Archive for January, 2014


“Forgive us our messes…”

It is sad, but true: am a tidy-er. Meaning that I like to tidy things up. OK, so don’t look at the top of my desk right now for your proof. But it is true in just about every other arena of my life.

Things on the ground that don’t belong there get picked up and thrown away when I’m around. Rumpled towels get straightened and hung neatly in my wake. Three-fourths empty cans of Diet Coke get emptied, rinsed, and tossed in the recycling bin when I am on the prowl.

Beds get made. Pillows get plumped. Coffee cups get rinsed. Trash cans get emptied.

At first blush it might seem as if I am pretty darned proud and holding this trait up as a positive personal quality. But upon closer examination, I am not sure this approach is everything positive it pretends to be.

It may or may not be the case that my wife (or step-daughter) was not yet done with that Diet Coke when it suddenly went missing. It may (or may not) be true that when she turned around to grab that jar of paprika for the dish she was cooking she discovered the paprika had mysteriously jumped back onto the spice rack. (Holy Jumping Paprika!)

Here’s the thing: tidying misses the mark because sometimes life is messy. Sometimes it is impossible to tidy up everything and put it all back where it belongs. And sometimes it might have to be OK that there is mess in the world.

I spent the better part of the last three days in a conference with UM pastors from all over Kansas and Nebraska. We were talking and being educated and worshiping and thinking. And one of the things we were thinking about and talking and praying and worshiping about was the current state of the United Methodist Church and its ministry to all people.

Weighing heavily on our hearts and minds was the news that less than a month ago, right before Christmas, the hierarchy of the United Methodist Church demanded the surrender of the credentials of one of our own, Rev. Frank Schaefer of Pennsylvania. As you might know, Rev. Schaefer’s “crime” was officiating at the marriage of his gay son.

Rev. Schaefer knew this would be the likely outcome of his action when he officiated at his son’s 2007 wedding. The United Methodist Book of Discipline, 2012 edition, still holds fast to its position that the practice of homosexuality is, “… incompatible with Christian doctrine and teaching.” UM pastors may not officiate at same sex weddings, nor may “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals” (in the Discipline’s language) be ordained into ministry in the United Methodist Church.

And so our gathering this week was messy. There were tormented hearts and spirits… some ashamed and angry about the injustice and inhumanity of the church’s position… some staunchly supporting that position and annoyed at its detractors…  and others mourning the presence of the rift that has opened up in our midst.

No amount of “tidying” will make this mess magically disappear.

But I found it reassuring to be reminded in our closing worship that Jesus is the one who seeks out the world’s messes. While others run away from them or seek to tidy them up by sweeping them under the rug, Jesus walks into the middle of messes and embraces them… just as they are. And then Jesus pronounces the healing word of grace.

But to be clear: grace doesn’t make the mess disappear. Grace doesn’t say the mess is OK. Grace says, “This mess is here. This mess is not beyond God’s reach. God can – and WILL – bring beauty out of this mess… in God’s own time and in God’s own way.”

Please pray for our church today. Pray for the prevailing of Grace. Pray also for those obsessive “tidiers” in our midst who can’t stand mess and just want it to go away. But most of all, pray that we each listen first to the voice of God in our daily lives and allow that voice to guide every word we speak and every decision we make.

And please… finish that can of Coke and then toss it into the recycling bin.


Can you tie your shoes?


On my recent birthday, I proudly turned 62 years of age. It is still pretty mind-blowing to me to say that number, but it is indeed accurate. And turning 62 is a lot better than NOT turning 62, I’ve decided.

As I look back on those years I am proud of many things, one of which is having learned to tie my own shoes at the age of five or six. It took a while, with many failed attempts, but persistence and patient parents finally paid off. And so imagine my shock earlier this week when I learned that for the last 56 or 57 years I have been tying my shoes wrong.

That’s right… wrong. And it is highly likely that you are also tying your shoes incorrectly.

Earlier this week a friend of mine told me about a recent TED Talk where he learned this. In case you are not familiar with TED Talks, TED is a global set of conferences that are owned by the private non-profit Sapling Foundation. Their slogan is, “ideas worth spreading”. TED was founded in 1984 as a one-off event, but has become an annual and a global phenomenon. The topics are wide and varied, ranging from nuclear fusion to … tying your shoes.

Here is the link so you can see the whole, 3.5 minute talk yourself: To make a long story short, a man bought a pair of expensive shoes with round vinyl laces. After wearing the shoes for a day or two, he noticed that the laces kept coming untied. He went back to the store to complain and was told by the salesperson, “It’s probably because you are tying them wrong.”

The clerk then patiently demonstrated the right way to tie one’s shoes. Actually instead of “wrong” and “right” it is more accurate to say there is a “strong” tie and a “weak” tie. The weak version is the one that comes undone easily. The whole key is which way the rabbit goes around the tree (… if your parents used the same word picture mine did when teaching you).

When the rabbit goes around the tree COUNTERCLOCKWISE, as all of us learned growing up, we get a weak knot. When the rabbit goes around the tree the other way, CLOCKWISE, the knot is strong and will not come undone. Try it! It is incredibly difficult to “unlearn” doing it the way you have done it every day for your whole life, but the difference is dramatic.

As it turns out, this lesson about tying our shoes also provides a great metaphor and lesson about life when you think about it. How often do we find ourselves doing something the same exact way we have always done it? How many different areas of our life are characterized by rote, unexamined habit… habit that may or may not represent the best approach?

And then, how vigorously do we resist adopting or even considering a new approach, even when the benefits of that approach have been clearly demonstrated to us? Since seeing this video, I have been trying to use the strong method, but just this morning fell instantly back to the old way when I put on my tennis shoes! And then there are the people who will simply cope with the time-tested method of denial and say, “Heck with it… I’ll just wear nothing but loafers.”

The new year invites new ideas and fresh approaches in all areas of our lives… including our faith life. We worship the God who, “… was, and is, and will be” the same for eternity, but who is also very much the God of the “new thing” (Isaiah 43:18). This year… this day we are invited to challenge habit and convention and shoulder the discomfort of living in the “not yet” as people of faith.

It ain’t easy. But you can do it. I know you can.

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