Posts Tagged ‘spirit

03
Jul
20

To Be Free

Birds flying freeDuring most years, the topic of freedom is something we trot out once a year… like our Christmas ornaments and tax returns.

When the calendar hits early July, we religiously unfurl the red-white-and-blue bunting, light M-80s and Black Cats and thank God and our forebears for the freedom we enjoy as Americans.

But this isn’t most years, is it? This is 2020… the cute little year that turned into a Gremlin when someone forgot the instructions and FED IT AFTER MIDNIGHT!

In one way or another, we have been engaged in a non-stop FREEDOM FORUM for the last three months.

It has been said that those who value freedom most are those to whom it has been denied. And right now, many of us feel as if that is a perfect description of US.

We have been imprisoned in our homes by the coronavirus… yearning for the freedom to enjoy bars, restaurants, and movie theaters.

We have been imprisoned behind all manner of face masks, yearning to see emotions freely expressed on faces of someone besides our spouse and/or pet.

We can’t travel. We can’t go to baseball games. We can’t go to church (well, some of us can’t anyway). We can’t go to our monster truck rallys and tractor pulls the way good Americans should.

“FREEDOM!” our anguished voices cry. “FREEDOM!!”

Seriously?

Are we seriously going to equate this moment of temporary inconvenience with the struggles endured by oppressed people for centuries?

Do we actually dare draw a connection between the shuttered neighborhood multiplex and the systemic denial of essential human rights?

“You can’t tell me to wear a mask! I’m an AMERICAN! I can do whatever the hell I want!” is the crusader’s cry today.

Right now, on the eve of our annual Independence Day celebration, might be a great time to step back, take a breath, and recalibrate what we mean when we use that hefty, consequential, multi-layered word.

It might be time for us to be reminded that freedom comes in many different flavors. There is, of course, the lowest-hanging fruit, the freedom of personal license… the license we each have to wildly swing our fists around in the air if we so choose. A freedom that abruptly ends at the tip of our neighbor’s nose, I might add.

There is political freedom in all its different global iterations.

And we can probably also talk about emotional freedom… our ability to “feel all the feels,” as the kids say.

But when it comes to the freedom that is really worth embracing and celebrating, there is no freedom that can hold a candle to the freedom Christ came to bring us.

Jesus – bearer of Ultimate Truth – tells his disciples that, “… you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:32, NRSV). Paul reminds his church in Galatia that, “For freedom Christ has set us free… do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1, NRSV). Paul also finds it necessary to keep the eyes of his beleaguered Roman believers focused on the new freedom that is theirs when he writes: “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” (Romans 8:2, NRSV).

Friends, freedom in Christ is the ultimate freedom. It is freedom to live. It is freedom from the bondage of sin. It is freedom from death. It is freedom from worry about the future. It is freedom to be the unique, unrepeatable human being God created you to be, no matter what.

Let’s use today – and every day left to us – to celebrate THAT freedom, shall we?

(But let’s keep the fireworks to a minimum, OK?)

27
May
20

Right? Or Wrong?

In my life, I’ve been wrong about a lot of things.

In the sixth grade, I told Marsha Westbrook I was going to marry her.

As this early 90s photo of me and my dad demonstrates, I once thought pleated jeans were a good idea. 539839E7-47A8-44E9-BA41-B9D7E11477C3

A quick check of my closet will show you that I am still holding on to a bolo tie, a 100% polyester “Chaminade” basketball jersey, and a pair of outdoor soccer cleats; clothing choices as wrong as wrong can be.

On the political front, I am a bit loathe to admit it, but there was a time I believed that trickle-down economics made a ton of sense.

At one point I was also convinced that the field of advertising and public relations was my true calling.

Yes, along the way I have also been right about some things too. I was, for example, spectacularly right about asking Joan to marry me. I was also spot on about confessing Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. My recommendation that our next car be a Toyota Prius is also looking pretty darned savvy right about now.

True… it might be the same way that a broken clock is right twice a day, but we won’t go there right now.

My interest right now is in looking at what happens to us internally when we are either WRONG or RIGHT about something.

For me, when I experience one of those rare moments of rectitude, I tend to get a bit cocky. I strut and preen a bit, like a prize-winning Rhode Island Red. I may (or may not) have even pantomimed a dropping-the-mic move and intoned the word, “BOOM!” to those around me recently.

In short, being right sometimes pumps up my ego a bit.

Being wrong, on the other hand, humbles me. It cuts me down to size and causes me to re-examine myself and my views. Granted, it often takes a shocking event or dramatic revelation to show me the error of my ways. But it also reminds me that I am not – after all – the end-all, be-all whiz kid I previously imagined myself to be.

As King David of Israel once said, “The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit…” (Psalm 51:17, NRSV). Not, you will note, “… a guy who consistently nails it.”

