Posts Tagged ‘peace

08
Aug
19

In Defense of Thoughts and Prayers

Prayer-and-ActionLet’s be clear right off the bat; science has shown that 86% of the time when people respond to a tragedy by offering their “thoughts and prayers,” it is a hollow sentiment.

It sounds good. It sounds empathetic. It sounds compassionate.

But the sound quality is generally where it stops.

That is, of course, in 86% of the cases.

[Actually, there is no science behind this. I am just making this number up to make myself sound good. Sort of like those who send their “thoughts and prayers.”]

Some tragedies – such as the recent mass shootings in the U.S. – demand concrete, practical action in response. No one should be allowed to think that 15 seconds of silence with head bowed at the dining room table adequately addresses ANY of the issues connected with gun violence in this country.

As true as that is, let’s not throw out the whole prayer “baby” with the bathwater.

Prayer – authentically engaged – is so much more than silent moments or mumbled phrases. It is the practice of the presence of God. As Matt Slick – Christian apologist and writer – reminds us: “Prayer is the place of admitting our need, of adopting humility, and claiming dependence upon an all-seeing, all-knowing power that is greater than any of us.”

When faced with the reality of unspeakable heartbreak and senseless tragedy, it is helpful to begin by admitting our dependence and by stepping into a place of humility.

Prayer is my way of saying, “I don’t know how to respond to this stuff. It is beyond my pay grade. It frustrates me, it angers me, it makes me want to run away and hide.”

But when I begin my post-tragedy journey with the words, “Help me, God,” I am actively opening myself to receiving guidance from a source beyond my own abilities.

In that sense, prayer becomes something like “the action before the action,” as a friend of mine once called it.

For me, prayer is not about abrogating my responsibility. It is about better equipping myself to take responsibility. It is about trying to engage every resource – whether natural or supernatural – in pursuit of God’s kingdom to come and God’s will to be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Prayer settles me… it centers me… it helps me take a deep breath and say, “OK, God… let’s do this.”

When the world goes mad and all hell breaks loose, thoughts and prayers are one leg of the stool; plans and strategies are the second; action is the third.

 

I believe all three have a place.

21
May
19

How is your HT/WT?

ContentmentWhen was the last time you checked the HT/WT ratio of your life?

Just in case my question is a little obtuse, let me explain. I am referring – of course – to your “Have to/Want to” ratio… the relationship between the things you do during your day because you HAVE TO do them and the things you do because you WANT TO.

I think each of us probably strives for something like a 0/100 ratio. That is, we hope everything we do is something we do because we want to… even if we have to do it.

I have to eat… but I also want to eat. I have to brush my teeth… but I also want to. I have to write a sermon every week (because – you know – I’m a pastor), but I also want to.

I certainly have a whole host of things on my “Have to… don’t really want to” list, including:

  • Exercise
  • Lawn mowing
  • Shaving
  • Bill paying
  • Weed pulling
  • Poop Scooping
  • TV news-watching

… and trust me when I tell you the list goes on.

Most of us, I would guess, fluctuate somewhere within 10-15 points of the 50/50 line on any given day. But I have also talked to some folks who tell me they feel like they are living 100/0 lives where EVERYTHING is a “have to” and nothing is a “want to.”

Another word for the “have to/want to” ratio might be CONTENTMENT.

JOY works also.

Sometimes we can fall into the trap of believing that a change in the outward circumstances of our lives will be the key to improving our HT/WT ratio. We say things like, “If I could only find a different job/place to live/set of friends I would be a lot happier and more content.”

As a person on the brink of retirement, I often catch myself saying, “Once I retire, I’ll be able to do WHATEVER I WANT TO… all day long.”

