Sunday, July 31, 2011

SUNRISE

So ordinary, so predictable; so extraordinary, so unique 

We know the sun has been rising
every day without fail,
with no variation,
with predictable pattern
through every season
through every cycle
for billions of years.

If anything is predictable,
if anything is routine,
if anything is common
this is.

Surer than breath,
long before life
is earth's axial rotation
and its steady orbit
around the sun.

We don't even think
about it.

And yet...

Did you witness that sunrise
this morning?

Has there ever been one quite like it?
Orchestrated by God, it surely was,
for the display of God's splendor.

"Morning has broken
like the first morning..."

"Morning by morning
new mercies I see..."

"The heavens declare
the glory of God..."

A psalmist lauds:
"In the heavens God has
pitched a tent for the sun,
which is like a bridegroom
coming forth from his pavilion,
like a champion rejoicing
to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens
and makes its circuit to the other;
nothing is hidden from its heat."

So ordinary.
So extraordinary.


And to think I might have
taken this sunrise,
this day,
for granted.
 

Friday, July 29, 2011

GLEANINGS FROM A SUMMIT OF MISSIONARIES

Affirmations that Free Methodist missionaries surfaced in small and large groups at a recent summit

Jack Munos, a Free Methodist t missionary assigned to
Haiti, helps distribute water filters and solar ovens,
equipping folks in effective use of these tools.
In my current development work with International Child Care Ministries (ICCM), an international child sponsorship initiative connected to Free Methodist World Missions (FMWM), I get to hang out with missionaries every now and then.  I interview them, meet their families, share ideas with them, coordinate projects with them, try to solve problems with them, occasionally have lunch with them.  ICCM works closely with cross-cultural missionaries in 30 countries.

To say that cross-cultural evangelical Christian missionaries in our 21st-century world are unusual and have unique perspectives on life and what's going on in the world would be an understatement.  It would be an overstatement, however, to say these folks are anything beyond ordinary, quirky, and just as typical as the rest of us.  In light of this, missionaries have my highest respect for who they are and what they attempt to do.

Recently, Free Methodist missionaries from every region of the world gathered for a summit to share experiences, explore common ground, encourage one another, and discuss challenges and opportunities together.  Yesterday, FMWM Director Art Brown shared in an e-newsletter a list of "to die for" statements that were randomly volunteered by the gathered group.  The list follows.

I find the list of "to die for" statements by these missionaries fascinating and insightful.  I don't think the list is in any particular order.  It doesn't seem like any effort has been made to edit or consolidate the gleanings.  Some seem contradictory to others.  I don't agree with all of them.  In some instances, I don't even understand them.  A few of them, taken in isolation, seem dangerous, but they can be balanced by other statements.  Together, they seem to reflect spirituality and concerns that perhaps come exclusively through the fire of their individual and collective experiences.  They are, for me, at least, something to contemplate.  I invite others to do the same.

1.      Keep a simplified lifestyle.

2.      Keep your heart right and your task will be right.

3.      Be mentored and mentor others. No one can be all and do all.

4.      My greatest asset is my weakness. It's through weakness God demonstrates His strength and gains glory.

5.      We answer to God.

6.      God is at work. We're called to join Him in His work but it's still His work.

7.      If you want a measuring stick, use my rest, which is Jesus' rest speaking over me.

8.      God takes care of details.

9.      God still knows what He is doing, and He is still in control.

10.    Before all else fails, let love prevail.

11.    It's more important to be loving than right in most situations.

12.    You can't over-communicate. If you think you have communicated, you probably haven't.

13.    To say "I can't" or "send somebody else" is to say God can't use me.

14.    Without the power of God, great things won't happen.

15.    Prayer has to be the foundation for everything.

16.    God rarely transforms animists to faith in Christ instantaneously, but He can and He does.

17.    When a task looks huge, God has already prepared everything for me.

18.    The silence of God is meant as a gift and not a trial.

19.    God is already working on all sides of me. I don't have to manipulate it; I only have to listen and obey.

20.    God will reach people in His own way. I don't make the plans; I just plan to follow.

21.    It is more important for me to understand what others are thinking than for them to understand me.

22.    There will always be more opportunities than we can possibly do so I need to find God's priorities and focus on doing those.

