Posts Tagged ‘faith

21
Jan
20

Soul Winter

Dead leaves 2Yep.

Just poked my head out the window and confirmed something I’ve suspected for about a month now.

IT’S WINTER! (Unless, of course, you happen to live in the southern hemisphere).

And by the looks of things, it plans to continue being winter for quite a bit longer.

And so far here in my part of the country, it’s not that cute, cuddly, Currier-and-Ives kind of winter that looks like a beautiful snow globe someone has shaken up.

No. It is more that kind of slice-through-your-bones, punch-you-in-the-face, steal-all-your-joy-and-your-peanut-butter-and-jelly-sandwich-too kind of winter.

Winter is that time of year when you would swear that a massive crop-dusting plane flew over the whole country and dumped a load of DDT on everything.

In the winter, all plant life is dead. And brown. And gross. Take a look at these… I shot these pictures in our neighborhood while I was out walking the dog this morning. Note the remarkable lack of life in evidence here. Dead leaves 1

As winter trudges slowly by, it is sometimes tempting to look around at the deadness of the world and conclude that this condition will never, ever end. I have to admit… from the vantage point of January 21, 2020, warm weather and green grass seem like an impossible pipe dream somewhere out there on the eternal horizon.

Experience, however, tells us a different story. Experience keeps us from looking at the dead leaves and plunging into deep despair. Today we look at all this brown grass and detritus around but we don’t abandon hope. Even though our spirits might flag at this depressing sight, we grab ourselves by the lapels (or collar. Or bootstraps) and remind ourselves that this dreary, weary season will surely pass.

We have seen it happen before. And because we have seen it before, we are confident we will see it again.

This confidence goes by another name. It is also called FAITH.

In the case of the seasons, our faith has its roots firmly in our experience.

But what happens if we don’t have an experience like the certainty of spring to base our hope on?  What if we look around and see gloom and doom and have strong reasons to wonder if things will EVER be different?

That is precisely when a different kind of faith is called for. That is when we each need to reach a little deeper into our knapsack and search around a bit.

As a Christ-follower, I have the story of Easter to latch onto… the story that provides a graphic illustration of the truth that says, “Even when things look their bleakest, there is still hope. With God, the worst thing is never the last thing.”

As one who strives (and struggles) to live by his guidance, I can also consider myself an inheritor of the promise that Jesus gave the members of his inner circle on the night he was arrested. He told them, “In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” (John 16:33, NRSV).

In the valleys we each face from time to time, we may lack the kind of hopeful certainty that we get when we watch winter inevitably give way to spring. But God is here to remind us that God’s promise of new life on the other side of something that looks like death is just as sure… just as reliable… just as much of a “lock” as the green crocus buds that will be showing up here in a couple of months.

If you, or someone you know, are struggling with your own version of a “winter of the soul,” take heart…

God’s spring is just around the corner.

06
Jan
20

Too Long Coming

Asbury flagsIt is good to see the United Methodist Church finally “grow a pair,” as they say, and take an unequivocal stand on the side of justice and inclusion.

It is just sad that it took them so long to do so.

According to news from the denominational communications folks, a document called the Protocol Of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation was agreed to and signed recently by a significant group of United Methodist bigwigs and poo-bahs.

The gist of this Protocolis that the United Methodist Church will formalize plans for a divorce when its global General Conference meets in May this year. This divorce will involve the people who oppose same-sex marriage and the ordination of LGBTQ+ leaving the United Methodist Church and forming their own denomination.

The name of that breakaway denomination has not yet been decided, although rumor has it that The Church of Narrow Mindedness and Exclusion has been officially rejected as an option.

As a person with firsthand experience of divorce, I can tell you that divorces are never good. For anyone. Even the smoothest and most amiable splits cause pain, stress, regret, and bitterness that lasts a long, long time.

Sometimes though, divorce is the only way for both parties to move forward and fully become who they are called to be. I believe this is the exact crossroads the United Methodist Church faces today.

On the one hand, I have to credit the leaders who finally arrived at the conclusion that it was time for the parties to go their separate ways. Some of the details of the split seem designed to minimize the hardship for either group that will result from this de-merger.

 

On the other hand, the length of time it took to finally arrive at this decision is inexcusable. Failing to bite the bullet and split the United Methodist Church YEARS AGO caused untold levels of suffering for untold thousands of good, faithful people. Although this metaphor is probably overstated by several degrees, I liken it to dragging out the decision to divorce in a marriage involving child and spousal abuse.