And while it is true that I will be able to have MORE of the “want to’s” every day, there will still be quite a few “have to’s.” I will still have to exercise… still have to mow my grass… still have to scoop poop. (Unless, of course, I can somehow train the dogs to use the toilet! Hmmmm…)

While we scour the shelves of the “How To…” books, attend seminars, and engage expensive therapists to help us figure out ways to boost our WT numbers in relation to our HTs, the answer has been right there all along: staring us in the face.

Some wise guy once said, “The key to happiness lies not in getting what you want, but in wanting what you get.”

Socrates put it this way: “He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.” 

What it really boils down to is the ancient virtue of GRATITUDE… Being grateful for every day, every relationship, every task, and every breath that enters our lungs. In fact, I am willing to bet there is someone in the world right now who would be tickled to death to have the task of cleaning up his/her back yard after their dog(s).

To emphasize the importance of gratitude, the Bible repeats the command to “give thanks” a total of 61 times in both Old and New Testaments. 1 Thessalonians gets a little more extreme when it tells us to: “… give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”(1 Thess. 5:18, NRSV).

That’s right: ALL circumstances.

Even when you are working out.

Even when you are mowing the lawn.

Even – I suppose – when you are scooping poop.

19
May
19

GOT GoT? Nope

Iron ThroneWinter is coming… but I won’t be there to see it.

Tonight – as you might have heard – will be the final installment of the mega-blockbuster TV show Game of Thrones.

This fantasy-based program features mythical ancient kingdoms, zombies, dragons, violent family rivalries, and some of the most jaw-dropping scenery imaginable. It has been a huge ratings bonanza for HBO.

Last week’s penultimate episode drew an estimated audience of 18 million.

Almost as ubiquitous as social media posts of fans of the show have been the declarations of languor from the non-GoT folk.

For some it seems to be a badge of honor to be able to say, “I’ve never seen a single episode,” or, “Game of WHAT?” or, “Giant YAWN!”

Personally, I don’t watch the show. But I have seen it. In fact, my wife and I watched the entire first season.

Our kids finally goaded us into it, arguing, “The writing and the characters are INCREDIBLE!” And they were right on both counts. I have never really been a fan of the fantasy genre, but I was VERY impressed with some of the early episodes I saw. The amazing music and scenery were extra-added bonuses.

But then there was the VIOLENCE!

Lots of violence. Graphic violence. Gruesome-leaving-nothing-to-your-imagination violence.

So after one season, we ditched it… and haven’t looked back.

It does make me wonder though: what is it about the high tolerance some people (actually, based on the Game of Thrones audiences, I should say, “…a WHOLE LOT of folks”) have for violence?

Honestly, I don’t get it. And whereas sometimes I will plead “old age” and “being out of step” for some of my attitudes about cultural trends, I am unapologetic about this one.

Watching some people hurting other people in horrible ways leaves me absolutely cold. Call me an old coot, but you can keep that crap to yourself.

And it seems the national appetite for violence of all types is only INCREASING. We can’t seem to get enough of the controlled mayhem of the National Football League. The sport that is growing the fastest in TV viewership today is Mixed Martial Arts… or “Human Cockfighting” as I also like to call it.

I know that some will say that televised violence is a kind of catharsis… they argue that viewing violence second-hand actually keeps people from committing it themselves.

Sorry… not buying it.

Of course, I can’t prove this at all, but I think it is not coincidental that more of us are lashing out violently against our neighbors (in shootings, stabbings, and other random attacks) as our violent forms of entertainment continue to ratchet upward.

It’s like they say in the world of computer programming: Garbage in… garbage out.

Tonight I’m not entirely sure what will be on the tube at the Brown house: although it will probably be last night’s episode of Saturday Night Live we recorded on the DVR.

All I know is that it won’t be anything featuring zombies, dragons, massive stone walls or bloodshed.

 

Unless, of course, John Belushi returns to SNL for an episode of “Samurai Hotel Desk Clerk.”

09
Jan
19

Leaf it to God

leaf rakingThe blowing wind woke me up this morning.

