Friday, June 26, 2009

UNLIMITED GRACE, LIMITED AWARENESS

Daily concerns frame our decisions, but grace is the greater horizon

I sometimes wonder why and how it is that we seem to be so limited in our range of exposure to certain aspects of reality, relationships, and visual awarenesses for long periods of time?

Is it that we are so dull that we actually think the little world we daily see and define as our primary boundaries, and in which we mostly live and move, is what is essential?

Or is it that we are prevented from being fully aware of the range of human, living and created existence most of the time? If so, why?

Why is it that it seems I am led to know and work with certain knowledge and awarenesses and not led to know and work with other--albeit equally important and real and critical--knowledge and awarenesses?

I am a citizen of the world, a child of the universe, a being of eternity. But it is likely I will wake up tomorrow and think, feel, and act mostly within the roles, relationships, expectations, biddings, and callings of a husband and father who serves as an American evangelical minister in an urban setting and who happens to have occasional manias for cycling, surfing, and community renewal.

The universe soars expansively above us. And we fret over our property taxes.

Go figure.

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, June 24, 2009

LAST WEEK AS PASTOR

A few thoughts as I walk through my final days as a local pastor

So, I'm walking through my last week as a pastor of a local congregation, preparing to transition to a new role as Director of Advancement for an international child sponsorship organization. I'm tying up some loose ends and taking care of some basic administrative matters while boxing up thousands of books and clearing clutter and anticipating new challenges that begin next Monday morning. It's an interesting juxtaposition of activities, thoughts and emotions.

On the one hand, I believe in the power and importance of local pastoral ministry--as much as ever. In this graced role, I have served as fully as I've been capable to this point in my life. Whatever else in the future I may do, contribute, accomplish, or wherever or however I serve, there will be nothing quite like serving as pastor to a local congregation rooted in a specific community setting. It offers sweet blessings and heart-rending disappointments--both sometimes flowing together. Of the congregations I've served, this is the only one that has not grown numerically during my time of service...and that has disappointed me. But I am satisfied that I have given myself fully to the work of ministry and I now pray that the next chapter of this congregation's life will flourish.

I am challenging myself to let go of regrets as I leave this assignment. I give to God all my "what ifs" and "if onlys" and "why thats" and "why didn't I's." I will not deny my real disappointments and regrets; but I will not hold on to them, either. Owning up to them and expressing them appropriately is not the same as them owning me and going to seed as resentment or cynicism. Letting go with forgiveness and gratitude, and turning the page on a chapter of life may not be easy or immediate, but it is a spiritual discipline that is answered by surpassing grace. That is a part of God's faithfulness I count on.

While I believe in the importance of local pastoral ministry, I do not feel tied to it, defined by it, or that it permits me to fully express the sense of calling and mission that stirs in my mind, heart, and capacities. There may be no higher calling than local pastoral ministry, but it is not the only high calling or the only way for me to serve the kingdom of God to God's glory. I clarified this shortly after working and praying my way through to a personal mission statement in 1994 (read it in the right sidebar). Having only known a life lived in a parsonage and pastoral ministry since I was a child, I was free to serve God positively beyond the pulpit and congregation. That freedom led to invited servant leadership of a major urban community center, a regional planning initiative, and rebuilding/redeveloping a homeless day center as a national model.

That freedom led me back into pastoral ministry in 2003 when asked by Free Methodist conference leadership to do so. Serving at WEMO was and is consistent with my sense of personal mission, though it has not encircled my fuller sense of mission. There may be no single role or assignment or project that does. That's something I pay close attention to. I ask: how does this particular opportunity connect with my sense of calling and mission? What in it helps me express what particular aspects of my giftedness and sense of making a contribution? This is important, because some roles cannot bear what we would unwittingly impose on them. Knowing and monitoring this can lead to a greater sense of clarity, purpose, and fruitfulness in service and ministry.

So, I look forward to working in this new assignment with open eyes and open heart. I appreciate the invitation that's been extended to me. I find this invitation connects with my personal mission in some ways I've never had opportunity to explore or express before. There is a degree of creativity and capacity-building in the challenges ahead that will stretch me. I believe I have much to learn and contribute, and that my best work and outcomes are ahead. Grateful for every opportunity and experience I've had, I look forward to tomorrow with anticipation of the grace that leads me on.

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, June 22, 2009

THE DIVINE IMAGE

I've been interested in this poem by William Blake (1757-1827) for a few years.

To Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
All pray in their distress;
And to these virtues of delight
Return their thankfulness.

For Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
Is God, our father dear,
And Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
Is Man, his child and care.

For Mercy has a human heart,
Pity a human face,
And Love, the human form divine,
And Peace, the human dress.

Then every man, of every clime,
That prays in his distress,
Prays to the human form divine,
Love, Mercy, Pity, Peace.

And all must love the human form,
In heathen, Turk, or Jew;
Where Mercy, Love, and Pity dwell
There God is dwelling too.