The longer it takes to decide to split, the more injury keeps being inflicted on the aggrieved parties. Sometimes trying to “stay together for the sake of the children” does more harm than good.

So today, I am really not sure how I feel about this news.

I am now officially retired from United Methodist ministry, so I am not faced with leading a congregation through the morass of discernment in the coming months. I am praying for my pastor pals who are still in the trenches and striving to hear all voices, including God’s, in this challenging time.

As a cradle United Methodist though, I am mostly embarrassed by the church’s foot-dragging and failure to lead. I am not sure it is any longer possible for UMs to march under the banner of “Social Justice Advocates” in any credible way.

So… I guess congratulations to the United Methodist Church for finally taking a stand and doing the right, no matter how painful, thing.

But shame on you for taking 20 years too long to do it.

25
Dec
19

Christmas Blessings to YOU!

Christmas blessings

11
Dec
19

Great Expectations

Most interesting man in the worldA friend and I were recently talking about our kids… as parents are wont to do.

On this occasion, my friend was telling me about an experience his middle son had with a guidance counselor at the local high school he attended.

My friend said, “Josh is incredibly passionate about history. He has talked to Susan and me regularly about wanting to get a Ph.D. and teach at the collegiate level.”

But then, as my friend told me, Josh met with the high school guidance counselor. The counselor knew of Josh’s academic record and heard him talk about his dream of teaching history to college students.

The counselor’s guidance to Josh, however, was to aim lower, go for a Master’s degree, and teach history at a deserving high school somewhere.

“There is a lot less competition for those jobs,” the counselor told Josh. “And besides, there is a real need for high school teachers who are passionate about the subject they are teaching.”

Needless to say, when Josh went home and told his parents about his meeting with the guidance counselor, they were furious. Their anger did not stem from any unspoken bias against high school teachers. It came – as my friend told me – from the idea that a person in a position of trust and authority would use that position to dampen rather than fan the flames of ambition in their son.

“In essence, this guy was telling Josh to lower his sights and check his expectations before he is even out of high school!” Adding, “I am really not OK with that.”

His story kind of riled me up, too. But then it led me to some pondering about the whole topic of expectations and how they affect our lives.

To be human is to have expectations. We begin each new day with some kind of expectation about what will happen, who we might meet, what sort of weather we will encounter, and what type of experiences await us.

As our endeavors enlarge, so do our expectations. Then, as we move forward into the world, reality sets in and we adjust our expectations accordingly.

And if you are a person of a certain age, you have no doubt discovered something about the fluid and tricky nature of expectations. Crank them up too high and you just might smash your boat on the rocky shore of disappointment. Set them too low and you risk losing the joy that comes from looking forward to a new experience or undertaking.

My personal proclivity is to err on the side of high expectations. Every trip Joan and I take is going to be fantastically epic. Every new place where we choose to go out and eat is a Michelin four-diamond restaurant waiting to be discovered. Every new acquaintance I make is going to be “the most interesting man (or woman) in the world,” (with apologies to the Dos Equis beer folks).

Yes, my actual experiences sometimes do fall short of my grand expectations. But those occasional disappointments don’t seem to alter my expectation-making mechanism one little bit.

The Christian calendar tells us we are smack dab in the middle of the Advent season, here on December 11, 2019. Advent is traditionally thought of as a time of expectation. The first-century Israelites had been hanging on the words of the prophet Isaiah – for at least 800 years – which assured them that, “… the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined.” (Isaiah 9:2, NRSV).

They knew these words were about them. THEY were the darkness-walkers the prophet was talking about. They lived in a continual state of expectation that one day soon the promised light would indeed shine on their lives. And yet year after year, the darkness persisted.

What are your expectations this season?

… for the world… for your community… for your family… for yourself?

How do you hold fast to hope-filled expectations in the face of disappointing realities?

Where does your hope come from?

This season, what would it be like for each of us to expect love, justice, mercy, and peace to prevail in the world… and then work to make it happen?

Blessings,

09
Dec
19

Does it really matter?

Lutheran crossWe interrupt your regularly scheduled program to bring you this breaking news: Joan and I attended church yesterday.

But not just any church. We attended a (wait for it…) LUTHERAN CHURCH!

And after the service, we turned our heads, looked at each other, and said, nearly simultaneously, “Hey… that was really nice! We should come here again.”

