Archive for August, 2015


summer passion

If you had never heard them before, the noise would be enough to drive you a little nutty, I imagine.

When walking outdoors on a summer evening, I find I often have to raise my voice a notch or two to be heard above their infernal racket.

If something happened to cause them to suddenly fall silent, most of us would be suspicious and alarmed… on edge like the dogs who can sense the approach of a storm.

And yet, they are as natural a part of summer as swimming pools, sunburns, and watermelon.

Of course I am talking about the beloved cicada bug.  Wikipedia tells me that only the male cicada makes the noise we commonly associate with cicadas. It is apparently some kind of a demonic courtship call, perfectly designed to drive female cicadas wild.

It also says that cicadas traditionally favor the warmer weather parts of the country. I take that to mean it is entirely possible that there are places you could travel to and not ever hear one. Hmmmm. Might be good to look into that a little more.

And as annoying as I find them personally (maybe you don’t… sorry!), it would just not be summer without them. In fact, our dog Molly loves to look for dead cicadas on the ground when we walk her in the morning. She sniffs for them, finds them, and then snarfs them down, crunching with relish on their fibrous black bodies.

I think that one of the most amazing parts of the cicada story is the story of their lifespan. Many species apparently live underground as nymphs for between 13 and 17 years. Then they emerge from the ground, sing non-stop as loudly as they can, mate, and then die 24-48 hours later.

The life of the cicada is very short, but very passionate.

Of course, if you put it in the context of the entire scope of the universe and all of history, you would have to say that human lives are also very short. 70… 80… 90 years – whatever we are granted by God – is really no more than a tiny blip on eternity’s radar screen.

Short, yes. But can we also call our lives passionate?

The dictionary defines passion as: “…an intense desire or enthusiasm for something.” You can be passionate about gardening… passionate about your alma mater or your hometown baseball team…  passionate about a hobby or vacation destination, a particular food dish, or just about anything. My dad is passionate about stamp and coin collecting.

But of how many of us will it be said as we are being remembered and eulogized, “… she/he really lived a passionate life.”?

John 10:10 reminds us that Jesus said, “I came that they might have life and have it abundantly.” In a similar vein, the patristic church father, Ireneaus, (who lived and wrote in the 300s) is quoted as saying, “The glory of God is man [or woman] fully alive.”

All of us… young or old, good health or ill, male, female, rich, poor, black, white, Asian, Republican or Democrat… are called to gratefully live this one amazing life God has given us, right up to the very end… to “drink deeply” from the springs of Life.

The joy of the follower of Jesus Christ is the promise that we will be received at the end of that passionate passage by the extended hand of our Lord and Savior and the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Hallelujah! AMEN!


the guy in the other car

I glanced over to the right and looked.

Not a long, lingering, borderline-creepy sort of “stalker look,” you understand. Just enough of a look to see what the person looked like who had just made that really annoying maneuver in traffic.

The sin this person had committed was indeed egregious: made a lane change that was not proceeded by a turn signal and which – although not actually causing me to touch my brakes – had very rudely interrupted my forward progress. I had to see if that person actually LOOKED as thoughtless as they had just acted. (Whatever that looks like!)

                  And so in that sideward glance, here is the shocking truth that was revealed to me: he looked pretty gosh-darned normal.

He looked like a person who probably had a family and a job… who probably had parents who brought him up, clothed and fed him, who saw to his education, who had guided him through some of the struggles and questions of the teen years and early adulthood and who might or might not still be living.

He looked like a man who likely has a small group of very close friends he confides in, hangs out with now and then, and shares inside jokes with. In all likelihood, I surmised, he has some facets of his life that have really come together well and are giving him a great deal of joy and satisfaction… things about which he can step back, smile, and say a silent, “YES!” about.

By the same token, I thought, he probably also has those facets of his life that bring him stress… or grief… or an inner pain that is very real, and yet which he just can’t quite put his finger on and name.

He looked like a man who is a product of an intricate web of complex relationships… always ebbing and flowing and changing and challenging his ability to connect.

