Posts Tagged ‘Jesus Christ

17
Sep
18

How Much is Enough?

PerpetratorsHow much is enough?

In many ways the answer to that question depends on what we’re talking about, doesn’t it?

Asking how much money is enough, for example, might lead us to a very different answer than asking how much health or freedom or cuteness is enough.

Today I am asking specifically about penance… as in “How much penance is enough?”

My question is prompted by an August 28 story in the New York Times about the re-emergence of the comedian Louis C.K. less than nine months after he admitted to a wide variety of sexual misconduct allegations.

As you might expect, there were a LOT of people quoted in that article that did not think nine months was long enough for him to be out of circulation. In fact, a fellow comedian named Sarah Lazarus put the whole thing into a great perspective when she said, “I’m still on the same shampoo bottle as when louis ck’s time out started.”

I don’t really have a good answer to the “how much is enough” question, but I will not hesitate to declare my opinion that nine months seems WAY too short a time of banishment for the kind of stuff Mr. C.K. is reported to have done.

So are we going to start seeing Matt Lauer or Kevin Spacey or Charlie Rose pop up again on our TV screens after their respective timeouts have expired?

Harvey Weinstein? It’s probably safe to say he is gone for good.

And so, not only am I completely without answers to the “how much penance is enough?” question, I am not even sure I know which yardstick we should use to measure it with!

For example, should we measure by the “equivalency of pain inflicted” yardstick? In other words, should each of these perpetrators stay locked in their dungeons until they have experienced the same amount of pain that they caused their victims?

Some believe that is the right approach. If so, nine months of exile doesn’t even BEGIN to scratch the surface of inflicted pain, based on statements from several of C.K.’s victims.

Should we perhaps use the “level of remorse” yardstick? So when the “Remorse-O-Meter” we’ve hooked up to these guys reaches a certain level, we cut them loose?

Then there is the rehabilitation yardstick to consider. I have heard stories about mandated sensitivity training for Weinstein, but what about any of those other wrongdoers? And does it make sense to send them back out there once they receive their certificate of completion?

Or should we just never, ever have to see any of them in public ever again?

Admittedly, this is not a close parallel, but I have known people in the ministry who have committed some fairly serious transgressions. In each case there was an assessment of the “damage done,” and a path to recovery prescribed for them.

Because of the severity of their transgressions, a few of those pastors never did return to ministry. But for others, there was never less than a two-year absence.

Yes, the perspective of faith advocates for the forgiveness for sinners. In my own life I can vividly recall times when I have hurt others, messed up, and made horrible mistakes, and then experienced the grace of a loving God who took pity on me and said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” (John 8:11, NRSV).

But I also know that forgiveness is not for you or me to extend… unless we were the ones victimized. If you were not damaged by Louis C.K., Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Kevin Spacey, or Harvey Weinstein (or others), YOU do not get to forgive them.

That’s God’s job.

In the same way, the “how much penance is enough” question is not for me or you to decide. It is strictly in the hands of the only ONE who can read the heart and mind of the transgressor.

So maybe instead of worrying about the penance or the rehabilitation of those who inflicted the damage, let’s worry instead about the healing of those who were hurt.

And leave the rest to God.

08
Sep
18

The Perfect Day

Weather radar picHere where I live, it has been raining all day today.

It also rained a bit yesterday, but then it rained a LOT the day before.

All this rain helped me remember an innocent, idle thought from Monday… the day before all the rain decided to come calling. It was nothing… just a blip that briefly flitted through my brain.

When the thought came I was out walking. The sun was shining, a light breeze was blowing, and the temperature was a perfect 73 degrees.

In fact, everything about that moment was perfect… including my health and overall disposition. In concert with this amazing symphony of perfection, I thought, “Wow! How cool! I wish I could hang on to this moment FOREVER!”

I am sure everyone has had at least one “golden moment” like that… if not recently, then certainly in the not-too-distant past.

I hardly had time to wipe the smile off my face when that thought balloon popped, only to be replaced by the next one, which said, “Are you sure you mean that?” followed quickly by one that read, “Do you realize what you are actually saying?”