I suppose what matters most is being right about the right things. As much as I enjoy saying so, it actually doesn’t matter whether I am right about Patrick Mahomes being the next GOAT of the National Football League. (He will be, by the way).

Being right about the things that really matter is a continuous lesson in humility. Being right about marrying Joan means constantly reassessing my decisions and actions to ensure that they line up with BOTH of our sets of needs, not just mine.

Similarly, when you or I decide to make Jesus Christ the North Star of our lives, we also decide that all of our other values and priorities will be CONSTANTLY challenged. We can no longer, as Paul said in his letter to the Philippians, let our STOMACH (or other worldly appetites) be our god.

From here out, Christ followers have to question the impulse instead of just blindly responding to it.

As I write this, the day is young. I have only managed to get out of bed, walk the dog, dress, and eat breakfast. Most of those, I am proud to say went off without a hitch. There is still a VAST open space ahead in which to make mistakes, big and small.

The good news, however, is that with Jesus at the center, I have the unshakable assurance that my life will not be forever defined by those mistakes.

HALLELUJAH!

 

Abundant blessings;

22
Apr
20

An Innocent Man

Darryl Burton photoIn 1984, a drug dealer was shot to death at a gas station in St. Louis, Missouri. The shooter was identified as a light-skinned African American male, 5’5” in height. Police immediately began looking for suspects.

Even though Darryl Burton was dark skinned and 5’10” in height, he was summoned to a police lineup. Two men came forward identifying Darryl as the murderer. Both men were awaiting trial on other charges at the time but were offered a lighter sentence if they testified that Burton was guilty.

Darryl was assigned a public defender who spent one hour with him before his trial. A jury convicted him in less than an hour. Darryl was sentenced to life in prison without parole. He was sent to the Missouri State Penitentiary, one of the most violent prisons in the U.S.

As the sentence was being pronounced in the courtroom that day, Darryl remembers thinking, “When I heard the jurors say ‘Guilty,’ I felt shock and disbelief. I just didn’t think that, in America, an innocent man could be sent to prison, especially for capital murder.”

He also clearly remembers a huge banner that hung at the entrance of the penitentiary bearing this ominous advice: “Welcome to the Missouri State Pen. Leave all your hopes, family, and dreams behind.” When I saw that banner, it deeply affected me, and I lost all hope. I hated the place, the system, and anyone that had anything to do with it. It was hell on earth – filled with violence, evil, and hate.”

Darryl spent 24 years in the Missouri State Penitentiary as an innocent man. During that time, he wrote over 600 letters protesting his innocence, all to no avail. Darryl was finally freed in 2008 when an eyewitness declared under oath, “You have the wrong man. He’s too dark.” Darryl’s entire story – and information about his ongoing work on behalf of the wrongly convicted – can be found at: https://www.darrylburton.org.

After his release from prison, Darryl enrolled in seminary, and trained to become a pastor. He now serves as an associate pastor at the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas (https://www.cor.org). Church of the Resurrection the largest United Methodist Church in the U.S.

Personally, I have a hard time imagining a situation less conducive to hope than Darryl’s. Prisons – by their very design – drain the vitality from their inhabitants. Their purpose is to continually remind prisoners of the mistakes of their past and to suffocate any hopes for the future they might entertain.

I am not sure I would last 30 days in such a place, let alone 24 years.

And yet… in the midst of that literal hell on earth, Darryl somehow found hope. Besides poring over volumes in the prison law library, Darryl began reading the Bible. In its pages he discovered that, in his words, “… anger and hate can be another kind of prison.” The story of Jesus, as he hung on the cross, forgiving the people who tortured and executed him (Luke 23:34) changed his life. At that point, Darryl wrote one more letter; a letter to Jesus. In it he said, “Jesus, if you’re real and you help me get out of this place, not only will I serve you, but I’ll tell the world about you.”

Ten years before he was exonerated and physically set free, Darryl says that he was set free emotionally and spiritually.

Darryl’s story proves to me that hope can thrive in even the harshest environment. Hope is always there, like a seed lying dormant in our souls. All it takes is a little water and sunlight from God’s eternal Spirit to cause it to sprout and grow.

It is in the tough times – not the easy, breezy ones – when we discover that the breaking open of our hearts is the thing that allows that water and sunlight to come in.

Abundant blessings;

24
Feb
20

Short and Sweet

“For he knows how we were made;
he remembers that we are dust.

As for mortals, their days are like grass;
they flourish like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.”
                                                Psalm 103:14-16, NRSV

 

Ice cream cartonWould this ice cream taste as sweet if I did not anticipate the bottom of the carton?

Would these daylight hours be as precious if I never saw the lengthening of the shadows?

