Monday, March 31, 2014
So, I’ve started my blog about 5 or 6 times tonight…I can’t figure out if I want to share how busy I am, how tired I am, or how awed I am. Frankly, none of those seem all that interesting to me…even the awe experience was quite selfish. Seriously, who really cares?
When I was in Victoria visiting mom, she shared with me a story about her homeless friend, Pete. He lives in his van and usually is parked at one of the truck stops on Highway 59. He told her about a man who successfully crossed into Texas from Mexico and hitched a ride underneath an 18-wheeler as far as Inez, Texas. It was the Sunday that cold front blew in. By the time the truck stopped, he was wet and freezing cold. He knocked on the window of Pete’s van and Pete freely shared what food he had, along with dry clothes.
No, we don’t need to talk about how busy or tired or awed I am.
After I left Victoria, I drove up to San Antonio to have a birthday celebration brunch with my eldest son and my future daughter-in-law. Josh (my son) was telling me about the certifications he had received that week – something about a simulator and learning how to evacuate from a helicopter if it hit the water (the certification allows him to go out to the rigs in the gulf). I was just amazed listening to him describe the various scenarios they went through in his training.
No, we don’t need to talk about how busy or tired or awed I am.
On Saturday, after leaving Mom’s house and meeting up with Josh, I got home and then met with a family to plan a memorial service for their patriarch. I had met with him, his wife, and his daughter just two weeks prior…and knew he was terminal. But, the prognosis was at least 2-3 more months. Yet, he died less than two weeks later. There is something I can only describe as holy that happens when I am invited into the lives of people who are hurting or grieving. We celebrated his life today and I honestly cannot imagine what it looks like to move forward after spending nearly 50 years with your childhood sweetheart. She will, I know. Her faith is strong and their relationship was such that she is equipped…but oh my. What an incredible gift to have had that love, that bond, for so long.
No, we don’t need to talk about how busy or tired or awed I am.
In between meeting with the family and officiating the service, my youngest son and I had to make that hard decision about our 21-year old cat. Jasmine – or Jazz – has been part of our family since this son was only 6 months old. This past year, she has certainly shown her age. Six months ago, she had a seizure and we thought, this is it. But, she pulled through. At least until this past weekend. She had another seizure Saturday night and just didn’t come out of it well…she was disoriented and weak. She woke me in the middle of the night and she couldn’t seem to figure out what to do with her limbs. So, after I finished with our morning worship services and returned home, Nate and I agreed it was time to let her go.
It was peaceful and quick…I don’t really think she felt anything other than the peace of knowing she wouldn’t struggle anymore. We brought her home and Nate spent the afternoon digging in our rocky, hard soil so we could bury her. And we did, last evening after our Sunday night worship service.
So, yes I’ve been busy and tired and awed.
Thank you, God, for filling my life with so many who mean so much…for giving me good reason to be busy and tired and awed.
Wednesday, March 26, 2014
Someone sent this to me earlier this week, as a follow up to Sunday’s sermon. We’ve been taking an in-depth look at the Beatitudes in Matthew’s gospel throughout Lent. This past week’s focus was on the merciful and the pure in heart. I was pretty upfront that this last one, pure in heart, was a tough one for me to interpret.
There's something about the last line that doesn't sit all the way well with me but I haven't figured it out yet. Maybe its the idea that me and God are all I need when, really, God intended specifically for us to be in community, to be in relationship with one another. So, I think it matters what between us -- not for approval or acceptance, but for the sake of responding to God's love.
There are lots of ways we can look at it, and I wrestled with many of them…but finally, what seemed appropriate for me, at the time, was the idea that when we live out of the commandment to love God, love neighbor, and love self, we are more likely to respond to others in ways that reflect our understanding of God. It’s really simple. And, really hard. Because we – ok, I – have not yet gotten to the point where this commandment, this crazy love-attitude, is my knee-jerk reaction. I have to take the time to stop and think, to restrain myself from acting out of my natural human response.
The poem that was sent to me included a notation that it was penned by Mother Theresa of Calcutta. I don’t doubt that she could have written something like this but…I have gotten into the habit of verifying things, especially before I put them back out in cyberland. From what I can find, these words were originally written by Kent Keith when he was a 19 year old sophomore at Harvard College in 1968. Mother Theresa had the words (not the full text of Keith’s work) enlarged on a poster that she hung up on the wall of Shishu Bhavan, her children’s home in Calcutta. In response, those who visited assumed she had written it.
Even without her authorship, these words point us to an attitude about ourselves that frees us from the need for approval or acceptance from anyone other than God. I’ve read them several times this week and thought you might enjoy them, too.
People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies.
If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you.
Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, will often be forgotten.
Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.
Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God.
It was never between you and them anyway.
There's something about the last line that doesn't sit all the way well with me but I haven't figured it out yet. Maybe its the idea that me and God are all I need when, really, God intended specifically for us to be in community, to be in relationship with one another. So, I think it matters what between us -- not for approval or acceptance, but for the sake of responding to God's love.
Tuesday, March 25, 2014
Yesterday, I mentioned a monthly seminar some from our staff participated in on Monday. It’s possible you’ll be hearing me talk more about this over the next several posts (although, honestly, I don’t know what I’m going to write about until I sit down and face the white screen of “paper” in front of me…). We covered some deeply thought-provoking concepts and, as I work through them, they may become topics…as does today’s installment.
Here’s the quote that has stuck in my mind:
You do not build a society up by breaking the people within it down.
Immediately, I think of all the facebook posts that just make me cringe with their animosity towards some group or individual. And yes, do this enough, and I will just hide your posts. There is nothing helpful about ranting against a group of people, especially when you personalize it. We end up polarized and a polarized society is just a compilation of arguing factions all pointing their fingers at some other group. Hate wins.
