Archive for July, 2016

26
Jul
16

Love them?

bs-love-hate-creative-sign-opposites

I have a great family. Mostly.

What I mean is, out of the whole group of three brothers, one sister, four step-sibs and a bushel basket full of cousins and in-laws, there are only one or two I don’t care very much for. But we still get along.

The same goes for my neighbors.

Great neighborhood… wonderful place to live… really outstanding people. The vast majority, that is.

But then there’s that one guy that just… well… let’s just say he is a little “different” and we’ll leave it at that.

What I have noticed recently is that if I widen out the scope of my vision and try to take other groups of people into consideration – you know, groups other than my family and my neighbors – I find that the same rule of thumb applies. I find that most of them are really great people with just a few glaring exceptions.

You might have discovered the same thing in the circles you travel in.

Following on that observation, I am willing to bet it is highly likely that you and I take a very similar approach to dealing with this reality of life. That is to say we try to maximize the amount of time we spend around the people we think well of (the “good people”) and minimize the time we spend with “the others.”

Makes sense really.

I mean, why wouldn’t you?

Because really… who would willingly spend time with or hang out with people that irritate them? Chances are, if THEY irritate YOU, you probably irritate them too. Right?

All well and good. And logical.

There’s just one problem: it is also totally unChristlike. In other words, it is not at all an example of what it means to live in “The World According to Jesus.”

You remember him… the guy who famously (and fairly annoyingly) said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44, NRSV). But because those irritating people… the people you’ve been avoiding… were just plain aggravating and not really your enemies, you thought you were off the hook. Right?

Sorry.

I think “love your enemies” was meant to include people who just really get under your skin, too. I think it was supposed to include people that – try as you might – you just can’t figure out.

I think it was supposed to include people from that other political party. You know… the one that is SO wrong and SO misguided. I think it was supposed to include the people you and your friends talk about when they aren’t there to defend themselves… silently shaking your heads at how completely CLUELESS some people can be.

I think it was also supposed to include the people who don’t dress appropriately for this restaurant… the people who talk too loudly in the movie theater… who block the aisle in the grocery store while reading texts… who pass along old, stale Facebook memes you’ve seen a thousand times already… who stay in the passing lane FOREVER… who talk and chew their food at the same time… who root for the wrong sports team, and yes… even those so-and-sos who park in handicapped parking spaces without having a handicapped hangtag.

It was definitely supposed to include people who were born in a different country than you, people who have a different skin color than you, people who believe differently than you and people who love differently than you.

Speaking only for myself, I know that I often get too easily hung up on the idea that “loving my neighbor” is the same thing as enthusiastically supporting everything they say or do. Jesus’ own guideline on this can be found in Matthew 22:39 where he says you and I are to, “… love your neighbor as yourself.” So let me ask: do you love yourself absolutely uncritically? Do you willfully turn a blind eye to your character flaws and occasional examples of outrageous behavior?

Probably not.

As C.S. Lewis said in his book, Mere Christianity, “In my most clear-sighted moments… I can look at some of the things I have done with horror and loathing.” And yet, as he goes on to say, he can still love himself. The same principle, I am sure, can be applied to our outlook toward those irritating people in our lives.

I am also reasonably sure that loving them does not need to mean making moon eyes at them, running up and spontaneously hugging them, or writing little love sonnets on pieces of paper and handing it to them.

What I believe it does mean is considering and actively working to increase their overall well-being in the world… even when they don’t recognize you or thank you for it. It means looking with compassion on each person – yes, even the irritating ones – and pledging your heart and energy to be an agent of wholeness in each of those lives… even if it doesn’t change their irritating behavior one iota.

As Mother Teresa once famously said, “People are unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered. Love them anyway.”

Because after all, the “Love your enemies…” command doesn’t conclude with the words “so that they will…” do such and such.

It just stops. Annoyingly. Right there.

And I think Jesus meant that we should, too.

18
Jul
16

THE PURSUIT OF SAFETY

BostonMolassesDisasterLet’s talk about safety for a minute…

Are you safe? Why? Why not?