If I believed these moments on the telephone with my grandson would be endless, would I savor them quite this same way?

What part does the fleeting nature of her smile play in its utter holiness?

Is my awareness that the melody will fade somehow central to the joy it brings?

What if the certainty of death was really the secret sweetener of life?

We regularly shake our fists and rage against the fragility, finiteness, and temporary nature of our joys… insisting they become life’s permanent features.

How much wiser an investment of my emotional capital would it be to heed the wisdom of the ages and exercise my gratitude muscles during those sweet, special, holy, precious moments of life.

Is it possible that the grief we feel at life’s passing nature comes from our realization that we failed to hug it tightly to our chests while we had it?

“Dear God… Help me make today the start of a new practice of gratitude and thanksgiving for everything you have laid on my plate.  AMEN.”

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.

19
Feb
18

U is for Undaunted

(This post is the second in a series. Recently, my mentor/counselor/friend suggested I create an acrostic from the letters of my name as a way of claiming my God-given identity.)

The entire lifetime of Janis Joplin.

The whole of the time encompassing the birth, infancy, toddlerhood, preschool, kindergarten years, elementary school, awkward puberty, high school, initial dabblings in music, endless practice, mastery, brilliance, slogging along, touring, recording, stardom, struggle… the whole ride, all the way up to the tragic and untimely deaths of Janis… or Jimi Hendrix… or Jim Morrison… or Kurt Kobain…

27 years.

Nelson_Mandela-2008Which, as it turns out, is the same amount of time Nelson Mandela spent in jail on Robben Island, and in Pollsmoor and Victor Vester Prisons in South Africa.

Do you remember the moment? Do you remember seeing the live video, via satellite, on the day of his release in 1990?

I do.

I remember the joy exploding from his face… the throngs of adoring South Africans lining the streets, ten deep, calling his name, singing, dancing.

I remember the stoic scowls of the prison officials and guards.

Mandela emerged that day – from Hell – undaunted.

Whole. Unbroken. Unbowed.

27 years??? How is that even possible?

Was Mandela secretly a Marvel superhero… bitten by a radioactive spider… or born on a planet with a red sun in a far-off parallel universe… or charmed by a magic potion?

Or did he just figure out a way to tap into a hidden spring of Something… Something that might live inside every single one of us?

Can I too live undaunted?

Can I tap into the same Source he found?

Or must I first be martyred… unjustly imprisoned… stripped of freedom, dignity, and humanity in order to gain access to the deep wellspring from which Mandela drank?

Or is it mine for the asking?

Can it be found by those seeking release from different prisons; from the prisons of addiction, resentment, fear, or despair?

Is it available to those wounded only by rejection, hostility, loneliness, prejudice, or greed and not by clubs, bullets, and whips?

How deep do my wounds have to be?

How close to death’s doorstep must I crawl in order to taste this True Freedom?

Jesus says, “Yes. You can have it, too… whoever you are.”

Jesus says, “Come to me… for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28).

Yes. We too can live undaunted.

18
Dec
17

War? Seriously?

You have to admit, without hearing daily casualty counts it is hard to tell how the war is going.

No… I’m not talking about the war on terror, or the Afghan war, or the perpetual state of war and unrest in the Middle East.

I’m talking, of course, about the “war on Christmas” being waged throughout our fair land.

No doubt you have heard about some of the tragic losses that have been incurred by faithful, practicing Christians since the war began several years ago.war-on-christmas-decaf

WARNING: Read no further unless you have a high tolerance for graphic language and vivid descriptions of heartless, heinous acts. But here at the Bureau of Relentless Enquiry (or B.O.R.E. for short), we have it on very good authority that:

  • Elementary schools no longer stage “Christmas plays” featuring Mary, Joseph, shepherds, wise men and first graders dressed as sheep. Horrors!
  • Retail salespeople actually use the phrase, “Happy holidays!” when serving Christian customers in their stores. Yes! It’s true!
  • Starbucks has FREQUENTLY employed seasonal cup designs that have blatantly suggested that the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is NOT THE ONLY THING to celebrate at this time of year.
  • And…
  • Well, OK. That’s pretty much all I’ve got.

If it sounds like I am making light of this subject, you’re right.

I am.

Primarily because some of the reading I did years ago that taught me about times long ago when people who professed the Christian faith did so at their very real and unambiguous personal peril.

We are talking beatings, imprisonings, property seizings, and even killings. Not imagined personal slights and rebuffs.

No, I view the entire “war on Christmas” narrative as essentially a seasonally-adjusted expression of angst triggered by the fact that we live today in a world that is less white, less America-dominated, less Judeo-Christian, and less beholden to cherished tradition than it was 50 years ago.

I am suggesting here that you should translate the cry, “Help! They’re attacking Christmas!!” as really saying, “Help! Please make the world stop changing so fast!!”