Responses? Thoughts? Comments?

Friday, June 19, 2009

No Perfect Dads

Long ago, I gave up trying to be a perfect dad, but found some hand-holds that keep me grounded
I am no perfect dad. I tried to be. Thought I was. Time and experience reveal otherwise. In fact, I don't know any perfect dads--none that even come close to an imposed ideal. But, along they way I've learned some things, taken notes, observed others, made course corrections, and still monitor progress. I'm less than the dad I envisioned I'd be, but I'm continuing to learn and hopefully improve.

A few years ago, I jotted down the following list of attributes that I've been observing and practicing. Maybe they fall into the category of "approaching authenticity" rather than some ideal to strive for. No doubt they are born out of my own experience as a son as well as my seeking as a father.

1. A growing father can relent. The Bible speaks repeatedly of God relenting, usually in light of the cry of the broken-hearted or a passionate appeal to God’s love or glory. If God ungrudgingly relents, should not human fathers?

2. A growing father second-guesses himself in light of better information, his own feelings, and the sensitivities of his children. It is not a sign of weakness to think twice or change one’s mind in relationship to one’s children. Nor is it a sign of toughness or strength to be unmovable or inflexible.

3. A growing father repents--and often. Repentance for wrong assumptions, hastily-drawn conclusions, insensitive comments, over-powering glances, unrealistic expectations, imposed ideologies (to name a few of the sins of which I have repented) is necessary if a father wants to cultivate adult integrity with his children (and spouse). No father never sins against his children. Those who recognize it and who repent to their children finds the grace and a path to a growing relationship.

4. A growing father subordinates his own pursuits and interests in the interest of his children’s growth and exploration. Children are not window dressing or pawns in the little world that many men attempt to coax into revolving around themselves. Children are the opportunity to learn of the future and contribute to the better and bigger world most of us desire.

5. A growing father disciplines himself as much as he disciplines his children--and more so. How dare we set and enforce limits and boundaries for children and yet make excuses for our undisciplined behaviors, appetites, indulgences, attitudes, and acquisitions.

6. A growing father is not a strong man, but a self-giving man. Why is so much fatherly identity wrapped up in a cultivated machismo persona? The best fathers I have observed gain more respect by their readiness to serve their children and families than by their attempt to rule over them.

7. A growing father longs to give his children good gifts and grace beyond his own ability to give or express. Material gifts, while gracious and useful, point to something beyond. The desire to bless surpasses our ability to do so. And this desire becomes an extended prayer, even longsuffering for one’s children and their future.

8. A growing father dies expended for his children, having given them his very life. He has not saved himself or made a name for himself or secured security. He has fully laid down his life for his spouse and his children. In that moment when it seems that there is nothing left to give, the greatest gift is unleashed.

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, June 18, 2009

RIGHT WHERE WE ARE

Compassion may call for special service for some, but it invites daily responses from all

SPECIAL SERVICE OR DAILY RESPONSES? Thinking of my transition to serve on behalf of some of the poorest children in the world, it would be too easy to grab some of the easy-to-use, heavy-handed quotes regarding compassion for the destitute, hungry, and homeless from books and quotes that fill my shelves and files. Shouldn't everyone be working directly with the homeless, poor, and hungry? No. Can we all be compassionate right where we are? Emphatically, yes! This quote segment comes from Henri Nouwen in Here and Now: Living in the Spirit.

ORDINARINESS OF COMPASSION "It would be sad if we were to think about the compassionate life as a life of heroic self-denial. Compassion, as a downward movement toward solidarity instead of an upward movement toward popularity, does not require heroic gestures or a sensational turnaround. In fact, the compassionate life is mostly hidden in the ordinariness of everyday living. Even in the lives of those whom we look up to for their examples of compassion show that the descending way toward the poor was, first of all, practiced through small gestures in everyday life."

OPEN TO “MANY LITTLE SUFFERINGS” "The question that truly counts is not whether we imitate Mother Teresa, but whether we are open to the many little sufferings of those with whom we share our life. Are we willing to spend time with those who do not stimulate our curiosity? Do we listen to those who do not immediately attract us? Can we be compassionate to those whose suffering remains hidden from the eyes of the world?"

HIDDEN SUFFERING "There is much hidden suffering: the suffering of the teenager who does not feel secure; the suffering of the husband and wife who feel that there is no love left between them; the suffering of the wealthy executive who thinks that people are more interested in his money than in him; the suffering of the gay man or woman who feels isolated from family and friends; the suffering of the countless people who lack caring friends, satisfying work, a peaceful home, a safe neighborhood; the suffering of the millions who feel lonely and wonder if life is worth living."

LOOK DOWNWARD "Once we look downward instead of upward on the ladder of life, we see the pain of people wherever we go, and we hear the call of compassion wherever we are. True compassion always begins right where we are."

