Posts Tagged ‘heart

13
Aug
20

A New World? Or a New Heart?

Bob DylanThe answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind…

If I had a hammer…

To everything, turn, turn, turn…

Abraham, Martin, and John…

We’ve got to get out of this place…

WAR! [UH! GRUNT!] What is it good for? (Absolutely NOTHIN’!)

In terms of musical themes, the decade of the 60s will be best remembered as the decade of the social protest song.

Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, The Byrds, Peter, Paul, and Mary, and other well-known (and lesser known) musicians of that era attempted to bend spears into plowshares in the white-hot smelter of music.

Personally, I remember feeling just a little bit subversive as I sat by the campfire in the summer of 1967 singing, “How many years must some people exist, before they’re allowed to be free?” Those lyrics made me think about the poverty and unrest in our country’s inner cities.

Even though we imagined we were creating something utterly new and revolutionary back then, the idea of expressing a political point of view through music goes back centuries. In 1801, for example, Richard Allen, a former slave and a Methodist minister, published a hymnal titled, A Collection of Spiritual Songs and Hymns. Those familiar with Methodist history will recognize Allen’s name as the founder of the AME (African Methodist Episcopal) Church.

According to the book, Routledge History of Social Protest in Popular Music, most of the songs in Allen’s Collection dealt with his frustration about the level of racial discrimination he experienced from white Methodists.

The two essential elements of a song – melody and meaning – are a potent combination. A series of musical notes, skillfully combined, has the power to reach deep into our subterranean human chambers. When paired with words that convey a timely, haunting, moving, or unsettling message, a great song can’t help but create an almost transcendent spiritual moment for the listener.

But even if we concede that songs have the ability to produce a soul-stirring, spiritual experience, is that the same thing as hearing The Gospel?

We remember that the word gospel comes from the Old English godspel, roughly translated as “good news.” We also recall that when Christians today talk about the Good News (capital “G”, capital “N”), we are most likely talking about the good news that Jesus – in his resurrection from the dead following a painful and humiliating death – forever broke the power of sin and death over humanity and freed all of us from those ancient curses.

Good News indeed! Hallelujah!

But that message is probably a qualitatively different message than the one you hear when you hear Pete Seeger sing, Michael Row the Boat Ashore.

Based on interviews I have heard, I know that the goal of the gifted individuals who write social protest songs is CHANGE. They seek to stir the hearts and move the arms and legs of their audience. They want to convey a message so irresistible that you and I won’t be able to help ourselves… we will drop what we are doing and get to work, actively building a New Social Order based on justice for all, equality, and compassion.

Their aim is a New World.

The aim of the Gospel, by contrast, is a New Heart, and then through it, a New World.

Today, we look around and see AT LEAST as much need for a new world as those protestors saw in the 1960s. Racism, poverty, runaway greed, random violence, environmental crises, political distrust, addiction, and sexual depravity seem to be at all-time highs.

But the question we need to wrestle with today is: Which comes first…

… the new heart?

… or the new world?

 

Abundant blessings;

05
Aug
20

The Heart of the Matter

Don_HenleyAfter experiencing a somewhat fraught relationship with it for too many years, I finally can say with confidence that I LOVE the Bible.

Whether I am diving into accounts of the trials of God’s people, being seared by the white-hot words of the prophets, humbled by the teachings of Jesus, or alternately challenged, inspired, and puzzled by the writings of the Apostle Paul, the Bible rarely fails to slice through my layers of resistance and pierce my very soul.

It is like the river that is new every time I step into it. And also like the river, I find that it nourishes and sustains me.

I believe God – working through the Holy Spirit – is the invisible author of its words.

But you know what else? Over the years, I have discovered that God is quite a talented multi-media artist. By that I mean God demonstrates a remarkable ability to speak to me (and you, too!) through a limitless number of channels. When I read these words in Psalm 19: “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge,” (Psalm 19:1-2, NRSV) I hear it saying that God can – and does – speak through any medium God chooses to.