As a people of faith – and no, not everyone on my “friends” list is a declared, card-carrying believer in Jesus Christ…or God, for that matter – but, for those of us who claim a Christian identity, we are called to take seriously the commandment to love God, love neighbor, and love self. This is the guiding principle for our faith. We can disagree on all kinds of things but we do so out of a stance of love. Or, at least, that’s what our faith calls us to do.
I have hurt people in my life. I guarantee you that I have not always operated out of that great commandment. I can not only get angry, I can employ sarcasm with a barbed and hurtful tongue. The more I grasp the love that God has for me, barbed tongue and all, the more I can step back and at least think before I spew. Most of the time. It’s something I have to work at…and sometimes, I do a better job than at other times. It is frighteningly easy for me to put my emotional needs ahead of my connection to God.
I share that to say that I get it. We struggle with our need to insist on our own way, our own needs, our own ideas, our own beliefs. But, the minute we tear someone or a group of someones apart because their ways, needs, ideas, or beliefs are different from ours, we are complicit in tearing down God’s people.
And that reminds me of another quote (no idea where I heard this but it has stuck with me for a long time)…
It is better to be in right relationship than to be right.
This is day 18 of the 40 days of Lent. What would it look like for us to choose to build up the people we encounter (or hear about on the news/online/etc) for the remainder of this season? What if we stopped finger-pointing and name-calling for the next 3 or so weeks? We are called to build up people, to love them just as they are – no matter how misguided and uninformed we may think they are. After all, God loves us just as we are…regardless.
Monday, March 24, 2014
I am the baby in my family…the youngest of my generation on both sides of the family tree. Yes, there are advantages. Truly, I appreciate these advantages much more today than I did when I was younger…
But growing up? Everyone got to do things that I wasn’t allowed to do. The response to every request seemed to be, you can do that…when you grow up. To say I was impatient to be “grown up” enough to do things is a terrible understatement.
Looking back, I imagine I drove my parents crazy. I could ask mom but…no, I’d really rather not hear her take on my impatience. I’m sure I was a trial. It was a trial for me as well.
It seemed I struggled with patience and waiting at least until I was somewhere in my 30s. My guess is, I saw my children growing up so quickly and decided I could wait. Please. Amazing how quickly time passes from rocking a sleeping infant to hauling half the team to baseball practice to high school graduation. I learned to slow down and wait. Mostly.
These days, I find I am most impatient with myself or, rather, with becoming whoever it is God intended me to be. I am much more comfortable in my skin that I was in my early years…and, at the same time, I see myself as unfinished, not yet fully me. I’m curious about these next however many years and do have to sit myself down occasionally and remind myself to be patient…to trust and wait. At home and in my office, I have the words of Psalm 46:10 displayed as they have become my mantra..."Be still, and know that I am God." I need the constant reminder to be still...and to trust.
This morning, in a monthly leadership seminar several of us from our church staff participate in, I was introduced to the deeply mystical work of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin – French Jesuit priest, philosopher, paleontologist, and geologist (1881-1955). Our instructor shared this devotional, entitled Patient Trust, by Teilhard…and it struck a deep chord in me. May it do so for you as well.
Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We should like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability – and that it may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you. Your ideas mature gradually – let them grow, let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on, as though you could be today what time (that is to say grace and circumstances acting on your own good will) will make of you tomorrow.
Only God can say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be. Give our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.
Friday, March 21, 2014
With the death of Westboro Baptist’s lead figure, Fred Phelps, yesterday, I really expected to see a great deal more of a response on facebook than I did. I must say, I was pleasantly surprised that so few felt the need to comment and that those who did, did so in a rather graceful way. Your newsfeed may have been different from mine – obviously we all have a diverse group of “friends” – but I was really grateful for the lack of snarkiness that could have easily been offered in the wake of his death.
For as much as he was about marketing hate, he was a very tortured man. I can’t imagine what it would be like to constantly be about the business of encouraging and mobilizing people to exhibit and vocalize their hatred of other groups of people. As one person shared on facebook, I pray he has found the peace in death that eluded him so much in life.
I have come to know a great many people, especially as they journey through crises or challenges. It’s one of the most sacred aspects of my job, this entrée into the lives of others. It strikes me that we have enough in our own lives to deal with without making something that another group is involved with a primary focus for us…and, yet, we do this so we can ignore our own stuff, if only for a little while. We are such strange, strange creatures. It’s that whole “take out the log in your eye before you remove the speck from your neighbor’s eye” message Jesus tried to teach us. We just have such a hard time choosing to deal with our stuff first.
So, I pray that Fred Phelps finds peace. I pray that those who followed him can let go of the banner of hatred they have carried so long and find peace as well. I also pray that I will have the strength to deal with my stuff and give you the freedom to deal with your own stuff at your own pace…
Thursday, March 20, 2014
I am reading a fascinating book by Robert A. Johnson entitled, Owning Your Own Shadow. I’ll start with the confession that I am not terribly familiar with Jungian psychology which incorporates this concept of our “shadow” side…but I am enough of a human and enough of a student of life to acknowledge that we all have within us the equal capacity for good and evil.
Most of us, though, would rather not admit we have such a capacity. I don’t know that I could have put it in those words before myself. But, I see it. When my life was in such awful turmoil, my brother-in-law came over one day to help me sort through some of the financial mess and then took me to a gun range. He had brought several of his pistols and we loaded up on ammunition as we headed into the shooting area. He walked me though the basics, ensuring I had at least a rudimentary understanding of gun safety.
It was an amazing release! No, I can’t imagine actually firing a weapon at a live human but wow…I did some serious damage to that paper target. As I begin to understand the balance we keep between our “good” side and our “shadow” side, I can see how this gave my shadow side an outlet…one that didn’t cause harm to another or myself but simply was expressed and released. The result? I really did feel better, more balance and more in control of myself.
