Posts Tagged ‘Jesus Christ

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.

17
Feb
20

It’s All Hard

Remodeling contractorA local remodeling contractor came over to our house on Saturday. My sweet, visionary wife has this notion of flipping the locations of our current kitchen and dining room so that each of them would end up in the space formerly occupied by the other one.

You know… to help the overall space and flow and stuff like that.

“Would that be hard to do?” I asked him… hoping, of course, that his answer would be, “Oh my gosh! Are you kidding me? It would be IMPOSSIBLE!”

However, to my great disappointment, he just smiled and said, “You know, when I was first starting out in this business, I worked for a crusty old guy whose motto was, ‘Everything is hard.’”

I know what he means. And I don’t think he was just talking about things in the remodeling business either.

These days it certainly seems as if everything is hard, doesn’t it? At least everything that is worthwhile.

For example; it is hard to stay healthy (especially at my advanced age).

It was hard to sell our house. It was hard to find a new house. Downsizing and moving into our new house was hard.

Parenting is hard. (Grandparenting, in contrast to everything else on this list, is pretty easy and delightful).

Playing a musical instrument is hard. Calculus is hard. Living with cancer is hard.

Grocery shopping is hard. Growing your own (or killing your own) food is hard. Or so I’m told…

Driving in the snow is hard. Finding a good house-and-dog sitter is hard.

Writing a book is REALLY hard! Deciding who to vote for for president is HARD.

I could go on and on like this, but I think you get the drift.

But then sometimes I stop and wonder; is all of this stuff really HARD? Or did I somehow start with the warped idea that it wouldn’t be hard? Was I sold a bill of goods somewhere along the way that said, “Don’t worry about it, kid. Life will be a piece of cake.”?

Most parents hate to see their children struggle. We want to cut their meat into small, bite-sized pieces for them so they won’t get frustrated and starve to death. In the same way, we want them to experience the joy of making music, but bristle at the notion that they might have to sit there practicing scales over and over and over.

I wonder if some of us are guilty of subconsciously telling our kids that if a thing is hard, it is to be avoided?

At the risk of sounding old and curmudgeonly, I will add that I am not sure our current culture is helping turn the corner on this “softening effect” at all. YouTube, Instagram, TickTock and other social media platforms offer folks the ability to become instantly (comparatively) famous without expending much actual effort in doing so.

Of course, just because something is hard to do doesn’t automatically make it virtuous. By the same token, just because it is easy shouldn’t make it automatically desirable.

In general, it is probably better to expect that the road ahead will be difficult and then be pleasantly surprised by smooth stretches than to expect a cakewalk and be angry when we hit snags, roadblocks, and detours.

Whatever the nature of the path you are facing today, here is an enduring truth I invite you to take hold of. It is guaranteed to get you through just about any stretch of rough terrain you will face:

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”(Romans 8:35,37, NRSV)

 

Abundant blessings;

14
Feb
20

Visions of Love

“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” 

John 15:13, NRSV

Valentines DayHAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY!

Welcome to the day set aside on the calendar to celebrate one of history’s epic distortions of reality.

I give you Exhibit A:
SAINT VALENTINE, THE CULTURALLY SANITIZED DISTORTION: He is the pudgy, chocolate-smeared baby flying all over the world shooting arrows of irresistible infatuation into the hearts of men and women. He works a side hustle as a writer for Hallmark Cards where he spends his days penning sappy odes to eros.

And now may I present, Exhibit B:
SAINT VALENTINE, THE REALITY: He was a Roman Catholic priest who was arrested in the year 270 A.D. by Emperor Claudius II Gothicus. He was tortured, drawn, and quartered, and ultimately beheaded for his opposition to the rule of Rome. Today Valentine is known as the patron saint of lovers, epileptics, and beekeepers.

Like a lot of us today, I vote for Version #1… the distortion. If I had my ‘druthers, I’druther equate LOVE with heart-shaped Russell Stover boxes and red roses than with prison and torture.

I mean, who wouldn’t? Warm and fuzzy feels a lot better than cold and painful.

But maybe today could be a time to stop and ask ourselves – just how accurate is that vision of love – over the long haul?

People – people like the lovely Joan and I, for example – are first drawn into relationships by the quickened pulses, the fevered brows, the momentary psychosis, and the euphoric giddiness inflicted by Cupid’s first arrow.

We accept the invitation and dive more deeply into one another’s lives and hearts.