One of which, sometimes, is rock music.

That assertion might sound like heresy to some, but please hear me out…

A couple of days ago, on yet another in an endless string of trips to the grocery store, I turned on the car radio. Don Henley’s song Heart of the Matter was playing. I really like that tune, but for some reason I was uniquely attentive to the song’s words that day. As I listened, I heard Henley sing, “I’ve been trying to get down to the heart of the matter, but my will gets weak, and my thoughts seem to scatter, but I think it’s about… FORGIVENESS.”

BAM! There it is! So, tell me… how is that sentiment any different from the words of Matthew 18:21-22 – “Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?”  Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but I tell you, seventy times seven.”

Of course, if you listen further in the song, you find out Henley is talking about forgiveness in the realm of a very particular personal relationship, but let’s not be nit-picky.

The point I am trying to make is this; for those with ears to hear it, the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is all around us. It is not restricted to the pages of the text we recognize as holy canon. It is the ocean we swim in as we live our daily lives.

The problem – as usual – comes not in the hearing of God’s word, but in the doing. How many people have read Matthew 18:21-22 and yet still continued to struggle with forgiving even the TINIEST insult? [I’ll go first… ME, for one.]

Henley’s album, The End of Innocence, on which Heart of the Matter appears, won a Grammy award in 1989, was a six times platinum album (meaning it had sales of more than six million copies), and has received countless plays on the radio since it first appeared. Yet despite the countless number of people who have heard Don Henley musically declare, “Dude… the heart of the matter is FORGIVENESS,” how many have taken that message to heart and actually LIVED it?

I will go ahead and confess I have fallen woefully short on that score.

Today, I invite us to listen with new, eager ears to the world around us. Be ready to be ambushed by the words of Jesus emanating from strange and unexpected places.

Take them to heart.

But even more importantly, LIVE them out!

 

Abundant blessings;

13
Jun
20

To Callous, or Not to Callous

My guitarsBlogosphere, meet my guitars. The Martin Dreadnought acoustic is the one on the left and the Fender American Stratocaster (with double humbucker pickup) is the one on the right.

Guitars, meet the blogosphere.

I love these instruments and miss them fiercely whenever Joan and I travel.

Lately I have found that coming up here in the evening and playing them is a great tonic for my soul.

I have been playing for a few years now, but don’t really consider myself a guitarist. I’m just a guy who fools around on the guitar now and then. In case you are curious, there are two foolproof ways you can tell that that I am not a real guitarist:

  • First, I have not named my guitars.
  • Second, I only have two of them.

(It suddenly occurs to me there is a third, foolproof way to verify my “non-guitarist” status: listen to me play.)

Most of the time, I play in order to calm and entertain myself. Sometimes I sit down and try to learn a new song to add to my repertoire. Sometimes I just come to work on simple scales and finger exercises.

Since I am no longer taking weekly lessons or playing in a jam band or the church’s praise band, there is not a regular, external motivation to keep at it.

No motivation, that is, except for the maintenance of my callouses.

Anyone who plays guitar with regularity will attest to the importance of healthy callouses on the fingertips of the fretting hand. Callouses are the toughened areas of skin that keep the steel wires of the guitar string from cutting into you and making you bleed all over the lovely woodwork. If you don’t play with some level of frequency, your callouses will get soft. Playing will become painful.

In that sense, you could say that playing the guitar is the exact opposite of engaging in the disciplines of the Christian spiritual life.

In the world of the guitar, the discipline and regularity of practice helps BUILD UP and harden your fingertips. It prevents your playing and practice from being painful.

The aim of the spiritual disciplines, on the other hand, is to SOFTEN us… to make us more OPEN and VULNERABLiE to the world around us… to EXPOSE us to the “still, small voice” of God that Elijah heard, or to make us more susceptible to the pain and heartbreak of a neighbor who isn’t necessarily part of our “tribe.”

The goal, in other words, of all the Christian study and prayer and fasting and worship we do should be to heighten our compassion (from the Latin, com passio, “to feel with.”).