23.    Identify, Identify, identify.

24.    I'm working for the church, not a business.

25.    Don't be afraid to ask.

26.    Follow the Lord's leading. Don't get ahead.

27.    Faithfulness is God's expectation of me, and success is being faithful.

28.    God can use uncertainty.

29.    God's strength is enough.

30.    Be still and know that He is God.

31.    Not praying is not an option.

32.    When decisions need to be made, what brings the most glory to God is the defining factor.

33.    Prayer should be the advance guard of any spiritual battle.

34.    My worth is in being, not doing.

35.    God works in my absence and sometimes in my presence.

36.    Redundant communication is a must ... is a MUST.

37.    We have been put into community for a purpose. We can always learn something from someone else's perspective.

38.    God is amazingly patient.

39.    Listen.

40.    Pray, pray, pray.

41.    God is working on our behalf to do His work before we even think about it or are in the situation where it's required.

42.    The final thing is seeking the presence of God.

43.    Don't believe all of your press, good or bad.

44.    Love and relationship trumps language skills.

45.    Go to Jesus.

46.    Tomorrow will look different and it's ok.

47.    The consequences of my obedience belong to God.

48.    God is not absent, unloving or neglectful, even in the Mexican drug wars.

49.    The contentment of the rural/ethnic believer who is viewed by the majority as poor, uneducated and sometimes dirty reminds me of what really matters.

50.    Always seek as much accountability as you can.

51.    Keep a simplified lifestyle.


SPIRITUALITY & SOLITUDE

Who am I and what I becoming when I am alone?

PLACE OF CONTINUOUS RESOURCING. I am not sure who stated it, but I contemplate it occasionally: “Spirituality is what one does with one’s solitude.” The Scriptures invite: "In quietness and confidence shall be your strength." "Be still and know that I am God." Learning to value aloneness and to practice solitude has been one of the most resourceful developments of my adult life. Just as readily, I could sing the praise and power of community engagement as a second and equally valuable pole of spiritual vitality.

I wrote the following during one contemplation of solitude:

Apart from the crowd, peers, assembly, spotlight
Apart from family, siblings, spouse
Apart from church and program
When outward action is ceased
When one is alone
What are we?
Who am I?

To whom do I listen?
To what do I give my attention?
What occupies my consciousness?
Where do I turn?

Out of aloneness
Out of solitude
Emerges the shaping of the soul
Which either breathes energy and shalom,
Community formation and kinship,
Or barriers of fear, doubt, and suspicion.

O, to be conversant in the stillness of solitude
With love divine itself.

Here, shape my soul
And fill it
With creative redemption.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

THE CORNER WE'VE TURNED

Having recognized the infinite value of one, our present and future is wonderfully complicated  

We've turned a corner
from which we can't retreat.
We've seen ourselves and
all other human beings
as individuals, each with
infinite soul and worth.

What Jesus opened up and
the Enlightenment recovered
cannot now be put back
in the box for the sake of
countering chaos or controlling
this unruly leader or that
unwieldy populace.

You are as important as me.
They are as valuable as we.
Though some try not to believe,
self-evident truth reveals
the image of the Creator
stamped on us all.

Still armies amass and weapons
strike with a surgical precision
that nonetheless snuff out
the individual lives of suspected
and unsuspecting alike.

War is a relic of antiquity,
a hold-over from an age
when all were expendable
for the sake of the whole,
when the victor's ballad
was written in the blood of
friend and foe, a symphony
soured by its disregard
for the value of one.

When one mattered less
as one, when one mattered
more as a thing, a tool, a pawn--
however patriotically proclaimed--
war could be waged eye for eye
and tooth for tooth.

But the Cross closed that chapter
and Resurrection opened the next--
when one suffered for all and
redeemed the life of even one,
when one life burst forth with
love to grace every last one.

And each life was lifted beyond
the pale of mere existence;
the simplest, the lowest, the basest
was exalted and restored--
never to be cast aside or
undistinguished in the masses.

And even though we demand
blood vengeance in the face
of our own losses, vengeance
no longer satisfies the heart;
though justice be done, justice
is no longer served.