Check that… I meant to say, “The wildly blowing, nearly gale-force wind woke me up this morning.”

There, just outside our bedroom windows, I could see the branches of large trees swaying hypnotically, as if to some distant, unheard calypso beat.

No… it was not, as you might assume, some kind of meteorological catastrophe unfolding.

It was just Kansas being Kansas.

But then as I walked out to my driveway to see if there was still a newspaper there to retrieve, my heart sank. In the name of candor, I must also report that I may or may not have looked west to my next-door neighbor’s yard and muttered darkly toward him under my breath.

The scene I witnessed there was enough to break a middle-class suburban homeowner’s heart. As I stood on my driveway in my green bathrobe, hands on hips, I saw that the immaculate green carpet in front of MY house – from which only yesterday all brown, fallen leaves had been carefully removed – was now covered with a new carpet of brown, fallen leaves… blown over from next door by those gale-force Kansas zephyrs.

Grrrrr.

Yes, a substantial part of the disturbance in my soul was due, I’m sure, to the frustration of seeing a solid afternoon’s work wasted.

But I also recognized another source of my angst that dwelt a little deeper.

My leaf-bespoiled lawn also provided me with a vivid reminder of just how ephemeral and whispy this whole thing called CONTROL really is.

One minute you’ve got a pristine, leaf-free yard… the next minute you don’t.

In our house, this has been the season when that big party pooper CANCER dropped in and shattered our illusion of control.

It has been like suddenly waking up to find your dysfunctional and embarrassing uncle Fred has suddenly moved in with you. And, just like Fred does, he has begun making outrageous demands on your time, energy, and resources. Suddenly this unredeemable persona non grata is telling you when you can eat, when you can sleep, what to read, how to think, who to talk to, and even what to wear.

He burps, he farts, he coughs, he sneezes, he leaves messes behind, and never EVER cleans up or says “thank you” for ANYTHING!

You tell him you don’t appreciate his rudeness or sloth and that it is high time he hit the road… to absolutely no avail.

No… there are few things capable of doing greater damage to the idea of control than cancer.

But then, right there in the middle of your deepest grieving over its loss, you see another side of this whole “control” thing. You see – if you can pause, quiet your heart and look more closely – that it just might be OK to loosen your grip a bit.

You see that your previous notion of the degree of control you’ve sought over your life is a bit laughable… a little bit like a barnacle on the rudder of an ocean liner imagining it is steering the ship.

And you see something else too – if you look hard enough. You see that it is not only OK, but it is a good and joyful thing to surrender the goal of micromanaging all of life’s outcomes.

You come to make the words of the psalmist your own when he/she says, “Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea…”(Psalm 46:2, NRSV), and you are more than willing to, “Be still and know that I am God…” (Psalm 46:10), which necessarily means that YOU are not.

Taking your hands off of the steering wheel of your life can be very frightening… but only if you don’t know who is taking over.

Do you?

 

Abundant blessings;

26
Dec
18

Christmas Past?

Outside picAnd… it’s done.

It is back to being the wet winter world full of car horns, dry cleaning, bare trees, and muddy footprints I always thought it was.

It is the 26th. And today all the dreamy blurred edges and Christmasy fairy dust have been washed away by the cold rain.

Was I dreaming?

Did any of that really happen?

Did that Asian couple I passed in the park yesterday actually look at me, smile, and say, “Merry Christmas” as we passed?

Was that actually a glow of peace and goodwill I saw framing the faces of my family members… even the ones I usually speak of with air quotes firmly in place?

Did peals of delighted laughter from grandchildren really bounce off these walls just a couple of hours ago?

Is it possible I caught a quick glimpse of myself in the mirror and saw flecks of kindness and grace sprinkled there in the lines of my face?

Was I actually content to block out the news with its reports of roiling unrest and Real and Imagined Epic Disaster and then breathe slowly… deeply… calmly?

Did all of that just happen?

