Today’s Word: ‘Thanksgiving’ as in… I was in a conversation about the experience of thankfulness and feeling overwhelmed with gratitude and how thankfulness and gratitude always lead to joy.
That prompted the question, “Is there a difference between gratitude and thankfulness?
The answer is yes. But it’s a subtle difference.
Thankfulness is what I experience in that moment when my friend speaks just the right words at just the right moment; words of affirmation, absolution, direction, insight, guidance, and love which causes me to respond with ‘thank you’. Thankfulness happens in that moment.
Thankfulness is what I feel when I open the email and read the words: “Your Test Result Is NEGATIVE for SARS-CoV-2 / COVID19”. Thankfulness happens in that moment.
Thankfulness is my response to the barista who mysteriously knows it’s me there in the drive though, and with a cheery, welcoming voice calls be by name and says “Good morning!” and then asks if I’m having “the usual.” Thankfulness happens in that moment.
Thankfulness happens in little moments like these; countless instances that take us beyond where we were just before they happened.
But then another moment arrives. We settle into a deeper awareness that we’re a bit beyond where we thought we were going to go. Gratitude happens in that moment.
Gratitude is that deep appreciation of the relationships that we have with friends who always know just what to say, when to say it, and even how to say it. Gratitude happens in that moment.
Gratitude is the profound reverence we can have for life whether positives are negative or negatives are positive because gratitude transcends the particular details and reminds us of the universal truth that life is precious and the breath we breathe is pure gift. Gratitude happens in that moment.
Gratitude is what we experience long after the caffeine in the dark roast has worked its magic and we savor the joy of something as simple as another person knowing our name and welcoming us into the moment. Gratitude happens in that moment.
If thankfulness begins in the mind first as a cognitive impulse leading to a verbal response of the words thank you, then gratitude settles into the heart where there are no words because what we’re experiencing is beyond any human vocabulary. Gratitude happens in that moment when we close our eyes, take in a big deep breath and encounter Something-Far-Greater than ourselves. Gratitude always takes us far beyond where we thought we were going to go. Brother David Stendl-Rast in his now famous video A Grateful Day provides a feast in 5 minutes and 22 seconds. Watch this just before you enjoy and share a meal this Thanksgiving.
As we approach this year’s season of Advent, perhaps now more than ever, we might keep this in mind: God approaches us, God is coming near! That’s good news for a pandemic-weary people.
In his book, Whistling in the Dark, Frederick Buechner offers an image of Advent that never grows old for me: a powerful image of what it means to approach the season of Advent:
“The house lights go off and the footlights come on. Even the chattiest stop chattering as they wait in darkness for the curtain to rise. In the orchestra pit, the violin bows are poised. The conductor has raised the baton. In the silence of a midwinter dusk there is far off in the deeps of it somewhere a sound so faint that for all you can tell it may be only the sound of the silence itself. You hold your breath to listen. You walk up the steps to the front door. The empty windows at either side of it tell you nothing, or almost nothing. For a second you catch a whiff in the air of some fragrance that reminds you of a place you’ve never been and a time you have no words for. You are aware of the beating of your heart. The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment just before it happens. Advent is the name of that moment.”
The coming season of Advent is a season of deep anticipation.
It’s the longing that we feel in our souls; a longing for hope, for peace, for joy, for love. It’s that simmering excitement we feel just before the curtain comes up, it’s that momentary breathlessness just before the conductor’s baton comes down. It’s the sound of beautiful silence in the late afternoon just between dusk and dark when our hearts long for something for which we have no words.
Approach. God is approaching, always approaching.
That is the promise in these pandemic-weary days of awaiting new life.
Today’s Word: ‘Being’ as in… at the end of the day, it’s always great to be reminded that we’re human beings created to bring life and aliveness to one another. Michael Torke is one remarkably creative human being.
That’s just a teaser. I’ll come back to Michael. But first, some context.
Dear friends, the election season has come to an end. I’ll just pause and let that sink in. Certainly, arguments are still being waged over the minutiae. Of course, deeper discussions are still to come about the process. But for the most part we’ve navigated through another intersection on the Road of Democracy and turned another corner in our journey together into the future. And with that intersection and with that turn comes a necessary reminder that we are, ultimately, all human beings called to live together, work together, play together, learn together, fail and succeed together.
As human beings we are called to ‘Be’ together in ways that bring life to all people. Toward that end, my invitation today is to listen together.
Now, back to Michael Torke.
Early last week, with Election Fatigue seemingly at an all-time high, I was feeling anxious and weary about the entire process, so much so that that even my meditation practice was making much of a dent. And just when I realized that I wasn’t breathing deeply enough, something truly remarkable happened. A fresh breeze of new life blew into my soul. A sense of hope revived me bringing a surprising sense of comfort and peace.
John Birge, the morning host for Minnesota Public Radio’s Classical MPR, played one of the movements from Michael Torke’s 2020 release, “Being.” As Michael’s music filled our home, I was drawn into the living room where his music surrounded me.
As “Pt.6” began to wash over me, I closed my eyes and imagined the oboe, the flute and the clarinets playfully tossing the syncopated melody back and forth. I relaxed my shoulders as the bassoon, horns and a trumpet picked up the animated strains of the composition. I breathed deeply as the timpani and marimbas provided the engaging rhythm. And then a couple of pianos, the violins, a viola, a cello and a bass provided even more joy. My goodness! It was just so captivating and healing in a way that refreshed to my soul; a necessary retreat from all of the noise that had been swirling around me.
It was just the break I needed. And of course this made me think of the times that Jesus invited his followers to take a break. With each retreat to “a quiet place” Jesus was inviting them to navigate through another intersection on the Road Back to Themselves; to turn another corner in their journey together into the future that God was creating right along with them. With each intersection and with each turn came the necessary reminder that they were indeed human beings equipped and called live together, work together, play together, learn together, fail and succeed together; to ‘Be’ together in ways that would bring life and aliveness to all of them – and to all of us.
So, dear friend, listen to Michael Torke’s “Being” today. There are nine parts. But just one part might be all you need in order to get back in touch with yourself. If nothing else, it could be the best 43 minutes of your life today.
