Posts Tagged ‘peace


Third Rails

AR 15 pictureWalking away from my mailbox Saturday, I thought back to August 2013. That was when the United States Postal Service – as a cost-saving move – proposed doing away with the Saturday delivery of mail.

If you think back, you will recall that proposal was met with LOUD howls of protest. In fact, I am not sure a proposal to immediately abolish all reruns of Matlock would have caused a greater hue and cry across the great landscape of retired America.

Needless to say, the USPS quickly dropped the idea like the proverbial hot potato.

And so now, as I look down at the sad harvest of one flyer for a local dentist, one for a landscaping company, an invitation to a “pre-retirement seminar,” a home improvement catalog, and our monthly gas bill, I breathe a grateful sigh of relief. Glancing briefly heavenward I pray, “Thank you Lord that I didn’t have to wait until Monday to receive this gold!”

The United States Postal Service was clearly facing some financial challenges. And while raising postage rates is always a quick and easy remedy, I thought they should have been commended for also considering cost-cutting measures.

And honestly… given the fact that 99.85% of my mail these days is either junk mail or bills, (yours too?) dispensing with Saturday mail delivery seemed to make perfect, reasonable, rational sense.

But the fact that people who proposed doing away with Saturday delivery were very nearly burned at the stake should have alerted us that something else was going on here… something beyond whether the idea was reasonable or rational.

Somewhere buried beneath the surface of the issue of Saturday mail delivery lays a very live, very hot third rail of EMOTION. As the USPS executives figured out very quickly, when you touch that third rail, you get burned very badly.

And so, as we engage in the national debate around guns and gun regulation, it is very clear the same principle applies here. Advocates of stricter rules around gun ownership, tighter background checks, and the abolition of assault-style weapons (people like me, in other words) feel our ideas make perfectly reasonable, rational sense.

I mean, honestly; who besides a combat soldier really needs a gun like an AR-15?

But as soon as those reasonable, rational proposals are advanced, they are just as quickly cut down in a barrage of pushback from gun owners.

Folks over here on my side of the debate can argue until we are blue in the face that, “No… no one is coming to take your guns away from you,” and that “This is NOT the first step in a government takeover,” to absolutely no avail.

It is too late; a nerve has been hit… an emotion has been stirred… the third rail has been touched. The opportunity for calm, reasoned conversation on the topic has disappeared.

Personally, I have never owned a gun in my life… and never will. And so for me, the issue has zero emotional content.

That is clearly not the case for those who have grown up around guns. For them, this topic is LOADED with emotion… emotion I can’t even begin to fathom.

This debate is VITAL. It needs to continue and laws need to change.

But until we gun control advocates can understand and speak to the emotional side of the debate, I fear no middle ground will be found and more and more Americans will die needlessly from gun violence.


An Inside Job…

“If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.“
Luke 19:42, NRSV

Jesus lamentLooking toward the year ahead, I see a whole bunch of stuff on the horizon.

I see “wannas.”

I see “gottas.”

I see a TON of “oughtas.”

But I see just a small handful of “MUSTS.”

And right there at the top of the “must” list is the MUST of heeding Jesus’ sentiment in the verse from Luke there at the top of the page.

You might know that these are the words he spoke as he lamented over the city of Jerusalem, a mere 48 hours before his arrest, torture, and crucifixion.

As Jesus spoke these words, he looked out on a city that was in a deep state of division and political unrest. It was a city that seemed to have lost its primary, faith-centered identity in a quest to appease the leaders of the status quo.

Does any of that ring a familiar bell?

Jesus laments Jerusalem’s failure to recognize “the things that make for peace.” But I like to suggest that today we are called to go a step further.

We are called not to just recognize the things that make for peace… we are called to act on them as well.

And to take it a step further, I am called to recognize that all of this has to begin with ME.

It doesn’t start with new laws… It doesn’t start with a different president… or with a whole new slate of state or civic leaders. It doesn’t even start with better attendance in our churches, synagogues, or other places of worship.

It starts with ME.

It starts with me looking deeply in the mirror and recognizing that I am a lot angrier man today than I was a few years ago.

