Posts Tagged ‘open

03
Aug
20

Part of the Pack

Patrick picThis is Patrick.

Patrick is our 4 ½ -year-old Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier. And no, even though we lived in Kansas City for many years, he is NOT named after Patrick Mahomes.

Patrick loves people. In fact, as far as people are concerned, Patrick is one of the sweetest dogs you will ever meet.

[Patrick with dogs is another story, but we won’t go into that right now…]

 If you happen to visit our home sometime (and I hope you will), don’t be surprised to find that Patrick immediately comes over, sits down beside you and leans against you with his entire body weight.

A trainer we worked with explained this behavior to us. He said, “This is Patrick’s way of telling you that he has adopted you… this is his way of saying that you are now part of his ‘pack.’”

I don’t know about you, but when I first heard this explanation, I found it very comforting.

Who wouldn’t?

The experience of being approached by someone – in Patrick’s case, with very little advance reconnaissance – and being told (in dog lingo), “You and I are now family,” is one of life’s truly warm and fuzzy moments.

I soon discovered that my response to being “adopted” by Patrick reinforces multiple sociological studies, all concluding that the need to BELONG is a foundational human drive. That need is why we have families. It is why there are communities. It is why people join clubs, or churches, or radio-controlled model airplane flying groups.

We all want to BELONG somewhere… to know that there is a place in the universe for each one of us…

… even with all those quirks and idiosyncrasies of yours. Er… OURS.

At the beginning of their relationship, God claimed the Israelites and told them they were part of God’s “pack.” In Leviticus 20:26 God said to the Israelites, “You shall be holy to me; for I the Lord am holy, and I have separated you from the other peoples to be mine.”

Even without an extensive reading of the Bible, you know how the rest of this story went. You know that the Israelites continually sought fulfillment elsewhere… outside of God’s pack. And God, just as continually, chased them down, corrected them, and renewed their pack affiliation.

And then God finally came in flesh and blood and said, “I want you ALL to be part of my pack. No matter what your dietary practices, no matter what your past record of faithfulness or unfaithfulness, no matter what your pedigree, you are invited.”

The text of God’s actual invitation is found in John 3:16 where we read these well-know, time-tested words that remind us, “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.”

And just like with Patrick, when God says EVERYONE, God means EVERYONE.

So as you read that verse and ponder God’s invitation, I hope you will hear it being extended specifically and intentionally to YOU.

Because it is.

 

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!

08
Jun
20

A Cracked Shell

Cracked egg shellSomething seems to be leaking… and I can’t help but believe that’s a good thing.

In fact, I hope you are starting to leak a little, too.

When you and I first come into the world as babies, we have a soft spot on top of our heads. This spot is also known by its formal name, fontanelle, from a French word meaning “small fountain.”

The fontanelle is only one of many things that makes babies weak and vulnerable. They can’t walk. They can’t talk. They can’t feed themselves. They can’t clean themselves. Every sight amazes them, every sound startles them, every nerve ending in a baby’s body seems to be exquisitely on edge.

Babies lack any kind of filter to help them stem the onslaught of sensation.

They are utterly defenseless and exposed.

But then, time passes. Then they (we) get older. Then they (we) grow filters. Then they (we) develop coping mechanisms. Then, slowly and steadily, we start to grow exoskeletons that shield us from the white-hot intensity of the world around us.

As we age, we become less soft… less vulnerable… harder.

And sometimes those exoskeletons fit so well and feel so comfy-cozy that we curl up inside them. We close our eyes and go to sleep in our shells while outside us the storms swirl and rage.

And sometimes we forget to wake up… until it is too late.

I can’t help but notice… something has been happening to my shell over the past couple of weeks.

My shell has been cracked. Hammer blows named Breonna Taylor and Amahd Arbery and George Floyd, and Just Mercy, and #blacklivesmatter, and “Am I Next?”, and systemic racism, and Unequal Justice have been raining down on it.

My shell is cracking, and the world is leaking in on me… startling me and arousing me from my nap.

It feels somehow cold and unsafe…

… and yet also somehow exactly right.

I discover that I am slowly awakening. For one thing, I am awakening to the hard, cold implications of what it means to stand on the side of Jesus.

It is becoming abundantly clear to me that if I stand up and tell the world I am on the side of Jesus; I am, in effect, abandoning my shell altogether.

If I dare to tell the world that I stand on the side of Jesus, I understand that I am obliged to join him in saying, “Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens. Come to me, all you who are systematically denied justice. Come to me, all you who have seen hope snuffed out like a candle wick. Come to me all you that are hungry, and tired, and poor, and addicted. Come to me, all of you, and I will give you the rest you so richly deserve and which you have been so steadfastly denied.” (Matthew 11:28, with a few editorial additions).

In some ways, my shattered-open shell feels a little like a death.

In other ways, it feels like a rebirth… like becoming as helpless as a baby all over again.

May we each today be blessed with leaking margins and an uneasy soul. May we each be aroused and unsettled and hear the call of our brothers and sisters in pain. May we stand defiantly on the side of Jesus and choose to love those that he loved.

 

Abundant blessings;

30
Apr
19

“The Day my Mother Went Crazy”

woman-praying-black-white-sad-sized.630w.tn_I grew up in one of those small towns where everyone knew everything about everyone else.

And so it was no surprise that we all heard some version of the story of the day Mrs. Stanfield (not her real name) had what we called back in the day, “a nervous breakdown.”

One April afternoon, just after school had been dismissed, Mrs. Stanfield snapped. She began screaming horrible things at her children, threatening them with violence, and then threw them all out of the house.