When Jesus blessed the “poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3) during his Sermon on the Mount, he was talking about exactly these people: the people for whom the callouses around their hearts have worn away and softened.

The culture instructs us to “toughen up” and blast our way through the pain and tragedy and heartbreak of the world around us. “Take charge!” is the battle cry. “Grow thick callouses!”

But a mere two verses later (in Matt. 5:5) Jesus tells us who will REALLY inherit the earth.

Maybe we should listen to him!

15
Apr
20

A Letter from Inside…

Jail cellDear Mom;

Well, it’s been one month now since they locked me up and this is the first time I’ve sat down and written to you. I’m really sorry about that!

It’s just that… well, honestly, I can’t come up with a good excuse.

I wake up in the morning, make coffee, stare at the wall for a while, re-heat the coffee in the microwave, take a nap, watch the evening news, and before you know it, it’s time to go to bed again.

Nobody told me it was going to be like this! Back in the good old days (you know… the days before I went “inside”) I used to dream about having days like this! I thought, “How cool would it be to have nothing on the calendar… no phone calls to answer… no reason to shave or change out of my PJs… all that PLUSunlimited access to the cookie jar.”

Now my heart races with excitement when I get that robocall offering to refinance my current, high-interest mortgage rate.

And before you ask, yes, I have already finished alphabetizing my spice rack, my bookshelves AND the tool shed (although I’ll admit; it was hard to decide whether to file the garden trowel under “G” or “T”).

And yes, I have also re-hung all the pictures on the wall in chronological order AND color-coded the shirts in my closet.

I send off a new “Letter to the Editor” every day, but somehow, they don’t seem to be at all interested in my plans for harvesting all the goose poop from public parks and using it to power the city.

Neanderthals!

You know, at the beginning of this confinement I thought this might be a great time to lose a little of that “spare tire” I’ve started carrying. So far that’s not happening. It might have something to do with my access to the aforementioned cookie jar or the completely stationary nature of my other pet project: looking for secret messages hidden in the wallpaper patterns.

Oh well… thanks for listening. I hope you’re doing well.

Things could be worse, I guess. I could be actually locked up… actually unable to connect with friends and loved ones… actually deprived of a livelihood or a future the way some folks are today instead of just imagining myself in that situation.

For now, I’ll just sit here and wait for Steve Harvey to call and tell me I won the Publisher’s Clearing House sweepstakes.

… although what in the world I’d do with the money, I have no idea.

Signed;

  • Your loving son
24
Feb
20

Short and Sweet

“For he knows how we were made;
he remembers that we are dust.

As for mortals, their days are like grass;
they flourish like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.”
                                                Psalm 103:14-16, NRSV

 

Ice cream cartonWould this ice cream taste as sweet if I did not anticipate the bottom of the carton?

Would these daylight hours be as precious if I never saw the lengthening of the shadows?

If I believed these moments on the telephone with my grandson would be endless, would I savor them quite this same way?

What part does the fleeting nature of her smile play in its utter holiness?

Is my awareness that the melody will fade somehow central to the joy it brings?

What if the certainty of death was really the secret sweetener of life?

We regularly shake our fists and rage against the fragility, finiteness, and temporary nature of our joys… insisting they become life’s permanent features.

How much wiser an investment of my emotional capital would it be to heed the wisdom of the ages and exercise my gratitude muscles during those sweet, special, holy, precious moments of life.

Is it possible that the grief we feel at life’s passing nature comes from our realization that we failed to hug it tightly to our chests while we had it?

“Dear God… Help me make today the start of a new practice of gratitude and thanksgiving for everything you have laid on my plate.  AMEN.”

19
Feb
20

The Path

Pathway“To know me…” my friend Rick used to say, always with a sly smirk, “… is to love me.”

And for most of us, that certainly is the logical order of things.

Step 1: Get to know someone. Or something. Step 2: Decide whether you love them or not. Step 3: Relate accordingly.