“Well, yes, I thought I did,” I said. “What’s wrong with yearning for a perfect life and perfect world?”

But then I began to visualize the answer to my own question. What if it was ALWAYS 73 degrees? What if it NEVER rained? What if clouds never formed in the sky above me? What if I was always chipper and pain-free and strong?

I suppose residents of San Diego, CA can cope with that kind of horrible nightmare, but the more I thought about it, the less that vision appealed to me. I realized it would be a life of utter monotony. All of the color and texture and variety of life would dry up and blow away… not to mention the grass and trees in my front yard.

And then I wondered; is that really what I mean by the word “perfection”? An endless monotone progression of bland, pleasing sameness? Do I really yearn for a life devoid of change, challenge, or uncertainty?

Taken to its extreme, of course, the concept of “perfection through uniformity” is the vision that gives birth to systems where difference is punished and variation becomes the enemy.

On second thought, no thanks. I’ll opt instead for the world God created. And by that, I mean the world where the weather changes, where seasons are different, where people speak different languages, prefer different foods, love different movies, and vote for different candidates.

Yeah. Give me that kind of perfection. Give me the perfection of change, difference, diversity, novelty, and surprise.

Bring on the rain!

28
Aug
18

Fish Nibble Love

I had to look it up.

The name of the fish is Garra Rufa. They are sometimes referred to as “doctor fish” and they have apparently become the hottest thing in spa treatments. That’s because if you put your feet into a tub full of them, they nibble off all of the dead skin.

But nowhere in the literature did it tell me that the tiny Garra Rufa fish could also serve as an instrument of religious revelation.

In November 2014 I was fortunate to lead a group of people from my church on a 10-day pilgrimage to Israel. This is an experience I cannot recommend highly enough for those who aspire to follow Christ. The experience of walking in the exact same places where Jesus walked, seeing some of the exact same things he saw, breathing the same air he breathed is soul-changing.

Yardenit baptismal siteOn Thursday of that first week, the itinerary called for us to stop at Yardenit (meaning “little Jordan”). Yardenit is a place on the banks of the Jordan River that has been set up to allow pilgrims to stop and either re-enact their baptisms or be baptized for the first time… in the JORDAN RIVER!

I was not going to miss this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so I paid my money to rent the obligatory white robe, went to the locker room and put it on over my swimming suit, and got into line.

When my turn came I was dipped under the murky, brown water of the Jordan by two people and had the Trinity invoked in my name, and was anointed with oil… an EXTREMELY powerful moment for me.

But you know what I remember most about that whole experience? I remember that as I stood there in line, waiting to be dunked, the little Garra Rufa fish were swimming around my feet. And then they began nibbling away at all the dead skin they could find. Yardenit 2I’m sure it was a delightful buffet for them.

At first, it startled me … and then it tickled… and then became very annoying. I mean, here I was, trying to be all spiritual and holy and there are these little fish, nibbling on my feet under the water. But as this was all happening, a really odd thought hit me. The thought that hit me was this: “I wonder if these same little fish nibbled at JESUS’ feet when HE was here being baptized?”

And the moment I asked that question, it was like WHAM! This whole, lofty, theological concept that we call INCARNATION suddenly became very, very real to me. We read John’s gospel where it says, “And the word became flesh and lived among us…”(John 1:14, NRSV), and we can be very analytical and thoughtful about what that means. But it wasn’t until I finally got this image of Jesus… standing right there in that water… having his feet nibbled on by these pesky little fish, that the whole thing became really real for me.

And then, I don’t mind telling you, it was a moment that jumped up there right alongside the moment of witnessing the birth of my first child, or standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon. It became a moment when the raw reality of God and God’s love for me came up and smacked me in the face like an open hand.

WHAAACK!!!

I started to weep on the spot and could not keep the words of John 3:16 from running through my mind. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NRSV).

Or, as I paraphrased it at that moment, “For God so loved the world that he allowed his feet to be nibbled on by little fish!”

