Friday, April 30, 2010

ABBY AND JARED AT NSB

One of my favorite photos.  I snapped it when our first two children, Abby and Jared, were little kids at New Smyrna Beach, Florida, our favorite family vacation spot.  Today, Abby is 24 and Jared is 22.  I loved them as they were and love them now as they are.

Next week, Jared will graduate Bachelor of Science with a double major--History and Political Science--from Olivet Nazarene University.  A week later, Abby will graduate Master of Science in Nutrition from the University of Kansas.  Congratulations and best wishes, kids.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

TO MY KIDS REGARDING YOUR FUTURE

I wrote this for my kids a few years ago and renew it as my current prayer and desire.

YOUR SEARCH.  I made a commitment to myself and to you to try not to control or steer you regarding decisions about your future.  You are exploring options and considering choices.  I want to support you in that search without trying to determine outcomes.  Your future is yours, not mine.  I fully anticipate that you will clearly eclipse my own best advice.

PRINCIPLED APPROACH.  I was thinking about this and figured that it’s not specific choices that matter so much to me as a desire that you take a principled approach to your future.  So, here are a few things I hope you’ll take to heart as you approach your future.  I have tried—and am still endeavoring—to live these.  They are in no specific order and they are incomplete.  Hopefully, we will have opportunity to talk more about these together.

  1. Nurture your enthusiasms.  May you know what it feels like to be exuberant about a few things.  May you occasionally enjoy something so much you care less what peers or others think.  An enthusiasm can connect you to authentic passion about life.  It can also convey the difference between what excites and what empowers.
  1. Fan the flame of your gifts and creativity.  Run to your strengths as you sense or uncover them.  Even if you don’t feel creative, you really are.  Creativity can’t be reduced to art forms.  Explore and experiment with ways of expressing yourself until you find a few with which you can sail forward.
  1. Open yourself to God; pay attention to the “still, small voice.”  This is not about going to church.  It is about something much bigger, grander.  Even if organized religion sometimes seems provincial and institutional church disappoints, God and grace is bigger, higher, deeper, wider.  God is ever-approachable, accessible, with you, there for you.  Keep open.  And tune in frequently.
  1. Think in terms of “calling” as well as career path or vocation.  In Let Your Life Speak, Parker Palmer paints these distinctions.  You are incredibly capable; there is really nothing you can’t do.  Don’t typecast yourself or close the door on any possibilities too quickly.  Think in terms of what contribution you might make to your generation, to life, more than about whom you might work for or what job you might fulfill.
  1. Face down your fears.  You will encounter intimidators, bullies, and manipulators throughout life.  They come in the form of ideas, norms, friends, family, corporations and culture.  You may even come to fear your own power.  Whatever or whoever you fear holds power over you.  When afraid, seek to see through fears and pray for courage to confront and throw off fear’s tyranny—again and again.
  1. Cultivate solitude.  Carve out space to be alone, to be quiet, to listen, to recollect, to open your heart and look inside, to lift your soul and be changed little by little.  This includes intentionally and routinely disconnecting from noise and media.  It’s a discipline that will bring great satisfaction and wisdom.  Here is where you learn to know yourself and discern what is best.
  1. Unlock the power of forgiveness.  Annoyances, slights, grievances, hurts and wrongs multiply.  The only sane way forward is to forgive.  Whatever grievance you hold onto holds onto you; it inflicts more personal pain than you can inflict in response.  Forgiveness is a choice.  But our ability to forgive is limited; I’ve found I need God’s grace to make forgiveness real and lasting.  There’s nothing so wonderful in life as to forgive and be forgiven.
  1. Magnify subtleties; look carefully at things others overlook.  “Been there, done that” seems to define our times, as if life is about collecting strings of experiences.  Manyness and muchness leaves unfulfilled yearnings.  I find value in contemplating serendipitous encounters.  Return to memorable places.  Be faithful to friends.  Attend to those others undervalue.  Uphold the value of something small.
  1. Diversify your exposure to ideas, people, and the milieu of life.  Keep drawing the circle bigger.  Read beyond your comfort zone.  Dare to listen to and include people others routinely reject.  Challenge every prejudice you find yourself expressing.  The world is too interesting and life’s too short to think and act narrowly.  And the world really needs you.
  1. Don’t deny yourself “the struggle.”  No one hands you personal success or freedom.  It is won through intentional pursuit and personal sacrifice.  It’s worth it to put first things first and delay gratification.  Give up some frivolous things in order to become or achieve what you desire.  This isn’t about “financial freedom” so much as it is about becoming and doing what you envision.
  1. Reflect on your journey as you go.  Look back often enough to appreciate the journey you’re on.  Observe how grace has guided you thus far.  Note past failures and see how to avoid them in the future.  Celebrate little breakthroughs and the things important to you that others don’t notice.  Reflecting on your journey is a way of loving God, loving yourself and, ultimately, making your love more valuable to others.