We are fascinated with what we discover about the depth, the humor, the pathos, and the texture of that other person… a person about whom we knew NOTHING until a few days ago. With each new discovery, we continue deeper and deeper on our journey into the deep recesses of The Other.

Then, at some point along the way… maybe days later, maybe years… we find ourselves at a critical cross-road. There is less novelty and more routine. A comfortable familiarity has drifted in. Quirky, adorable character traits begin to grate a little. Moon-eyes give way to morning breath.

And then suddenly, without warning, we meet the moment of sacrifice… a time to give away an item of sacred meaning so that someone else might thrive… a time to willingly embrace loss so that another might gain… a time when the scales of justice tilt wildly away from you and toward the other person.

As we stand at that critical cross-road, we are again offered the vision of the two St. Valentines.

Will it be pudgy Hallmark boy? Or the battered, beheaded priest?

HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY.

(I love you, dearest Joanie. Now and forever).

12
Feb
20

Being a parent…

Parent silouhetteI’ve been an acrobat.

But I have never done more juggling, flipping, and contorting than I have as a parent.

I’ve been an artist.

But I have never helped create anything more beautiful than my children.

I’ve been heartbroken.

But nothing has caused my spirit to be more downcast and deflated than parenting.

I have devised intricate solutions to intractable problems.

But I have never been as thoroughly stumped than I have as a parent.

I have been to the summit of the most exhilarating mountain peaks in the world.

But my pride has never soared higher than the pride that comes from being a parent.

I have commanded the loyalty and attention of legions of soldiers.

But I have never felt more powerless than when trying to correct or instruct my children.

My heart has been stirred to compose epic symphonies of love.

But I have never known a love more bone-jarring and explosive than my love for my children.

Millions have walked this path before me. Millions will walk it after.

Mountains of wisdom have piled up, grains of insight as wide as an ocean beach.

There is nothing new under the sun.

Yet somehow everything is unexpected… unseen… novel.

A parent’s wounds never heal. They are rubbed raw every day.

Energy is always in short supply. The box of answers remarkably empty.

“Why would you ever subject yourself to that?” some might ask.

“How can I imagine life without it?” I answer.

28
Jan
20

Glorious Grind

Baby spinach“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.”            1 Corinthians 10:31, NRSV

The other night we had some people over for dinner. Joan decided a big spinach salad would be the perfect accompaniment for the main dish she was preparing. She gave me the job of rinsing the spinach leaves and pulling all the stems off.

Because Lord knows, you can’t have a proper spinach salad with a bunch of stemmy spinach leaves, right?

And so, being the jolly team player I am, I set about my task… whistling as I worked.

Did I mention it was a BIG bag of baby spinach… with lots and lots of individual pieces of spinach in it… and that each spinach leaf had a stem attached to it?

Soon enough, my whistling stopped. The pile of un-destemmed spinach looked larger than it did when I started. The de-stemmed pile seemed impossibly small.

It was one of those repetitive, mindless jobs that I have never been a big fan of. It was fun having Joan there beside me doing her part of the dinner prep (her job, incidentally, was preparing the dressing and all of the other ingredients for the spinach salad… a job that involved skill and creativity). So at least I was able to divert my attention from the drudgery of the moment with some light, engaging banter with my wife.

But still…

That moment took me back to a couple of jobs I held a long time ago that involved a heavy dose of monotonous, repetitive work.

Mind you, these were not jobs that lasted only as long as it took to de-stem a 12-ounce bag of baby spinach.

These were jobs that lasted a whole lot longer.

One of those involved working for our next-door neighbor as a 12-year old kid. Miss Williams had some prize rose gardens back behind the house and my job was to go through each plant and pick off any aphids I could find.

For that mind-numbing work, I made the princely sum of 35 cents an hour. After three hours of aphid-picking, I had a solid DOLLAR in my pocket… with no taxes withheld. (Sorry, IRS!)

Later, when I was older, I worked in the factory of a company that manufactured hydraulic and pneumatic valves. For eight hours a day, five days a week, I put little rubber O-rings onto the end of the pistons inside the valves. O-rings – as I’m sure you know – keep the air or fluid from leaking into the piston.

I have to confess that I mostly hated those jobs. Every day I dreaded showing up and could not wait for the end of my workday. As soon as I found something else, I was out of there!

It was not until much later that I realized a couple of things about those jobs. First, I realized that for some people ANY job – even a monotonous job – is a godsend. It is the means to providing food and shelter for them or for their family. That job provides a place where they can contribute to the world and stay gainfully occupied. The job I whine about just might be a lifesaver for someone else.