In our killing we surely
poison our own souls; living,
we slowly die by our own sword.
Our warring seeds the earth
with a billion broken particles
that cry out each to God.

But God would hear--
and will surely respond--
if but one in a billion
called out to heaven.
It is in one and for one
God turns the universe.

Dare we lay our weapons down
while others still breathe
a deathly past? Unless we do,
we shall not live the future
into which we are drawn,
nor make it possible for others.


[This is still a work in progress. Someday I'll get the rhythm right.  But I'll share it in its emerging condition.  Maybe the point of the value of one will spark contemplation in how we treat people as things in our systems, institutions, economies, nations and powers]

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

WHAT'S UP WITH THE TOUR DE FRANCE

10 reasons to tune into the last four days of this year's race

Frank Schleck of Luxembourg is currently in 3rd place and
should shine in the Alps Wed-Fri.
Some of my friends are wondering if I've lost my enthusiasm for the Tour de France.  

Usually, by now I'd be beside myself, ranting and raving about the subtleties of each stage.  Usually, by now I'd have fired off several Tour de France (TdF) updates, regardless of my friends' actual interest.  Usually, by now my "Tour de France for the Rest of Us" blog would be populated with hyperbolic TdF rhetoric.  But, alas, I have not, to date, written a bit.

 Until now.

So, here are ten reasons why you should tune in to the last four days, or stages:

10. The next three days are in the French Alps. For whatever happens in the race, the photography in these mountains will be amazing.

9. Thursday's Stage will see the cyclists climb three "above categorization" mountains, with the highest mountain finish in the history of the TdF.  A category 4 mountain is hard. Cat 3 is harder. Cat 2 harder still.  Cat 1 is crazy hard.  HC or above/be yond categorization mountains are unbelievably difficult.  Race organizers have created this sadistic stage to separate the men from the boys.

8. As of Monday, over 5000 people were already camping out on fabled L'Alpe d'Huez--the final climb on Friday's stage.  Those crowds will multiply.  It will be the final mountain-top showdown of this edition of the Tour de France.  L'Alpe d'Huez is straight-up steep.  A heartbeaker and champion-maker.

7. Frenchman Thomas Voekler wears the Yellow Jersey (Maillot Jaune) as the overall race leader.  Voekler is a determined and charismatic cyclist.  Can he hold onto it and give the French their first TdF champion in decades?  Not likely, but he has lots of Francophones fantasizing.

6. Aussie Cadel Evans has been runner-up in the TdF twice.  He may be more than second-best this year.  He's currently in second place and is expected to take the race lead on Thursday.  Cadel can climb as well as his rivals, but he is better than his rivals at time trialing (which I'll explain shortly). Unless he implodes, he's in the catbird's seat.

5. The Schleck brothers, Andy and Frank, of Luxembourg, are currently in third and fourth place.  They are known as the best mountain climbers in the Tour.  Working together, they could get the better of Evans and other top contenders on Thursday and Friday's epic mountain stages and catapult themselves to the top of the heap.

4. Defending champion Spaniard Alberto Contador is over three minutes behind the Yellow Jersey at this point, back in sixth place.  But he is fully capable of pulling even with rivals in the mountains and surpass them during Saturday's Individual Time Trial.  He's down, but not out.

3. Once the mountain fireworks end, Saturday's Individual Time Trial (ITT) may well settle who will be this year's TdF champion.  An ITT is an individual cyclist's ride against the clock over a long distance.  If the times are close among Evans, Voekler, the Schlecks and Contador, their individual performance on Saturday will determine the race outcome.

2. If you haven't listened to Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwin call the race on Versus TV, you're missing a treat.  These two old cyclists not only know and reveal the inside of the race, they are colorful and make the race accessible even to first-time watchers.

1. Sunday: the final stage of the Tour de France.  The Yellow Jersey will be settled, but the race for glory on the Champs Elysee in Paris among sprinters will be furious.  Currently Brit Mark Cavandish wears the Green Jersey (Maillot Vert) as the best sprinter.  But American Tyler Farrar could win this stage .  Who knows?  If you have never seen it, this stage is really incredible to watch.

Monday, July 18, 2011

ALWAYS AND SOMETIMES

I always try to do these things. Sometimes they string me out. Sometimes, however, I grow.