Today’s Word: ‘New’ as in… we don’t really learn unless we are challenged by something new, someone new, some new idea, a new perspective.
We’re better together and when we consider new points of view and look at challenges from new and diverse perspectives, this allows for something to happen that wouldn’t happen if we weren’t open to new and differing points of view.
Carly Fiorina is an American businesswoman and political figure. She is well known for her tenure as CEO of Hewlett-Packard and more recently as the Chair of the philanthropic organization Good360. Carly Fiorina is a leader among leaders; she knows that the gift of leadership is the ability to collaborate, to literally co-labor.
In a recent interview on the Lincoln Project podcast, Carly Fiorina talked about the benefits of welcoming new points of view. Here’s the gist of Fiorina’s remarkable perspective on leadership:
“Diversity is critical to problem solving because when we only talk to people who agree with, or we only spend time with people who are like us. …it’s easier [and] a lot more fun when you just hang with [people you know]. But here’s the thing: we don’t learn unless we are challenged by something new, someone new, some new idea. We don’t learn… we don’t come up with new ideas. We get [stuck] in a rut.”
I like to imagine Jesus sitting around a small fire in his hometown pumping up his followers for the mission ahead saying something like this:
“Look guys, pair up. You’re better together. If you go alone, you’ll run the risk of only telling a one-dimensional story about the three-dimensional realm of God that’s emerging all around us! People need all three dimensions. They need to hear new perspectives about what God is up to, they need to see what God is doing, feel it, taste and even smell what God is doing in the world.”
When we come together to work together, play together, talk and laugh together, we begin to reap the benefits of learning something new, someone new, some new idea, a new perspective.
Today’s Word: ‘Questions’ as in… Five Questions To Replace “How Was Your Day?
Have you ever thought about how quickly we default to the same set of questions when we greet someone? Whether speaking to a family member, friend or coworker, most of the time and almost without thinking we ask, “Good morning, how’d you sleep?” to which the response is most of the time and usually something like, “Great, how ‘bout you?” One only wonders what would happen if someone responded to something like “Hey, what’s up?” with something like “We’ll, thanks for asking, but I’m as bad as a sunburn in July.”
“How was traffic?” “How was your day?” and “Did you have a good time?” are all good questions, but what do you really do with “Sure were a lot of crazy drivers!” or “It’s Thursday but it sure felt like Monday!” or “Yeah, it was a good time.” What are we really learning? What do we do with that bit of data?
Nancy Lee and I have noticed that when we check in with each other at the end of the day, we often ask a rather stock question: “How was your day?” And while we may genuinely be interested, truth be told, not much has changed since yesterday when we asked that same question.
Or the day before.
Or the day before that.
So, how do we change all of that? How can we show more genuine curiosity? How can we be more intentional about nurturing interest in each other’s lives? Our friends at Prepare/Enrich recently posted an article which provides a fabulous new way to get us to the heart of the matter as well as to the center of each other’s hearts.
Check out these 5 Questions to replace “How Was Your Day?
1. What made you laugh out loud today?
2. What gave you a sense of accomplishment today?
3. If your day was a meal a song or a color, what would it be and why?
Today’s Word: ‘Fruit’ as in… a shopping list of the best fruit from page 168.
I’ve said this before, but if for some strange reason all I could have of the Christians Scriptures was one page, then I’d want that to be page 168.
On page 168 of my translation of the Christian Scriptures, the early Christian leader a.k.a. Paul, the Apostle, provides a list of the essential ingredients of the Spirited life. Paul lays out a veritable fruit basket of goodness that leads to thriving, spirited lives. The list is found in Galatians 5:22-23 and includes love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Paul calls this list of goodness “the fruit of the Spirit’ which leads those who would plant, nurture and cultivate such fruit toward more thriving lives.
It’s a good list. It’s an important list, perhaps now more than ever.
Some of us who may have grown up going to bible camp or vacation bible school or Sunday School, or had a terrific grandmother who taught us ancient wisdom while we baked cookies with her, learned a song that set these words to music because everything’s easier to learn and remember when set to music. And cookies, well, they certainly make everything easier. But interestingly, that song and most of the newer versions that have followed swapped out the original word generosity with the word goodness.
Hmmm. My goodness.
I dare say we may have lost something in the translation. These ancient words from Galatians are central to our thriving especially now.
Friends, if we get these words right, we get just about everything else right. Right? And here’s why:
Love creates joy which brings peace. In that peace, we experience more patience. When we’re patient we show more kindness. When we’re intentionally leaning into kindness we practice wider generosity and generosity leads the entire human community into deeper faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control with one another and the world around us.
That’s good fruit. What’s growing in you today? That’s Today’s Word and I’m sticking to it.
Today’s Word: ‘Subversive’ as in… Jesus was a subversive leader in the first century.
I have to tell you straight up that this wasn’t the prevailing image of Jesus that I was handed as a kid. That’s okay, though. It was necessary that I learn to think critically.
If you were to look up the word subversive in the dictionary, you’d find a number of synonyms framing subversive in a negative light.
Words like rebellious, seditious, vandalic, rioter, and even deviant detract from a balanced understanding of what it means to be subversive.
Subversive can also be cast in a positive light.
Seeing Jesus as a subversive leader by calling people to a reformation of heart, mind and life is an enduring and powerful image. Seeing Jesus as the model for renewal and revolution helps us understand his mission of welcoming the kingdom of God among us.
Jesus was a subversive leader in the first century actively working to subvert the established Roman governmental system, the reigning global superpower of the first century.
Caesar was the leader and voice of the political, social, governing machine of the first century which loudly proclaimed “might makes right.” The central message was that peace would prevail through power over, not power with. That was supported not merely by threatening death, but by actually putting to death anyone who would dare oppose it. The government even manipulated the religious establishment – the Scribes and Pharisees into embracing and enforcing this message within the faith community.
Jesus was a subversive leader in the first century. And revolutionaries are usually subversive.