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, April 27, 2010

CALL ME A TREE HUGGER

I practice creation care both as an act of faith and citizenship

GO AHEAD, LABEL ME.  Yeah, I’m one of “them,” one of those tree huggers. I participate in Earth Day, I work on local and statewide sustainability initiatives, and monitor my own carbon footprint. Why? I care for creation as an act of faith and citizenship. As an act of faith because I believe God, who created this world, loves it as much as God loves the humans who are direct objects of divine grace. Our history and future of salvation is linked integrally to this planet. It is an act of faith, also, because the Biblical record of stewardship and faithfulness to the land compels me.

A LEGACY IN THE BALANCE. My participation in environmental concerns is an act of citizenship because our national legacy on environmental responsibility hangs in the balance. Some say our national legacy is one of irresponsibility and degradation. Even the most positive perspective must admit that we have far to go to pass on to our great-grandchildren a planet that approximates the condition in which we first experienced it. 

SELF-FULFILLING PROPHECY. The impact of end-times apocalyptic preaching and teaching on evangelical believers in the 1960s and 70s became a self-fulfilling prophecy regarding numerous aspects of stewardship. The social impact amounted to a notable withdrawal from hopeful actions and non-participation in public institutions and life. An unprecedented privatization of lifestyles and reactionary fear masking as “bold faith” are part of the legacy of prophecies of doom. The Apocalypse didn’t occur, but our unfounded suspicions and fears became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Without positive participation, social engagement, and confidence in Kingdom principles, the public square has become more fearsome and its problems more complex and deeply entrenched. 

APOCALYPTIC IMPACT. Apocalyptic teaching also shaped evangelical responses to the environment. Since the locus of salvation was presumed to be another world, since we were just getting ourselves ready to get on out of here in “the rapture,” since pollution and deterioration were further evidence of an impending hell on earth, what did we care? We did nothing. Actually we did do something: we used and consumed and demanded cheap fuel and cheap products like everyone else without a question (or a clue, perhaps) as to environmental cost or future impact. It’s not just that environmental issues didn’t seem important; environmentalists were lampooned and lambasted from many of our pulpits and in “Christianity Today.” What a legacy with which to live! What shall we tell our grandchildren when they ask us how our faith informed our stewardship of the world? 

TODAY IS THE DAY. As always in the biblical faith, “today is the day of salvation.” Whatever has—or has not—been done in the past, today presents opportunity to repair the world. The present moment gives opportunity to reflect on the Scriptures which call for stewardship of the land, regard for cycles of life renewal, respect for the law of the harvest. Take time to contemplate the parables of Jesus. Without worshiping the earth, evangelicals can and should honor the earth out of reverence for--and in gratitude to--the God who created it and us. Faith, even so-called evangelical faith, calls for nothing less.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

REQUIEM FOR EARTH

This piece is so typically Kurt Vonnegut.  It's from A Man Without a Country (2005)  I post this both in tribute to Vonnegut and also in light this month’s Earth Day observance.

The crucified planet Earth,
should it find a voice
and a sense of irony,
might now well say
of our abuse of it,
"Forgive them, Father,
They know not what they do."

The irony would be
that we know what
we are doing.

When the last living thing
has died on account of us,
how poetical it would be
if Earth could say,
in a voice floating up
perhaps
from the floor
of the Grand Canyon,
"It is done."
People did not like it here.


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, April 20, 2010

MOST DARING THING

"The most daring thing is
to create stable communities
in which the terrible disease
of loneliness can be cured."

- Kurt Vonnegut

Sunday, April 18, 2010

THE MAKER'S JOY

"Learn by little the desire for all things
which perhaps is not desire at all
but undying love which perhaps
is not love at all but gratitude
for the being of all things which
perhaps is not gratitude at all
but the maker's joy in what is made,
the joy in which we come to rest."
 