I’ve thought back to the early days when things at my house were really tough and remember assigning the boys with the task of replacing fence boards in our back yard. Just that act of hammering nails into wood was sufficient to release a lot of that bottled shadow-y stuff. And, my fence got repaired, so it was a good deal all around.
The author makes the case – though I’m not finished with the book and may amend this – that we do well to seek balance between the two, less we go overboard on our so-called “good” side and then turn around a smack innocent bystanders with our shadow stuff. I know that I have been in those situations where I am almost gritting my teeth into nubs, trying desperately to maintain my calm and cool…and the minute I am removed from the situation, I erupt. That stuff has to come out somehow and the author, thus far anyway, encourages an awareness that will allow us to tend to our shadow eruptions without inflicting them in ways that are harmful.
Maybe all this sounds just a bit far-fetched. Maybe it seems that I am dipping my toe a bit too heavily into a realm beyond our faith-filled upbringing. I don’t think so. Take some time to look through the gospel accounts of Jesus. Notice how often he went off by himself, got away from others. Yes, he went to pray but I would imagine he might have thrown some rocks or screamed into the emptiness just to vent out all of that stored up frustration. One of the strangest stories is the story of Jesus cursing the fig tree as he was making his way from Bethany into Jerusalem the day after his glorious arrival into town. It wasn’t fig season. The tree should not have had any fruit on it. And, yet, Jesus let loose with a curse…and the fig tree died.
We are currently in a season of high anxiety and stress. We are trying so hard to keep our nice on, to be loving and kind and generous…and really, we’d like to kick something. Or maybe that’s just me and I’m projecting on to you…if so, I apologize. I would like to kick something. But I’d rather you didn’t see me kick anything. Therein lies the struggle in balancing the goodness within us with the shadow side we all have as well.
Wonder what it would be like if we stopped acting like this whole shadow side didn’t exist? What if we could be more open and honest about our complete selves…the good, the bad, and the ugly? I’m not suggesting we go around kicking each other. But wouldn’t it help if we could incorporate and encourage space in our daily lives to at least own that dark stuff, give it a healthy outlet, and find a balance unlike any we have really experienced before?
I may just need to find me a gun range…
Wednesday, March 19, 2014
Let me just say there are days when I feel like perhaps I may qualify for “mother of the year” and days when I absolutely do not… today was one of those do not days…
In fact, if I were to be completely honest, I’d say the whole day was a bust. I find that, for the most part, I get along with most people. I don’t have a whole lot of expectations and rather pride myself on being open to differences and so forth. But. Oh My God. Not today.
I’ve spent the last few day prepping for my message tomorrow during our noon mid-week communion service. We are focusing on the parables in Matthew during this Lenten season and my turn comes up tomorrow….the parable of the sower.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read this parable and tried to convince myself what good soil I am. And, yet, as I did my study and spent time wondering about this parable, I finally saw something new. The sower was something else.
I want you to notice that the sower spread seed everywhere. Good soil, thorny soil, bad soil – it didn’t matter. The sower was extravagant in spreading the seed in all places.
What, then, does that mean for us? Well, we can take a lot of time wondering on the different types of soil. I get that most of us assume the unasked question, what soil are you? But, let’s be serious for a minute. Jesus never once asks that question.
Again, I focus on the sower. Here is God or Jesus or whoever you assign the role of the sower…and the seed gets cast all over the place, over and over again. No one is stopping to evaluate the efficiency of the method. No one is pausing to ponder the futility of such extravagance. It just is.
Isn’t that true for us? Don’t we receive grace we absolutely do not deserve? And, if we receive such grace, doesn’t it make sense that the sower is calling us to spread whatever seed, whatever witness we are prepared to offer, indiscriminately?
And yet…we don’t. We calculate the odds. We wait until we feel confident enough that the hearers are well prepared for our words of wisdom.
The sower didn’t make such calculations. The sower simply went out, casting what he knew without much concern about where it landed.
I look at my church and I see such amazing calculation. We are so afraid that we will make a mistake, that we will fail, that we hold tightly to what we might offer until we are absolutely convinced it is right. That’s not what Jesus did. Or lived. Or taught.
What will it take for us to assume the posture of the sower? What will it look like for us to let go of our stuff and acquiesce to what God is calling us to? I think it’s pretty radical. And not easy. But, oh my Lord, I pray that we can find a way to stop being so caught up in ourselves.
Maybe I won’t be so feisty tomorrow….maybe. But, at least my son and I are on much better terms.
Monday, March 17, 2014
Isn’t it interesting how we tend to think that there is only one right way of doing something, or one right answer…I mean seriously. There are all kinds of right ways and answers with some degrees of better thrown in.
Tonight, I got to listen to a group of people get worked up over what, in their mind, is the RIGHT way to move forward on a project…a project that they are not involved in at all. It occurred to me that when we are in a place where our anxiety is high, we can easily become critical and choose not to trust others.
I’ve recently finished reading Phyllis Tickle’s book, The Great Emergence. I got to hear her speak last May on this concept of the emerging church and looked forward to reading her book. In that work, she talks about how our culture/society/world goes through a major shift about every 500 years. She reasons that we are in the midst of one of those such shifts today. After reading her book and reflecting on the changes I have witnessed, I tend to agree with her. She makes an alluring and impressive case.
In terms of our shifts from a faith perspective, she lifts up that the last major shift occurred about the time of the great Protestant Reformation. If you know your church history, you’ll recall that those within the Catholic church were calling for reforms, calling for the church to stick more closely to what was recorded in scripture rather than expounding on it to the point of adding requirements that had no basis in scripture (collecting money for things such as indulgences – papal prayers for those caught in purgatory). Indulgences were a kind of fundraiser perpetrated by the church with the goal of building St. Peter’s Basilica. But there were those who had an issue with this practice, such as Martin Luther (though there were others, he is the most noted among the protestors). Out of that season of conflict and challenge came the call to dismiss anything that did not have roots in scripture – sola scriptura, scriptura sola – only scripture and scripture only. And the Protestant churches were born, in a violent split from the Catholic church.
