Posts Tagged ‘reconciliation

16
Mar
21

Healing Snow

Turns out, all it took was an epic 23-inch snowfall!

Let me back up a second and explain…

My wife and I are relatively new residents of this little eight house cul-de-sac in Fort Collins, Colorado. We moved here in late November 2019. 

As we introduced ourselves around, we found that some of our new neighbors were quite friendly and outgoing, while others were more reserved. One of the friendlier folks was Fred (not his real name), who lives right across the way. 

Fred is retired and lives alone with his 93-year-old mother. One day last fall, Fred invited Joan and me over to share some coffee and socially distanced cinnamon rolls in their garage. It was a lovely time with good, lively conversation. Joan and I left saying, “We should invite them over for dinner as soon as this virus stuff goes away.”

And then – a couple of weeks later – I put a political sign in my front yard, expressing my support of one of the presidential candidates. Clearly it expressed support of exactly the opposite person Fred supported. I say this because the next time I was out in my yard and hollered out, “Hey, Fred! How’s it going?” I was met with an averted gaze and stony silence.

I gave it one more try a few days later, but with the exact same results.

“Dang!” I said to myself. “Looks like Fred now considers me to be The Enemy. I guess we’ll have to rethink that dinner invitation.”

It got so bad that one day while I was out walking the dogs, I saw Fred and his dog coming toward me from the other way. I quickly made a right turn on a side street in order to avoid eye or voice contact with Fred. 

Great, Christian behavior, eh?

I know similar scenarios were repeated over and over again across this country in both the before and aftermath (is there such a word as a “beforemath”? If not, there should be!) of this most recent presidential election. Relationships with neighbors, friends, co-workers and family members from coast to coast were rent asunder by political disaffection. 

Names were called. Voices were raised. Vows were broken, all in the defense of being on “the right side” of the contest. 

“How will we ever get past this?” I wondered. “How will these deeply felt wounds ever be healed, and relationships restored?” 

Well, I am happy to report to you that 23 inches of snow in 36 hours turns out to be the magical healing potion!

In the blizzard’s immediate aftermath, all of the cul-de-sac neighbors were out shoveling or snow-blowing their own driveways. That worked for the first day. But then came the question of how we each might travel beyond the end of our own driveways out into the world beyond. You see, our little neighborhood does not appear anywhere on the city’s list of “streets we must plow.” 

We are left to fend for ourselves.

So earlier today, Joan and I were out trying to carve a path from our driveway into the common roadway. Immediately across the way, Fred was out engaged in the same activity. Feeling empowered by our common plight, I decided to chance it…

“Hey, Fred!” I called out. “Have you been able to get out of your driveway yet?”

And then I waited.

Straightening up, resting his snow shovel on its blade and turning in my direction, Fred cupped his ear with his gloved hand and said, “WHAT?”

“It’s a start!” I thought excitedly.

I repeated my question and waited. Fred then told me that he had not tried getting out of his driveway yet but was making a path in order to try. He explained that he was confident that his four-wheel drive car would be able to handle the immediate terrain but had serious doubts about the ice-jam at the end of the cul-de-sac. That was followed by a couple of minutes of commiseration about the snow, the damned city plows, our respective vehicles, and the virtues of north and south-facing driveways.

VOILA! Relationship RESTORED!

Well, maybe not fully and totally restored… but at least no longer stuck in a state of frozen hostility. 

So, if you find yourself today wondering how you will break through the frozen ice-jam of relationships damaged by recent political hijinks, be at peace. The solution is staggeringly simple:

PRAY FOR 23 INCHES OF HEALING SNOW!

Abundant blessings;

13
Feb
21

A Flickering Beacon

The lines are drawn. The boundaries are set.

Deep trenches have been dug. 

Walls, moats, and impenetrable barriers have been set up.

Razor wire traces curlicues across the top of our parapets.

Each side glares across no man’s land at the other, ascribing the most craven and baseless motives to their actions. 

“You want to know what the devil himself looks like?” they ask. “Just take a look at THEM!”

Red and blue no longer make purple. Today they just seem to make mud.

And rising up in the middle of this tense terrain we hear voices wailing, “We have NEVER been so divided as a nation!”