But Jesus’s subversive leadership looked completely different. Jesus was an audaciously kind, extravagantly loving leader. Jesus was a grace-filled, Spirit-driven, endlessly merciful leader. In the context of the prevailing “might makes right” leadership of the first century, Jesus had the power to subvert that message.
Jesus’ message was simple: love God, love others, be kind, embody respect, show compassion, share what you have, do justice, listen carefully, and when you speak tell the truth. It was a clear message that “right makes might.” By doing so the kingdom of God is revealed among those who embody that message. The dream of God, the mission of God, the party, the network, the dance, the commonwealth, the revolution of God is unfolding right here, right now, all around us.
Jesus was a subversive leader in the first century. It might be a little discomforting to frame him that way. If that’s true for you like it is for me, we might ask ourselves why that is the case; why that ‘hooks’ us. It’s helpful to think critically about these important things. It’s also insightful to understand the loving intent of his subversive leadership. When we love God and love others, when we practice kindness, embody respect, do justice, listen carefully, and when we speak the truth in love we are being subversive leaders in the twenty-first century.
How do you see yourself as a subversive follower of Jesus today?
Today’s Word: ‘Decorum’ as in… behavior in keeping with good taste and propriety actually has ancient biblical grounding.
Eugene Peterson and I were sharing a long afternoon together. We were talking about the power of community, the art of civility, and how showing mutual respect, honor and dignity are necessary for the health and well-being of the body politic, otherwise known as the whole human community. How we interact with and treat one another is vital to the health of any relationship – whether personal, regional, national, or global. It was, at the end of the day, a discussion of decorum. Leave it to this gentle, wise pastor with an expertise in ancient biblical languages to ground his thoughts in scripture. Eugene reached for a well-worn copy of The Message Bible, a translation he created over nearly 30 years as a pastor, teacher, speaker and author. He turned to the words of Jesus in Matthew 7.
“Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults—unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt? It’s this whole traveling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor.” (Matthew 7:1-5 MSG)
We all belong to each other. We are an extensive community of friends, lovers, spouses, family members, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, in-laws, coworkers; people we know well as well as people we may not know well, or even at all. Because we share the same air, because we share the same space, the same sunlight, the same rain, the same gift of breath, the same everything, it’s necessary for all of us to lean into ways of living together that make it possible for all of us to thrive together personally, regionally nationally, and globally. The issue isn’t “How do you become more like me?” or “How do we become more and more like one another?” Rather, the issue is “How do we come together more intentionally to celebrate the many diverse ways we bring life and aliveness to one another, and then do that in a way that is civil, respectful, honorable and healthy?”
Think about the relationships you have. What’s working and what isn’t? Bring to mind your more primary relationships and ask yourself: “How can I bring less a sense of ‘me or you’ and more of ‘we and us’?”
What would it look like if you made a concerted effort to focus less on another’s shortcomings and your needs, and focus more on your own shortcomings someone else’s needs? What kind of personal, regional, national, and even global transformation would that bring about?
Today’s Word: ‘Memoriam’ as in… remembering the life and public service of Chief Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
There is a framed plaque on the wall of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Supreme Court chamber office with just five words on it. Five words that framed the mission of Ginsburg’s entire life, distilling a million little moments of a life that has impacted each one of us. The words come from the book of Deuteronomy, chapter 16, verse 18:
“Justice, justice you shall pursue.”
That summed up most of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s life as a young girl in Brooklyn, New York, then later as a student at Cornell University, Harvard and Columbia Law Schools, and then as justice on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia for 13 years and as a Supreme Court Justice for just over 27 years.
The larger context of that passage deserves some reference. It’s in a section of Deuteronomy that’s titled “Municipal Judges and Officers.”
“18 You shall appoint judges and officials throughout your tribes, in all your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, and they shall render just decisions for the people. 19 You must not distort justice; you must not show partiality; and you must not accept bribes, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of those who are in the right. 20 Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, so that you may live and occupy the land that the Lord your God is giving you.”
I want my three granddaughters and our grandson to know what this 5’ 1”, 100 pound giant of a woman did for the land that they live in, for the lives that they’ve been given and the futures each of them will create.
But I have a fear.
My fear is that as a Supreme Court Justice who died when they were all under the age of 8, Ruth Bader Ginsburg will seem “Other-Worldly” to them in the way that some people take on a “posthumous Other-Worldly-ness” after they’re dead and gone; a rock star having left this rock, star that we call earth.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg wasn’t “Other Worldly.” She was very much “This Worldly.” She was a daughter, a sister, a wife and mom, a student, a teacher – a woman who was turned down for positions for which she was eminently qualified simply because she was a woman, and a woman who – because of that, became a force of nature.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg wasn’t “other worldly.” She was very much “this Worldly” and because of that, known widely. She was known as the “Lioness of the Law.” She was nicknamed “The Notorious R.B.G.” by a law student, a reference to the late Brooklyn-born rapper The Notorious B.I.G. It was a nickname that she later embraced and had a bit of fun living into.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s “This-Worldly-ness” is evident in hundreds of stories, but this one is especially good:
“Ruth Bader Ginsburg was getting very little sleep. It was the early 1970s, and she was teaching at Columbia Law School while founding the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union and litigating historic gender discrimination cases nationwide. She was also a parent, raising two children with her husband Marty. Their youngest child, James, was a handful. And when James had a problem at school – which was a common occurrence – it was Ruth’s phone, not Marty’s, that would ring. One day the school called Ms. Ginsburg’s Columbia office after she had been up all night writing a brief. She’d had enough. Picking up the phone she said, tartly, “This child has two parents. Please alternate calls. It’s his father’s turn.”
Then she hung up.
That was The Notorious R.B.G.
“Justice, justice you shall pursue.”
Writers for The Salt Project reflecting on her spiritual formation in the Jewish faith write this:
“When Ruth Bader was a teenager, her mother, Celia, died of cancer just two days shy of Ruth’s graduation from high school. In keeping with Jewish custom in those days, only men could be counted as part of a minyan or quorum – so Ruth wasn’t allowed to pray the mourner’s prayer for her mother (a rule since changed in both Reform and Conservative Judaism). Ruth was both heartbroken and outraged – and as a result, felt alienated from synagogue membership for much of the rest of her life. The Bible, however, remained a lifelong touchstone of insight and inspiration. Throughout her childhood, her mother regaled her with biblical stories of “women of valor,” heroes who were ambitious, wise, and successful. Ruth drank deeply from these stories, learning them by heart.”