Today, we are caught in a shift because we’ve argued with scripture. Where scripture spoke about slavery but not against it, we eventually came to see slavery as the evil it was…but that wasn’t because we were staying “true” to the biblical mandate. Later, women would receive rights they were never allowed according to our biblical witness. And, now, we are faced with a changing perspective in terms of sexual orientation. We think we know what the Bible says but at the same time we recognize something different and so that tide is shifting as well. As a result, we are no longer looking at scripture as the leading authority…and that creates a huge shift in our religious culture.
It’s not isolated to religion or matters of faith. Every aspect of our culture, our society, is experiencing a major shift. And, let me tell you, that just breeds anxiety upon anxiety. We don’t know what to expect. Our world is changing and we can’t keep up. We are like the ancient Hebrew people released from bondage and living in the wilderness – and, Lord, we want to go back to Egypt. We want desperately to go back to what we know, to what is familiar and comfortable and predictable.
But we can’t. And, let’s be honest, it pisses us off. We get anxious. We get caught up, worked up, and we do just about everything we can think of to stop the tide of change. We insist that we know the way out of this, that we have all the right answers, and we don’t even bother to look at who we might be stepping on to ensure we get our way.
Yeah, I’m a little annoyed, tonight.
The one question we rarely ask when we are feeling anxious or threatened is this…where is God in all of this? It’s like we get so caught up in our own needs and wants and desires that we can’t even think to stop and seek discernment of what God is doing and where God is leading.
Statistic after statistic predict a great decline in the Christian churches of America. We, supposedly, are becoming more and more irrelevant. Why? Because we are trying too hard to hold on to yesteryear and we are scared to death that tomorrow may bring about a change that challenges our expectations.
And yet…there is so much that is hopeful and promising in the midst of this great shift. We are asking questions and being more honest about who we are and how we relate to God than we’ve done in years upon years. The cool thing about these 500 year shifts is that the church always benefits…there has historically been an increase in people who strive to live into their relationship with God.
So, we’ll argue and fuss and get mad and disappointed. But, in the end, we’ll get to that place where we simply put ourselves into God’s care and let go. The kingdom of God is near…again.
Saturday, March 15, 2014
Have you ever stopped to think about all the textures you encounter each day? I’m talking the emotional ups and downs as well as those occasional glimpses of contentment, peace, awe, and wonder. Still not following me? Let me try it this way…
I am not a morning person. In my perfect world, Sunday morning services and pretty much any other morning activity would start sometime after 10. I’m a night owl and can stay up, engaged and lively but, oh. my. Lord. early mornings are just painful.
After a fabulous late night in Austin, taking in SXSW (at least as much as you can without badges or wristbands) and enjoying the sights, vibes, and occasional weirdness that is Austin, my friend and I called it a night and decided to set our alarms for dark-thirty (which is my way of saying way too early to be getting up, especially on a Saturday). My subconscious was looking out for me because my alarm never went off (so hard to see am or pm on my phone without my groovy readers) but…her alarm went off as scheduled.
Our goal was to go to the KUTX/Four Seasons Hotel SXSW venue and take in the four bands slated for Saturday morning...8am. We didn’t have time to do much in the way of getting ready so we’ll just say I wasn’t looking my best. I was dressed. There had been make-up slapped on my face and I did my best with my hair. We arrived early enough to at least get seats and I mainlined coffee for the first 30-45 minutes.
The first band started at 8am. I can’t spell or pronounce their name. I think they are more of a late afternoon or evening sound because at 8am it sounded like a lullaby and I was doing my best not to nod off and drool.
After 3 songs, they said something about technical difficulties and exited the stage. Speculation was that the other band members had done like I had and set their alarms for PM. We assumed they were off snoozing somewhere. I’ll admit to a twinge of jealousy.
We had quite a wait before the next band took the stage (new band at the top of every hour…), but WOW. They were not just incredibly talented. They took performance and talent to a whole new level. Amazingly, this was a band of two…a drummer, who performs shirtless (that’s all I’m going to say on that) and a guitarist/vocalist. The duo is from Canada but they were previously in another band before moving to Austin and succumbing to the influence of our local talent.
The next group was really entertaining – talented, humorous…kind of big band meets pop with a hefty dose of humor thrown in. And the finale, while touted as the talk of SXSW, was a bit of a disappointment. Granted, anyone who can get on stage and perform to a crowd of 600-700 people deserves credit. They weren’t bad at all…just different in a way that didn’t resonate with me.
Are you picking up on the ups and downs? Overall? I am so glad I went, even at that hideous hour on a Saturday. We did sneak out a bit early as I had an appointment this afternoon. And here’s where more emotional texture comes in…got home, caught up with the younger child, drank more coffee, showered, then went to my meeting.
This particular meeting was prompted by a terminal diagnoses…4-6 months with no viable treatment options. I get that most of you reading this will do that sigh thing and feel sorry for this unnamed family. That is completely understandable and appropriate. However, because of their openness and desire to face these next however many months, we were able to recognize that this family had entered into a truly holy time. Every single time they get together will be filled with meaning. No one will hesitate to express their love for one another. Memories will be shared and made and stored for comfort later, when memories come back to remind us of the great gift of God each of us are for those we love.
Each one of us will face our own death. That’s just a given. Knowing that that time is imminent enables us to transition into a whole new perspective, a whole new set of priorities. What an amazing gift such a time is for those who are willing to accept rather than deny.