- Wendell Berry in Leavings

Saturday, April 17, 2010

BEYOND CYNICISM


My '60's generation now deals in cynicism, perhaps breeds it.  Can we move beyond it?

EVERYONE IS SO UNTRUE. It occurred to me recently how profoundly cynical those of us who were born around 1960 have become. We disbelieve sincerity, reject the notion of certainties, question the validity of most authority, doubt heart change is really possible, and are sure most every one acts primarily out of self-interest. We take things at face value but don’t value that very much. Billy Joel’s lyrics reflect the perspective: 

“Honesty is such a lonely word,
everyone is so untrue.
Honesty is hardly ever heard
and mostly what I need from you.”

CLOUDED YOUTH. My generation’s cynicism is not without reason. One of my earliest childhood memories is the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. I was four years old. I recall the extended national mourning that ensued. Those of us who moved from childhood to adolescence in the 1960's and 70's absorbed the social-emotional impacts of the Vietnam debacle, student killings at Kent State University, the struggle for civil rights, the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, and, to cap it all off, the Watergate scandal and resignation of the disgraced Richard M. Nixon. And looming silently as a backdrop to this drama, was--is still--the omnipresent specter of a nuclear mushroom cloud.

FROM IDEALISTS TO CYNICS. So, young idealists called to "ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country," became, progressively--or regressively--the drop-out generation, the drugged-out generation, the self-absorbed generation, the self-promoting generation, the ever "seeking" generation. We have pushed the divorce rate to record levels. We have clogged the courts with frivolous litigation. We blame everyone and take little responsibility. We use communities and people for our benefit and then discard or disregard them. It appears that our collective generational response to the socio-political traumas of the 1960's is a full-blown and cancerous cynicism.

POWER SOURCES ROBBED. Reflecting on this a few weeks after a vibrant celebration of Easter, it occurs to me that cynicism might be a legitimate response, were it not for the Resurrection. It seems to me that Easter robs cynicism of its power sources. Whereas cynicism would say we can’t count on anything, the empty tomb indicates there’s a least one thing that can be counted on. Whereas cynicism asserts that nobody is true to his or her word, the Resurrection indicates at least one is. Whereas cynicism charges that every act has a selfish motive to it, Jesus’ complete self-giving issues a counter. Whereas cynicism says nothing’s going to change the way it is, the Third Day has started a change that offers transformation and hope to every individual, community, and culture.

COUNTERING CYNICISM. Any of us would be foolish to gullibly accept at face value information and "values" in a culture that breathes and breeds cynicism. At the same time, we are foolish to yield an inch to cynicism’s ultimate claims. We are invited, as beneficiaries of the Resurrection, to live in counter to the widely-accepted cultural excuses and half-truths that pass for “the way it is.” More than that, it is the privilege of people who live in Easter faith to share the counter-claims and authentic life with fellow citizens who do not yet realize that the way, truth, and life has been opened for all.

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, April 14, 2010

DO NOT BE ASHAMED

A poem of Wendell Berry


The more I read of him, his older and newer reflections, the more I like Wendell Berry.  The Kentucky farmer, poet, naturalist, essayist, and novelist has given us this poem, which I found in The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry, to contemplate.  I’ll be interested in your responses to it.

You will be walking some night
in the comfortable dark of your yard
and suddenly a great light will shine
round about you and behind you
will be a wall you never saw before.
It will be clear to you suddenly
that you were about to escape,
and that you are guilty: you misread
the complex instructions, you are not
a member, you lost your card
or never had one. And you will know
that they have been there all along,
their eyes on your letters and books,
their hands in your pockets,
their ears wired to your bed.
Though you have done nothing shameful,
they will want you to be ashamed.
They will want you to kneel and weep
and say you should have been like them.
And once you say you are ashamed,
reading the page they hold out to you,
then such light as you have made
in your history will leave you.
They will no longer need to pursue you.
You will pursue them, begging forgiveness.
They will not forgive you.
There is no power against them.
It is only candor that is aloof from them,
only an inward clarity, unashamed,
that they cannot reach. Be ready.
When their light has picked you out
and their questions are asked, say to them:
”I am not ashamed.”  A sure horizon
will come around you.  The heron will begin
his evening flight from the hilltop.