My second realization was that almost EVERY endeavor includes a grinding, monotonous, mindless component at some stage. A brilliant concert pianist has had to spend hours and hours in tedious, repetitive practice. A gifted NFL quarterback (like, oh, for example, PATRICK MAHOMES) has had to throw thousands of balls on a practice field, away from the bright lights, every day, on his own. The charismatic, gifted preacher has sweated bullets over multiple drafts of that sermon and thrown away more pages than she has kept.

It all makes me think of Brother Lawrence. Brother Lawrence was a 13thcentury Christian monastic. For his entire life as a monk, Brother Lawrence worked in the monastery kitchen, cooking for the other monks and cleaning up their dirty dishes. He had no time to sit in quiet contemplation of heavenly realities, listening for the voice of God. There was always the next meal to prepare.

And yet, somehow, Brother Lawrence found holiness there in the kitchen. Here is the prayer that is attributed to him:

Lord of all pots and pans and things,
since I’ve no time to be a great saint
by doing lovely things,
or watching late with Thee,
or dreaming in the dawnlight,
or storming heaven’s gates,
make me a saint by getting meals,
and washing up the plates.
Warm all the kitchen with Thy Love,
and light it with Thy peace;
forgive me all my worrying,
and make my grumbling cease.
Thou who didst love to give men food,
in room, or by the sea,
accept the service that I do,
I do it unto Thee.

Amen

Yeah… but did he ever have to de-stem a whole bag of baby spinach?

22
Jan
20

What a Wonderful World Wide Web

graphic internetI am not sure anything else even comes close.

The World Wide Web should be considered – hands down – the most important innovation of the last fifty years.

Without it, how could I instantly know the current temperature of Kansas City, Missouri (34 degrees), Fort Myers, Florida (57 degrees), Ketchikan, Alaska (41 degrees) and Buenos Aires, Argentina (83 degrees)?

How could I (or anyone) come up with the correct answer to the question: “Who was the Referee for the first Super Bowl ever played?” (Answer: Norm Schachter).

I’m sure we would have eventually been able to come up with that answer, but not without spending hours in the library.

And of course, how could we possibly entertain ourselves for hours and hours looking at videos of delightful cat antics, hilarious “Bad Lip Reading” videos, or photographs of the food on our friends’ dinner plates?

Huh? I ask you, HOW?

But all kidding aside, can you think of a single invention that has had a greater, more widespread, more profound impact on humanity than the World Wide Web?

And what is it, exactly?

Someone explained it to me once as a kind of electronic “backbone” with jillions of nerves that branch out and connect with each other, all over the world, all at the same time.

I kid, but I honestly believe the overall quality of human life on this planet has been enhanced by the invention of the World Wide Web. Thanks to the Internet, doctors can now “visit” patients hundreds of miles away and provide life-saving diagnoses. Communication and coordination between a crisis location and aid workers is now brisk and efficient. Long lost friends and relatives can be reconnected again.

Yes, Al Gore, we owe you a tremendous debt of thanks for this miraculous invention of yours.

Except for that small, “inconvenient truth” that the World Wide Web has actually existed since the very beginning of time.

Maybe not in the electronic form… But that recent innovation is merely a “tweak” on the fundamental hardware God wired into Human Being 1.0.

You see, interconnectedness was the Big Idea from day one. Genesis 1:27 gives us a peek onto the primeval factory floor when it declares: “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”(Genesis 1:27, NRSV).

The book of Acts also reminds us of that essential fact; “From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth.” (Acts 17:26, NRSV).

It was really God’s idea – sorry, Al Gore – that human beings from across the earth, from different times and different cultures, with varying levels of education and income, with different genders and orientations, human beings with brown skin, black skin, yellow skin, white skin, and red skin, all be able to see themselves as intricately woven together…

… as if they were all part of some kind of amazing, far-flung, world-wide WEB.

I believe God further hoped that once we each grasped that essential fact of life, we would begin to act accordingly. No longer would one of us be able to look with pity on another one and say, “Sorry, mate… it looks as if YOUR end of the boat is sinking.”

Sometimes it can seem as if we each live in a World of One, with no connection to or responsibility for anyone except ourselves. Sometimes we hear messages telling us that “… looking out for Number One…” is all we really need to do.

But that’s not the world God designed.

And besides… who would we share our vacation pix with if it were?

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.




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