I’ve wondered what the conversation might have been like if Jesus and Ruth Bader Ginsburg had sat together under an olive tree or more appropriately at the city gate where the 1st century judges heard cases. Jesus’s treatment of and respect for women was shockingly counter cultural in the first century. I imagine him listening to RBG reminiscing about how she was discriminated against because she was, A, a woman, B, a mother, and C, Jewish. I don’t wonder at all what the rabbi Jesus would have done with that. If she had lost her job as a scribe in the first century like she lost her job as a typist when she became pregnant with her daughter in the 20th century – Jesus would have been second in line to make sure that sweeping changes for women would define the path going forward.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg would have been first.
“Justice, justice you shall pursue.”
There’s a powerful post circulating on Facebook; a tribute to Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It’s worth our time here…
If you are a woman and hold a job, you have Justice Ginsburg to thank.
If you got to keep that job even when you became pregnant, you have Justice Ginsburg to thank.
If you hold a credit card or a bank account or a house in your name, without the permission of your husband or your father, you have Justice Ginsburg to thank.
If you were able to marry the person you love, regardless of their gender or yours, you have Justice Ginsburg to thank.
If you don’t even know the number of rights that you have, because there are too many to count, or maybe because you just take them for granted, you have Justice Ginsburg to thank.
Every single woman stands on the shoulders of this tiny giant, every second of every day; there are not enough thanks in this world for Justice Ginsburg.
“Justice, justice you shall pursue.”
It is significant that the first female Jewish Supreme Court justice died on Friday, September 18th, 2020 … the first day of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, which is seen by Jews all over the world as a day for new beginnings.
Questions for you:
If the plaque that hung in Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s office was on the wall of your office, your room, your house, how would that move you into someone else’s life?
For whom are you a voice, a force of nature, for whom do you make decisions? How do you work for justice for them?
How does pursuing justice for all people everywhere inspire the way you live inform the way you occupy the land that the Lord your God is giving you?
Today’s Word: ‘Go’ as in… quite possibly the very first word Abram ever hears God say. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. God says to Abram, “Hey, Exalted Father… we’re going to change a few things around here beginning with your name.” Remember, this is ‘The Book of New Beginnings’. “From now on you’ll be called ‘Father of Many Nations’ just to give you an idea of how things are going to change.”
A lot happens in the first 11 chapters of Genesis:
There’s a beautiful poem about creation; God provides everything needed for a well-balanced planet. But when the First Family shows up they make a mess of everything; a brother by the name of Cain is jealous of his brother by the name of Abel and all of a sudden there’s a murder mystery. God literally asks Cain, “Why did you do that?”
It then goes from bad to worse:
There’s Noah, a boat, a rainstorm, a flood, then a rainbow and a promise.
It then goes from worse to dysfunctional as a group of entrepreneurs build a 300 foot tower into the sky just to get a better look at God. Confusion ensues. A lot of chatter. People stop listening to each other, talking over each other so fast and furiously that – literally – nothing makes sense, and the people scatter. It’s at that point that God says to Abram, we’re going in a different direction, we’re going to do something entirely new.
And that’s where we pick up the story of Abram in Genesis 12:1-4a. The LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. So Abram went as the Lord had told him…”
Today’s Word: ‘First’ as in… the First Day of School.
I’ve always loved the beginning of a new school year. Waking up on the morning of the first day of school with my heart pounding and my blood pumping created a wild mixture of terror, excitement, nervousness and thrill.
There were so many questions to answer: What’s my schedule? Who’s my teacher? Where’s my classroom? What if I can’t find it? Where’s the lunchroom? Who will I sit with? What if my lunch makes my back pack stink?
What if I get sick and have to throw up?
Growing up, I had a poster in my room with a famous quote from Carl Sandburg. He gave words to what nearly every kid was feeling on the first day of school: “I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m on my way.” That’s the first day of school! The first day of school often feels like stepping off the map into the unknown.
Do you ever feel like you don’t know where you’re going? You know you’re on your way, but the present is a little wobbly and the future seems a little murky? We all do. Welcome to the first day of school!
There’s an awesome passage in the first book of the bible, the book of Genesis – let’s just call it “The Book of New Beginnings.” It’s about a man named Abram. Abram experienced a lot of change and transition in his life. In fact, when he was just 99 years old, he had his name changed from Abram, which meant ‘Exalted Father,’ to Abraham which means ‘Father of Many Nations’ just to bring a little more focus to what he was going to be doing with the rest of his life.
In the days ahead I want to provide some context and tease out some observations that will make this applicable. Then I want to provide a blessing prayer for all who are feeling like they don’t know where they’re going, but know they’re on their way toward everything that feels like the first day of school.
Today’s Word: ‘Element’ as in… Jesus became the ‘third element’ of healing in a desperate situation involving a mom and her daughter.
There’s a good reason why this story has endured thousands of years, and makes its way to us in this time. When we feel disconnected, when we feel really out there, on the edge, far from center, far from secure, far from safe, we really need something to hold on to; we need something to hold on to us.
Consider the third Element in this ancient/future story. It’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help; it’s a sign of strength.
Most of us could make a list right now of the last couple of times when we felt untethered, adrift, floating (see how many ways there are to characterize these moments?!) and needed some help from someone else. A lot of us are all too aware of those moments when we feel like we’re in a far off place, all alone, by ourselves.
Okay, we acknowledge that. But let’s also do this: let’s take this just one step further. Who do you know, who can you bring to mind right now who is feeling the same way? It could be really helpful for them to have someone to talk to about all of the ways life seems to be unraveling. Small group conversations are primary venues for rediscovering again and again that “we’re not the only one feeling this way…” Think of the last time you were on the phone processing some challenging issues with a friend. There’s a good chance that when the call was finished, you both felt better. The “Canaanite Woman” sought out Jesus on behalf of her daughter, and Jesus became the Third Element in that relationship bringing healing to the situation. He met them both where they were.