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, April 12, 2010

CYCLING ST. LOUIS

I had a beautiful 40-mile ride around St. Louis on April 11, 2010

Here are a  few snapshots of my Sunday morning trek.  It included riding from Collinsville, Illinois, to East St. Louis, across the Eades Bridge, a tour of the Arch park, a ride around downtown, and then back across the mighty Mississippi and southeast to Belleville, where my son, Sam, was playing in a soccer tournament.





Tuesday, April 6, 2010

AFTER EASTER

What difference has my celebration of Jesus' Resurrection made, so far?

O God,

Removed just days from celebrating
Jesus' Resurrection, I wonder
if I have yet begun to grasp
but a fraction of its meaning
and power for me,
for the church,
for the world?
I press on presumingly,
speaking Resurrection words
but carrying on as if little
had occurred.

I got stirred up about Easter
but I am apparently changed little.
Radicality dissipates into
minor adjustments,
shallow commitments,
tepid dreams.

Still, I dare to hold to faith in Easter,
to believe that on that morning
no mere rustled resettling occurred
but a tectonic plate shifted reality for
a world without transcendence,
people without hope,
life locked in death.

Help me to explore and live the Third Day
in the face of my own doubts.
Believing you live and go before me,
meeting me in unlikely moments,
I go forward into this day,
this work,
these relationships,
your world.

Amen

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, April 5, 2010

BUT WHENEVER MONDAY COMES....

After Easter celebrations end, what’s the enduring reality of present risenness?

PRESENT IMPLICATIONS. Easter celebrations conclude and Monday morning rolls around. What difference has the Resurrection really made?

I am exploring the idea of "present risenness" (a phrase coined by Brennan Manning) on Indy Bikehiker this week.  The focus is not so much on its future promise as its present practice.

I’ve found no more profound statement of the present implications of resurrection than in the following reflection by William Stringfellow, quoted here from an anthology of his writings titled A Keeper of the Word, compiled by Bill Wylie Kellerman and published by Eerdmans. 

FREEDOM NOW. “To become and be a beneficiary of the resurrection of Jesus Christ means to live here and now in a way that upholds and honors the sovereignty of the Word of God in this life in this world, and that trusts the judgment of the Word of God in history. That means freedom now from all conformities to death, freedom now from fear of the power of death, freedom now from all bondage of idolatry to death, freedom now to live in hope while awaiting the judgment."

THIS LIFE, THIS WORLD. "The resurrection is impregnated with all that has gone before; these encounters of Christ with death and its powers in history mean that his triumph over death there shown is offered for human beings and for the whole world. His victory is not for himself but for us. His power over death is effective not just at the terminal point of a person's life but throughout one's life, during THIS life in THIS world, right now.”

AMID DEATH’S WORKS. "This power is effective in the times and places in the daily lives of human beings when they are so gravely and relentlessly assailed by the claims of principalities for an idolatry that, in spite of all disguises, really surrenders to death as the reigning presence in the world. His resurrection means the possibility of living in this life, in the very midst of death's works, safe and free from death.”

FOR US ALL NOW. "Christ's resurrection is for human beings and for the whole of creation, including the principalities of this world. The reign of death and, within that, the pretensions to sovereignty over history of the principalities, is brought to an end in Christ's resurrection. The claim of a nation, ideology, or other principality to rule history, though phony and futile, is at the same time an aspiration for salvation, a longing for the reality that does, indeed, rule history. In the same reality in which the pretension of the principality is exposed and undone, how and in whom salvation is wrought is disclosed and demonstrated. In Christ is both the end and fulfillment for all principalities, for all humanity, and for all things.”

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, April 3, 2010

IN-BETWEEN DAY

A poem for Holy Saturday by the Rev. Stacey Littlefield

Thank you for the day in-between;
Safely tucked in the middle of
Death and Life.

At the start
a torturous journey,
an uphill climb,
stumbling, staggering, sweating
under the weight of the wood.
Muscles tired, strength exhausted,
body beaten, bruised and bleeding,
stretched out on display,
for mockers, curiosity seekers and saints.
A final breath, an impassioned cry
and it was finished.
On the other side of this Dark Day
a light awaits the dawn.
But, not yet...

This is the Day In-Between.
Today His body is still silent.
Drops of sweat and blood have
cooled and come to rest.
Dark, Cold and Damp
is the bed on which his limbs
grow stiff.
Quiet, lonely, without the intrusions
of daily routine or plans for the future.

He does not move.