So, again, a day full of a range of emotional texture. I survived an early morning wake-up. I experienced incredible (and not so incredible) music. I was invited into holy time with a family struggling to honor the gift of good-bye time. And, I got a nap.
I really think the key to fully experiencing each and every day is to be as present as you can be, with or without coffee. I don’t know that a day has gone by that God hasn’t gifted me with a surprise of some sort…though I confess I haven’t always been present to notice. If today’s experience in emotional texture has given me anything, it has been the reminder to choose to be present. I’m curious to see what tomorrow brings, even knowing I have to get up really, really early.
Friday, March 14, 2014
Well, I missed a day. I could fill the page with all kinds of excuses (maybe even some that were true) but…we’ll just leave it at I missed a day and move on…
Last night, I got to hear/see Lucinda Williams at a funky new venue in North Austin called The Roost (no, this isn’t one of my excuses…just let it go, already). Anyway, it’s the first time I’ve been to something like this – concert in a nightclub where everybody just stood crowded around the stage for a couple of hours – in a long time. Reminded me of when a bunch of us went to the Silver Wings Ballroom in El Campo to hear/see George Strait. Back in high school. Except, Lucinda and George aren’t really alike and no one threw articles of clothing up on the stage for her to sign. But I digress…
I had forgotten how awesome it is to take in live music like that. I knew none of her songs (actually had not even heard of her when my friend suggested we go…I know, I know.) so it wasn’t like I was singing along. But she gave us a great show, along with her borrowed bass guitarist (who was amazing), her guitarist/upright bass player, and drummer. Standing about 10-12 feet from the stage, taking it all in, feeling it deep inside, it was quite an awesome experience.
Now, I’m hooked again and, lucky for me, I live so close to the bounty of live music that is Austin, Texas. So, I’m off again tonight to take in some of the great (and maybe not-so-great) SXSW music. God certainly knew what she/he was doing when God created our bodies to resonate so deeply, in such an indescribable way with the rhythms of music.
Speaking of SXSW, Lucinda opened her show with a call for healing thoughts and prayers for all who were touched by Wednesday night’s tragic accident. In memory of the two who died and in honor of the injured, she opened with this… (difficulty uploading youtube...here's the link)
Go, listen to some music. Feed your soul with this amazing gift God has made possible for us.
Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Once upon a time, I recall hearing a communication rule that went something like you have to hear something 7 times before it sinks in or before it becomes knowledge for you. I have no idea where I learned it nor do I know who determined such a thing to be true…but, I am willing to agree that repetition helps us remember and store ideas, concepts, information, etc.
It started last week, on Ash Wednesday. Following our service (held at our church but with all four UMCs here in Georgetown involved in the service), we clergy types stood around at the end of the service, following the benediction. It’s always sweet to hear the accolades – nice service, lovely worship, etc – and our congregation is especially gracious in offering such words of kindness. One couple came up to me, each of them hugged me and, during the hug, both of them separately said to me, “live into your belovedness.” It was such a surprisingly different sentiment that it kind of knocked me back a minute. I remember thinking, wow, I want to hold on to that thought and just sit with that idea for awhile.
Before long, though, I got busy saying goodnight to others, writing up my blog for day one of the Lenten journey, dealing with things at home. Later, I tried to remember what they had said and couldn’t be exactly sure I heard them right. Two times is apparently not enough for it to stick with me.
Then, this past Sunday, I was standing my post, shaking hands at the end of the service at one of the exterior doors, and here they come. Again, they both tell me in the middle of a hug, “live into your belovedness.” But that was at the early service and I had an appointment between services, needed to get my microphone checked, and then lead the 11am contemporary service. And we had lost an hour of sleep. These are my excuses and I stand by them. So, no, four times is also not enough for something to stick with me…even something I find intriguing.
Lo, and behold, I got an email this morning from the mister in this couple…and there it was again. This time, he phrased it : as I’ve been telling you lately, I hope you are spending some time during this Lenten season “living into your “belovedness.”
I’ve read it several times now. I think I’ve surpassed the 7 times mark as the phrase simply keeps cropping up in my mind. Am I living into my belovedness? What does that look like? For me, at least tonight, I’m hearing an invitation to not just rest in God’s love but to live as one who knows herself to be God’s beloved child.
I’d like to say that gives me permission to not worry too much about what you or anyone else may think of me. And, I guess, it does to a degree. But…living into my belovedness seems to be inviting me to something more…something to do with how that sense of belovedness empowers me in my relationships with others. To love more…to extend grace and mercy and forgiveness and kindness more.
I’m not always good at that. In fact, I fall short quite a bit. So, I’m thankful I’ve encountered this at least 7 times now. I hope it sticks. And I hope I can get unstuck as I seek to do as I’ve been invited to do.
Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Thinking a lot about families today…I imagine if you were to draw my kids’ family trees, they’d look like some sort of unidentifiable art form. Lots of really strange branches and off-shoots…plus the ones we’ve grafted on simply because they feel like family to us.
My oldest son recently got engaged – and oh my! I love this girl! They are a good fit, bringing out the best in each other and gently smoothing out the rougher edges we all come with. It’s fun to see them together. So, yes, I’m excited!
But, planning a wedding? Who to invite? Is it ok to not invite someone? It gets really, really complicated.
Reminds me a bit of Jesus, when he was told that his mother and brothers were looking for him and he…well, he dismissed the relationship. I’ve always struggled with getting but not quite getting the dynamics in Jesus’ family. I mean, I can see where his brothers would be less than thrilled to have no less than God incarnate as their older brother. Puts a damper on what you can do and really raises the bar beyond what anyone else can meet. And Joseph, dear old dad, probably has to work to love this firstborn – not of his flesh, possibly the result of an affair but then again the angel said no and Joseph is left to just have faith. Fortunately, he has other children though I’m sure he struggles to love Jesus as much as he loves his other children. So, yes, I see where Jesus would be willing to discount his family but…this is Jesus we’re talking about! Jesus doesn’t discount or exclude anyone, right?