The challenge for you in the days ahead is to make yourself available to someone who needs a little more perspective. By making that call or sending that email, you are making it possible for the Third Element of healing to be present.
Today’s Word: ‘Canaanite’ as in… another beautifully subversive reminder that Jesus goes the distance.
Jesus hikes nearly 60 miles northeast, from Gennesaret up to Tyre and Sidon and bumps into someone whom Matthew describes as a “Canaanite woman.” This is strange because by the time of Jesus, and certainly by 60 to 65 AD when Matthew’s gospel was written, people were no longer called “Canaanites.” Even then it was really an outdated word. Canaan wasn’t even really on the map anymore. So when Matthew refers to her as a “Canaanite woman” what he’s really doing is signaling that she’s an “outsider,” that she’s well off the map. She doesn’t have a support network. She doesn’t have a small group. She doesn’t have theology or even profess any faith. She doesn’t use any religious lingo and doesn’t have any connection to a church. Or synagogue.
All of that, though, just makes it all the more extraordinary that Jesus steps into her life, into her daughter’s life, into their desperation, and into our lives.
Jesus met the mom and her daughter right where they were: smack dab in the middle of their fear and desperation.
Jesus steps deeply into their lives and meets them just like he met thousands of people on a hillside multiplying loaves and fishes by teaching the generosity of the kingdom.
Jesus met the mom and her daughter right where they were, just like he met Peter in the boat on the water, in the storm, reminding them, “Don’t be afraid, I’m here with you.”
That’s the point of this beautifully subversive story: there’s never a place too far that Jesus won’t go to show love and mercy, grace and compassion. If Jesus is willing and able to go to Tyre and Sidon to meet this woman and her daughter, there’s no place too far, too “out there,” too remote, too disconnected for Jesus to show up in our lives. Especially when things seem dire and when we’re feeling desperate.
This “Canaanite woman” knew that Jesus would meet her right where she was. He’s still meeting us right where we are.
Today’s Word: ‘Desperation’ as in… Christ meets us in ours.
Not long ago a dear friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer. The news literally took the wind out of me. When I got the message I didn’t move, speak, or breathe until I realized that I wasn’t breathing. Then I gasped. It felt like I’d had the wind knocked out of me. It was a painful, frightening moment.
I’ve walked this road a lot with a lot of people through the years. Every time I get the message there’s a feeling of helplessness and desperation. Sometimes that moment lasts for minutes. Sometimes longer.
In the last half of Matthew 15 there’s a fascinating story about Jesus traveling a great distance to meet with a woman who is desperate to find help for her seriously ill daughter. She’s out of resources, out of time, and out of her mind with worry. So she waits for Jesus to arrive. And he does.
The woman lived a good 60 miles away from where Jesus had just been. How did she know about Jesus? How did she know he could help her? How did she know he’d be walking into town when he did? Who knows? But good news travels fast and she was waiting.
Do you ever feel that way? Ever feel really “out there” on the edge, far from center, far from secure, far from safe? I do. At five months into a pandemic, it’s really easy to feel like we’re a long way from where we were; a long way from where we want to be.
But friends, that’s the point of this story: there’s never, ever “a place too far” that Jesus won’t go to, to show love and mercy, grace and compassion. The takeaway for me is that if Jesus is willing and able to go to Tyre and Sidon to encounter this woman and her daughter, there’s no place too far, too “out there,” too remote, too disconnected for Jesus to show up in our lives, especially when things seem dire and when we’re feeling desperate.
We’re more than halfway through 2020, so why not revisit New Year’s resolutions, right?
On New Year’s Day 2020 Nancy Lee and I gathered with our small group for the “Annual One Word Collaborative; an afternoon of conversation about the one word that each of us had chosen as a life-lens for the year ahead. I announced my word for 2020: ‘Clarity.’ You know, like clear vision. ‘Clarity’ as in seeing 20/20. In every area of my life with my family, friends, and with you all, I wanted to make 2020 the year of new vision, new possibilities. I was excited to see everything differently; to look at life in ways I’d never imagined before.
Well, mission accomplished, right?
Within 10 weeks everything had changed. Almost overnight and whether we were ready for it or not, all of us were seeing everything differently. Now, moving just past the six-month mark, we’re still looking at every aspect of life differently. Healthcare, education, race relations, religion, stewardship, politics, spirituality – and the list goes on – we’re seeing all of that very differently. The mantra of the world that we left behind was something like: “The more things change the more things stay the same.” Not anymore. The new world that we’ve already moved into is a place where nearly daily “The more things change, the more things keep changing.” In this new world we’re discovering the need to be even more aware of our social responsibilities during the ongoing pandemic; even more intentional about walking into relationship with our neighbors near and far; even more faithful in our response to the Spirit’s leading often into places of deep discomfort. In Matthew’s gospel (chapter 13) Jesus compares the ever-present and always unfolding Kingdom of Heaven to such common things as a tiny seed, a pinch of yeast, a field-full-of-treasure, a pearl, a fishing net. Could it be that we’ve made it too complicated?
If The Promise is present in the little, everyday things, then The Promise is present in the complicated things as well.
Today’s Word: ‘Intersection’ as in… a garden is growing in the intersection of 38th and Chicago.
Ethan, Matt and I are here in these muggy, early morning hours to capture the video for this coming weekend’s message. I’ll be stepping into the intersection. The air is thick as we make our way from Bancroft Elementary School toward through the Phillips Neighborhood toward Cup Foods. To my pleasant surprise, the memorial to George Floyd is being transformed from a haphazard collection site for memorials to grief and anger into something even more beautiful. At the place where a human life ended, a garden is now emerging. Small signs of hope are growing up out of the middle of the intersection, flowers and plants are nestled into soil and mulch.