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, June 17, 2009

SUNRISE AT NSB

I woke early to take in the sunrise at New Smyrna Beach

Sunrise was to be at 6:14 am, the Weather Channel declared. I headed to the beach at 5:30 and light was already pushing back the night's darkness. The half-hour before the sun crested the horizon was fascinating on the beach. The not-yet-risen sun's work on the distant sea clouds and their reflection in the shallow surf was colorful. It seemed like every minute offered a different hue, a more revealing detail of the beach and its ecosystem. By 7:00 am, the sun seemed already to be emanating power for what would be a 90-degree day. I headed off on a long bike ride with the vision of the Atlantic sunrise in my mind's eye. And to think the glory of a sunrise and sunset are there for our enjoyment every day of our lives...should we choose to be present to the sky symphony.

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

MAKING A PROFESSIONAL TRANSITION

I begin a two-week transition from pastoral ministry to international child advocacy

I am making a professional transition shortly and I want you to know about it. I have accepted an invitation to become the first Director of Advancement for an international child sponsorship initiative.

It is a $21-per-month child sponsorship program that currently provides life-changing support for 20,000 kids in 26 nations. During my recent 2,000-mile bicycle ride through India, I was amazed at the organization's great work with thousands of children I visited.

In my new role, I am challenged to broaden and grow participation in ICCM through enhanced communication and development so many more children can benefit from food, clothing, housing, education, and opportunity.

My adult life to this point has been invested urban ministry in Indianapolis, both with the church and in the community. I've been privileged to serve as pastor to two awesome urban congregations -- Shepherd Community and West Morris Street Free Methodist Church. I've served as Executive Director of the John H. Boner Community Center and Horizon House, working with at-risk housed and homeless neighbors.

If everything to this point is a preparation for what lies ahead, then this challenge will draw upon every lesson, relationship, awareness, breakthrough, and answered prayer. The opportunity to work directly on issues of international poverty, child education, development, and urban life enrichment highly motivates me at this point in my life.

I'll continue to live and work in Indianapolis, actively engaged in Indy networks and writing (and riding!) as avidly as ever. I begin my new assignment on June 29. My contact information below remains the same. I appreciate your prayers and ask for your support in this transition and exciting adventure.

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, June 16, 2009

RAISING SPIRITUAL VOICES FOR HEALTH CARE REFORM

I recently submitted the following piece to the Indianapolis Star

NOT THIS TIME. This letter is part of a larger effort to engage faith communities to find common ground on this pressing moral issue for our nation. In the past, the church has effectively been divided and become an ineffective voice in the call for health care and insurance that is accessible, affordable, and of the highest quality of care. This effort is a challenge to all concerned persons of faith to not let divisive agendas of special interests diminish or sideline the overwhelming call for real health care reform in America. Personally, I said nothing during the last debate on health care reform. I will not be silent this time.

As Congress tackles the urgent issue of reforming our nation’s broken
health care system, Christian pastors and faith-based organizers are not letting
corporate lobbyists or insurance companies set the agenda in Washington. I
have joined my fellow Christian pastors across the country taking part in a
media and grassroots advocacy to encourage members of Congress to make quality
health care affordable for all families.

In radio ads airing here in Indiana and across Arkansas, Colorado,
Louisiana, Missouri and Nebraska – states where members of Congress will likely
determine the fate of health care reform -- pastors are reminding our elected
officials that health care is a profound moral issue because every human life is
sacred. In the coming months, people of faith across the country will take
action to encourage our lawmakers to build a health care system that serves the
common good. Nearly 600 clergy in 42 states have agreed to preach about health
care from the pulpit.

Faith leaders will be traveling to Washington every month to meet with
public officials and build support for reform. Churches will be hosting “Health
Care Sundays” to help connect the values of compassion and healing central our
religious traditions with the need for quality health care. These inspiring
efforts represent an unprecedented collaboration between pastors, national
religious groups and faith-based community organizing networks.

We believe in this effort because it’s a moral outrage and a political
failure that 46 million Americans lack health insurance in the world’s richest
nation. According to a Families USA report released in March, 1.6 million
residents of the Hoosier State are uninsured, including a staggering 53 percent
of Hispanics and 42 percent of African Americans.

But statistics fail to tell the heartbreaking human story of suffering that
I witness in my church every day. A report can’t reveal the anguish of a mother
unable to afford a doctor’s visit for a sick child, or the pain of a husband
ignoring a debilitating injury because missing work means losing his job.
Ministering to ailing families, I’m reminded more than ever that our
health care debate is about fundamental values. Nothing less is at stake here
than whether or not we are going to live up to our highest ideals as a
country.

In the face of a devastating economic and health care crisis leaving so
many families behind, Republicans and Democrats must recognize that providing
affordable health care transcends narrow partisan agendas or the tired
ideological battles of the past. Let’s end the divisive fear mongering over
“socialized medicine,” reject false choices and find common ground to create a
health care system worthy of a great nation. We need bold actions,
political will and the moral urgency to pass comprehensive health care reform
now.

