Archive for February, 2009


Is God a luxury?

Earlier this week I met with a group of people from our church. The common denominator of the group was that everyone in the room – except for the church staff people – was either out of work or about to be. The purpose of the gathering was to offer prayer and support to each other in the difficult period of life that unemployment truly is. At the end of the evening my mind began formulating a dubious proposition I sincerely hope is not the slightest bit true. 

I am a pastor, but I know about unemployment. I have been unemployed. The longest stretch was probably seven months back in 1989. I remember it as being truly one of the most difficult stretches in my life, from an emotional and spiritual perspective. The feelings of frustration, of seeing hopes first raised when you spot an opening that would be “just perfect” for you, only to not even get a return letter or phone call from your inquiry; the ritualistic act of “suiting up,” getting your best motivated, go-get-’em face and voice on and charging into an interview, only to find out that there are still 30 other highly qualified candidates to interview and “we will get back to you,” to going day after day after day without even a sniff of a prospect. Worthlessness is a very palpable sense that has to be aggressively kept at bay to keep from just curling up in the fetal position and staying there for weeks. 

And so the idea of this group was that it would (and will) be a place where people can come and just pour out their hearts to each other about what is happening to them. To say the kinds of things to each other that they dare not go home and say to spouse or children.  It is not meant to be a place for “tips and tricks” in the job search. It is just a support group in the truest sense of the word. 

And so here is what happened at my table: each person was first invited to just go around the table and “tell your story.” One guy (and they were all men. We decided to gender divide) had been unemployed for seven months. Another for over a year. A third had been out of the job market for seven years and now had to get back in because of his wife’s serious illness. 

But as the stories were shared, and real emotions expressed, the conversation turned very quickly into a problem-solving session. As the out-of-work engineer told about the places he had tried to find a job, someone chimed in with ideas for fine-tuning his resume. As the man re-entering the workforce spoke, suggestions were flying at him about courses he should enroll in, places he should call, resume writing websites to visit. All were VERY good suggestions. Some touched on areas the person had not considered before. 

But as I continued to try and remind them… this was NOT the purpose of our gathering. This kind of “monkey wrenching” conversation was for another place and time. Here we were meant to be about saying things like, “You know, I sent out six resumes today and came away feeling like I might as well have spit into the ocean. I am depressed and my wife is really starting to lose her patience with me. Why is this happening to me?” 

Part of the explanation is that it was a group of guys. Guys fix stuff. Guys are all about “gittin’ ‘er done.” Guys don’t like to talk about, let alone EXPLORE feelings. I get that. I am a guy too. The other part of the explanation is that I was not facilitating the discussion as well as I should have been. Probably some truth to that, too.

But here is the unsettling thought that began forming in my head: is our pursuit of a relationship with the Creator and Sustainer of All That Is … is that a pursuit we feel we are only equipped for when all of our basic needs are being met and we are no longer in fear for the longevity of the roof over our heads? Do we believe the ability to ponder spiritual realities, to take the time to meditate on scripture, pray, and listen to the “still, small voice of God” is shaped in some way by our economic standing in the world?

I most assuredly hope not. And I take as a solid validation of the off-basedness of my musings my experiences traveling through the Third World. There I have met person after person after person who had little more than the clothes on their back, and yet who obviously knew, loved, and absolutely venerated God. I think particularly of some of the women I met in Guatemala, most notably those at the UPAVIM Co-op.

But maybe we think God is a luxury, a pastime reserved for the contentedly idle moments in our lives when we can lift our eyes above the daily grind of existence and ponder eternity.  If we do think that, we are a sadly mistaken – and wretched – bunch of folks. 

If this is our take on the time and place for our spiritual practices, we are people who have missed the entire point of the Christian life. We do not even vaguely understand the Savior who touched the lepers, who blessed the prostitutes, and who sat down and ate with the “sinners” of his day. 

I sure hope I am wrong about this. Please tell me I am.


How Would He Know?

Every time I hear multi-mega millionaire Mick Jagger sing the words, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you just might find, you get what you need” I ask this question. But I am sure that there were times in his life that he was not able to satisfy any urge or whim at the drop of a hat. He must have even experienced hunger, in a long ago and far away time.

Source notwithstanding, I still think this is a brilliant insight on life. It even begins to border on the spiritual when you stop to raise the question of how “what you need” gets defined for any of us. If you squinted really hard you can begin to see how this tuneful rock anthem can be heard calling us to a stance of fundamental gratitude for the provisions of life we find on our hands… regardless of how well they match up with the hopes and dreams we might have entertained.


Take my situation right now as I sit here writing this entry. Joan and I made arrangements months ago (Truth watch: OK, Joan made the arrangements. But when the time came to endorse them, I gave them a very enthusiastic thumbs up!) to take a few days off in mid-February and get away for a mini-vacation. We wanted to pick some place warm so that we could escape the freezing Kansas City winter and have a nice little break. Celebrate Recovery was launching at the end of January, so it seemed like a good time to break away. 

Great idea, eh?

Great idea until little things like the jet stream and temperature inversions and barometric pressures start cavorting around crazily, doing strange and unusual things, the net result of which was that we left a sunny, 70 degree day in Kansas City and landed in a drizzly 55 degree Phoenix. Then after spending a couple of days in “The Valley of the Sun,” with Joan’s sister, we drove off to our little mountaintop hideaway in Sedona. Of course, as we drove north up Highway 17 the rain became chunky. By the time we were settled in and ready to head off to the local grocery store to buy our supplies, a full-blown snowstorm was upon us.  We awoke on Tuesday morning to see six inches of new snow on the ground, by one local’s account, the most they have seen here in “quite a long time.” And then pulling up the Kansas City Star on-line I found that sunny and 59 degrees was the order of the day in K.C.

(However the shock of the weather disparity was mitigated somewhat by my joy at seeing that Missouri had beaten KU in basketball the night before).

We certainly did not get what we wanted. But as it turned out, we did get a whole lot of exactly what we needed on this trip. We did not get warm sunshine. We did not get to take two or three spectacular hikes in the red rock region of Sedona (although we did take a really nice hike in the Superstition Mountains before leaving Phoenix). But we did get a great time away… lots of time spent in relaxation and conversation and reading… we got breathtaking views of the red rocks covered with white snow against a brilliant blue sky and time to pick up the blogging practice again. And we got “times of refreshment” as Paul calls them.

Mick says, “You can’t always get what you want.” The Psalmist says, “THIS” – not some other, not one that you hoped for or dreamed of, not one that you read about in a magazine article or saw a picture of somewhere, not one that your best friend told you about and said you really ought to try, but THIS very exact one, “… is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:24).

I say “AMEN.”

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