That is real love, folks. Love that bends down and experiences the full range of humanity… from the sublime to the ridiculous… from the mountaintop to the outhouse… from the holy moment of baptism to the annoying little fish nibbles… THAT is the real deal.

And that is the real love God offers YOU today.

27
Aug
18

That Safe Place

Rosie in The PoseMeet Rosie.

Rosie is our 10-month old, Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier.

To say that Rosie is energetic is to say Kansas is flat or the sun is hot. In other words, it is to VASTLY understate the reality of the situation.

One of the biggest challenges Joan and I face each day is figuring out where to put things in order to keep them safe from Rosie’s eager, inquisitive reach.

There was – for example – the night we went to the baseball game with friends. The idea was to have them come back to our place after the game for some of Joan’s yummy peach cobbler. The cobbler was baked ahead of time and had been shoved all the way to the rear of the kitchen counter… presumably safely out of Rosie’s reach.

Imagine our surprise when we opened the door to the kitchen that night and found the pan of cobbler on the kitchen floor, big chunks of it missing in action. Beside it, of course, the innocent, angelic face of sweet Rosie… cobbler crumbs stuck to her beard.

This incident happened over a month ago. Since then, Rosie has grown a few more inches and has an even longer reach. It seems now that only the highest shelves in the closet are now safe from her exploring paws.

Thinking back on that moment (and similar moments with Rosie since then), I was reminded of some of my early adventures in faith. The common link between the two – I realized – is the central question: “Where is the safest place to put it?” Today the “it” is Joan’s peach cobbler. Back then the “it” was my faith.

In my earliest years, I placed my faith in my mom and dad. They were the walking, talking, living, breathing, definition of Ultimate Reality. Their word was Law, their wisdom was unfathomable, and their protection was ironclad.

Right up until, of course, it wasn’t.

Every child at some point experiences a rude awakening to the finite flawedness of mom and dad, and I was no exception. Whether it was that first argument of theirs I happened to overhear, or (in my childlike opinion) an entirely unjustified punishment, or something else, I’m not sure. But I know that at some point the pedestal cracked. I still loved them, of course, but no longer placed 100% of my faith in them.

When I started school, I discovered that my earliest teachers were unlimited fountains of knowledge… book knowledge, life knowledge, cultural knowledge and – in the case of my second-grade teacher Mrs. Forrer – baseball knowledge. And so I changed gears and said, “HERE is where I can put my faith! In my teachers!”

And I did. Right up to the point where I discovered that THEY were limited, too. Mrs. Olds chose to believe Andy when he said that started the fight and then Mr. Garrison could not adequately explain to me why there was such a thing as poverty.

As I grew, I kept trying. I am sure this list is incomplete, but a few of the other places I have put my faith over the years include:

  • My car(s)
  • The government (at every level – local, state, and national)
  • My own intelligence
  • My friends
  • Human nature
  • My race
  • My gender
  • My socio-economic group
  • My religious affiliation

In each case, I was certain my faith had been placed securely. Just as certain, in fact, as we were about where we placed the peach cobbler that night.

And every time that certainty came crashing to the ground… just like that pan of peach cobbler.

Has that happened to you? Are you still searching for that “next safe place” to put your faith after the last one disappointed you? Or have you given up the search entirely, convinced that no place… no person… no group will ever be capable of securely holding the precious gift of your faith?

If that describes you, listen to these words from Psalm 46. They are some of the truest words you will ever hear:

“God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult….

The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.”

  • Psalm 46:1-3, 6-7, NRSV

 

Abundant blessings;

21
Aug
18

Game on!

Little League signDo you like to compete?

Some people do… and some people (I understand) don’t.

And it seems as if for those who do like to compete, EVERYTHING is a competition.

Heck, I once knew a guy who was so competitive he used to time himself on how long it took to pass out the daily multi-vitamins to him and his wife. (“New personal best today!” 16.2 seconds!!)

OK… I’ll come clean. That was me.

I will confess to being one of those competition junkies… you know, people who not only love sports but who also tread very close to the line of professing that competition is the essence of life.

(It’s not, by the way.)

