I have at times critically and unfairly described others and institutions as a disappointment. Disappointment runs in all kinds of directions.

UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS? When expectations and capacities run high, we tend to think and talk in these terms. Even in regard to God. Read Philip Yancy's insightful book Disappointment With God. Sometimes disappointment is rooted in unrealistic expectations of ourselves, others, institutions, and/or God. Sometimes they are rooted in bad information and false assumptions. Comparisons are also breeding ground for disappointment. When capacities are recognizably well above average and things don't come together "as expected," disappointment and disillusionment can assert their immobilizing grip.

LIVING AGAINST DISAPPOINTMENT. But disappointment must not define who we are or what we do. It does no good--and may do unnecessary harm--to simply react to disappointment with blaming, shifting focus, escaping, etc. When we simply react to disappointment, we give it power over us. Our outlook and actions tend to reflect that we are living against it. And it defines us.

INSTEAD, RESPOND TO IT. On the other hand, it's useful to pay attention to disappointment. Instead of reacting to it, respond to it. We can monitor, critique, and respond to it without it defining us. Where is this disappointment coming from? Is it realistic? Are expectations realistic? Do they match capacities? How am I processing disappointment? Is there anything I can learn and grow from it? What adjustments or changes might it be pointing toward? What breakthroughs?

PROACTIVITY. There's a significant difference between reacting vs responding to disappointment--and myriad other challenges in life. The difference is proactivity--what M. Scott Peck described as a pause amid crisis for questions, reflection and decision. I would add: contemplative prayer.

EMERGENT GRACE. Disappointment, though it is present, need not define who we are or what we do. In choosing to respond to it, I also find other resources that orient me in a very different direction in the face of of it. Grace, gratitude, forgiveness, hope: these possibilities and realities emerge as responses to situations that otherwise could only be seen through a lens of disappointment.

WHERE I CHOOSE TO LIVE. I'm not sure I am ready to say that disappointment can be converted into gratitude, but at least I am saying that amid disappointment, if I choose not to react to it but gently, firmly respond to it, there is an emergent grace that can give birth to gratitude, forgiveness, and hope. That's where I choose to go and where I hope to live.

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

RESISTING OR EMBRACING CHANGE

I found some solace in this little piece by W. H. Auden today

"We would rather be ruined than changed,
We would rather die in our dread
Than climb the cross of the moment
And let our illusions die."

I am not one to change easily. But even more than changing work or situation, I resist being changed. One is an outward challenge; the other is an inward work. Change that is outward is preferable to change that is inward, particularly when inward change is what is most needed. But sometimes change of situation and inward change go together, as if calling to one another. But as much as I dread change, as Auden puts it, I am willing to "climb the cross of the moment" and dare to let my "illusions die."

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Friday, May 8, 2009

MOTHERWISE

A tribute to my nominee for "best mom"

I watch Becky mother our children
and I wonder where she got this stuff?
When I married her, she had not trained for it.
She had taken no courses in mothering.
She was a good-looking college girl,
talented and sensitive,
spiritually astute and fun-loving.
But how could I have known
she was mother-wise?

For the four childless years of our marriage
she never let on she had been covertly equipped
to react and respond-catlike-to the needs of a child.
She studied no books and read no manuals
but knew what to do and when to do it
when each of our four children were born.

Mothering, I was to learn, was not just about
bearing an infant, nurturing a toddler, and
sending a six-year-old off to first grade.
Who knew Becky knew the delicate combination
of discipline and praise,
boundaries and freedom,
careful attention and graceful absence
that encourages children to flourish?

Is there some clandestine school for mothers,
a kind of underground academy,
undetectable by unwitting men, which
reveals the secrets and instills the acumen
for rearing and maturing a child?
Observing my partner over time
I am convinced it is so.
It is the school of motherly love
and Becky has mastered it with honors.

More readily than me, she will find
a graceful way to let go of each child
as they mature and clamor to leave the nest.
I may anxiously wring my hands, but
she will know when they are ready to
launch hopefully forward in life,
uncannily equipped to invest themselves
to enrich the lives of others.

I tip my hat to the Master of this school,
this unseen college with unwritten curriculum.
And I yield the floor to this masterful student
who graces the lives of our children with
a wisdom, taught or caught, that brings to them
the joy and hope of life.

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

DE-POLITICIZE NATIONAL DAY OF PRAYER

National Day of Prayer needs to be de-politicized for everyone's sake

My favorite prayer picture is by Norman Rockwell, depicting "Freedom of Religion" in his The Four Freedoms series (of religion, from want, from fear, of speech). In it, people of many different religions -- not just Christian -- are all praying "each according to the dictates of his own conscience" side by side.

The last National Day of Prayer event I participated in excluded all but Christians from the dias. No Muslims. No Jews. No Buddhists. No Native American faiths. The event and prayers offered had very partisan political tone. I felt as if God, clearly, must be a Republican and on the side of Republicans and, apparently, Christian Republicans.

I haven't participated in another National Day of Prayer event since. Not because I'm not Republican, but because God is just not that small. And neither is America. I don't think that's what Harry Truman had in mind when he instituted the day. I don't even think that's what Ronald Reagan had in mind when he fixed its observance on the first Thursday of May.

Let the leadership of NDOP move away from its ideologically divisive and religiously exclusionary control at Focus on the Family and it might begin to gain the attention and respect it deserves. Until then, it doesn't seem fair to judge (or condemn or de-christianize) our professing Christian President who leads a religiously diverse nation for attempting to depoliticize both prayer and this day.