The guardians of the status quo will surely make this a tough fight. But
inspired by faith and hope, together we can make whole that which is broken. The
spirit of change is on the move.

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, June 15, 2009

WAY OF THE BEACH

If you go to the beach, let it have its way with you

The beach has a way:
its own rules,
its own measures,
its own pleasures,
its own treasures.

You can approach the beach
with an imposing agenda,
with unbeachly purposes,
intend to gain a tan,
achieve brief respite,
complete a book,
conquer the waves,
acquire some interesting shells.

But the beach has a way of
sabotaging willful minds,
altering pompous priorities,
softening rough edges,
renewing unsuspecting souls.

It may take some time,
but the beach will have its way.
Its sun will sear.
Its sounds will lull.
Its sands will penetrate.
Its wind will surround.
Its tides will remeasure.
Its wake will batter away
every preconceived notion,
every purposeful intention.

If you go to the beach,
you cannot long resist its power.
So, kick off your shoes,
expose your limbs,
wade into the wake,
wallow in the sand,
walk the shore,
sleep in its embrace.

The sooner you set aside
convention and calculation
and forget about time,
the sooner the beach will
work its magic, so that
whatever you went to it for,
it will return you one better.

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, June 12, 2009

I AM NOT A FISHERMAN, BUT TODAY I FISHED

Sam & I went saltwater fishing with my dad this morning...caught nothin' but it didn't seem to matter

I've had some success at fishing. A few times. I've been on fishing trips when we caught a mess of fish. I've landed some nice bass and trout in West Virginia streams and lakes. I even reeled in a 7-foot shark on a Florida deep sea fishing excursion (only to watch a crewman shoot it with a shotgun and cut the line).

But my few experiences of success at fishing are far outweighed by long hours and days of watching a bobber never bob. Whatever joy I momentarily experienced as a child and youth dissipated after repeatedly casting and reeling hours after hour only come up empty-handed. The idea of sitting still hours on end for small, unpredictable, and infrequent payoffs long ago lost its appeal to me.

I'm not sure when I gave up fishing. Sometime early in my teens. Fishing, I perceived, was not cool. Most of those I knew who fished were good-ol'-boy types--not folks I cared to hang around. And I was too fidgety to stick with fishing. Since a day of deep sea fishing when I was 16, I have hardly picked up a fishing rod. Our family has a boat and we've spent many fun hours plying lakes, and while we've taught the kids to tube, ski, slalom, and wakeboard, we've never but a hook and line in the water.

My dad is a fisherman. When I was a child, he patiently taught me how to fish, how to fillet fish, and how to use various kinds of tackle. At this point in his life, he says he'd rather be fishing than doing anything else. When he's on his boat in the intracoastal waterway or on a freshwater lake in Florida, where he's lived for the past 10 years, he's in his element. He also enjoys frying and sharing the fish he catches with his family and friends. We've always enjoyed the fruit of his labor of love.

Dad took my 16-year-old son Sam and me fishing early this morning. We launched his platform fishing boat into the intracoastal waterway and motored to his most successful fishing holes. After three hours and various locations, we had nothing worth keeping. I caught a couple of junk fish, dad caught another. Sam came up completely empty-handed. The trout we were after eluded us. Even at that, the experience wasn't bad. Being out there together, three generations sharing a common endeavor, seemed like a more important feat than any fish we might have reeled in.

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, June 11, 2009

IS CHRISTIANITY PRACTICAL?

A few brief, still-developing responses to an age-old, ever-current question

These are apparently bottom-line questions for most detractors, cynics, skeptics, and onlookers, as well as seekers, and would-be advocates of the Christian way:

- “Is Christianity practical?”
- “Does it work?”
- “Does it make a difference?”
- "Is it pragmatic?"
- “Given all the options, is this the best way to approach and live life in a world such as this?”

To such questions I offer a few brief and still-developing responses. All of these are rooted in emergent 1st-century Christianity and apropos to 21st-century complexity. Note: none of these deny or excuse the distortions and abuses of some believers and the church as an organization exersizing corrupt power in the 2 millenia since.

1. The upheaval described in Acts 2 immediately spawns equitably-realigned social relationships and continuing compassion. See Acts 2:42-47.

2. Long after the initial impacts of Pentecost dissipate, a new order and priorities rooted in compassion continue to challenge and reshape age-old social norms. See Acts 4:32-36.

3. Personal freedom and meaning are restored. In the accounts of The Acts of the Apostles, time and again people are moved from slavish religion, social domination, and despair, toward personal liberation and unprecedented levels of personal value and meaning.

4. Authentic forgiveness becomes a definitive marker of Christian faith. Both received personally and offered to others even in the most troubling of situations, forgiveness is perhaps the most psychologically sound and relationally restorative contribution Christianity has to offer individuals and the world.