Thankfully I am not addicted to competition to the point of wagering or insisting that everything else in life must revolve around me getting my sports fix. It is, however, not out of the question to conclude that I may occasionally have a hard time maintaining eye contact with my wife when there is a game being televised at the place where we are having dinner.

And it is not just sport. It is most of them. No…, not golf. No, not hockey. Not bowling. Not NASCAR. Not professional bass fishing. Not NBA basketball.

But pretty much everything else. Why just last night my son and I were sitting spellbound in front of a professional cricket match between Jamaica and Trinidad/Tobago.

Last month, as my siblings and I were in Washington State scattering my dad’s ashes, we spent time reflecting on all the ways – good and bad – that dad influenced us. We agreed that his very advanced case of Sports-o-philia had a decided effect on all five of us.

I guess I’m saying I come by this affliction honestly. Or at least genetically.

Sports are fun, don’t get me wrong. There is the unexpectedness, the “anything can happen” element, the hometown pride they (sometimes) create, the spectacle of human athleticism on display, and the camaraderie that is all part of being a FAN (short for FANATIC).

But as much enjoyment as I receive from sports (both in the watching and the playing), I can’t help but wonder what kind of atmosphere all the attention to sports really creates in this country… economic benefits aside.

Some would argue – and I have heard them – that competition is what makes this country GREAT. Good ideas bumping heads with each other in healthy, open competition inevitably produce GREAT ideas.

Some defend the value of competition by quoting Proverbs 27:17 and reminding us that, “Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens the wits of another.”

But I also know that by its very nature competition creates WINNERS and LOSERS. I know that when we place such a high value on the outcome of our competitions, people come to understand those categories (winner and loser), as something larger than just a fleeting status report.

They come to understand them as statements of personal IDENTITY.

People can get way too caught up in the outcome of an event that is meant to be nothing more than a trifling pastime… witness the fact that Super Bowl Sunday is always the day when record numbers of domestic violence incidents are reported.

When any of us come to see the yardstick of our eternal worth as the WON/LOSS record of our hometown football, baseball, soccer, basketball, or croquet team, it is time to give ourselves a quick “Matthew 6:26” reality check.

And so, as you despondently look up from the sports page, having just seen that your “boys in blue” are 36 games out of first place with 42 games left to play in the season, hear Jesus whispering in your ear and saying,  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”

Look up and say, “Why yes I am!”

And then go out and have a nice, uncompetitive game of catch with your kid.

 

Abundant blessings;

10
Aug
18

A Supernatural Stillness

PhonelessnessOh, the horror of it!

Honestly, I’m not sure how I made it through. It was without a doubt the longest 35 minutes of my life.

Thankfully though, I am still here to tell the tale. Shaken, but not overcome. Tested, but still standing.

What was this baptism by fire I was forced to endure, you might ask… this supreme challenge… this Waterloo of the soul?

If you’re ready, I’ll tell you. Brace yourself: Yesterday, at about 4:30 p.m., I left the house to take Rosie on her afternoon walk… AND DID NOT TAKE MY PHONE with me!

There I was, with absolutely NO ability to pull up the weather radar and check on the progress of the approaching thunderstorm.

  • … Completely cut off from access to the Royals’ starting line-up for that night’s game.
  • … with NO WAY to look at vital emails that might have arrived in the last 10 minutes that – no doubt – might have had the power to change my life…
  • … NO HEADPHONES piping music into my skull as I walked.
  • … ISOLATED from the power to send or receive texts from friends or family. Or complete strangers, for that matter.
    • I mean, honestly… what if during that time my wife had paused her shopping cart and texted, “Hey, just finishing up here at Target. Do you need anything?” What then smart guy??

It was an eerie reminder of what life in the dark ages of the mid-90s was like.

How did I handle this frightening situation, you no doubt are wondering. What kind of coping skills did I draw on?

At the risk of making this episode sound a whole lot less heroic than I want you to believe, I am forced to admit that it was actually kind of nice.