As the mystics tell us though, it is exactly the opposite with God. According to one of my favorite writers on faith matters, Fr. Richard Rohr, we cannot truly KNOW God until we first LOVE God.

And so for skeptics and non-believers, this order of things presents a giant obstacle. “Let me examine the evidence first,” they might say. “Let me weigh up the pros and cons, interview the eyewitnesses, search the literature for secondary warrants and then – and ONLY then – will I make my own, scientifically-informed decision about how I feel.”

The problem with the scientific/rational approach – as the scriptures tell us – lies in God’s essence. 1 John 4:16 reminds us, “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.”

It’s not that the path of intellectual assent to the reality of God is weak or flawed. It’s that it is simply not AVAILABLE.

In other words, we can’t study our way to union with God  (with apologies to my seminary profs). We can only love our way there. Or as The Teacher reminds us, “Of anything beyond these, my child, beware. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.”(Ecclesiastes 12:12, NRSV).

Words to live by.

But trust me… they won’t suffice as an excuse for not turning in your homework.

19
Dec
19

More Than Meets the Eye

Optimus PrimeThe word “transformation” continues to be popular in the vocabulary of most Christians today.

This seems to be especially true when it comes to the mission statements of Christian churches… Transforming hearts and minds with the love of Christ,” “Seeking to live as agents of transformation in a broken and hurting world,” “Transforming the world with Christ’s love,” are just a few of the examples I’ve seen.

Heck, if the name weren’t already copyrighted, I suspect many Christians today would vote to adopt the name TRANSFORMERS as a more accurate description of their mission and ministry.

Don’t get me wrong… I really like the word transformation. I have probably used and over-used it more times than I care to admit.

But sometimes I worry that this powerful, important word might become one of those good things that are used so casually and reflexively that they lose their sizzle and ultimately turn into tasteless lumps of verbal Wonder Bread. You know… just like that car commercial you really liked the first time you saw it on TV; and you kept liking right up until the moment they showed it for the 563rdtime.

Recently I got a new, helpful way to understand the power of the word transformation. It was when my niece sent me a picture of her new baby son and just gushed and cooed about what a heavenly little bundle of joy he is.

Sure, you say… that’s just what new moms do. No newsflash here.

But you only say that because you don’t know my niece. You don’t know the sleepless nights my sister spent during said niece’s adolescence wondering where she was or what would ever become of her. You don’t know about each gray hair on my sister’s head that has my niece’s name printed on it. You have no idea the level of stress and turmoil my niece has caused my sister throughout the years.

Actually, I probably don’t really know either.

And so you really can’t appreciate what an unbelievable miracle it is for me to step back and look at this picture of my niece, cradling her precious baby son in her arms, making giant mooneyes at him, and calling him the most beautiful thing she has ever seen.

THAT, my friend, is transformation.

It made me remember a similar transformation I experienced when my first child was born. And my second, for that matter.

Outwardly nothing has changed… besides the addition of a brand new life into your world, of course.

What I mean is, I continued to be the same, lazy, self-centered, awkward, charming, clumsy, sinful human I was before the Blessed Event. None of those essential qualities magically went away.

And yet, somehow EVERYTHING was different!

I was now a DAD! I was now responsible 24/7 for the shaping of an entire HUMAN BEING! And – wonder of wonders – this human being was so small and helpless, it was utterly dependent on me and his mother for absolutely one hundred percent of his needs.

There was suddenly no margin for error… no days off… no second chances to shape the kind of person he would grow up to be.

Nothing was different, but EVERYTHING was changed. In the moment I first beheld my newborn child, I was utterly TRANSFORMED.

And when you stop a minute and think about it, what more perfect way could God have found to inaugurate the transformation of our planet than through a similar event… the birth of a baby.

I learned a whole lot about myself that day… as I am certain every new parent does.

But the two lessons that still stick with me here 43 years later are, 1.) Transformation is real and is possible for every person alive, and 2.) Transformation only ever happens from the inside out.