To which I reply, “Stuff and nonsense.” After all…

  • It was only 57 years ago that this country passed the Civil Rights Act, national legislation that made it illegal to discriminate against people because of their race.
  • It was only 59 years ago that relationships between two people of the same gender were federally legalized.
  • It was only 64 years ago – well within my lifetime – that the governor of the state of Arkansas, Gov. Orval Faubus, ordered the National Guard to block the entrance to Little Rock’s Central high school in order to prevent nine African American students from attending the previously segregated high school.
  • It was only 100 years ago that women in this country were granted the right to vote.

Oh, no. We are indeed divided, but please don’t tell me we have never been more divided. 

From the very first day of our founding as a nation, these United States have been dramatically divided between haves and have-nots, blacks and whites, gays and straights, Norths and Souths, natives and immigrants, Christians and non-Christians, males and females, white collars and blue collars, and countless other sub-groupings.

We have defended our divisions, too. Blood has been shed and lives have been lost in the attempt to maintain those walls of separation and inequality.

The difference between then and now is that the light has finally been switched on. In the old days, we could close our eyes to those cultural/racial/economic/gender/social divisions and pretend they didn’t exist…

… [a practice, by the way, reserved for those of us born into the privileged classes.]

Today, thanks to social media and a 24/7 sleepless news cycle, we have to look. And when we do look, we can’t avoid seeing the reality of a nation that continues to fall short on delivering its “liberty and justice for all” credo.

Jesus said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32, NRSV). 

The truth is, deep divisions still remain in this country.

The truth is, this country still experiences serious injustice based on race, gender, sexuality, class, and ethnicity.

The truth is, lots and lots of people still value the maintenance of tribal loyalties more highly than the pursuit of the common good.

The truth is, this country can still stand as a beacon of civility, diversity, and honor in the world. 

The truth is, each of us is still invited to echo the words of King David, inviting God to; “Search me, God, and know my heart… See if there is any offensive way in me…” (Psalm 139:23 and 24, NRSV). 

The truth is, divisions are only dangerous if we see them as given, insurmountable obstacles instead of as the planks with which bridges might be built.

The truth is, God offers forgiveness to each of us who have helped foster greater division and animosity… and urges us to extend that same forgiveness to one another. 

The truth is, “… with God, ALL things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26, NRSV).

… INCLUDING reconciliation, justice, and healing.

Abundant blessings;

28
Jan
21

It’s Excavation Time

My friend chuckled. “Sure, I’ve been wrong before,” he said. “I think the last time was in 1993.” He then winked and added, “… but I could be wrong about that.”

And although he meant it as a joke, I wasn’t entirely sure he was kidding.

Many of us – your faithful correspondent included – often have a barnacle-like attachment to a foundational set of Life Truths. Those truths inform our actions, shape the way we receive information, color our relationships with the people we meet, and guide our emotions.

And when a person has attained a certain, shall we say, maturity level, they have a tendency to hold on to those anchors even more tightly. They (we) say, “HEY! I’ve lived a lot of life here… I’ve seen hypotheses come and go… I’ve sorted through a lot of chaff to get to the wheat… I’ve weathered a jillion different trends. I think I have earned the right to plant my flag RIGHT HERE and say loudly and proudly, ‘THIS IS WHAT IT IS!’”

 But… what if they’re (we’re) wrong?

Are we even willing to entertain that possibility? Or is our entire campaign now dedicated to proving the iron-clad soundness of our position? Or, as my friend’s T-shirt proudly declares, “I’m not arguing… I’m just explaining to you why I am right.”

If any of this sounds familiar to you, it is probably because I have just sketched you a picture of the political terrain of the U.S. in the year 2021. 

But it actually goes a little deeper than that. It is not just, “I’m right and you’re wrong.” It is more like, “I’m right, you’re wrong, and your wrongness is an ominous threat to my personal safety and well-being.”

There are many well-qualified historians who will explain for you – in detail – how we got to this place. Their analyses are worth paying attention to. Likewise, there are baskets full of sociologists who will describe the mechanisms that help encourage and maintain our current state of political and philosophical Balkanization. 