Literally.

As a long time member of the United Methodist Church and an ordained United Methodist pastor, I now feel I have firsthand knowledge of how Mrs. Stanfield’s children felt that day.

These days I feel as if my mother-in-Christ – the United Methodist Church – has suffered a similar kind of nervous breakdown.

On February 26 of this year, under the dome of the Edward Jones Center in St. Louis, Missouri, MUM (Mother United Methodist) lost her marbles completely. That day I felt exactly like my mother had thrown me out of her house, yelling, “NEVER COME BACK HERE AGAIN!”

February 26 was the day the group of global delegates to the special called session of the General Conference voted 438 to 384 to adopt the so-called Traditional Plan… a plan that strengthens the church’s stance of exclusion toward LGBTQ+ people.

I held out hope that MUM would regain her senses… that the church’s Judicial Council would meet and rule that this plan violated not only the denomination’s Book of Discipline but also the spirit of grace on which the church was founded.

And then we would all wake up and realize it was all a bad dream and it was time to get back to making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

But that didn’t happen. Yes, the Judicial Council did meet. Yes, they did find certain parts of the Traditional Plan (and the plan of disaffiliation that went along with it) unconstitutional. But in a decision announced just last week, we learned that the very worst parts of the Traditional Plan remain untouched.

The difficult truth I now have to face is that my mother – the United Methodist Church – is officially bigoted and homophobic.

Other people in the community now look at our family with caring, yet pitying eyes… unsure of what to say or how to relate to us.

MUM used to be so different. It was at her knee that I learned all about the guiding principle of grace.

She is the one who carefully instructed me to see complex issues from a “both/and” instead of “either/or” perspective. (“It’s not EITHER the heart or the head, but both,” she said. ”It’s not EITHER social holiness or personal holiness, but both. It’s not science or faith, but both.”)

Her heart was always so big and open… eternally reaching out in creative, loving ways to the very people everyone else had turned their backs on.

She taught us her unique, four-fold approach for discerning truth.

But then… one day something happened to MUM… something that caused some internal spring to snap, resulting in this historic fit of absurd behavior.

Yes, of course, I still love her, but my mother has become utterly unrecognizable to me. I seriously doubt her father, John Wesley, would even recognize her in her current state.

Like Mrs. Stanfield back in my hometown, I suspect MUM’s breakdown has been brewing inside her for a long time. Years and years of accumulated stress finally reached the boiling point until… POW!

Those of us in this family are now faced with the difficult decision of what to do with MUM. There is no question that we will continue to love her because that’s what families do.

And yet it is also understandable that some of us will also choose to take this moment to walk away from her, believing her illness to be irreversible. It will be a difficult decision, but no one will condemn them for making it.

Those who choose to stay with her will be in for a long and painful journey. They will need to make sure she gets the kind of professional help she needs. They need to be ready to face the very real possibility that she will never recover.

Regardless of which way anyone chooses to respond, it is a good time to remember that we serve a Risen Savior…

 

… not a flawed and failing institution.

27
Jun
17

The Ear

An earWho do you talk to?

Where do you go?

How do you get it ALL worked out?

It goes without saying: every now and again we each need a listening ear; A non-judging, open, understanding, wise, loving, accepting, no-nonsense ear.

We need an ear (with – ideally – a full person attached to it) that will receive our deepest, most incoherent, most pain-laden, non-linear ramblings… not promising a neat solution or a cure or even complete comprehension of what in the world we are talking about.

An ear that offers only presence… and the encouragement to forge ahead and keep exploring… even when we aren’t sure we know where we are going.

In the best households that ear is what you got from mom and/or dad. And most of the time they were more than willing – delighted, even – to serve in that capacity.

But what if you’re an adult… separated by time and distance from mom and dad?

Well, sometimes you get really lucky – like I did – and you get to fall in love with and even marry that ear. And if that describes you, you know one of the ground rules here is the rule of mutuality… meaning that sometimes the table has to be turned; you have to BE the ear.

Sometimes it turns out that you have to pay by the hour for that ear. And you find out it can be one of the best investments you’ve ever made.

But what if none of that applies?

What if mom and dad are both gone? What if no one has signed on to be your ear… or what if you can’t afford/find a professional ear?

Where do you go? Who do you talk to? What do you do to keep from just cramming all that business deep inside… stuffed deeper and deeper and left to fester and turn toxic?

We see folks trying to enlist social media to play the role of the ear. It allows us to rant and rave and exhort and have the sense that someone, somewhere is paying attention.

Sometimes it helps… often it doesn’t.

You might not be surprised to hear me suggest that there is an ear that is ALWAYS available… that will ALWAYS receive what you have to offer – coherent or not. That will encourage you to go as deep as possible, venturing unafraid into the darkest corners of your heart without fearing what you might find there.

It is the very “ear” who once famously said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-30, NRSV).

He is there… always. He is ready to listen.

He never gets tired. He never rolls his eyes when he hears the same thing for the umpteenth time. He never suggests you should come back later when he is in a better mood.

You will never find a better ear… or a fiercer advocate.

Here’s a caveat: you will also never find anyone less hesitant about challenging you on the faulty assumptions about the world you’re carrying, or the excuses you might be hiding behind, or the useless resentments you’re still hanging on to.

So there’s that…

But LISTENING is the job Jesus signed on to do for you… before you even knew it!

So go to him. He’s waiting to listen.

And it’s all because he loves you more than you can possibly imagine.

 

Abundant blessings;




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