And I am thankful for this
Day In-Between--a chance to wait, to meditate,
to embrace the silence and the sorrow,
the call and the cost.
My very life, my only hope
is there in the Dark with Him;
I am surrounded by the Holy Silence of Death,
almost afraid to move,
to disturb the calm;
afraid that the noise of my anxious, shifting feet
might drown out the sounds of hope:
-- a breath, a heartbeat, the crackle
of stiffness softening.

In the Day In-Between
I ponder
I meditate
I wait
I remember
and I begin to Hope.

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, April 2, 2010

CRUCIFIXION


Jesus' death rescues from the shame that binds us

Theologian Roberta Bondi looks at the crucifixion in a breathtaking way in her book Memories of God: Theological Reflections on a Life, Abingdon Press, 1995.  An excerpt to reflect on this week:

"How could I repent of the things that had happened to me without me choosing them, of having been made a woman, of my very being?  I did not need to repent.  I needed to be rescued from my shame.  And this is what I now could see was exactly what Jesus as the privileged son of God, as God's own self, had chosen to do by casting his lot with not only me but with all woman and men the world would shame and reduce to nothing for simply being who they are."

"And not only to the inconspicuously shamed like me and those like me, but also to the raped woman blamed for the rape, to the divorced woman trying to support her children on a secretary's salary while her church preaches to her about 'family values,' to young people with blackened teeth because they can't afford the price of a dentist, to the uneducated and ignorant, to the one with the 'wrong' color skin who can't get a mortgage in his own neighborhood, to the day laborer who is treated as an animal by his employer, to the man with AIDS, to the man whose children have contempt for him because he can't find a job, to the 'unmanly' man who weeps real tears, to the mentally ill old woman living in a pile of newspapers on Social Security disability, to the man who is ridiculed by his friends when they learn that he gets up in the night with his baby so his wife may sleep, to all of these Jesus speaks:"

"'Do not be ashamed.  I cast my lot with you, as God and as a human being.  From the time I heard the cry of the depressed slaves in Egypt, I have sought to rescue you who are shamed.  Yes, you have sinned, and you have repented in abundance, but it is the world that is the source of your shame, not your own sin.'"

"'It is your suffering shame that consumes you with anger, that renders you passive, that swallows you in depression, that keeps you from loving and knowing yourself to be loved.  You do not bear your shame as the rightful price you pay for some imagined unworthiness.'"

"'A bruised reed, I will not break you; a smoldering wick, I will never quench you (Isaiah 42:3).  I hate the shame that binds you and destroys you, and I will prove it to you and to the world by casting my lot with you even so far as to die a death the world finds shameful.  By showing you the source and meaning of your shame, I will make a space for you to breathe and thrive.  This is what I, as a human being in the image of God, and as God's own self, chose with great joy.'"

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

GOOD FRIDAY

Let the somberest day for us resonate as most profound for all

STUMBLING BLOCK TO FAITH.  “Christmas and Easter can be subjects for poetry, but Good Friday, like Auschwitz, cannot.  The reality is so horrible, it is not surprising that people should have found it a stumbling block to faith.” -- W.H.  Auden

AND YET NOT WEEP?

Am I a stone, and not a sheep,
That I can stand, O Christ, beneath Thy cross,
To number drop by drop Thy Blood’s slow loss,
And yet not weep?

Not so those women loved
Who with exceeding grief lamented Thee;
Not so fallen Peter weeping bitterly;
Not so the thief was moved;

Not so the Sun and Moon
Which hid their faces in a starless sky,
A horror of great darkness at broad noon--
I, only I.

Yet give not o’er,
But seek Thy sheep, true Shepherd of the flock;
Greater than Moses, turn and look once more
And smite a rock.

-- Christina Rossetti

GIVEN PUBLICLY.   “Given is the word.  Given publicly, on the first Good Friday, on a hill, in the sight of all, was the visible demonstration of the only permanent way to overcome evil.  Human nature demands something more enduring than the unquiet equilibrium of rival powers.” – Muriel Lester

LEADING OUT, DRAWING IN.  “The symbol of the cross in the church points to the God who was crucified not between two candles on an altar, but between two thieves in the place of the skull, where the outcasts belong, outside the gates of the city.  It does not invite thought but a change of mind.  It is a symbol which therefore leads out of the church and out of religious longing into the fellowship of the oppressed and abandoned.  On the other hand, it is a symbol which calls the oppressed and godless into the church and through the church into the fellowship of the crucified God.” -- J├╝rgen Moltmann, The Crucified God

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