If you do NOT feel safe right now, what would it take to make you feel safe?

What are the things that cause your sense of safety to erode?

On a list of all of the values you hold, how high on that list is the value of SAFETY?

Last question (for now): Where does safety come from? In other words, what makes us safe?

On a very basic level I am drawn to the idea of safety. Great feelings of warmth and affection wash over me when I remember hearing my mother or father say something like, “It’s OK… you’re safe now.” Or, “Safe and sound.”

SAFETY feels like a warm, impenetrable cocoon that follows me and covers me wherever I go.

I think it is also accurate to say that because of my race and social standing I have come to view a sense of safety as an entitlement… something the world owes me. I honestly cannot tell you the last time I walked or drove anywhere that caused me to actually fear for my physical safety. And that includes walking into the University of Texas stadium for a football game wearing my full MIZZOU regalia.

As important as we would all probably agree that safety is, do you think we are ever guilty of turning SAFETY into an idol… i.e., something elevated to the place of ultimate importance in our lives? And if we agreed that it is indeed possible to worship the idol of safety, I also have to wonder how this posture shapes us and the way we “do community” with one another?

Because frankly sometimes it is just not very safe at all to relate to another person. For starters, they might smell bad. They might have odd habits. They might not be polite. They might hold different truths than you do. They might challenge your faith and ideals. They might be mentally unstable.

Taking the chance of relating to a person you don’t already know could endanger the safety of your body, your mind, and your worldview all at once.

Let’s face it: building bridges is dangerous. Especially if you don’t exactly know what is on the other side of the bridge.

Building walls is safe.

Worshiping safety would probably also mean never trying out an idea that had an uncertain chance of success. Because if you tried out your idea and it failed, you could lose money… prestige… credibility… and maybe even friends.

But don’t just take my word for it. Ask anyone who has ever tried to take a new, different, strange, or offbeat idea and make it fly. They will tell you they have lost one or all of those in the process.

In all seriousness, you know what is REALLY dangerous? The pursuit of safety as our ultimate community value… that’s what.

Elevating safety to ultimate importance means taking no risks… venturing into no new territories… initiating no new relationships. It means withdrawing. It means committing yourself to looking suspiciously upon anyone or anything that approaches you. It means putting all of your energy into defending THE WAY THINGS ARE and fighting off the encroachment of THE WAY THINGS MIGHT BE.

Because let’s face it: there is nothing any of us can do to absolutely ensure our personal safety. You might have been unlucky enough, for example, to have been walking down a North End Boston city street in 1919 at the exact moment of the Great Boston Molasses Flood. Caused by the bursting of a large molasses storage tank, the Great Flood killed 21 people and injured another 150. (Source: Wikipedia. That is the picture at the top of this blog post). It is safe to say that none of the victims imagined “death by molasses” for themselves, that day or any day.

Worshiping safety also means you would have to turn in your “Person of Faith” card. This is because we rely on our own devices and not God to provide our security. We imagine that a higher wall, a bigger gun, a deadlier bomb, a more powerful X-Ray, or a better set of laws will give us the safety we seek. Proverbs 29:25 helpfully reminds us, “The fear of others lays a snare, but one who trusts in the Lord is secure.” (Proverbs 29:25, NRSV).

The truth is: SAFETY comes from God and God alone.

In his life and preaching SAFETY seemed to exist – if it existed at all – at the very bottom of Jesus’ priority list. Time and time again we see him endangering his personal safety by violating Sabbath laws, eating with the wrong people, pronouncing forgiveness to sinners (“Who is this that thinks he can forgive?”), touching lepers, walking on water, and defying political and religious authority.

And as we watch Jesus work, we know his courage doesn’t come from the heart of a daredevil; it comes from an unshakable faith in the God who created him and sent him into the world on his mission of mercy. Jesus summed up his own views on security pretty well when he said, “Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it.” (Luke 17:33, NRSV).

Safety and security are important. But pursuing these as the ultimate value of life is not only unfaithful to God’s word… it is downright dangerous to the world. As Jesus said to his disciples in his farewell message in John: “I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” (John 16:33, NRSV).