5. Personal purpose is connected to others and to a world-saving focus. Personal development is intimately tied to one’s contribution to and interdependency with others. The focus is neither self-preservation nor group advancement, but the realization of the principles and Spirit of love for all as a remedy for alienation and domination that has for millennia defined relationships, ideologies, and institutions in every culture.

6. Christianity conveys a realism about the limits and potentials of individuals and groups. Look elsewhere for a miracle-a-minute, hyper-spirituality, perfected people, flawless performance, or pure organizational life. But if you want to be met where you are as you are and challenged—and empowered—to become all you were intended to be, you’ve come to the right place.

7. Cultural and socio-economic border-crossing is the norm. Primitive Christianity served to preserve and defend no class, caste, group, race, religion or culture. Instead, it became the common-ground mixing bowl of every imaginable culture and walk of life. Its adherents are challenged today as never before to cross borders with loving intention and become a harmonious body of disparate people with a common faith, hope and love.

8. Personal holiness is related to the restoration of worldly intention. To be a holy person has little to do with isolation from others, withdraw from worldly realities, pietistic markers, or negation of God-given capacities and appetites. Personal holiness is related to one’s willingness to serve for the restoration and renewal of this world--here and now.

9. The basis of goodness is relocated away from trying-harder treadmills, fad spiritualities, and empty rules-keeping. The story of the early Christians repeats a common refrain: it is by grace you are saved by faith, not by works, so that no one can boast. Salvation is received, not earned. Personal vitality is not contingent upon jumping through hoops, mouthing certain prayers, giving great amounts, etc. It is, from start to finish, about faith, trust, hope, and love--what we call grace.

10. Christianity introduces restorative justice as a better process and outcome than retributive justice. One of the most overlooked but important impacts of a faith response to the death and resurrection of Jesus is in the manner in which human justice is viewed and carried out. Just as the law that could not save is surpassed in Jesus, so is the punitive or retributive justice that could not restore people or relationships at any level. Both the value of one life and hope for one life conveyed through Jesus points to an effective restorative justice we have hardly begun to explore.

11. Christianity is not a means to practical ends, but a response of gratitude to God’s grace. Whether or not Christianity is practical or leads to practical benefits is of secondary importance or value to the world. More than anything else, it is a worshipful response to the mercy and hope extended to every person through the revelation of Jesus Christ. It should be noted, however, that those who make such a response--focusing on Jesus as model, example, and source of hope--would become reflectors of God’s loving intention for individuals and the world, is of no small consequence.


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, June 10, 2009

CORONADO SHUFFLEBOARD CLUB

A New Smyrna Beach fixture since 1937

I've driven or ridden past the Coronado Shuffleboard Club in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, since I was a little kid. But, until this evening, I'd never stopped. It wasn't a night for activity, but the well-kept shuffleboard layout was impressive. And its benches were glowing in the evening sunlight. I want to return on another evening to take some photos of participants in action.


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, June 9, 2009

PENTECOST: END & BEGINNING

The 3rd great holy day of the Christian calendar signals a transition in modus operandi for followers of Jesus

THIRD TURNING POINT. In Christian perspective, Pentecost (observed this year on May 31) is the third significant turning point in God’s human- and world-changing mission related to Jesus of Nazareth. Christmas celebrates God’s incarnation in Jesus—the Word became flesh and took up residence among us. Easter celebrates Jesus’ third-day resurrection—the primary signal of a completed act of redemption and of death’s ultimate defeat. Pentecost celebrates God coming as Holy Spirit to dwell in believers and enliven the church to live the life and kingdom Jesus initiated. If the Incarnation initiates the mission and the Resurrection completes it, Pentecost brings its meaning and promise to life for a waiting world. Reflecting on the account of Pentecost in Acts 2, I lift up four turning points this event offers each believer and the church as a whole:

1. Pentecost is often called the BIRTHDAY of the Church because it is when the church first CAME TO LIFE. Before Pentecost, Jesus’ closest followers were well-intentioned but unable to grasp what was really going on. They were living as best they could within their own understanding, power, and perspective. But with the events described in Acts 2, they literally came to life with power, insight, understanding, and outreaching witness they had never known before. Pentecost is the decisive moment from which we mark the growth and development of the church as a transformative spiritual movement in the world.

2. Pentecost marks the end of LAW-LESS and LAW-ISH living in relationship to God. Living according to one’s own sense of rightness, self-satisfaction, and self-chosen priorities (however well-intended) is lawless living and is idolatry. Living slavishly and judgmentally to the letter of God’s laws is law-ish living, or legalism. It is deadly. Both antinomianism and legalism are eclipsed with Pentecost. The living Word of God penetrates the most simplistic patterns of self-survival, along with sophisticated philosophies that ultimately obscure and displace God. The Spirit brings light to the written law, revealing its saving, guiding, life-giving intent. Pentecost is the end of self-justification and works righteousness.