The reason this qualifies as headline breaking news is that I have considered myself a dedicated, dyed-in-the-wool United Methodist for as long as I can remember. It is the faith I was born into, confirmed in, married in (twice), and ordained to preach in.

The origin story of the Methodist movement – midwifed into the world by brothers John and Charles Wesley – speaks to my soul. Its liturgies and worship styles comport with my ecclesial leanings perfectly… just enough ritual “pomp” to signify the gravitas of the worship moment, but not so much as to be suffocating. Its heritage of social justice advocacy resonates with the guidance of my own conscience.

There are so many things about the United Methodist way of being a Jesus follower that strike exactly the right tone with me. And yes, I am of the generation to whom denominational labels actually mean something.

And yet… the recent behavior of my “home” denomination has caused me to question whether the United Methodist Church really deserves my permanent allegiance.

Faced with the destinal (and yes, I am declaring that this IS a real word) moment of planting itself wholly on the side of justice and letting the institutional chips fall where they may, United Methodism waffled.

Rather than choosing to forge a polity that said, “All means all,” leaders of the church instead chose to say, “Let’s just fashion this really big, morally beige umbrella where those who support inclusion and those who oppose it can all exist under it together. Let’s keep the family together, no matter what kind of pain that inflicts on the children.”

So that is one HUGE reason I am a lot less infatuated with United Methodism these days.

And honestly, I am also still stinging from a world of hurt that was inflicted upon me at the end of my next-to-last appointment. If you know anything about church life, you know there is always a lot of pain being inflicted at any given moment… some intentional, some not. For me, the wounds were deep and lasting and still bring a sour taste to my mouth when I think about the place where it all happened.

I guess the question I find myself faced with in the end is: does it really matter?

That is, does it really matter if I call myself a United Methodist follower of Jesus, or a Lutheran follower of Jesus, or a Seventh Day Adventist follower of Jesus, or a “Frisbiterian” follower of Jesus (this is a sect invented by a Frisbee-throwing friend of mine who posited that when we die, our souls just fly up and get stuck on the roof)?

I think we can all agree that the answer is no… it really doesn’t matter.

In fact, if we look closely at the evidence in scripture, it would be hard to find evidence that Jesus himself had any real preference for how we might choose to follow him. When he said (in John 14:6), “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” I believe he was more inviting us to emulate his relationship with God rather than subscribe to a set of formal religious doctrines.

Our journey from “the one Church, apostolic and universal” to today’s eleventy-billion shades of the Christian faith does a lot to promote the understanding that choosing a faith community is all about finding the right “fit”.

But is “fit” really “it”?

Maybe. Maybe not.

But it sure is hard to stay on the journey when you’ve got blisters on your feet.

29
Oct
19

This Old Table

And so it begins.

Earlier today Joan and I bid a fond farewell to the lovely distressed barnwood table (and six matching chairs) as it was toted out of our breakfast room.

So many meals around that table.

So many great conversations.

So many important and memorable family moments.

So many glasses of wine. (SO many…)

This was the table where my youngest brother Eric was sitting when he rolled a Yahtzee of sixes ON THE FIRST ROLL at our 2012 family Thanksgiving gathering.

This is the table where my sister sat in her pjs, reading Rolling Stone magazine, as sunlight streamed in through the windows and the fall foliage formed a colorful backdrop.

Grandkids graduated to this table when they finally demonstrated that their table manners have matured sufficiently.

But alas… try as we might, Joan and I could not discern a place this table would fit in the new, smaller house into which we will soon move.

And so off it goes… ready to help another family make new memories. Here is what we are now left with… for meals and sessions of blog post writing: Tiny table

Later today that trusty table will be followed out the door by a chest of drawers, an armoire, a bedside table, and a lovely headboard… each one dripping with cherished memories.

In case I haven’t mentioned it yet, we are in the process of moving. We have sold our home in Overland Park, Kansas (a suburb of Kansas City), and will be moving the middle of next month to Fort Collins, Colorado.

It is a move partially of choice and partially of necessity. There are family members in Colorado as well as the beauty and splendor of the Rocky Mountains… not to mention several excellent micro-breweries and a thriving cultural scene.

It is a move Joan and I are both looking forward to as the beginning of a new adventure.

But like the beginning of any new adventure, it will also involve an abundance of amputations.

We will sever our relationships with a lot of our stuff… like that amazing table.

As we move, we will be chopping off connections with barber, hairdresser, doctors, neighborhood handyman, familiar surroundings, this set of friends and neighbors, our church, our Overland Park and Kansas City traditions, this house, and a hundred other things that have helped define our lives in this place.