But you are smart enough already to know that widespread, indiscriminate use of social media is a primary culprit. It is a sad truth that most forms of social media thrive on the silo-ification of the populace.  

The real question today is, “What are we – the people on the street – going to do about it?”

And while it might seem massively unfair that WE should have to be the ones to shoulder the burden of reconciliation, it should be clear by now that our political leaders aren’t going to do it for us… no matter how much they bloviate about things like “unity” and “bipartisanship.” 

Because when it comes right down to it, politicians’ daily bread is buttered by a hostile and divided public. 

That is why I am here to suggest that a simple starting place might be for each of us to develop the willingness to utter the phrase, “You know… I might be wrong about that.”

Oooo! Yuck! It stings my fingertips a little just to type those words out! Imagine the pain of actually SPEAKING them out loud! TO ANOTHER PERSON!!

It’s tough! Because saying those words – and MEANING them – requires us to first do a little excavation. Step One involves unearthing each of the Truth Pillars beneath our life’s foundation. Step Two is pulling them apart and examining each of them with a piercing, objective microscope. And then finally, if we discover that one of those Pillars contains serious structural flaws, we have to summon the moral courage to abandon it… sometimes without even knowing what we are going to replace it with. 

As you can see, this is not work for the faint of heart…

… but it is perfect work for the truly humble of heart. 

The Apostle Paul knew – over 2,000 years ago – that you could be trusted with this vital work. That is why he wrote these words, “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.” (2 Corinthians 5:18-19, NRSV)

And so, if Paul trusts you to do it, why shouldn’t I?

Abundant blessings;

06
Aug
20

There Must Be a Reason

Asking whyMy wife, Joan, is a big fan of “doing things for a reason.”

And there is always a good, solid reason for the things she does.

When cooking her world-famous pasta primavera, for example, [What… you’ve never heard of it?] it is not by whim or accident that the carrots are cut to THAT exact size, or why they go into the water 10 minutes beforethe broccoli florets.

She chose to drive to Loveland via Highway 287 rather than I-25 the other day for the very good reason that Google alerted her to a possible tie-up on the interstate.

For the long-term health of our marriage, it is a really good thing she is wired this way. That’s because – as you might have guessed by now – I am sort of wired with the opposite polarity. “Oh, I don’t know… no reason,” is the phrase that most often comes out of my mouth when Joan asks why I chose THAT particular shirt to wear, or why I am using THAT tool to pull weeds from the yard.

Having a reason for the things one does is smart and commendable. And even though I only sporadically engage in this practice, I highly recommend it…

… except, that is, when it comes to the subject of love.

And to be clear, I am talking here about the selfless, unconditional, Christ-like, agape kind of love when I say this. Romantic-style love usually proceeds on a whole host of reasons… some rational, others not so much.

In the 22nd chapter of Matthew’s gospel, we find Jesus engaged in a street-corner debate with a lawyer. Eager to match wits with this up-and-coming rabbi, the lawyer poses this question: “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” (Matthew 22:36, NRSV). Knowing that there were 613 laws to choose from, this hot-shot thought he had really painted Jesus into a corner.

As usual though, Jesus quiets the questioner and the crowd with a simple, straightforward response. He answers the lawyer by saying, “Love God, and love your neighbor. Everything else is window dressing ” Or words to that effect.

For me, the really revolutionary part of this response is the two words Jesus does NOT include in his answer.

Jesus’ answer does NOT include the words, “So that…”

In other words, he did not say, “Love your neighbor SO THAT the other guy will thank you.”

He didn’t say, “Love your neighbor SO THAT they will ‘owe you one’ and love you back.”

He didn’t say, “Love your neighbor SO THAT the crime rate in your neighborhood will go down.”

Heck… he didn’t even say, “Love your neighbor SO THAT she will join your church.”

There were, however, two other words that came after the word “neighbor.”  He said, “LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.”

Wow! Wild. Radical. Revolutionary. Necessary.

Of course, if anyone had asked Jesus to explain WHY we should love our neighbor, he probably would not have said, “Oh I don’t know… no reason.”

 

He probably would have said something like, “Because your Father told you to!”