AMEN.

11
Jul
16

A Rude Awakening

clock radio

I’ll go ahead and admit it: most of the time, I really don’t like waking up.

When my alarm clock rings, it almost always intrudes on a nice, restful sleep. Sometimes its obnoxious sound comes crashing in to the middle of a wonderful, warm, fuzzy dream… leaving me to wonder if I ever did find that buried treasure, or fly to South America (under the power of my own arms, of course), or receive that Nobel Prize.

And if you have ever tried to do this, of course, you know that you can’t ever flip over, hit the “Snooze” or “Off” button on the alarm and keep on dreaming the same dream.

It is gone… like a puff of smoke.

I have also discovered that here lately there are a whole series of creaks and pops and sharp pains that arrive shortly after I begin stirring from my slumber.

And I wonder, “What that is all about? It certainly wasn’t always like that…”

In fact, you could say that waking up is just one gigantic – yet necessary – pain. It is with good reason it is sometimes referred to as “… a rude awakening.”

It is also what I sincerely hope is beginning to happen in this country right now.

In the light of the kind of week we have just endured… where we have seen new examples of over-reaction by police officers that have left black men dead and then the horrific slaughter of police officers by an angry, deranged vigilante… we can do little more than cry out in pain, anger, and confusion.

But do you think it is possible that these pains could also be the pains of a moment of long overdue awakening?

I want to be careful not to seem to be rushing to paint a smiley face onto a set of truly heartrending events. But I do want to ask whether we believe this tragic and unique moment could well have given us a rare opportunity.

Is it possible that this moment has given us an opportunity to REALLY listen… to REALLY take stock… to REALLY face up to and repent of the darkness that resides in each one of our hearts?

Is it possible that this moment in our country is similar to that moment when – after years and years of listening to your doctor blather on about how you need to exercise more, drink less, cut down on your red meat consumption, and all the other blah, blah, blah nonsense he talks about – the heart attack finally hits and you say, “OH! So THAT’S what she was talking about!”

Yes, I believe it is possible that this is indeed just such an awakening moment. But it can only actually BECOME that moment if we act on it… if we take actual steps in the direction of dropping assumptions based on ignorance and/or privilege… if we engage in conversations that seek to understand vs. conversations that seek to prove our point… if we reach out to hold the hand of a brother or sister we have previously shunned.

Some of us, I know, would really prefer to go back to sleep and pretend that alarm clock never rang. Some would love to retreat back into the comfortable recesses of the familiar and fuzzy world our exhausted brains have created for us.

But Slumberland is not where the work gets done. It is the place that lets us go on approximating reality without actually engaging it.

And so, even though it could be painful, sudden, and not exactly what we had in mind, the time is now to wake up, get busy, and do the hard work we were created to do.

06
Jul
16

The Dream

red_tailed_hawk_18

The man woke up… sat on the edge of his bed… and scratched his head.

“Wow!” he said, to no one in particular. “That was a strange dream. Wonder what it means?”

The man then went through the motions of his morning preparations – shower, shave, clothes, and breakfast – but could not shake the images that visited him during his waking dream.

“Better go ask the wise man about this,” he thought. “He’ll know what it means. He always knows. Guess that’s why we call him ‘the wise man.’”

The Wise Man – known to most of his friends as Fred – could almost always be found at his corner table at the Starbucks down the street. As the man walked in, he saw that sure enough, there was Fred. Sitting in his usual spot, sipping a Café Americano and doing the New York Times crossword puzzle. Because that is what wise people do…

The man sat down. Fred the Wise Man looked up from the paper and smiled. “Good morning, my friend.” He then asked, “What brings you here today?”

“Fred, I had a dream just before I woke up that is really bugging me. I wonder if you can help me understand it.”

“Let’s give it a try,” the wise man said. Of course one of the things that makes wise men wise – and wise women, too – is their ability to recognize that their wisdom has limits.

“In my dream I was just standing there, minding my own business, observing the scene before me. God was there too, a little bit off to the right. Then, a little off to the left a field mouse scampered across the grass. Suddenly a red-tailed hawk swooped down from the sky, talons flashing, ready to grab the mouse and devour it.”