We fully anticipate those will each be replaced by a Fort Collins-shaped equivalent over the course of the next few months.

But for now, all I can see is the wispy trail of fond memories hanging in the air as pieces of our home begin departing.

The inescapable, enduring truth about life is that things end. And in their ending, they make room for something else to begin. The warm frolic of summer ends, making room for the cozy cuddling of winter. The effusive energy of youth ends and makes room for the patient wisdom of age.

It is necessary – for a time – to mourn life’s endings. But we should take care not to get stuck there. We don’t want to miss the new adventure waiting to unfold.

At times like this, it is good to be reminded that this life consists of things that endure and things that don’t. And according to our Teacher, true wisdom consists in building our lives on the kind of material that endures, instead of on the other kind:

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock.”(Matthew 7:24-26, NRSV).

 

17
Oct
19

Dragon Slayer

Dragon-SlayerLast night Joan and I took a brisk, 40-minute drive over to Lawrence, Kansas. Lawrence, as I am sure you all know, is the home of the University of Kansas.

The purpose of our trip, however, had nothing to do with KU. We were there to attend a concert by the group, Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors. Neither of us knew their music at all. We bought the tickets based solely on the recommendation of friends whose musical taste we trust implicitly.

Thankfully the group was a delightful surprise to us and we had a toe-tapping good time. Think Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers with a bit of a country twang. Here is a YouTube video of their song, “I Like to Be With Me When I’m With You.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gZ2mFxc-Fl4) for a little taste.

But what really caused me to pause and enter “rumination mode” was the name of the tour. There it was – as you can see in this photo – in big bold letters at the back of the stage: GO OUT AND SLAY ALL THE DRAGONS THAT STAND IN YOUR WAY. I believe this is Drew Holcombalso the name of their latest album.

“YES!” I said, thumping my chest bravely. “I will! I will face those dragons down one by one and thrash them with the sword of truth and honor! I will take on the Dragon of Doubt and run him through! I will show no mercy to the Dragon of Critical Commentary! I will whup up on the Nasty Nay-Saying Dragon and make him cry ‘Uncle’!”

“Put me in, coach!” I cried. “I’m ready to SLAY!”

“Hold on there a second, hotshot,” came The Voice in my left ear. “I see you there with that whole armor of God (Ephesians 6:11) all cinched up and that breastplate of righteousness and that sword of the Spirit ready to roll… and trust me, it’s an impressive sight.”

“But what if…” the Voice continued, “… what if you charge out there ready for battle and discover that those dragons aren’t all OUT THERE?”

“Wh… what do you mean?” I stammer, suddenly a little unsure how my cavalry charge got re-routed so suddenly.

“I mean, how are you going to respond when you discover that the fiercest ‘dragons’ you are so ready to slay are the ones that live INSIDE of you?”

“Wait… WHAT??” I spluttered.

The Voice explained, “What if I told you that your biggest battles from here forward are going to be the battles you fight with those, let’s call them, ‘less than exemplary’ parts of your own makeup?”

“I know you want to look out at the world and imagine these massive walls of resistance in front of you, flanked by moats filled with fire-breathing crocodiles. But I am here to assure you; that’s all a figment of your over-active imagination.”

“No, son,” the Voice continues… oh, so lovingly, “Your biggest ‘dragon’ is your stubborn insistence on trusting your own resources and abilities much more than you are willing to trust MINE.”

“I know you really like sports analogies, so try this one on for size: the way you are approaching your life right now is like trying to go out there and quarterback the Kansas City Chiefs all by yourself instead of turning the job over to Patrick Mahomes. Only in your case, it’s a thousand times worse.”

“Really?” I said, stupefied. “That bad?”

“Clearly you have never read the part of my book where it says, ‘Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will act.” For easy reference, you can find those timeless words of advice in verse 5 of the thirty-seventh Psalm.”

“Well,” I said, rubbing my chin thoughtfully. “When you put it that way, it makes a whole lot more sense.”

“Yes,” replied The Voice. “I thought that language would speak to you. But just in case you were ever curious about what my Son might have had to say on the subject, you can also check out what he said in Matthew 19:26 – ‘For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.’

“OK,” I said, putting my sword back into its sheath. “Thanks for setting me straight.”

“But tell me this,” I said, after a moment of reflection… “What kind of weapons do I need to fight THOSE dragons?”




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