Then again…Jesus doesn’t discount or exclude anyone from belonging to the family of God. He just doesn’t get caught up in our family of origin and extended family nonsense. We are all viewed as God’s children, created in love and called to live in relationship with God. When family relationships become more important, Jesus gets dismissive. It’s almost like he’s saying --- hey! keep your focus here! This is not about your petty family squabbles, whether you are embarrassed or ashamed or whatever…this is about seeing ourselves, first and foremost as God’s beloved child.
So maybe there’s some permission in that….permission to politely overlook the ones who would make this wedding about them and not about the gift of love God has formed between these two of his children. While not a sacrament in my United Methodist tradition, weddings are services of worship with vows that include a covenant between the couple and God, with the gathered community serving as both witnesses and support system to do all they can to help the couple honor their covenant with God and one another. Regardless of where you stand in the service, it is all about God first – God’s love and God’s purposes in uniting these two, including their extended families and friends.
Maybe the wedding list ought to be prepared from that perspective…who do we invite that will readily join in the commitment to do all they can to support and love and nurture this couple? Something to think about…
Monday, March 10, 2014
Not long ago, a friend sent me a link to a blog/article that talked about how Christians should stop using the word “blessed.” I referenced it in my sermons this past Sunday and have had some interesting conversations around our use of this word. Here’s the link if you want to read it: The One Thing Christians Should Stop Saying
The gist of it is that stating we are blessed because we have received some sort of material gain says something about God that I don’t think many of us actually believe. Or, I hope we don’t. The author believes this evokes an image of God bestowing “cash and cars” on believers as a kind of positive reinforcement for good behavior. Perhaps some do believe this, but I do not understand this to be the character of God. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me for so many of God’s devout children to be living on so little, even when they are doing “the right things” and also think that God doles out BMWs to others. Now, the gift of a new (or gently used car) to someone enabling them to have transportation for themselves and their family – different story. That’s closer to a blessing.
See, I think it’s the gift aspect that helps determine if something is truly a blessing or an attempt to cover up our pride of purchase by using the language of faith. It’s more than just a gift, though…it’s a gift that speaks deep within us and tells us that we are loved, cared for, and worthy. That, I think, is what makes it a blessing. We are blessed when we receive that experience of undeserved love – from God, from family, from friends, from strangers.
I think we’ve taken the language of blessing and turned it into a means of uttering thanksgiving. And, in so doing, I think we’ve robbed ourselves of the distinction that separates these two acts. I can give thanks for many things – for the ability to have a roof over my head, a car to drive, healthy children, an interesting and rewarding vocation – the list goes on, and YES, I am very thankful for these things. But these are not blessings.
Blessings are God-gifts. Blessings are the unexpected steps on holy ground that surround us with the sure and certain knowledge that God is present, God loves us, and God is and always will be faithful to God’s promises to us. Oftentimes God does this through other people.
Not too long ago, I got to feeling sick and decided it would be best for me to go home and crawl into bed. I had to cancel a meeting that afternoon with a couple of very understanding ladies from my church. Within a couple of hours, my dog was letting me know that someone had either come to the door (I always know when the mail carrier has been to my house) or someone had dared to walk near our house. She was adamant in her barking that I should investigate. And, there, on the front door step, was a grocery store tote filled with a container of homemade soup, crackers, and dessert. The food was wonderful. But the love and the care and the fact that I had done nothing to earn this (it wasn’t payback or a return favor) – that love and concern were the blessing. This was a gift of God’s grace and love delivered through someone willing to be one of God’s instruments. I was blessed.
I don’t want to advocate for the end of the use of the word, “blessed.” But, I do want to encourage us to use it appropriately. Be “thankful” for stuff. Be “happy” about material things. Let’s reserve our use of “blessed” for those experiences that remind us of God’s deep, unconditional love for us. May God bless you with such an experience.
Sunday, March 9, 2014
Saturday, March 8, 2014
Like many people, I really enjoy music. I usually can't be still with music playing -- I'm either keeping time with my hands or my feet or dancing. For me, dancing is easy, natural. Singing, on the other hand, not so much. But this morning, I listened to an interview with Bobby McFarrin (OnBeing with Krista Tippett – recorded a couple of years ago but relisted on her site recently) and it made me think differently about singing. It was a fascinating interview and included a bit of a challenge from Bobby…
Here’s the link to the challenge: Bobby McFerrin's Daily Singing Exercise
I can’t imagine myself singing, out loud, for 10 minutes. I’m a little intimidated to even try it. I have no idea if I have a good, ok, or lousy singing voice – I mean, I sing great along with the music really cranked up but I’m very self-conscious about singing where people can hear me. Even the birthday song. I intentionally sing it badly, in a funny way, if I can't hide behind someone else's voice.
I know why I don’t sing for others. I remember quite clearly. In 6th grade, I was in the school choir. I took the class because one of the options for being in the choir was to learn how to play the guitar and I really wanted to learn. After about two months, we were busy getting ready for the fall concert and I was having a hard time playing and singing, at the same time. I would get so focused on putting my fingers just right and strumming that I would stop singing or get off if it took me too long to switch chords. It was my version of rubbing your head and patting your stomach.
Anyway, our choir teacher had each of us come in, individually, and play/sing the piece we had been working on. I did not do well. She didn’t think so either, because she told me to pretend at the concert. Just act like I’m playing the guitar and singing. From that point on, I did not sing for anyone. I kept working on playing the guitar but not for much longer. I just quit. That one directive – just pretend – changed my whole outlook on my musical abilities (or rather cemented the belief that I had none).