In Isaiah 65, God promises to make all things new; freedom and justice will prevail. It’s God’s vision of liberty and justice for all to whose dreams of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness have been stolen by some other vision. Just days after George Floyd was killed in the intersection of 38th and Chicago, Nancy Lee and I spent some time trying to come to grips with the tragedy that took place on the evening of May 25, 2020. But not only what happened at a particular place, on a particular date, at a particular time to a particular man, but really what has taken place in countless places at countless times to countless numbers of people of color throughout our history.
This intersection now becomes the intersection between where we’ve been and where we’re going. It’s the intersection between the old world of oppression and injustice and the new world of Liberty and justice for all.
The Gospel message of Isaiah 65 is the reminder that God is always up to something new, bold, different, something life giving for all people. That’s the very heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The question is simply this: are we willing to step into the intersection to make God’s new vision for a new world a new reality?
Today’s Word: ‘Fifty’ as in… anniversary, as in… celebrating the 50th anniversary of the ordination of women into the ministry of Word and Sacrament.
Here’s to all of my sisters in ministry who love and serve, lead and listen, who preach, pray, and sacrifice while showing grace and mercy, who do justice, who walk humbly and speak boldly, who risk and bring deep joy and peace.
In the Gospels, women are integral to the entire Jesus movement.
Jesus praised his sisters for the ways they made the Kingdom of God a reality on earth as in heaven. They preached and taught and held the kingdom of God in their hands and they lived open handedly and open heartedly. And then even as Jesus took his last breaths on the cross, and the men ran for their lives, the women stood by faithfully sharing both the bread and the cup of that moment. Never losing hope or sight of what was to come, it was the women who were the first to witness the meaning of the resurrection: “Everything will be different from now on!”
So here’s to the love of my life, Pastor Nancy Lee Gauche who celebrates 25 years of ordained ministry with these thoughts:
“What a dynamic journey. Celebrating 50 years of Women’s Ordination in the ELCA for all women. Celebrating 25 years of Ordination for me specifically this year. The journey continues to challenge so much of my human experience and the greater good for all people. I’m so thankful for the young female pastors I have met in my last 14 years of work at Luther Seminary. They have inspired me, challenged me, and given me greater imagination for the call of ministry. Here’s to the rich tapestry of having everyone at the table! Grateful to God for Calling, Mercy, and Grace in it all!”
Nancy Lee, we are grateful for all of the lives you have touched and continue to touch as the journey continues!
“If it’s half as good as the half we’ve known, here’s hail to the rest of the road!”
Today’s Word: ‘Neighboring’ as in… it’s a verb, not just an adjective.
God’s vision through Isaiah 65:17-24 is a global call to neighboring.
Check this out:
“Pay close attention now: I’m creating new heavens and a new earth. All the earlier troubles, chaos, and pain are things of the past, to be forgotten. Look ahead with joy. Anticipate what I’m creating: I’ll create Jerusalem as sheer joy, create my people as pure delight. I’ll take joy in Jerusalem, take delight in my people:
No more sounds of weeping in the city, no cries of anguish; No more babies dying in the cradle, or old people who don’t enjoy a full lifetime; One-hundredth birthdays will be considered normal— anything less will seem like a cheat.
They’ll build houses and move in. They’ll plant fields and eat what they grow. No more building a house that some outsider takes over, No more planting fields that some enemy confiscates, For my people will be as long-lived as trees, my chosen ones will have satisfaction in their work. They won’t work and have nothing come of it, they won’t have children snatched out from under them.
For they themselves are plantings blessed by GOD, with their children and grandchildren likewise GOD-blessed. Before they call out, I’ll answer.”
As we move toward the July 4th weekend, we’re anticipating another celebration of our nation’s independence; we’re celebrating freedom. This is the 244th birthday of our country that was built on truths that we hold to be self-evident: that all people are created equal, and that we are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights. Among them: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Having escaped oppression, the framers of the Constitution, among them Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, who was deeply flawed when it came to matters of race, nevertheless, cast a stunning vision for this new nation. A vision of which we have fallen short. But on this year’s July 4th weekend we acknowledge that the 244-year old vision for this nation pales in comparison with an even more pervasive vision for an entire planet. It’s a vision that God has called the entire human family to embrace; a vision of a world where “liberty and justice for all” means liberty and justice for all.
In just one week, we’ll pause again as a community to commit ourselves to making the vision of “liberty and justice for all” a reality “on earth as it is in heaven.” In Isaiah 65, the prophet speaks the words of God to a nation of people who have lost the plot. They have gone their own way, done their own thing; they have not been faithful to God’s dream of liberty and justice for all.
There is, however, a remnant. There is a small neighborhood of faithful followers who do desire to live into God’s original dream for the global neighborhood and to actively work toward that vision for liberty and justice for all people—no exceptions. And so through Isaiah, God calls the human family into a vision for a new world and invites all people to become part of the neighborhood – a global neighborhood that fiercely loves, respects, honors and “neighbors” one another.
Today’s Word: ‘Light’ as in… where there’s light, there’s life.
A friend of mine recently characterized this current moment in history as “dark.” For sure, there a good deal of bumping into furniture, running into half open doors, tripping over things that we’ve neglected because we’ve gotten lazy.
All just metaphorically speaking, of course. Right? Sure.
Since the very beginning of time, the concepts of light and darkness have been synonymous with knowing and unknowing, illumination and obscurity. When I think of light, I think of its profound power; what it does. It literally pushes the darkness back into itself. If you were to walk into the darkest room in your home and turn on a flashlight, you’d see how the light presses the darkness to the edges of the room. And when you’re in that dark space, physically or metaphorically, you’re probably more aware of the light than the darkness, we’re naturally drawn to the light.
Continuing to use my imagination with the powerful words of 1 John, here’s what I’m discovering:
“This Message, this Word of Life that we’ve physically, tangibly touched and seen (so it must be true!), this Message that we’ve been given from the Creator we announce to you: Creator is full of light and in the Creator there is no darkness. None. So much so, that if we say we’re “all about the light” and yet still bumping into furniture, running into half open doors, tripping over things that we’ve just neglected because we’ve gotten lazy, then we’re not living honestly – with the Creator or one another. But if the Light is on and we’re reflecting that light into the lives of others, indeed, into every dark corner we can find, and if we’re willing to acknowledge when the darkness overtakes us and pushes us, presses us to the edges of ourselves, we’ll notice the place brightening up right there!”