He looked like a man comprised of hopes and dreams… triumphs and tragedies… joys and despairs.

In short, he looked a lot like me. He also looked a lot like a beloved child of God.

I have discovered that one of the devices I employ from time to time in my efforts to make the world around me a more manageable place is the CLASSIFICATION device. I see something – or someone – and I know that if I am able to CLASSIFY them as being either THIS or THAT, I can figure out more quickly how to deal with that person or that thing.

I call it a coping mechanism.

But here is the thing: my “coping mechanism” has a dark side. It can rather quickly become a “demeaning” mechanism. It can be used to strip away the wonder, the uniqueness, and the dazzling complexity of a person in favor of giving me a quick, easy way to deal with them.

“He’s a control freak!” “She’s temperamental.” “They are all such hotheads.” “She is reliable.” “He is sloppy.” “She’s a talker.” “He is such a liberal.” “She is such a conservative.” “They aren’t generally good at math.”

So here is the question: why is it unreasonable to believe that the same beauty, wonder, complexity, weirdness, and rareness that we relish about our own lives is somehow not present in the lives of that person in the car sitting next to us at the red light? Or in the next pew? Or in a village in Afghanistan?

Today, O God, I pray that you would stifle my urge to classify… that you would help me take joy in celebrating the unpredictable beauty of the people you have filled the world with. Gracious God, please lead me in the direction of giving deep and authentic thanks for every one of them. In your son’s name I pray… AMEN.

“He’s a control freak!” “She’s temperamental.” “They are all such hotheads.” “She is reliable.” “He is sloppy.” “She’s a talker.” “He is such a liberal.” “She is such a conservative.” “They aren’t generally good at math.”

So here is the question: why is it unreasonable to believe that the same beauty, wonder, complexity, weirdness, and rareness that we relish about our own lives is somehow not present in the lives of that person in the car sitting next to us at the red light? Or in the next pew? Or in a village in Afghanistan?

Today, O God, I pray that you would stifle my urge to classify… that you would help me take joy in celebrating the unpredictable beauty of the people you have filled the world with. Gracious God, please lead me in the direction of giving deep and authentic thanks for every one of them. In your son’s name I pray… AMEN.


Between the terrarium and the museum

Roosts-Terrarium-Table-Lamp-3As I was driving past another new shopping center development in the suburb where I live earlier this week, I was struck by two vivid – and yet directly contradictory – thoughts. The first thought was, “This is so COOL to see all of the new development and business activity happening here! It must mean that things are really reviving and getting onto a much healthier track in the local economy.”

I mean, most of the time we associate growth with health, right?

But then my second thought – which followed very closely after the first one – was, “Holy cow! I just realized that I am older than every single building around here! And probably most of the trees, too!”

The sensation that went along with the second thought was hard to pin down right away, but as I reflected on it, it seemed to be a feeling of a sort of rootlessness, or discontinuity… kind of like being cut off from any sense of history or tradition… as if I had been plopped down into the middle of an artificial environment of some kind.. like one of the terrariums we used to build for our pet turtles when I was young.

That might not make a ton of sense to many of you… especially if you are young. But the reason I bring it up is because – for me – it represents a dynamic tension that is regularly a part of any healthy system… but most especially of a healthy church.

It is the tension between the OLD and the NEW and the creative challenge of maintaining the right balance between them. Social scientists tell us that there are vital human needs that are served in both settings… that is, we all need the benefits that accrue in settings of stability and tradition, but we are also “fed” by the things that happen in settings of creativity and change.

Stability and tradition bring us a sense of confidence and peace about the world. We know where things are and how they work and what will happen over HERE if we do THIS.

Creativity and change ignite our imaginations and bring an excitement about the future and our place in it.

When those dynamics are present in the right proportions, life is smoother. But too much emphasis on OLD and we stagnate… become brittle and inflexible… and relate to the world around us out of fear. Too much NEW and we lose our center and become panicky and manic and unable to locate ourselves in the swirl of events.