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

INHABITING THE INTERSECTIONS

No mere crossing guard at the crux of life's passings, we are to be artists and risk-takers at its interesections

BREADTH, LENGTH, HEIGHT, DEPTH. "We cannot see the whole scope of Christian life -- the breadth and length and height and depth of it. We cannot assess fully its outcomes. The standard of excellence against which we measure our lives, the glory of God revealed in Jesus Christ, stretches out to infinity in every direction. We will never comprehend it entirely. It is the work of a lifetime even to try to bear a faithful witness."

PARADOXICAL CROSSINGS. "But we can see the shape of resurrecting excellence at the point where breadth and length and height and depth meet. It is the shape of the cross -- 'the intersection,' as Simone Weil once put it, 'between creation and Creator.' There is no practice of Christian life that does not mirror this intersection. As congregants sing together, they live in the reality that last week's songs of joy intersect with this week's laments which they sing for those whose voice is robbed by tragedy..."

NO MERE CROSSING GUARD. "Resurrection excellence in ministry happens in intersections, and the pastoral leader is not simply a crossing guard. The pastor is an artist of the intersection, seeking connections among the often paradoxical dimensions of life--ancient texts and current dilemmas, inner experience and public responsibility, what has been and what yet might be...It is the work of the pastor not only to move between the mystery of human life and the living presence of God but to live and work and pray and study and risk yourself at the places where human lives and God's life intersect."

-- L. Gregory Jones and Kevin Armstrong in Resurrection Excellence - Shaping Faithful Christian Ministry (Eerdmans, 2006)
Posted by bikehiker at 5:48 AM 2 responses

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Monday, May 4, 2009

WHAT'S A 'REAL PERSON'?

I started a list of some of the characteristics I appreciate in people in encounter

WHAT IS REAL? In a world of unprecedented marketplace craftiness, celebrity worship, grandstanding politicians, religious hucksters, go-along bobble-headedness, and routine petty pretending, I appreciate encountering real people. I recently started a short list of things I observe in real people. These are things that seem to me to reveal what in The Velveteen Rabbit is described as “real.” It's an incomplete list, and rough--a first draft in the process:

NOT ALWAYS RIGHT. Real people are not always right…and can admit it. They admit it to themselves and then to others. Though they may initially assert their rightness in absolute terms and at the top of their lungs, when they discover they are mistaken or not completely correct, they accept the gift of humility.

FORGIVEN AND FORGIVING. Real people live close to forgiveness. That is, they know the value of being forgiven and of being forgiving. They realize that they and others are fallen, frail, faulty. Forgiveness is not an infrequent challenge for them. And it is just that: a genuine challenge that is made possible by grace.

ADDRESSING PRIDE. Real people are in touch with their pride. They know they possess it to a greater or lesser degree. They know that it does not just disappear because they have transcendent spiritual experiences. They learn to recognize and set aside what the old preachers used to name as the pride of race, place, face, and grace.

LOSING AND GAINING. Real people lose…and somehow gain from the experience. They win some. As often, they lose. Although they are as up for challenges as anyone, at some point, winning, getting ahead, one-upsmanship, acquisitional comparisons, etc. ceases to be the end-game.

LIVING THE QUESTIONS. Real people have unanswered questions…and they live them. They do not, or no longer, have their world tied down in neat compartments or the universe summed up in foregone conclusions. They recognize life as dynamic and seek to participate in the ongoing discovery of its mysteries.

NOT SELF-SUFFICIENT. Real people are not self-sufficient. They learn to ask for help and are given the grace to gratefully accept it. And they see value in helping others. They count on friends and need confidants. They recognize the interdependence of life. They move toward neighborliness and healthy dependency.

WALKING WITH A LIMP. Real people know real pain. It conditions them deeply but does not define them. Like pride and anger, they learn to be in touch with their pain. It softens their assessment of themselves, others, and the world. They may move into the future with a limp, but, like Jacob, they also know grace as a constant companion. They may even become wounded healers.

FAITH AND GRACE. Real people don’t wear their faith as a badge…they pray and worship because their lives depend on it. They are not into religious performance or do-goodism. They are into meaning and relationship. Faith is the buoy, compass, and beacon amid continuous change and challenge. Faith grows them toward being fully human, toward wholeness, toward genuine community. In short, it makes them real.

SEEING TO THE HEART. Real people look you in the eye…and somehow see to the heart.

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Friday, May 1, 2009

CALLED

I penned this at a crossroads of ministry a little over ten years ago

I had just come through a hellacious chapter of church struggles. Interests and influences larger than me coalesced to alienate me from the church of my upbringing and ordination. I had upheld my integrity, but I was wasted from the conflict. I was certain and uncertain. I was confident and shaken. I felt betrayed and yet wanted to forgive. I felt forgotten and yet, strangely, known. I felt like I had nowhere to go but into the arms of God's love and the assurance of God's calling on my life. I sat in an open space and took in a sunrise. Thinking about all this, I penned this poem.

God of evening burning sunset,
God of morning breaking dawn,
Crown my days with grace and glory
As a forgiven and forgiving one.

Let condemnation turn to mercy
In light of your surpassing grace,
Let controlling turn to yielding
As I look more upon your face.

Challenge, by your Holy Spirit,
All my passing, halting thoughts;
Let none go by uncaptured
By the love your passion brought.

Lest my days be passed in chasing,
In pursuit of some elusive dream,
Let Your Incarnation shape me--
Spend me, use me, as you deem.

Yet even service is your choosing,
Every calling is your call;
Every choice you make is holy,
Though you not choose me at all.

Yet I believe I’ve heard you
In my deepest, innermost part;
Time and time again you call me:
“Follow me with all your heart.”

So as this glorious morning blossoms
And the day brings its demands,
With joy for your forgiveness,
I give you all that I am.


In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.