Then I have to recognize the fact that angry people are usually not very effective peacemakers. In fact, neurological studies have shown that our brains undergo physiological change the more often we allow anger to take over and rule our approach to the world.

And as much as I would like to explain away and excuse my heightened state of anger; the truth is that none of those explanations really matter.

What matters is doing something different.

What matters is mapping a different response to the things that push my buttons… that is, to work on becoming the initiator of the response rather than the reactor to the stimulus.

Unless you are in either a natural or chemically induced state of bliss 24/7, we all see things happening around us that push our buttons, rub us the wrong way, or outrage us.

It comes with the territory of being awake.

The question is: what will you DO with your outrage?

I was scratching my head over this very question the other day when I came across this very interesting article from the Edutopia website. It was written by Laura Thomas and addresses what she sees as a growing state of anger toward others in this country.

In the course of the article, Ms. Thomas suggests three questions we each might ask when some new “button pushing” stimulus comes to our attention. She suggests we pause (often a challenge in and of itself) and ask:

  1. Is it true? (Yes or no. If no, move to 3.)
  2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true? (Yes or no.)
  3. How do you react or what happens when you believe that thought?
  4. Who would you be without the thought?

So often – at least for me – when I am busy being outraged, I can spin myself into a rapidly escalating spiral of righteous indignation that perpetuates its own energy. I’ve heard enough and I’m READY TO RUMBLE!

The idea of pulling back and asking these questions would not just be helpful to me and my spirit… it might even be healing for the WORLD.

I know at this point that I am supposed to reach out and invite you to join me in my resolve to be a peacemaker in the year ahead… and start a social media “chain letter” of peacemaking.

And all of that would be great.

But whether you do or not, I am clear that I need to let peace begin with me.

Hey! Wouldn’t that be a cool song?


Abundant blessings to you;



Soul Sez…

So… how is it with your soul today?anxious-agitated-depressed-man

Tricky to tell sometimes, I know.

Souls can be at peace. Souls can be unsettled and restless, like this guy here to the right.

The one thing a soul CAN’T be is statusless.

I have recently discovered that all restlessnesses/unsettlednesses are not created equal. They can spring from different sources.

An unsettled soul can alert you, for example, that you have somehow desecrated your own moral compass… violated values you once said you stood for.

Souls can also be unsettled by facing a difficult, yet necessary task. For example, I once had to fire a friend from a job for which I had hired him just a few months earlier. (PRO TIP: only be as willing to hire a friend as you would be to fire that friend.) My soul was highly agitated in the days before the, “Fred, it’s just not working out” conversation took place. And yet it was absolutely the right step to take.

And so I wonder; can that same kind of duality apply to a soul at peace?

That is, can a soul be at peace for more than one reason?

Something to ponder, I guess.

How is it with YOUR soul today?


Judgment Day

Judgment“You’re too…”

Have you ever been on the receiving end of a sentence that began this way?

If so, you know that there are an unlimited number of adjectives that can follow. Almost all of them involve some central element of your identity, measuring it against an understood standard of acceptability.

You might have heard, for example:

“You’re too short.”

“You’re too tall.”

“You’re too fat.”

“You’re too skinny.”

“You’re too weak.”

“You’re too liberal.”

“You’re too conservative.”

“You’re too country.”

“You’re too city,” or many, many other versions of the same idea.

Unfortunately, I doubt there is a single person alive who has not heard at least one “You’re too…” in their lives. The world seems to be well stocked with folks who are willing to judge and assess others.

And even though these one-liners usually maim and wound, I have received a few that I have considered helpful. In a quiet restaurant for dinner, hearing my wife say, “Honey, you’re too loud,” is of benefit to me and the other diners. “You’re too hard on him,” is useful feedback when I am being overly critical of one of my children.

But helpfulness is not usually the outcome. Most of the time, “You’re too…” comes off as an attack on a fundamental component of the divine wiring of one of God’s beloved creatures.

When you hand out one of these “scorecards” to someone, you might think you’re being helpful – like that time you told the girl she was too short to be a dancer or told me I am too goofy and irreverent to be a pastor – but it is more likely the case that your “open, honest” assessment serves only to bolster your own (perhaps) sagging ego while tearing others’ down.