Here’s some really Good News: we’re invited to stop bumping into furniture, running into half open doors, tripping over things that we’ve just neglected because we’ve gotten really lazy, because The Light is on!
Today’s Word: ‘Imagination’ as in… it’s really okay to use it.
My late friend Eugene Peterson will be remembered forever as “the Author of the Message Bible.” He chafed at that description. I can still hear him saying, “I’m not the author. God is the author.”
Eugene was a wonderful pastor with a working knowledge of six ancient languages. He went at the original biblical texts with a commitment to integrity, a passion for the overall ‘Message’ and something we risk losing if we’re not careful: imagination.
Eugene was a founding pastor of Christ Our King Presbyterian Church in Bel Air, Maryland. During his 29 years there, he discovered that the people in the congregation “didn’t understand what they were reading.” So verse by verse, chapter by chapter, book by book, Eugene translated the scriptures from their original languages into beautiful, imaginative language that the people could understand: The Message.
Eugene taught me to appreciate not only what was written in ink on the pages, but also what was below the ink and in between the pages. That’s where imagination sparked.
Two weeks ago I was feeling as dry as a donkey jawbone in the sand. So I opened up to the ancient book of 1 John. With permission to imagine from Eugene, here’s what I discovered:
“Let me tell you – we’re all telling you, this is the bold declaration we’re announcing to you and the whole world: that which was, is and always will be – that which from the very moment light was spoken into existence, covering every inch of the creation, what we each have heard with our own two ears, what we each have seen with our own two eyes, what we each have touched with our own two hands concerning the word of life, the Word of Life – we announce, we declare to you what we have seen, heard, touched, even tasted and smelled, so that our fellowship with each other, with God, with Christ himself may bring us uncontainable joy. And by experiencing this joy together we know what “complete” really means: completely joy filled.”
Today’s Word: ‘Wedding’ as in… all kinds of things should happen at a wedding. Leaving everyone speechless should be one of them.
I recently had the opportunity to officiate at a wedding for a sweet young couple – one of five weddings on my calendar that hadn’t been postponed. In the presence of the gathering of loving friends and family on this beautiful sun-drenched afternoon and surrounded by a surprisingly luminous pine forest left me both speechless as well as wanting to thank the long-gone visionary who, a generation ago, planted seeds that would eventually grow into a forest of strength and elegance, bringing blessing to all who would come after.
I reminded the guests that one of the most important things NOT to do at this or any other wedding, is to spectate. Family and friends don’t gather to ‘watch a couple’ get married. We’re not invited to simply ‘endure’ one more wedding in June. On the contrary, we come together to participate in a movement of courageous love and extravagant grace among people. This movement, as we enter in and participate in it, creates deep relational momentum that each of us carries back to our own particular communities. Coming together like this is like dropping a stone in a pool. What happens should leave you speechless.
“You can’t just watch this and be unchanged, untouched,” I tell them. “You can, however, become part of a relational movement, taking something you hear, something you feel, something you experience in this very moment and use it to change whatever part of the world you return to after being here.”
Not fully convinced that they had completely understood what was welling up in me at that moment, given everything we’ve been through recently, I turned the gem a bit more:
“By being here together today, we can learn to be better, different, more courageous in our relationships; convinced more deeply than ever that love wins, no matter what. We can be better, different, more courageous, more deeply convinced that how we live with and love one another matters now more than ever.”
I wanted to leave that couple along with their families and friends speechless. But at the same time I wanted to create a deep sense of gratitude in each of them for visionaries in each of their lives who, a generation ago, planted seeds of love and courage that have grown into a dense forest of strong and elegant relationships that bring blessing to everyone who follows after them. That should leave us speechless.
The book of Philippians was written by the Apostle Paul from a prison cell in Rome in about the year 61 BCE. Paul and his partners in ministry had started this community of faith on what we now know as Paul’s second missionary journey. In fact, Philippians was the first church established on the European continent.
Even from a prison cell, Paul was filled with joy and gratitude for these people. Here’s what he wrote to them:
“Every time you cross my mind, I break out in exclamations of thanks to God. Each exclamation is a trigger to prayer. I find myself praying for you with a glad heart. I am so pleased that you have continued on in this with us, believing and proclaiming God’s Message, from the day you heard it right up to the present. There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears.”
Let me just remind us again how stunning it was that Paul wrote Philippians from prison cell. When life gets tough, when the great challenges of the day seem to pile up, there is power in giving thanks.
Today we’re giving thanks for another observance of Juneteenth, the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. Also known as Liberation Day, Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, and Emancipation Day, Juneteenth dates back to June 19, 1865 when the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. Juneteenth 2020. It’s a reminder that while we’ve come some distance, we’ve got miles and miles to go before we rest.
So on this day let’s just pause to give thanks for voices who speak clearly for justice, for hearts and hands that join together in the ongoing work of freedom for all people.
Today’s Word: ‘Agility’ as in… moving ahead with more emotional and spirited agility takes an enormous amount of work.
I’ve said this so many times that I’ve lost count: I was born with an extra dose of positivity. It’s just how I’m wired.
For instance: if a bunch of us went on a field trip together to the farm where I worked as a kid, and we were standing in that big old beautiful barn full of hay, someone would have something to say about “that peculiar odor.” And why not? That’s part of deal. But I’d be the one saying something like, “There’s just got to be a calf or a pony in here somewhere!”
That’s what positivity does. It looks for the silver lining, to calf, the pony. There’s always a bright spot in the darkest places for me, and I gravitate there. Sometimes too quickly. But that’s just how I’m wired.
As we’ve moved through these past nearly six months, and particularly as we’ve made our way through the last several weeks, that positivity wiring has been both helpful as well as a challenge, if not a hindrance to growth. But all along the way I’ve made a point of doing the difficult work of self-reflection.
I’ve been trying to be honest about my deep frustrations with the way once trusted organizations have treated people of color.