06
Jul
20

Ideal vs. Real

Flag on houseI flew my American flag every day last week.

No… I did not fly my flag because of some sudden, Fourth-of-July-inspired outburst of patriotism.

I flew my flag because that’s just what I do. Flying the American flag is a routine, everyday occurrence at our house.

“How can you?” some might ask. “When you look at the injustice, the racism, the corruption, and the greed that have helped build this country, how can you fly that flag and support all of that?”

I reply that I don’t fly my flag out of ignorance about the deep, ingrained flaws of my country and its leaders. On the contrary, I am VERY aware of (and deeply ashamed by) a lot of what is happening in this country today.

I fly my flag because I love and support the IDEALS our country was founded on; ideals which it still – I believe – stands for… no matter how poorly.

Joan and I also faithfully attend the church of our choice.

How can you?” some might ask. “How can you possibly overlook the role that religion has played in fomenting hatred and war around the world? How can you possibly square today’s vast storehouse of scientific knowledge with the unscientific mythology of a book of 3,000-year-old writings?”

I reply that I do not choose to be a believer because I am ignorant of the massive harm done by people of faith over the centuries.

I choose faith because of the IDEALS espoused by Jesus Christ and those who transcribed God’s Word into the sixty-six books of the Holy Bible.

Having said that, I need to level with you; the time is long overdue – both for this country and for the church – to start working a lot harder to reconcile the IDEAL and the REAL.

Because of the tragic confluence of recent events, this country has been offered a real opportunity for soul-searching and course correction. We can no longer cling to the illusion that we as Americans live under some kind of divinely ordained exceptionalism that allows us to sweep our national sins under a gigantic rug.

That rug can’t hold any more. It has finally burst wide open, vomiting out its shameful secrets for all to see.

The only acceptable way forward for this country is through a campaign of genuine repentance.

And even though its affliction might not be as pronounced or as visible as the country’s affliction, the same can be said for the church. The time for the church to actually practice what it preaches in terms of love of God and neighbor, justice for the oppressed, mercy to the poor, and outcast, healing for the stricken is long overdue.

It is time for the church to abandon its “edifice complex,” stop acting as a willing stooge for the Empire, and summon the courage speak truth to power, the way Jesus did regularly. (For a great example of this, check out Jesus’ blistering tirade toward the religious leaders of his day in Matthew 23:13-30. It begins with, “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites…” and uses the next 17 verses to basically rip those leaders into bloody shreds.) 

Right now I find it incredibly hard to affirm my faith in this country. But I have seen dark times before. I have also seen us wipe off the muck, reconnect with our North Star, and get back on track.

I am just naïve enough to believe the country can do the same thing again.

Crazier still, I believe the church can, too.

You see, when the Apostle Paul reminded me that God gave me (and anyone else who follows Jesus) the “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18, NRSV), he was thinking big picture. Yes, he was talking about the reconciliation of men with women, of slave with free, of believer with non-believer, black with white, and American with non-American.

But I believe he was also talking about the reconciliation of IDEAL and REAL.

And THAT might be the biggest miracle of reconciliation of all.

 

Abundant blessings;

06
Jan
20

Too Long Coming

Asbury flagsIt is good to see the United Methodist Church finally “grow a pair,” as they say, and take an unequivocal stand on the side of justice and inclusion.

It is just sad that it took them so long to do so.

According to news from the denominational communications folks, a document called the Protocol Of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation was agreed to and signed recently by a significant group of United Methodist bigwigs and poo-bahs.

The gist of this Protocolis that the United Methodist Church will formalize plans for a divorce when its global General Conference meets in May this year. This divorce will involve the people who oppose same-sex marriage and the ordination of LGBTQ+ leaving the United Methodist Church and forming their own denomination.

The name of that breakaway denomination has not yet been decided, although rumor has it that The Church of Narrow Mindedness and Exclusion has been officially rejected as an option.

As a person with firsthand experience of divorce, I can tell you that divorces are never good. For anyone. Even the smoothest and most amiable splits cause pain, stress, regret, and bitterness that lasts a long, long time.