  • I found myself taking a much closer look at the rich variety of weeds, plants, and trees growing by the side of our path.
  • I made actual eye contact and offered a greeting to other people out enjoying their own afternoon strolls.
  • I was able to listen to the mid-August song of the cicadas trilling their monotone notes.
  • And – wonder of wonders – I was prompted by the silence to pause in prayer and thank God for the rich palette of life spread out there before me.

I am not really sure I would call yesterday’s phoneless moment an epiphany by any stretch. But it was definitely a moment I wanted to repeat again… SOON.

It was one of those (sadly) rare, unfiltered, uncurated times when I found myself freed from my customary layers and layers of digital buffering.

It was a moment when I inhaled pure life and exhaled gratitude.

It was also a moment that brought me into close contact with a necessary humility, reminding me of my status as CREATURE, not CREATOR.

In spite of all of that, it is highly likely that when I wake up tomorrow I will still be the guy who loves to listen to music, look at weather radar, sports results, emails, and texts from friends on my phone.

But hopefully I will also be a little more of the Psalm 46:10* guy I was there for a brief moment.

 

Abundant blessings;

 

 

* “Be still, and know that I am God…”

30
Jul
18

Stories and Suitcases

Couple with suitcasesI’ve always said, if there’s a suitcase, there’s a story.

Rosie and I were out on our afternoon walk through the neighborhood today. I tried to coax her onto a little longer route than we normally take, but she wasn’t having ANY of it. We had gone scarcely 20 yards into Route B and already she began turning back and tugging the leash in the opposite direction.

I complied (as I usually do) and turned up Grandview Street instead of trying to coerce her further west toward Kessler.

We had gone about a block along Grandview when I looked to the left and noticed a mini-flurry of activity there on the side street.

There I saw a young man and a young woman opening the trunk of a small Toyota sedan. The young man was wearing a gray backpack and pulling a black, rolling-bag suitcase out of the trunk.

The young woman had a small carry on-type bag in her left hand and was already walking ahead, pulling a navy blue suitcase behind her.

The young man closed the trunk of the car and together they began walking toward the front door of one of the houses on the street.

Immediately, a hundred possible explanations for the little vignette I had just witnessed began swirling through my brain; I thought, “This is a young newlywed couple just arriving home from their honeymoon; no… the young woman was returning from a month of study abroad in Italy and her brother – the young man – had driven to the airport to pick her up. All the suitcases, of course, belonged to her.”

Or maybe it was the son and daughter-in-law (or daughter and son-in-law) of the residents of the home, just arriving from Texas for a summer vacation in Overland Park, Kansas! (Because seriously… who wouldn’t?)

Or maybe they were a bright, young coed team of door-to-door suitcase salespeople, just beginning to canvass this block with samples of their wares in tow?

Like I said… show me a suitcase, and I’ll show you a story.

Actually, show me a PERSON and I’ll show you a story.

Seeing that young couple and finding myself speculating on who they were and why they were carrying suitcases made me stop and realize several essential truths about the world:

  • Suitcases in hand or not, each of us is on a journey.
  • And each of us has a story.
  • And each of those stories is richer, more complex, more textured and more filled with meaning and depth than the rest of us (those not living that particular story) can possibly imagine.

Sadly, in these times when social media channels have become our default mechanism of communication, STORY often becomes one of the first casualties.

You see, I can relate to you more quickly and easily if I can pigeonhole you. And I can pigeonhole you more easily if I can turn you into a two-dimensional, cardboard cutout image of yourself.

  • “You’re a liberal!”
  • “You’re a conservative!”
  • “You’re a millennial!”
  • “You’re a women’s libber!” (As if anyone actually uses that phrase anymore!)
  • “You’re gay!”
  • “You’re a religious fanatic!”

The truth is: we are each made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26). And being made in God’s image means that we are each COMPLEX, multi-faceted, impenetrable, inscrutable entities… more full of mystery and meaning than anyone might readily like to admit.

And each of us – just like the God who made us – is pretty darned awesome and worthy of a little reverence.

So here is my “thought starter” for you today: if mine is suitcases, what is the thing that makes YOU stop and think about the breadth of another person’s story?

And this: how can each of us resist the temptation to pigeonhole one another?

 

Abundant blessings;




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