But here is the question I really want to ask on this whole topic: given the fact that each of us has been stung by one of these “You’re too…”s at some point in our lives, how do we deal with them?

My personal tendency is to give them too much credence. My Myers-Briggs ENFJ personality type (Extroverted-INtuiting-Feeling-Judging) leads me to place a HIGH value on the opinions of others. I know I have blind spots concerning my own behavior and feel like I want to stay open to points of view that might be more objective than mine.

In practice, I have a really hard time hearing a “You’re too…” and blowing it off.

You might be like that, too. Or you might be exactly the opposite. You might be like our current president, for example. You might treat every word of criticism as “fake news”… not worth the air it takes to speak it.

Somewhere between those two extremes – I believe – lives a healthy “middle place.” It is a place that doesn’t brush off every critical comment as useless and irrelevant, but at the same time, is not crushed by them.

I believe there is such a place. And I further believe we arrive at that healthier place when we realize the true source of our worth. You see, when we lean toward believing that our worth comes from living up to the expectations of other people, we tend to give those opinions too much weight. We empower THEM to define US.

Conversely, when we see our intrinsic worth as completely self-generated, we seek no higher authority than that one that stares back at us from the mirror. We’re like, “Hey… whatever he says, goes.”

Grasping our worth as something bestowed upon us by a wise and loving Creator helps us keep the slings and arrows of criticism in their proper place. It helps us consider the value of each criticism… helps us graciously receive the stuff that applies, dismiss the stuff that doesn’t, and altogether avoid the temptation to “kill the messenger.”

The psalmist reminds us of the enormity of the miracle of human existence when he says this about people:

“Yet you have made them a little lower than God,

    and crowned them with glory and honor.

You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;

    you have put all things under their feet,

all sheep and oxen,

    and also the beasts of the field,

the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,

    whatever passes along the paths of the seas.                        Psalm 8:5-8, NRSV

Wow! Really? Can that be ME he is talking about?

Yes… yes, it is. And you know what else is cool? He is also talking about YOU!


Abundant blessings;



SHHHHHH1“God told me to.”

Have you ever heard those four words offered in response to the question, “Why did you do that?”

If you have heard someone say that before, tell me honestly: what were the first thoughts that popped into your head?

Did you think, “Well, good for you! Follow courageously where He leads!”?

Or was your response more along the lines of, “Hmmmm. Interesting. Tell me more.”?

Maybe you even went with something like, “OK then… And did God also reveal the Seventh Sign of the Apocalypse to you personally and tell you to be sure and make yourself a tin-foil hat to protect yourself from solar radiation?”

I have to confess… I have probably reacted by saying all three of those things at some point or other. And the response I gave probably had a lot to do with the identity of the person telling me that God told them to do something.

I suppose when we hear someone say that God told them to do such-and-such we flash back to memories of the mother who heard God tell her to drown her five kids… or the brutal dictators and cult leaders who said they were following God’s direct commandment in committing their own atrocities.

So I can’t help but wonder: what have people thought when they heard ME use that very meaningful, yet also very loaded phrase?

“God told me to” is the essence of my answer when anyone asks why I decided to go into the ministry.

It is usually the answer at the heart of why I might decide to preach on Topic A instead of Topic B on a given Sunday.

I am sure it is the explanation behind those times when I get a sudden, inexplicable urge to pick up the phone and call someone… and then listen as they say, “Wow! It is so weird that you would call just now…” and then listen as they tell me about an event or a dilemma that has arisen recently in their life.

But where do we finally choose to come down on this question; does God communicate directly to us? Or does God not?

And if our answer is “YES,” how do we sift and sort between the random murmurings of an active imagination and The Voice of the Divine?

Personally, I am not sure I have a good answer to that question. My own history is littered with miscalculations on the topic of “the will of God” – in both directions.

But I found something in this morning’s devotion that might shed helpful light. It is from Mother Teresa’s book, My Life for the Poor, written in 1985. She says:

Once I asked my confessor for advice about my vocation. I asked, “How can I know if God is calling me and for what he is calling me?”

            He answered, “You will know by your happiness. If you are happy with the idea that God calls you to serve him and your neighbor, this will be the proof of your vocation. Profound joy of the heart is like a magnet that indicates the path of life. One has to follow it, even though one enters into a way full of difficulties.”