That is exactly the place where God comes in. God is the God of eternity… present when the foundations of the earth were laid and its measurements were set (Job 38:1-7) and steadfast and unchangeable through every age (Exodus 20:6). God is also, simultaneously the God of the “new thing” (Isaiah 43:18-19), who seems to take special delight in surprising and unsettling God’s people. Check out the story of Balaam and his talking donkey in Numbers 22 for a good example of God’s creativity and imagination in communicating a message.

If the church today wants to be faithful to its calling and identity, we should remember that we often find ourselves caught in that dynamic tension between the old and the new and wanting to resolve the tension somehow. I guess I am suggesting the possibility that this could be EXACTLY the place God is calling us to stand… right here in the middle, being pulled in both directions at the same time… holding on to the past, while also straining ahead to embrace the future and the NEW.

True… it’s not a very comfortable place to stand. But then again, no one ever promised us that changing the world was a comfortable project to undertake either.


Where’s my hoverboard?

Where is my hoverboard?hoverboard2

Where is my flying car?

Where, oh where are the meals that I can magically summon from my home computer screen? Oh, wait a minute… sorry… I forgot about

Remember all of the miraculous technological advances that we imagined were waiting for us in the Totally Mind-Blowing 21st Century? I was reminded about all of that when I saw a little blurb on the Today Show the other day demonstrating a prototype hoverboard under development somewhere in Europe.

It was cool and looked just exactly like the one ridden by Marty McFly in the movie Back to the Future. The only drawback was that this one had to run along a pre-existing magnetic rail buried in the ground. No grabbing the back of Biff’s bumper and hanging on for the ride, I guess.

The other bold prediction I remember about life in the future was that the standard work week was only going to be 25 hours and that all of us would use the rest of that time to pursue leisure activities, engage in fulfilling hobbies, and spend lots of quality time with our families.

What happened to that idea?

We do indeed have amazing, work-speeding, labor saving devices at our fingertips today. But instead of working shorter weeks and using the rest of the time as we darned well please, we are busily cramming more and more and more work into that same space.

And for that sad state of affairs, I partially… or maybe even significantly… fault The Church (universal) and ask: “Why didn’t the church do its job better?”

You might not see immediately what the church has to do with our 45, 50, and 55+ hour work weeks. But I do believe there is a BIG connection between today’s not-so-brave-new-and- hideously-overworked-world and the efficacy of the Body of Christ: It begins when we ask, not just, “Why do people work?” but. “Why do they work so MUCH?”

Many of us feel as if we have little to no control over the shape and size of our work life. We are given a lot to do and not much time in which to do it. We can be easily overwhelmed by the sheer amount of “stuff” that faces us every day.

But where does that pile of “stuff” actually start? It starts with the way we allow ourselves to answer the question, “What is necessary?” What is necessary to keep this part of the organization functioning and achieving its purpose? What is necessary to ensure the survival of this place that provides me with a wage and a sense of purpose?

Too often, however, I think we allow the JOB to define our worth and purpose as people… it is the old, “I am what I do” syndrome. And so when we spend time NOT doing that thing that gives us meaning and purpose it becomes a time we when do not have a sense that our lives necessarily have a meaning.

Ask anyone – especially a male – who has been unemployed for longer than three months what happens to their sense of worth and purpose while they are out of work.

And so (to cut to the chase here) that is where the church is called upon to do a much better job. See… the gospel of Jesus Christ announces to every one of us that our worth does not come from our jobs! It says that God’s love for us is utterly independent of our contribution to the Gross National Product. It is designed to reach out to those who live on the fringes of social class and offer hope, health, and meaning in abundance.

And so if we – as followers of Christ and believers in that word – have not boldly announced this Good News to folks in a way that brings them peace and joy – we have fallen short of our calling. We have failed those we are called to serve.

Sorry to end this on a “down” note, but my prayer is that we can hear anew God’s call to bring the Good News to “Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth,” as we were originally commissioned.

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