I always try
to give the benefit of the doubt,
to bear with strange notions
and unfamiliar or unusual ideas,
to look beyond apparent weirdness,
to accept people as they are
as far as I can;
to withhold judgment
for the sake of hope,
to suspend reaction and critique
for the sake of learning,
to reach across barriers
for the sake of understanding
and finding common ground;
and, where possible,
to stand in the gap
for the sake of grace.

Sometimes, these string me out;
sometimes, I get burned.

Sometimes, however, I grow,
and so do others.



Afterthought: I am acutely aware that others try to offer me similar graces in the face of my recalcitrance and idiosyncrasies. May grace prevail among us all!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Every Day I Must Choose

Every day
I must choose to forgive
and to seek forgiveness
in the most near and common relationships.

Every day
I must choose to let go of resentments,
releasing grievances, self-pities and jealousies
that would barnacle and weigh down
my soul.

Every day
I must choose to release my will to control outcomes,
realizing I cannot control people or things,
only influence with love.

Every day
I must choose grace over judgment,
mercy over a sense of self-justification and
entitlement to redress.

Every day
I must choose to see beyond my needs and desires,
to perceive my complicity and responsibility
in the basic survival of millions far
and neighbors near.

Every day
I must choose to express the Kingdom
instead of hiding my light or squandering
the gifts I've been given,
the opportunities before me.

Every day
I must choose gratitude over complaint,
joy over solemnity,
peace over disharmony,
hope over despair,
life over death.

Every day
I must choose to awaken to the life of God
given to me as a precious gift
to generously give away.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

AMERICAN FREEDOM IS NOT CHRISTIAN FREEDOM

Equating the two is not accurate or responsible. Church leaders should know better

So, in the church my family attended this morning, before the worship of God could occur, an American flag appeared on a big screen and the worship leader asked us to stand and pray for all the troops who were out there making possible the kind of freedom and peace we enjoy today.  And this in a church that didn't even mention Pentecost or Pentecost Sunday!  I suppose something like this occurred in many church services.  And, likely, not many attenders gave it a second thought.


Well, I have given it a second thought or two.  Here are a few notes I made during the rest of the church service and a few things I've reflected on since.  I'll separate and number each one for the sake of possible dialog.


1. It is irresponsible, misleading, and inaccurate to equate or link the fact that people (i.e., in military action) have given their lives for American freedom with what the Bible says Jesus Christ accomplished for all people via his life, death and resurrection.

2. Why do some church leaders feel compelled to try to make this illegitimate connection on American holidays?  Why do they need to mix American ideals with Christian worship and practice?

3. The dissimilarities between American freedom and Christian freedom are multiple and profound.


4. American freedom is incredible, valuable, and worth lauding.  So is Christian freedom.  However, when they are spoken of in the same sentence and context and linked together as complementary, it is problematic and distorting for both at multiple levels.

5. Civil religion thrives on the skewed association, linking, and connections that are attempted between American patriotism and Christian faith by priests and ministers of the Christian faith.  In fact, governments and government leaders count on and thrive on this.

6. Whenever political freedom-winning militarism is equated with Christian freedom, Christianity loses more of its integrity.

7. We do as much disservice to people of other nations by equating Christian freedom with American freedom as we do to the Good News and Kingdom the Bible describes.

8. America's founders may have drawn some inspiration from some Christian principles, but the kind of political freedom Americans enjoy is not found in the Bible. 

9. Though Christians and churches have enjoyed freedom of worship--and many under-appreciated benefits--in American-style freedom, it is a misnomer that America was founded as a Christian nation. 

10. Equating a nation's story with God's story and declaring a nation to be God's favored one has, historically, led to tragic outcomes for millions of people.

11. It is worth fuller discussions in theological education and church leadership preparation to  draw out these distinctions and the implications of casually equating American freedom with Christian freedom.

12. If, on the Sunday nearest Independence Day in America, a preacher or church leader wants to talk about the important distinctions between American freedom and Christian freedom, I can go there.  But blurring them, blending them, associating them so that Christian freedom is somehow the basis for American freedom and/or that American freedom (i.e, via government coercion and military action) upholds and makes possible Christian freedom, I won't go there--and I think it is irresponsible theologically and biblically to go there.