So, I really, really am intimidated about trying this 10-minute improvisational singing – out loud. But, I’m also curious. What if my singing isn’t that bad? What if I discovered I could sing ok enough to let go of my fear that someone will hear me and let me know, like that teacher did, that I wasn’t good enough?
I did sing today, though – just not 10 minutes on my own without any instrumental accompaniment. I was home, by myself, so I popped in a favorite cd and sang. I am pleased to say that Rigby did not howl, not even once. She wasn’t real sure what I was doing but she didn’t voice her disapproval. Progress for me!
One of the things Bobby shared in his interview was the amazing way that singing can shake you out of a bad mood. I wasn’t necessarily in a bad mood but I can say that I had such fun singing for me that my mood was certainly uplifted afterwards!
I don’t know all the gifts God has given me. I am comfortable with the idea that we receive gifts at different times in our lives and that we also lose them. I am not at all ready to claim that I have the gift of singing. But I am more than happy to claim the gift of joy that singing brings me.
Friday, March 7, 2014
If you’ve never gone down an endless trail on the internet, just go ahead and close this window. Today, I ended up on one of my favorite sites for worship videos, The Work of the People, and watched several of their Lenten videos. One of the new ones, Surrender, really resonated with me.
The video includes a number of speakers sharing their insights on this concept of surrendering. I don’t mean giving up in the midst of battle. I mean surrendering who you thought you were to who you were created to be.
What hit me was the connection between our origins – we are each uniquely, lovingly created by God – and our tendency to manufacture an identity based on what we perceive society expects from us. I’m pretty sure there is a big gap between the two. I know there is for me.
As a young person, a child, I guess I understood at some level that God loves me. But, as I got older, I bought into the idea that I had all kinds of gifts and skills that would enable me to be successful, admired, and respected. I did well. I got the college degree. I got the career that brought me accolades and a steady stream of spending money. We had a nice house, new cars, and didn’t have to nickel and dime our way through the grocery store. Life was good. I had arrived.
Without going into all the details, let me just say that I landed at a place where all of that fell away. The forever and ever amen marriage didn’t survive. The bank wanted the vehicles and had their eye on the house (say what you want about mortgage reforms, but I say thank you). Every single thing that I had built my life on – my dreams, my desires, my work, my achievement – all of it, fell apart.
Maybe you can’t surrender until you get to that ugly low point. What really hit me today, though, was the way we – you and I – internalize all of this. Again, you may not be like me, but I can certainly play through a whole litany of negative messages about myself. Not getting along with someone? Must be something wrong with me. Not feeling happy and joyful? Must be something lacking in me. The list, the endless list, goes on and on and on….
And yet…God created me. Knit me together in my mother’s womb, according to the psalmist (Psalm 139). Stamped me with God’s image, breathed into me the breath of life and declared that I was “very good.” According to our scriptures – and more importantly in my mind, according to the character of God portrayed in our scriptures – God takes great delight in you and me. God loves us, without condition, regardless of what the world says, regardless of what we’ve done or not done. Regardless. Unconditionally, Without us having to do one single thing to earn it.
If God pours all of that on us, if God looks upon us with such love, such desire…who, then, are we to discount what God has created and loved? Today, anyway, I believe that I dishonor my creator when I listen to all those negative messages. If God loves me and has created me in God’s image, declared me “very good” (Genesis 1 or 2 – look it up) – what right do I have, as God’s created, to argue, to say “oh no, God, you messed up with me?”
I have no idea what kind of negative messages play in your head. I only know mine and they have the potential to be very powerful. Today, I choose to let them go. I choose to accept who I am in light of who created me. I don’t think it will change the world or end global poverty. But, by God, I believe it will equip me to live more fully, more joyfully, more abundantly into the life I was created to live. The same is true for you, too.
Thursday, March 6, 2014
So, I’m driving into the parking lot of the hospital, down in Round Rock, and I see this speed limit sign posted. Yes, I literally did a double take – and no, I am not proficient in Photoshop. Of course, I had to take a picture and then I started wondering about how that decision was made…Can you just imagine being on the hospital parking lot speed limit committee? Can you imagine taking this to the Board of Trustees (or whoever the authoritative body is for such matters)? I can see it…um…we were undecided. Half of us felt like 15 mph was appropriate and half of us deemed 20 mph an acceptable speed. After much debate, we split the difference and agreed on 17 mph.
I confess that I did look at my German-engineered speedometer and tried to figure out where the tick mark for 17 mph would be…and then I did the 10% math trying to compute my safe speed above that, on the off chance I felt the need to go faster, but within the legal limits. Mostly, I just laughed and thought about how accustomed we have become to certain kinds of numbers in our lives.Generally speaking, posted speed limit signs are in multiples of 5 (I know, duh, Yvonne). But think also about pricing – it’s almost always in multiples of 5 or ending in 9. The lunch special is $6.99 or $7.50 or $7.95. The house down the street is listed at $209,995. I never see anything advertised for $7.23 or $18.42 or some other “oddish” number.
Reminded me of a story a non-blonde friend told me years ago about getting a ticket on one of the state highways during her first trip to Texas. She saw a sign that said “77” so she drove 77…on state highway 77 and got to meet one of our state patrol officers. Most of us just aren’t used to something this different (unless we’re from out-of-state, perhaps – I can’t speak for all the signs beyond Texas).So, this sign stood out to me. Different, as in this case, can be funny but, in other circumstances, it can be very challenging. Change is hard…well, change that affects us is hard. It can also be very good.