I don’t know… maybe we were all just under the spell of some Master Hypnotist whose fingers have just snapped and jolted us back awake.

Maybe it was the psychotropic effects of one too many pieces of homemade fudge coursing through my bloodstream.

But maybe…

Just maybe…

Hope Incarnate really WAS just born into the world.

Maybe the Word really did become flesh and dwell among us.

O God, let’s hope so.

 

O God, let’s make it BE so.

28
Sep
18

Growing Hope

This soilSeed in soil

This seed

Buried

This crazy idea

That the story goes any further

Than this.

This waiting

This seeing… NOTHING

 

 

This knowing

This peace

This HOPE

This tree.

24
Apr
18

The idol of safety

Security imageThey were just sitting there at their table in that Waffle House… chatting, drinking coffee, and reliving adventures from earlier that night.

They were just out for a stroll on the sidewalk on an unseasonably beautiful spring day… drinking in the warm glow of the sun. Some jogging, some pushing strollers, some in oblivious WWT (walking while texting) mode.

They were just making their way between classes… thinking about prom, today’s homework assignment, an argument they overheard before leaving for school, college choices.

And then, in the blink of an eye, their lives ended… every one of their hopes, dreams, fears, random thoughts, vacation plans, secret crushes, and song lyrics came exploding, screaming, crashing to the ground.

And those of us left behind reacted.

We moaned and wailed and shook our fists.

We marched.

We wrote letters.

But we also cowered… wondering, “What if that had been ME? What if I had been in that Waffle House… on that sidewalk… in that school… at that ungodly moment?”

And even though we don’t like to admit it out loud, deep within the hidden recesses of our heart we ask ourselves if we will ever feel safe in ANY Waffle House, on ANY sidewalk, in ANY high school, or ANY place beyond the cozy cocoon of our home?

In moments like these, I catch myself coming dangerously close to elevating SAFETY and SECURITY to the place of utmost importance in my life. I mean;

  • … OF COURSE, I don’t want to be mowed down by an angry loner with an all-too-easily-acquired automatic weapon.
  • … OF COURSE, I don’t want to die under the wheels of a rented van careening down a tranquil city sidewalk.
  • … OF COURSE, I don’t want to be suddenly sucked up into the whirling vortex of an early spring Midwestern tornado.
  • … OF COURSE, I would much rather finish up my time here in this veil of tears in the middle of a peaceful, pain-free sleep.

But then I am forced to concede that no matter how careful I am, there is really nothing I can do to prevent any of these things from happening… and also that my life and health are at MUCH greater risk from a traffic mishap than from a terrorist or lunatic-related event.

The sad fact is that when we start to worry about the awful things that might happen to us at a Waffle House, a school, a shopping mall, or a baseball game, we begin to allow fear to rule our lives.

Another way to say that is that we have consciously asked God to step OFF of the throne and invited FEAR to sit there instead.

If we are living in fear and profess to be a follower of Jesus Christ, we have heard Jesus say, “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own…” (Matt. 6:34), and have replied, “Sorry, Jesus. You clearly don’t know what you’re talking about.”

RIGHT NOW is all any of us have.

RIGHT NOW is full of meaning, blessing, and wonder… but we can only taste that meaning, blessing, and wonder if we dare to lay fear aside and open our eyes to it.

Henri Nouwen, the great theologian, and psychologist, talked about the same idea using the word PATIENCE. His words are especially relevant today:

“Patience is not waiting passively until someone else does something. Patience asks us to live the moment to the fullest, to be completely present to the moment, to taste the here and now, to be where we are. When we are impatient, we try to get away from where we are. We behave as if the real thing will happen tomorrow, later, and somewhere else. Let’s be patient and trust that the treasure we look for is hidden in the ground on which we stand.”

I pray that you and yours are safe today and will be safe every day after today.

But I also pray that you do not sell the treasure of today for the fear of an unknown tomorrow.

Abundant blessings;




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