May our world experience abundant transformation, beginning today!

11
Nov
19

No magic wand

The-Roman-Destruction-and-Rebuilding-of-Jerusalem-A14Have you ever played the “magic wand” game?

That’s the game where someone says to you, “If you could wave a magic wand and change ONE THING about your life, what would it be?”

If you are anything like me, you have a really tough time answering that question.

The list of things I would like to change about myself is at least as long as my arm. Would it be the bags under my eyes? Or my gimpy left knee? Maybe I should go with my dismal level of self-discipline at the dinner table, or the erratic nature of my prayer life.

I find the idea of choosing just one thing to be an exercise in utter futility.

If I were a citizen of Israel in the time of Jesus, my answer to the magic wand question would have sprung from my lips even before the person finished asking the question. I would probably have said something like, “I would wave that magic wand and ask that the Messiah would arrive and liberate us from these loathsome Roman oppressors.”

In just a few short weeks, the Christian part of the world will formally (and in some places EXTRAVAGANTLY) celebrate the granting of the first part of that magic wand wish. God’s Anointed Messiah did indeed arrive in Bethlehem of Judea. He came disguised as a tiny, helpless baby born in a barn to a frightened teenage mother and an older, forgiving, earthly father.

Poor people (in the guise of shepherds), rich people (in the guise of Magi from the East), and heavenly hosts stopped everything and celebrated this breaking news, headline event.

The problem was, Jesus’ birth did not accomplish the SECOND part of the magic wand wish. Meaning this Messiah’s arrival did NOT succeed in liberating Israel from Rome’s harsh political yoke.

Quite the contrary, in fact.

The historical record shows us that things actually got much worse for Israel in the years following Jesus’ death and resurrection. The ultimate defeat for Israel came in Rome’s annihilation of hundreds of Jews and the total destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in the year 70 AD, as depicted above.

For Israel – and for the world – the birth of the Messiah was indeed Good News. But it was certainly no magic wand. Jesus’ birth and ministry did absolutely nothing to change the circumstances of his world. What it DID do, however, was to absolutely transform the way his followers were able to relate to those circumstances.

I know, I know… this is really an inappropriately early time to start thinking Christmas and Advent thoughts, and so I will beg your forgiveness on that score. I suppose I have been prompted in this direction by looking around and observing a world that seems to be increasingly enamored of “magic wand solutions.” We buy fistfuls of lottery tickets, hoping that the magic wand of MONEY will help… we change jobs, spouses, hairstyles, homes, and sometimes even bodies hoping one of these magic wands will save us.

I think the Christmas story is meant to be a reminder that the “glad tidings of great joy” was not a magic wand when it first arrived on the scene.

Maybe a better idea for all of us this season would be to quiet ourselves at the side of the manger and remember that the real work of salvation was always intended to work from the inside out instead of the other way around.

Abundant blessings;

“She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”(Matthew 1:21, NRSV)

11
Jul
19

Those Helpers

RC cola adIt’s really amazing, it just blows my mind
The incredibly helpful people I find.

They don’t even know me, yet they run to assist
Offering wise guidance so that nothing is missed.

One man appeared on my TV last night
Offering sage car buying insight.

Another stopped by – while my show was on break
Giving wise advice on the vacation to take.

If I ever have pains or aches or sore feet,
These generous advisors will hasten to meet

My every need, no matter how small.
From Apples to Zephyrs, they think of it all.

They know me so well, both inside and out
And their words are so gentle, they never shout.

“Send us your money,” they appear and say
“Send all of your problems whirling away.”

“Is it shyness, or stiffness, or worry, or doubt?
“Our miracle product will help you right out.”

“It comes in YOUR SIZE, or can be tailored to fit,
“We know once you try, you’ll be delighted with it.”

“Our talented staff is now standing by,
“Please don’t hesitate… give us a try.”

With all of this amazing helpfulness to be found
It is a miracle any problems abound.

These helpers touch every inch of our external selves,
But maybe what we need can’t be found on their shelves.