I’m still trying to live into who I am as God’s child. Some days are easier than others. Then, some days, I encounter something unexpected, something different, and really have to wrestle with my response, with why I responded the way I did. In addition to the odd sign, I had an encounter with someone today that really has me pondering my comfort zone. To go a bit deeper, it has me wondering what is going on in me that has me struggling in this relationship. Taking a deep look like that into ourselves is on par with dealing with difficult change. It is hard. And, it can be very good.As God’s child, I get that I am going to spend the rest of my life growing into who I was created to be. Growth means change. I know I will mess up many times. I will resist. I will act foolishly or impulsively or emotionally. But, I’m trying and I am grateful for the signs that call me to re-adjust. So, maybe I just split the difference for now and see where it takes me…
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Today was one of those rare days when I woke up way before the alarm was supposed to go off. Typically, I roll over and go back to sleep. Yes, I’m one of those people who would rather grab a few more minutes - or, in this case, another couple of hours. I am not a morning person. But I couldn’t get back to sleep. I guess with all of our scheduled Ash Wednesday services and other things filling in this day’s calendar, my mind immediately started sorting through all the things I needed to do.
At noon, we had a wonderful service with our neighbors across the street at St. John’s UMC. Then, as is our custom, all of us leading worship went to lunch together afterwards (this was not our day to fast from Dos Salsas). I so enjoy these times when we can fellowship together as we rarely have (or make) time to get together. Filled with yummy Mexican food, I was dreaming of a brief siesta...but, alas, no time for it.
Afterwards, I spent two hours in a meeting before leading my Wednesday afternoon bible study. I will admit that, at this point, I was starting to notice the early morning start, the full stomach, and was dragging. In my study, we are working our way through the book of Jeremiah. We read/listen then discuss and have made good progress through the first half of the book.
But my tired must have caught up with me. The prophet Jeremiah has spent at least the first 28 chapters speaking out against the idolatry of the people and alerting them to their fate for having chosen other gods to worship, for putting other things before God in their lives. It hasn’t been uplifting reading. Not much of what we’ve read would find its way onto an inspirational plaque to hang in your home or office. Obviously, Jeremiah was not aware of the power of positive thinking.
In our conversation today, we acknowledged a similarity between the expectations of the people as they lived in exile and the intent behind our observance of Lent. Both were/are opportunities for us to return to God, to let go of the things we have placed between ourselves and God. And here’s where my tiredness caught up with me…in the middle of this discussion, one participant said we need to let go of our icons, our idols. I thought he said let go of our iphones. I took just a few minutes talking about our phones before someone corrected me. Humbling, really humbling.
So, I’m pondering. I can come up with many valid reasons why turning off my phone for 40 days would be a bad idea. For one thing, I don’t have a landline and my mother would have no other way of reaching me (she does not get online, so no email or social media). For another, it would make it difficult for church members or our office to be in contact with me when I’m away from the office. Oh, the rationale could go on and on…
It does have me thinking though. I’ll confess that I’m more than a little hesitant to look too closely at the myriad things that I turn to throughout the day that may actually turn out to be obstacles in my relationship with God. So, I’ll sleep on it. With the alarm on my iphone set…
Tuesday, March 4, 2014
Two months ago, we were celebrating the birth of Christ and now we are about to enter that somber season of Lent as we journey towards his death and resurrection in Jerusalem. Depending on who you listen to, his ministry lasted anywhere from 1-3 years and, yet, we can only deal with it for a few months…but I digress…
Lent is such a strange season to me. Growing up in South Texas, in a region with a strong Catholic influence, Lent was the time of year when my friends gave up Cokes, chips, and chocolate, along with meat on Fridays. I do remember, with fondness, the cheese enchiladas our school cafeterias served every Friday. But this whole “giving up” concept was strange to me.
It would be later, when I got older, that I would begin to see the benefit of this “giving up” concept. Eventually, I came to understand that, by giving up something you enjoyed, something that was at least marginally painful to give up, the sensation of desiring the forbidden was an invitation to recall the sacrifice of Christ and thereby stand in some kind of solidarity with him. For those of us who struggle with self-denial, this can be a good thing…to a point.
Then, I discovered that there are loopholes! Sundays, apparently, don’t count during Lent. Sundays, on this side of the cross, are always celebrated as “little Easters” – that is, days for recalling the resurrection of Christ. Days of joy not to be messed with by doing without that heavenly bit of dark chocolate. In other words, on Sundays, you can gorge or fill yourself on whatever it was you gave up during the previous six days of the week.
I have to say, as I think this through, this sounds more like a game than any kind of intentional effort towards becoming more…well, more. I’m old enough now that I’m not so interested in these kinds of games. I get that there are no special rewards for having suffered through 40 days without Godiva. Or whatever. I get that most of us won’t be adamant that our suffering during this time be included in our obituaries or engraved on our tombstone. So what is the point?
That’s a really personal question. I don’t know where you are in the story of your life, so I can’t answer for you. Is your relationship with God everything you expect it to be? Is there this sense of something missing deep within? Are you so caught up in just trying to breathe that Lent can come and go without you? Lots of ways you may respond to this…so, no, I don’t have YOUR answer.
For me? I’m at a place in my life where I want to add more, rather than take away. No, that isn’t a cop-out so I don’t have to do without my chocolate or wine or whatever. Instead, for me, this season of Lent will be geared towards living intentionally as a child of God. As much as I’d like to fuss that we have to wait for a strange season on the Christian calendar, I won’t. I’ll simply take advantage of this strange time and make a few additions to my life. So…
I will commit to a daily blog (I’m sorry if this places you in a position of whining over something else to read; feel free to skip it). I’m looking at it as a way for me to be intentional about reflecting on what it means for me to live as a child of God…including the ways I fail and fall short. It’s an adding in rather than a taking away, one that I hope will lead me deeper in my relationship with God and, in turn, deepen in my relationship with each of you.
Pray for me. Encourage me. Hold me accountable.
If you have determined your focus for Lent, let me know and I’ll do the same for you.