It FEELS like an attack on Christmas because it just so happens that the changing shape and complexion of the world occurs at the exact moment that Christianity – and institutional religions of ALL stripes – are experiencing times of historic decline.

I frankly suspect there are Hindu households in the world where matriarchs and patriarchs gather and wring their hands about the “War on Gangaur”. *

Honestly though: the barista who chirps, “Happy holidays!” as he hands you your half-caf, skinny vanilla mocha frappuccino is NOT actually saying, “Fie on Christmas!” in some secret, satanic barista code.

He is, rather, saying, “Hey, I know this is a special time of year for lots of people. But I am not going to blurt out something that makes an assumption about what makes it special for YOU. I am going to offer you a warm greeting that you are free to interpret as you see fit.”

He also says it because the suits at corporate TOLD him to.

The Christian, theological point of Christmas is LOVE INCARNATE. In other words, “love in the flesh”… Love with skin on… Love that ACTS. It is summed up right there at the beginning of John’s gospel where it says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among them.” (John 1:14, NRSV).

And call me a naïve, one-worlder tree-hugger if you want to, but somehow I can’t connect a manufactured kind of religious prickliness with “love in the flesh.”

Remember the stuff I said at the beginning of this piece… where I pooh-poohed the idea of a “war on Christmas”?

I take it back. There IS a war on Christmas.

It is being waged by those who work to suck the love out of the season with protests that are actually “much ado about nothing.”

Happy holidays! Merry Christmas!

JOY to all.

*Gangaur” is the colorful and one of the most important festivals of people of Rajasthan and is observed throughout the state with great fervor and devotion by women who worship Gauri, the consort of Lord Shiva during March–April. Source: Wikipedia.

08
Mar
17

Mealtime

mealtime“So… what are you hungry for?”

If your household is anything like mine, this is a question that crops up on a fairly regular basis… usually an hour or two prior to the designated hour of the evening meal.

And if you are the one on the receiving end of this question, you have also discovered that there is a serious limit to the number of times you can get away with playing the, “Oh, I don’t know… whatever” card.

You have learned – perhaps the hard way – that if you are not going to do the work of PREPARING the food, you should at least be able to devote a couple moments of brainpower to narrowing down the options.

And yet… as much of a food fan as I am, I sometimes find this to be a surprisingly hard question to answer.

First of all, the question usually comes when I am not even thinking about food.

I find I have to stop and do about a minute and a half of mulling.

This mulling usually involves a very specialized kind of “belly discernment” exercise wherein I try to transform the abstract notion of eating into something specific and actionable.

For example: “Something delicious and healthy, please” is NOT a good response.

How about some shrimp skewers with grilled vegetables?” is much more helpful.

A good response to this question also calls for a good memory. You should try to avoid responding by suggesting something you just ate three days ago… even if you really, really liked it.

As a student of these matters I can assure you that the more care one takes in the answering of this critical question, the better the outcome – for all parties.

All of which leads to this further bit of pondering: what would it like if we all put a similar level of thoughtful discernment energy into answering that same question in relationship to our LIVES?

E.g. – What are you hungry for… in the grand scheme of things?

Of course one of the most classic answers to that question was provided by psychologist Abraham Maslow in his 1954 book, Motivation and Personality. In his famous pyramid, Maslow laid out the “hierarchy of human needs,” starting with basic physical needs at the lowest level, moving up to the need for safety, then to the need for love (or belonging), esteem, and ending with self-actualization or transcendence at the top. Another way to say the word “transcendence,” of course, is GOD.

I have not read Maslow’s book, but as I understand his thesis, a person cannot move to the next level on the hierarchy until he or she has satisfied the needs of the last level. For example, you cannot move on to satisfying your need for safety until you have first satisfied your basic need for food, air, and water.

This concept makes some sense. But it leads us to the conclusion that the need for God – standing as God does at the very top of the pyramid – is something of a luxury; i.e., a need that can only be addressed once all of the other “ducks” of your life are in a row.

The problem I find with Maslow’s concept is that it is completely at odds with the teaching of the scriptures and our Christian tradition. According to those sources, the hunger for God resides at the most basic level of the human experience.

Augustine – the first bishop of the Christian church – wrote about this hunger in his Confessions when he said: Our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.”

In his letter to the fledgling Christian community in Rome, Paul pointed to that same primal yearning with these words; “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God.” (Romans 8:19, NRSV).

And as you might expect, Jesus had the best version of the upside-down Maslow pyramid in this passage from Matthew’s gospel: “But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33, NRSV).

And so in a very real sense, it might be easier to answer the question, “What am I hungry for in my life?” than it is to answer the question, “What do I want for dinner?

Feast on God’s Word and be well.




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