Posts Tagged ‘peace

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;

27
Mar
18

My own Facebooklessness

Facebook iconSomething had to change. And it had to change soon.

I would compare the feeling I was dealing with to the very earliest nibblings of an oncoming head cold… you know; those times when you know something is a little out of kilter but you’re not entirely sure what it is.

I looked and saw my normally puckish, buoyant outlook on life taking on unfamiliar, churlish overtones… I noticed my already woefully short attention span getting even shorter. I noticed that I seemed to be more reactive and less thoughtful and deliberate.

The guy looking back from the mirror didn’t seem nearly as likable as he did a few short years ago.

Alarmed at where symptoms like these might eventually lead, I did my own armchair diagnosis.

The diagnosis? Acute Facebookitis!

The cure? Phased withdrawal from the social media miracle known as Facebook.

According to the Facebook stats page, I have been a part of that universe since 2008. (Is that really possible?)

And for the most part, I have really LOVED it!

  • Where else can one find a platform from which to dispense one’s own slightly off-center commentary on the world and know that many more than two or three people sitting around your dining room table will hear it?
  • Where else can you go and regularly see pictures of family members who live 2,000 miles away from you?
  • And where else – pray tell – can you go and take a quiz to clarify which month you REALLY should have been born in?

But it was becoming increasingly clear to me: ever since entering semi-retirement, I have been spending waaaay too much time Facebooking. One sure-fire indicator (to me) that I was overdosing on this form of social media was my belief that posting my calm, rationally composed political views on Facebook would actually change someone else’s opinion!

I know… right?

And so… I started cutting back.

The first step was to remove the Facebook app from my phone. YIKES! That step was HUGE. I had no idea – until after the fact – how much time I spent every day mindlessly picking up my phone, tapping that friendly, blue icon and peeping in on the spiffed up, sanitized lives of a whole bunch of different people.

I didn’t realize it at first, but I soon became aware that I usually came away from that time feeling somehow “less than”. Studies have now shown conclusively that people who passively scroll through Facebook are more prone to depression than others. Psychologists theorize that this is because we look at the exciting and glamorous posts from our friends and judge our own lives to be rather shabby in comparison.

And let’s not even get started on political “discussions” on Facebook. Treading onto this turf guarantees one of two things will most certainly happen: 1.) You will be loudly affirmed and encouraged to continue holding the views you now hold, or 2.) You will be ridiculed, mocked, belittled, and condemned to hell for those same views.

And honestly… I am not sure either of those results helps me grow as a person.

I am pleased to tell you that removing the Facebook app from my phone brought an unexpected level of tranquility into my life. Since it was no longer there to check, I was instantly cured of the twitchy, impulsive practice of taking out my phone and “just checking.” I was actually free to lift up my eyes, talk to people around me, and notice the subtle shadings of spring beginning to appear.

And then came the season of Lent… that great time of self-denial and reflection on the Christian calendar. Could I go completely cold turkey and even give up Facebook on my laptop?

Here we are, in the last week of Lent, and I am happy to report that the withdrawal has been (mostly) painless. Since February 14 I have not maligned or been maligned by political adversaries. I have not tested my I.Q., or found out my celebrity crush, or investigated the amazing array of skin rejuvenation products available. I have not snarked or jeered at the fates of the basketball teams of my friends.

And not once have I pined for a life other than the one I am living right now!

On the other hand, I have also not congratulated anyone on their son or daughter’s piano recital, seen the photos of my siblings’ European vacation, told a high school buddy “Happy Birthday” or marveled at the wit and faith of one of my pastor pals.

In the end, I guess I have to conclude that Facebook is a lot like fire; kept under control and used judiciously and carefully it has an enormous capacity for good. Used mindlessly it can cause enormous harm.

Facebook – and all other forms of social media – are tools. Nothing more. Nothing less. It is up to you and me to use them wisely.

19
Mar
18

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.

27
Dec
17

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;

 

25
Aug
17

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?

01
Aug
17

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;

16
May
17

LISTEN!

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;




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