“With you so far,” Fred said, taking another sip from his cup and smiling.

“That’s not the weird part,” said the man. “The weird part is what happened next. They each said something… they each said just one word. I am still trying to figure out what they each meant. That’s what I need your help with. That’s why I’m here.”

“So what did they say?” Fred asked.

“Well, just before it grabbed the mouse, the hawk said, ‘Dinner!’ The mouse looked up with a terrified look on its face and said, ‘DEATH!’ But God just looked on serenely at the whole thing and said, ‘Design.’ And then I woke up!”

“What does it all mean, Fred? And more importantly, does this dream mean I’m crazy?”

The Wise Man took another sip of coffee and chuckled. “No… it doesn’t mean you’re crazy. But your dream is a message to you from deep inside you. And as I read it, it is very important message.”

He continued, “This very intriguing dream you have just described to me is actually an invitation to you from your soul. It is an invitation to stand in a new and different place and to see the world with new and different eyes.”

“Hmmmm,” the man said, thoughtfully. Then after a long pause he shook his head and said, “Sorry, Fred. I’m not tracking with you. Can you say a little more? I mean, I’m sure you are right, but I guess I’m just not smart enough to know what you mean.”

The wise man smiled again and said, “OK. Here’s what I mean; when events take place in our lives, we all rush to label those events as quickly as we can. We have a deep-seated need to call the event “Good” or “Bad”… “Lucky” or “Unlucky” or some variation of words like that.”

“In your dream, the event you witnessed was very good for the hawk. He was about to enjoy a tasty morsel of field mouse. And yet, the exact same event was a total disaster for the mouse. Nothing could possibly have been worse.”

“But you had a third point of view in there, didn’t you? You also had God’s point of view. And from God’s perspective, this scene was neither good nor bad… neither delight nor doom. It was simply God’s script for the world – or God’s design, to use your word – playing itself out exactly as God intended.”

Wise Man Fred continued, “And when I said that your dream was an invitation, what I meant by that was that through your dream, your soul was inviting you to stand in a similar place when it comes to the events of your life.”

The man had been nodding knowingly as Fred spoke… right up until that last sentence. Then his eyebrows knitted together and his head cocked slightly to the side. Again he said, “OK, Fred… you lost me there. What do you mean, ‘stand in a similar place.’ What do you mean? How do I do that?”

Fred said, “Remember Proverbs 3:5-6? If I recall correctly it was always one of your favorite scripture passages, isn’t it? What does it say?”

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths,” the man replied quickly. He knew the passage by heart.

“Exactly!” Fred exclaimed. “Bull’s-eye! Give that man a kewpie doll!”

 

And at that moment, the light bulb clicked on in the man’s head. In that moment he saw that in his haste to put a label on the events of his life and instantly judge them as Good or Bad, he was – in fact – elevating himself to the place of God. He was making judgments about the events he was not equipped to make… judgments even God himself did not make. And then, as a natural consequence of those judgments, he went on to live with anger, resentment, or pride.

And then he thought back on some of the events of his own life he had called BAD when they happened… that job he lost… the cancer diagnosis from five years ago… the run-in with his next-door neighbor over something silly. Hadn’t each of those actually turned out to be something much less than the utter disaster he anticipated? In fact, hadn’t each of those events actually opened new doors that might not have been opened otherwise?

Hmmmm. Something to ponder, for sure, the man thought.

“Thanks, Fred,” he said. “That helps. I’ll have to go chew on that a bit.” And then he got up, turned, and headed out the door.

 

When Jesus addressed the topic of judgment in Luke 6:37-38, he was talking about the practice of one person judging another. (“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you.”) Luke 6:37-38, NRSV).

Is it possible, do you think, that he could just as easily have also been talking to us about making hasty judgments about the nature of the events of our lives?

Blessings to you today. Just for fun, let’s see what happens if each of us tries to make this day as much of a “judgment free zone” as we can… toward all of the people and all of the events we might encounter.

AMEN.




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