Sometimes though, divorce is the only way for both parties to move forward and fully become who they are called to be. I believe this is the exact crossroads the United Methodist Church faces today.

On the one hand, I have to credit the leaders who finally arrived at the conclusion that it was time for the parties to go their separate ways. Some of the details of the split seem designed to minimize the hardship for either group that will result from this de-merger.

 

On the other hand, the length of time it took to finally arrive at this decision is inexcusable. Failing to bite the bullet and split the United Methodist Church YEARS AGO caused untold levels of suffering for untold thousands of good, faithful people. Although this metaphor is probably overstated by several degrees, I liken it to dragging out the decision to divorce in a marriage involving child and spousal abuse.

The longer it takes to decide to split, the more injury keeps being inflicted on the aggrieved parties. Sometimes trying to “stay together for the sake of the children” does more harm than good.

So today, I am really not sure how I feel about this news.

I am now officially retired from United Methodist ministry, so I am not faced with leading a congregation through the morass of discernment in the coming months. I am praying for my pastor pals who are still in the trenches and striving to hear all voices, including God’s, in this challenging time.

As a cradle United Methodist though, I am mostly embarrassed by the church’s foot-dragging and failure to lead. I am not sure it is any longer possible for UMs to march under the banner of “Social Justice Advocates” in any credible way.

So… I guess congratulations to the United Methodist Church for finally taking a stand and doing the right, no matter how painful, thing.

But shame on you for taking 20 years too long to do it.

11
Jul
16

A Rude Awakening

clock radio

I’ll go ahead and admit it: most of the time, I really don’t like waking up.

When my alarm clock rings, it almost always intrudes on a nice, restful sleep. Sometimes its obnoxious sound comes crashing in to the middle of a wonderful, warm, fuzzy dream… leaving me to wonder if I ever did find that buried treasure, or fly to South America (under the power of my own arms, of course), or receive that Nobel Prize.

And if you have ever tried to do this, of course, you know that you can’t ever flip over, hit the “Snooze” or “Off” button on the alarm and keep on dreaming the same dream.

It is gone… like a puff of smoke.

I have also discovered that here lately there are a whole series of creaks and pops and sharp pains that arrive shortly after I begin stirring from my slumber.

And I wonder, “What that is all about? It certainly wasn’t always like that…”

In fact, you could say that waking up is just one gigantic – yet necessary – pain. It is with good reason it is sometimes referred to as “… a rude awakening.”

It is also what I sincerely hope is beginning to happen in this country right now.

In the light of the kind of week we have just endured… where we have seen new examples of over-reaction by police officers that have left black men dead and then the horrific slaughter of police officers by an angry, deranged vigilante… we can do little more than cry out in pain, anger, and confusion.

But do you think it is possible that these pains could also be the pains of a moment of long overdue awakening?

I want to be careful not to seem to be rushing to paint a smiley face onto a set of truly heartrending events. But I do want to ask whether we believe this tragic and unique moment could well have given us a rare opportunity.

Is it possible that this moment has given us an opportunity to REALLY listen… to REALLY take stock… to REALLY face up to and repent of the darkness that resides in each one of our hearts?

Is it possible that this moment in our country is similar to that moment when – after years and years of listening to your doctor blather on about how you need to exercise more, drink less, cut down on your red meat consumption, and all the other blah, blah, blah nonsense he talks about – the heart attack finally hits and you say, “OH! So THAT’S what she was talking about!”

Yes, I believe it is possible that this is indeed just such an awakening moment. But it can only actually BECOME that moment if we act on it… if we take actual steps in the direction of dropping assumptions based on ignorance and/or privilege… if we engage in conversations that seek to understand vs. conversations that seek to prove our point… if we reach out to hold the hand of a brother or sister we have previously shunned.

Some of us, I know, would really prefer to go back to sleep and pretend that alarm clock never rang. Some would love to retreat back into the comfortable recesses of the familiar and fuzzy world our exhausted brains have created for us.

But Slumberland is not where the work gets done. It is the place that lets us go on approximating reality without actually engaging it.

And so, even though it could be painful, sudden, and not exactly what we had in mind, the time is now to wake up, get busy, and do the hard work we were created to do.




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