3. Pentecost signals the beginning of GRACE-BASED living. Acts 2 indicates that Jesus’ followers are given purpose and power to live and share the love God lavishly gives us—no longer living unto ourselves or by the mere letter of the law. We now have the Spirit to guide us. We are saved by grace through faith. And we live each day by grace through faith. If we ask God to show us how to live in relationship to others, in the face of decisions, in the midst of the world, God’s very Spirit dwelling in us will guide us IF WE WILL LISTEN. Whatever else can be made of what occurred at Pentecost or might be expected since, here is the most reliable thing for everyone: God’s Spirit is poured out on all flesh. God is forever after universally accessible to all who will sincerely seek, listen, and heed the persistent “still, small voice.”

4. Pentecost triggers an OUTBREAK of self-giving service and PASSION to bear grace across every cultural border. You have only to read Acts 2 to see the outbreak that moves people to serve and live selflessly. Reading, one cannot help but begin to grasp the passion for God that inflames hearts and changes lives. It is clear from Acts 2 that to be Christian is to be radical—not for the sake of being radical, but because the Holy Spirit reveals truth and inflames hearts that cannot help but connect in challenging ways with a diverse world gone awry and lives distorted by death’s seduction. Love that overcomes every distortion and overwhelms every barrier is unleashed. There’s nothing tame or sedate about it. Acts 2 Christianity is an acute fever; Acts 2 Christians are aflame with love. For this I pray earnestly for all who follow Jesus.


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, June 8, 2009

NO DISTINCTIONS

Another gem from William Stringfellow

“Central in the experience of the power of the Holy Spirit among the disciples, both commonly and severally, is a transcendence of worldly distinction as race, age, sex, class, occupation, nationality, language, and tongue. This anticipates the final consummation of the whole of fallen creation in the Kingdom of God.”

- from A Keeper of the Word , an anthology of William Stringfellow compiled and edited by Bill Wylie Kellerman

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, June 7, 2009

PERSONAL HOLINESS

No one has described the context of, case for, and content of personal holiness better than William Stringfellow

KEEPER OF THE WORD. I've not come a across a more poignant description of personal holiness than this expression by William Stringfellow. I place this description above every description I've heard in Wesleyan/holiness preaching, teaching and writing in my 50 years of experience. I consider this description more reflective of the intent of the Word of God than what my tradition typically teaches. I found it in Bill Wylie Kellerman's collection of Stringfellow quotes titled A Keeper of the Word. The volume has been a source of insight, comfort, and agitation to me over the past ten years.

"Being holy, becoming and being a saint, does not mean being perfect but being whole; it does not mean being exceptionally religious, or being religious at all. It means being liberated from religiosity and religious pietism of any sort. It does not mean being godly, but rather being truly human. It does not mean being otherworldly, but it means being deeply implicated in the practical existence of this world without succumbing to this world or any aspect of this world, no matter how beguiling."

"Being holy means a radical self-knowledge; a sense of who one is, a consciousness of one's own identity so thorough that it is no longer confused with the identities of others, of persons or of any creatures or of God or of any idols. For human beings, relief and remedy from such profound confusion concerning a person's own identity and the identity and character of the Word of God becomes the indispensable and authenticating ingredient of being holy, and it is the most crucial aspect of becoming mature, or being fulfilled, as a human in this world, in fallen creation."

"Sanity and conscience, rather than some sentimental or pietistic or self-serving notion of moral perfection, constitute the usual marks of sanctification.
That which distinguishes the saint is not eccentricity, not perfection, but sanity and conscience. The irony in being holy is that one is plunged more fully into the practical existence of this world, as it is, than in any other way."

Saturday, June 6, 2009

SLALOMING AT 50

Proof that I've still got it at the ripe old age of 50

Our family enjoyed a couple of days at Lake Monroe in Bloomington, Indiana, over the weekend. It was a bit nippy for skiiing (70 degrees...maybe) and windy, but we made the most of it while our married daughter, Abby, was in town for a few days after Molly's high school graduation last week.

Our family has enjoyed boating for a few days each summer as long as I can remember. Becky's family introduced me to skiing before we were married and it seems like we've enjoyed the diversion within limits ever since.

In this photo, I'm skiing on an old but wonderful wooden Connelly ski that my father-in-law gave us after he sold his boat a few years ago. I learned to slalom on a wide, flat ski and double-handle rope, but graduated to this beauty. It is difficult to pull up out of the water with, but the control for cutting and jumping the wake is amazing. By the way, the shoreline in the photo is part of John Mellancamp's property and house that overlooks the lake near the Cutright marina.

Friday, June 5, 2009

VACATION GUILT...AND GRACE

Before I can enjoy a vacation, I frame it in the context of Sabbath

VACATION. RETREAT. DOWN TIME. Why is it so hard to take these words seriously? To enact them without guilt? To step aside momentarily from the urgent, critical, and essential? I try to "squeeze in" a vacation amid a summer schedule chocked full of urgent dates. I dare to plan a retreat, so long as it does not impinge on the work week. I tend to think of down time, idle time, off-line time as wasted time. I don't think I'm alone in this.