I like that.

I like the fact that her confessor talks about happiness as a signpost for discerning that it is actually God’s voice we are hearing. It affirms the essential notion that God – rather than being the nasty, punitive tyrant some paint God to be – is actually in favor of our happiness.

But I also like the idea here that says our path to happiness can take us through places of great difficulty. The confessor is telling Mother Teresa that HAPPINESS does NOT equal PROBLEMLESSNESS… that it is possible to experience profound joy in life and still encounter adversity.

How easily we forget this…

Yes, God does still speak. Sadly (for me) God does not use billboards, TV commercials or skywriting to communicate his messages.

God speaks most often in the stillness and devoted times of silence when we make LISTENING a priority.

Listen! Did you hear that?

It was God saying, “I love you and want you to be happy.”


– Abundant blessings;


Grapes and the Dude

grapes-and-vineI remember a sketch from Saturday Night Live a few years ago that caused me to laugh out loud… and wince a little bit, too.

This sketch was called, “Short Attention Span Theater.” It featured fictional plays and dramas that were all somewhere in the neighborhood of four or five sentences in total length.

In other words, the perfect duration for those of us gifted (or burdened) with short attention spans.

I laughed at the sketch because it was pretty funny.

But I also winced because it hit uncomfortably close to home.

It is awkward to admit, but I regularly find myself being the poster boy for “short attention span syndrome,” or SASS (in case the full name is a little too long for you).

Sometimes I wonder if SASS might be affecting more folks than just me.

It seems we often live in a world driven by highlights; don’t make me watch the whole football or basketball game… just show me a collection of the most exciting plays from it. Please don’t make me watch you chop up that entire onion… just show me the finished product in a little glass bowl.

We often seem driven to live life in bursts of frenetic motion. We cannot STAND sitting still for too long. We jump feverishly from activity to activity, fearful that something important and exciting might happen over THERE while I am preoccupied over HERE.

The social media app Twitter is the perfect tool for our “life in bursts” culture. With a limit of 140 characters per tweet, it caters to our short attention span perfectly.

And have you tried watching a television commercial lately? Just for fun, try counting the number of different scenes or images that are crammed into a 30 second commercial for anything. It is enough to make your head spin!

And while I acknowledge that my response might be due to my increasing age, I can’t help but wonder if something isn’t lost when we find ourselves living the short attention span life.

Things happen in the world around us and we decide that it is more important to respond QUICKLY rather than THOUGHTFULLY. We fear something might be lost if we take the time to allow an event or an observation to sit and percolate with us for a while.

We seem to believe that if we take the time to allow life to penetrate too deeply into our hearts and souls, we will miss some other opportunity or moment.

As a result, everything we offer from that impatient mindspace tends to be quick… clipped… visceral… abrupt… something we feel we have to offer now and – if necessary – apologize for later.

All of which causes me to wonder: are we losing the ability to practice ABIDING? Do we even see how abiding might be important in our lives? The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines abide as to: “… continue, remain, survive, last, persist, stay, live on.” It is a patient waiting and watching… a non-rushing approach to life.

I was rthe-big-lebowski-white-russianeminded of the importance of abiding on a recently completed mission trip. A friend offered a devotion one morning based on one of my favorite movies of all time: The Big Lebowski. (Insert STRONG parental advisory here). The main character in the movie (played by Jeff Bridges) is The Dude. And the dude’s watchword is, “The dude abides.”
Jesus also talked a lot about abiding. In John 15:4 he says, “Abide in me as I abide in you.” And then in verse 5 he elaborates a bit and says, “Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit.”

The kind of abiding Jesus is talking about is a steady watchfulness that does not demand instant results or instant responses. It values constancy… purpose… thoughtfulness… patience.

Lent – which begins tomorrow – is the season of abiding. We often think of it as a time to sacrifice or “do without” something.

But I think the real purpose of the Lenten fast is to help force us to downshift a gear or two… to be less frantic and urgent… and to become more serene and thoughtful about who we are and what in the world we are doing, anyway.

And so my prayer for you today is to allow this to be a day of abiding… and bearing fruit.