Could it be that our real needs are buried much deeper,
Than can be reached by a Dyson vacuum sweeper?

We search and we search for a stylish solution
To every problem, from hives to pollution.

We look high, we look low, we look behind every door,
Every corner of the earth is ours to explore.

We tend to forget the most obvious part
Is to launch our search inward, and begin with the heart.

28
Feb
19

Here in the aftermath…

“Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” (John 12:21, NRSV)

GC2019 floorToday, words fail.

And yet, I have always been encouraged that the attempt to assemble appropriate words can often be the beginning point of the process of healing.

So I press on…

I traveled to St. Louis, MO early Monday morning to observe the proceedings of the special session of the General Conference of the United Methodist Church. It was a session with one task on hand: to resolve, once and for all, more than 45 years of bitter wrangling in the church over whether or not we will include lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people in the life of the church.

While it is true that the two main issues at stake in General Conference 2019 were whether the United Methodist Church would permit LGBTQ+ people to be ordained as pastors and whether UMC pastors will be able to perform same-sex weddings, the real issue was inclusion.

Because if we assign one group of people a different, diminished set of rights than other people enjoy, we effectively exclude them.

I went to St. Louis hopeful. For months and months, I have heard a groundswell of support for something called the One Church Plan. The One Church Plan was structured to allow progressive United Methodist congregations to stay progressive, centrist congregations to stay centrist, and conservative congregations to stay conservative… while all still continuing life under the United Methodist tent

It seemed like a no-brainer.

But when I arrived I was reminded: the gathering in St. Louis was a global gathering. It was made up of not only delegates from North America (2/3 of whom said they supported the One Church Plan), but also delegates from Europe, Central and South American, the Philippines, and sub-Saharan Africa… where the UM church is seeing its most dynamic growth.

I was also reminded that many of these global delegates come from countries where homosexuality is a crime punishable by fine, jail time and in some instances, corporal punishment.

And yet, even on the four-hour drive from Kansas City to St. Louis, I was still hopeful. For the last eight months, I have been praying daily for the conference and the delegates. My prayer has been for God’s spirit to move through the hearts and minds of each delegate and that LOVE be the guiding force in the deliberations in St. Louis.

Since entering the ministry in 2001, I have seen firsthand the damage our church’s current policy has done to people who are something other than heterosexual.  My fervent hope has been that the church might no longer be an instrument of injury in those lives and would instead start being an instrument of healing and welcome.

The best chance for something new to happen was General Conference 2019

OCP voteYet those hopes were dashed Monday afternoon as the One Church Plan was defeated by 50 votes… then dashed further as the Traditional Plan– featuring even stricter condemnations of LGBTQ+ persons – was passed.

I was heartbroken.

Today I am still heartbroken. I am heartbroken as a person. I am heartbroken as a member of the United Methodist Church. I am heartbroken as the pastoral leader of two United Methodist congregations. I am sure I am still in the aftermath of the moment of trauma, but right now I feel like my mother just evicted and disowned me.

No one is terribly clear where things are going from here. Some people are talking about leaving the denomination altogether. Some people are talking about organizing an effort to “de-globalize” the United Methodist Church, making the North American church its own discrete entity with its own Book of Discipline. Some are saying this has been their church home since birth and will continue to be, no matter what.

And some – I imagine – are rejoicing that the United Methodist Church has finally “done the right thing” and “followed God’s teaching.”

For me for now, fretting over the future of the United Methodist Church does nothing good for my soul right now. I have to try and remember that my call is to discern and do God’s will in this next moment… and the moment after that… and the moment after that… for the rest of my life.

I pray that people are somehow able to see the face of Jesus even through the thick fog that is often produced by his church.

I pray for the healing of LGBTQ+ United Methodist people who have heard this ruling from the church and in it heard the words, “Because of who you are, you don’t belong here.”

God bless each of you. This is not the end of God’s story. It might just be the beginning of something extraordinary and new.




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