LOST SENSE OF "SABBATH." Could it be that I have simultaneously lost the sense of Sabbath and think too highly of mtself? Or, maybe the former causes the latter. Perhaps it is because I lose the sense of Sabbath that I think too highly of myself. Sabbath-less lives are anxious lives, lives based on self-promotion, self-justification, self-preservation. Sabbath-less lives are rest-less lives in which a vacation means a costly withdrawal, lost productivity, and personal risk at many levels. What, for instance, might happen to my sense of worth if the business manages well without me?

SABBATH-ORIENTED LIVING. A Sabbath orientation requires vacation. Not because I need a break, but because I need God's perspective and grace. Because I think too highly of myself. Because I'm killing myself apart from it. Keeping Sabbath, I would begin to see and know myself not to be the center of the universe. I would acknowledge my Creator. I would embrace the reality of Grace. I would come to know myself--and the challenges of my life--aright. I would find the power and wisdom to live forwardly, creatively, transformatively. And I would rest.

HOLY LEISURE. A cursory read through my e-mail and the news headlines during vacation times brings this challenge to light. I can be 1,000 miles from home, yet I am tempted to act as if I never left town. And do people who count on me there resent my brief absence? Is vacation merely a permitted, tolerated thing, or is it commended as a life-giving part of creative living? And even if it is commended, does that commendation occur as a means to a utilitarian end? All of these seem to fall short of the sacredness of authentic Sabbath. What if, instead, I were to speak of and act purely in the reality of holy leisure?

POST SCRIPT: This entry is not for lazy people, slackers, those who run from hard work, or those who routinely take advantage of either their employer or employees. Yahweh is the One unto whom we work (yes, even waiting tables). If we slack or mistreat, it is unto God (woe unto the manager who will not pay a living wage!). If you do not labor fully in the six days, your Sabbath will be restless. If you mistreat workers in the six days, your Sabbath will mock you. Read Isaiah 58--accept its judgment, embrace its truth, repent...and be renewed.

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, June 4, 2009

THIS PICTURE IS WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS
















Time's "Swampland" blog posted this photo today. Appears to be two Al Quaida terrorists sitting down listening to President Barack Obama's speech to the Muslim world in Cairo, Egypt early this morning. Wonder what they thought?


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, June 2, 2009

CAPACITY, AUDACITY....AND GRACE

My prayer for all recent graduates...and for one graduate in particular

OPEN HOUSE SEASON. The end of May and beginning of June is graduation open house season. We’ve been attending open houses of church kids and Molly’s friends. On Sunday evening, we hosted Molly’s open house with more than 150 guests. I enjoy looking at the photos and awards and mementos—hard evidence of grace at work in these precious lives.

STEP FORWARD, LEAD US! High School graduation is a gracious passage to mark and celebrate. Graduates all seem so confident and invincible. Those of us thirty-plus years removed do well to admire, commend, and encourage them in their pursuits. Our world needs those who will dream dreams and valiantly attempt to reshape it. Everyone who sees a need for change and imagines transformation as a possibility: oh, please, step forward and lead us!

BE THE CHANGE. I carry around in my VW Beetle a little notebook given me by a volunteer organization. On its cover is a quote attributed to Mahatma Gandhi: “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.” Gandhi lived the change he wanted to see. He did not just talk about it, did not just lash out at the powers of domination. He became the kind of person--and took on the manner of living--that he wanted all of India to become. He became a person and they a people who won freedom by spiritual power and peace by nonviolence. Before he was assassinated, Gandhi saw, however briefly, the change which he embodied.

GO FOR CHANGING THE WORLD. Graduates: before you settle for personal success, or a job in a corporation you’ve been told is respectable, or great salaries, or mere public recognition, why not go for changing the world? Why settle for success when you might have saved a part of the world, or prevented the rest of us from further robbing others of their birthright by our sheer addictions to greed, pleasure, energy, consumerism, materialism, and worn-out ideologies? Don’t accept things as they are; dare to change them. Don’t end up repeating the age-old mistakes that, for all their veneer of permanence and pomp, have run the world into a divisive quagmire again and again. Be the change you hope to see. We are looking to you for inspiration.

INHERITED AUDACITY. I write very little about my dad. But I’ve notice that one thing I have inherited from him is the audacity to think and act as if, with what I know, what I have been given and what I can do, I can impact some aspects of history in a positive way. Dad and I may be poles apart when it comes to conceiving of what needs to be changed and how. But we share a discontent with simply watching from the sidelines, marking time blithely, or assuming it’s up to someone else. There is in both of us a palpable “seize the day” nerve that propels us not infrequently to charge in—sometimes recklessly and foolishly—where angels fear to tread.