BostonMolassesDisasterLet’s talk about safety for a minute…

Are you safe? Why? Why not?

If you do NOT feel safe right now, what would it take to make you feel safe?

What are the things that cause your sense of safety to erode?

On a list of all of the values you hold, how high on that list is the value of SAFETY?

Last question (for now): Where does safety come from? In other words, what makes us safe?

On a very basic level I am drawn to the idea of safety. Great feelings of warmth and affection wash over me when I remember hearing my mother or father say something like, “It’s OK… you’re safe now.” Or, “Safe and sound.”

SAFETY feels like a warm, impenetrable cocoon that follows me and covers me wherever I go.

I think it is also accurate to say that because of my race and social standing I have come to view a sense of safety as an entitlement… something the world owes me. I honestly cannot tell you the last time I walked or drove anywhere that caused me to actually fear for my physical safety. And that includes walking into the University of Texas stadium for a football game wearing my full MIZZOU regalia.

As important as we would all probably agree that safety is, do you think we are ever guilty of turning SAFETY into an idol… i.e., something elevated to the place of ultimate importance in our lives? And if we agreed that it is indeed possible to worship the idol of safety, I also have to wonder how this posture shapes us and the way we “do community” with one another?

Because frankly sometimes it is just not very safe at all to relate to another person. For starters, they might smell bad. They might have odd habits. They might not be polite. They might hold different truths than you do. They might challenge your faith and ideals. They might be mentally unstable.

Taking the chance of relating to a person you don’t already know could endanger the safety of your body, your mind, and your worldview all at once.

Let’s face it: building bridges is dangerous. Especially if you don’t exactly know what is on the other side of the bridge.

Building walls is safe.

Worshiping safety would probably also mean never trying out an idea that had an uncertain chance of success. Because if you tried out your idea and it failed, you could lose money… prestige… credibility… and maybe even friends.

But don’t just take my word for it. Ask anyone who has ever tried to take a new, different, strange, or offbeat idea and make it fly. They will tell you they have lost one or all of those in the process.

In all seriousness, you know what is REALLY dangerous? The pursuit of safety as our ultimate community value… that’s what.

Elevating safety to ultimate importance means taking no risks… venturing into no new territories… initiating no new relationships. It means withdrawing. It means committing yourself to looking suspiciously upon anyone or anything that approaches you. It means putting all of your energy into defending THE WAY THINGS ARE and fighting off the encroachment of THE WAY THINGS MIGHT BE.

Because let’s face it: there is nothing any of us can do to absolutely ensure our personal safety. You might have been unlucky enough, for example, to have been walking down a North End Boston city street in 1919 at the exact moment of the Great Boston Molasses Flood. Caused by the bursting of a large molasses storage tank, the Great Flood killed 21 people and injured another 150. (Source: Wikipedia. That is the picture at the top of this blog post). It is safe to say that none of the victims imagined “death by molasses” for themselves, that day or any day.

Worshiping safety also means you would have to turn in your “Person of Faith” card. This is because we rely on our own devices and not God to provide our security. We imagine that a higher wall, a bigger gun, a deadlier bomb, a more powerful X-Ray, or a better set of laws will give us the safety we seek. Proverbs 29:25 helpfully reminds us, “The fear of others lays a snare, but one who trusts in the Lord is secure.” (Proverbs 29:25, NRSV).

The truth is: SAFETY comes from God and God alone.

In his life and preaching SAFETY seemed to exist – if it existed at all – at the very bottom of Jesus’ priority list. Time and time again we see him endangering his personal safety by violating Sabbath laws, eating with the wrong people, pronouncing forgiveness to sinners (“Who is this that thinks he can forgive?”), touching lepers, walking on water, and defying political and religious authority.

And as we watch Jesus work, we know his courage doesn’t come from the heart of a daredevil; it comes from an unshakable faith in the God who created him and sent him into the world on his mission of mercy. Jesus summed up his own views on security pretty well when he said, “Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it.” (Luke 17:33, NRSV).

Safety and security are important. But pursuing these as the ultimate value of life is not only unfaithful to God’s word… it is downright dangerous to the world. As Jesus said to his disciples in his farewell message in John: “I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” (John 16:33, NRSV).


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