BAPTIZING NERVE IN LOVE. If such nerve is gift, it is a gift that must be continuously baptized in the fires of transcendent love. Gandhi had nerve. He had audacity. But he also had a deepening wisdom and love that disciplined, gentled, and directed his sense of being an agent of change in the world. You might say his stubbornness and outspokenness were constructively directed through a widely-organized nonviolent resistance that ultimately disintegrated England’s iron-fisted power over India and birthed a freedom that continues to emerge.

MY PRAYER FOR MOLLY. I pray such audacity seasoned with love for all recent graduates, and for one graduate in particular—for Molly. I know Molly will not dwell on the sidelines, in the shadows. She has shined in leading roles in school musicals, sang solos in the best choirs, achieved all that can be achieved academically, and played ferocious defense on the soccer field in the state’s toughest conference. It is not a question of “if” but “how” her light will shine in the world. May grace and love season capacity and audacity that the change she longs to see--and that we desperately need--she will be.


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, June 1, 2009

BEYOND HATE SPEECH

Hate speech may be legal, but it will never be civil, morally defensible, or spiritually survivable

TAGGING AND TARGETING. So, the immediate situation is the Sunday morning murder of Dr. George Tiller, a physician who practiced abortion and who was publicly and repeatedly vilified by Bill O'Reilley. Tiller was murdered in the lobby of his Kansas church as he prepared to attend worship. O'Reilly targeted Tiller no less than 28 times on his FOX News show, tagging him "Tiller the Baby Killer" and used forceful hate speech freely.

AFTER THE MURDER. Now the questions: To what extent is Bill O'Reilly implicated in the murder of Dr. Tiller? Would it have happened had not O'Reilly singled Tiller out and publicly and repeatedly impressed his avid listeners that Tiller was a murderer whom the government would not stop? These questions will be debated on news shows this week. Expect O'Reilly to condemn the murder and also deny any connection between his hate speech (even self-righteously denying the use of hate speech) and the murderer and the murdered. Expect pro-choice advocates to heap up blame on O'Reilly and those who use hate speech against abortionists.

LEGALITY OF FREE SPEECH. The problem is that hate speech is generally legal. Its purveyors are as protected as a physician who chooses to honor a woman's desire to have a safe abortion. Bill O'Reilly can use the public airwaves to condemn abortion and vilify abortionists in the most strident terms, in the most uncivil ways, and with the intensity and tone that communicates "don't let them get away with it" to his audience. At least one person has taken the hate speech of O'Reilly and others seriously enough to take action, taking the life of the very abortionist singled out and targeted.

HOW TO COUNTER HATE SPEECH. Curbing hate speech without infringing upon free speech is difficult. Personally, I find hate speech morally reprehensible. I think it is uncivil. I don't think it has a place in public discourse. I think it reveals fears and spiritual sickness. I find it irresponsible and offensive and I wish it were not used at all. But I am unwilling to give up my own personal privileges of free speech just to keep other people from saying what I do not like and what I think hurts others. If anything, I must use my right of free speech to influence people to choose a better approach to addressing the challenges of abortion than what Bill O'Reilly does.

CONNECT THE DOTS. I am personally convinced that free speech ends where words of hatred can be reasonably connected to acts of violence of any kind against individuals or groups. If you can readily connect the dots between hate speech and violent actions, it's not free speech. That is something legislators and the courts wrestle with and I am sharing my own thoughts with legislators in this regard. Historically the connection between hate speech and acts of violence against individuals and groups is clear and frequent. It is a responsibility of the citizenship and leadership of a civil society to ensure public discourse is both free and free from expressions that are known to lead to violence against its citizens.

A BETTER WAY. But, ultimately, hate speech must be undercut and overcome by love speech, actions that win hearts and minds, strategies that disarm hatred, and relationship development that turns enemies into friends. What Mahatma Gandhi called "soul force" can be used to expose the ineffectiveness of hate speech, undercut its power, and delegitimize its purveyors. Love in action works at the level of identifying and addressing feelings and needs in otherwise offended parties to disarm them and bring them together to address common problems.

FREEDOM TO BOYCOTT. One way I begin to undercut the legitimacy of hate speech is to boycott the products and confront the corporations that sponsor those who engage in hate speech. Economic self-interest can speak to a corporation when civility and moral decency doesn't. I will begin to address this strategically more and more. This is one way so-called "consumers" can exercise their own freedom to influence free marketers. But a boycott is but the beginning in a process of transformation.

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Post update:

An insightful piece by Frank (Franky) Schaeffer on The Huffington Post regarding his sense of complicity in the killing of Dr. Tiller. Schaeffer was a hero to me during college days, when I championed the film series "Whatever Happened to the Human Race" on the campus of Olivet Nazarene University. I commend him anew for his repentance and maturing faith. I, too, have since repented of toxic faith and the politics of anger. Following Jesus is greater and calls for more responsibility than things we said, represented, and promoted in the 1970's and early '80's. It is possible to address the challenges of abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, capital punishment, violent crime, human rights, and human value without demonizing people and institutions or reducing the Gospel to fear and hatred.


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