I’ve wrestled with a sense of helplessness; not knowing what right, good, next step to take.
I’ve had to look honestly at my anger. That hasn’t been easy. But it’s been necessary.
Rushing too quickly toward “the sunny side of things” is my way of coping with fear. That goes back a long way. But I’m discovering that by being honest, and perhaps most importantly, patient about how I’m really feeling on any given day and learning how to “sit with it…” allows me to move ahead with more emotional and spirited agility. Continuing to ground myself in the ancient scriptures and daily meditation has created a healthy space for all of that to take place.
Today’s Word: ‘Lessons’ as in… Life Lessons from the Playground: Redux. Where does the time go?
Just one month ago, for three days running, I shared some thoughts with you about the important things we can learn on playgrounds. Life was somewhat different back then. Just a month ago we were dealing with a global health pandemic. Little did we know that in a matter of days we’d face yet another pandemic, only this one would be far more insidious and much more dangerous to everyone on the planet, in the long run. That, of course, is the global pandemic of unchecked racism and rampant anti-racism.
One month ago when I posted “Playground” on Facebook and Instagram, I was working on sharing some thoughts with my favorite 5th graders at Armatage Montessori School in Southwest Minneapolis. So on a somewhat chilly and overcast morning in May, I and my good friend and all around creative genius “Swen” headed to a local playground to capture a few moments for our 5th grade friends at Armatage.
Now that the graduation celebration is in the books and we’re all continuing to do what we can to make the world a better, safer place for everyone – no exceptions, I thought I’d invite you back to the playground for some creative thoughts that I’m calling “Life Lessons from the Playground. As with all things around here, nothing is done in a vacuum or by oneself. It’s all about collaboration. Thanks to Swen for the video magic.
Today’s Word: ‘All’ as in… liberty and justice for all.
First my dad, now my mom is on my mind. I’ve been wondering what Joyce would have thought about not only the ‘state of the State’ but what in the world is going on in the world. I can hear her saying it even now: “Lord, have mercy!” She would have really meant that.
In my last post I recalled my dad’s disdain for an organization that refused to admit to membership a good friend of his based on his skin color. Even as a kid it seemed ludicrous that “Because he’s black” could be a reason for anyone not being able to do anything anywhere. It’s unconscionable that the same thing is still happening today. The necessary, difficult and even exhausting work of self-reflection, what our friends in the recovering community would call “the searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves” is taking me back to the faith community where the values of “liberty and justice for all” were integral to faith formation. It was that same faith community that was able to fully embrace our black friends that was simultaneously unable to fully embrace women in leadership.
Sure, mothers and sisters could teach Sunday School and work on various committees. But serving as elected leaders was “not allowed” simply because they were women. Neither was serving the bread at communion. Once again, wait, what?
In the Gospels, women are integral to the entire Jesus movement. Jesus praised his sisters for the ways they made the Kingdom of God a reality on earth as in heaven. As Jesus took his last breaths on the cross, the men ran for their lives while the women stood by faithfully sharing both the bread and the cup of that horrendous moment. What’s more, it was the women who were the first to witness the meaning of the resurrection: “Everything will be different from now on!”
Liberty and justice for all means freedom and equity for everyone – no exceptions.
My dad has been on my mind today. Gene Gauche would have been 96 years old. I’ve been wondering what our conversations would have been like had I been able to bring him two soft tacos from Taco Bell, and a Blizzard from Dairy Queen … both for lunch.
I’ve been wondering what he would have thought about all that’s been happening. It would have been fascinating to hear his thoughts about a global pandemic and not being able to see the family that he moved here to be with. It would have been fascinating to hear his thoughts about the senseless death of another black man in the streets of Minneapolis.
I was in something like the 4th or 5th grade the first time “race” and “justice” got talked about in our home. My dad returned home from an Elks Club meeting and was visibly irritated. A good friend of our family, a good friend from our church community, a good friend to many people in town, my dad’s good friend – my dad’s African American friend – was not allowed to join the Elks Club.
My dad could join, but my dad’s friend could not join. The Elks would not welcome a black man into membership.
When I asked my dad why they wouldn’t let him join, he simply replied, “Because he’s black.”
I don’t remember much else from that conversation, but I do remember the sense of disbelief that “Because he’s black” would be a reason for anyone not being able to do anything anywhere. I could see it in his face: righteous indignation. For a 10 or 11 year old kid, it was like saying someone couldn’t join my tree fort club because their shoes were the wrong brand.
If dad were here today on his 96th birthday, I would have asked him about all of that. My only hope is that whatever details he remembered would have included him telling me he never went back. I can only hope.
Today’s Word: ‘Racism’ as in… this from Frederick Buechner:
“In 1957 when Governor Faubus of Arkansas refused to desegregate the schools in Little Rock, if President Eisenhower with all his enormous prestige had personally led a black child up the steps to where the authorities were blocking the school entrance, it might have been one of the great moments in history. It is heartbreaking to think of the opportunity missed. Nothing in American history is more tragic surely than the relationship of the black and white races. Masters and slaves both were dehumanized. The Jim Crow laws carried the process on for decades beyond the Emancipation. The Ku Klux Klan and its like keep going forever. Politically, economically, socially, and humanly, blacks continue to be the underdog. Despite all the efforts of both races to rectify the situation and heal the wounds, despite all the progress that has been made, it is still as hard for any black to look at any white without a feeling of resentment as it is for any white to look at any black without a feeling of guilt.” There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” Paul wrote to the Galatians (3:28), and many a white and many a black must have read his words both before the Civil War and since, perhaps even given them serious thought. If more whites had taken them to heart, were to take them to heart today, you can’t help speculating on all the misery – past, present, and to come – that both races would have been or would be spared. Many must have taken them to heart, but then simply not done what their hearts directed. The chances are they weren’t bad people or unfeeling people all in all. Like Eisenhower, they simply lacked the moral courage, the creative vision that might have won the day. The Little Rock schools were desegregated in the end anyhow by a combination of legal process and armed force, but it was done without some gesture of courtesy, contrition, or compassion that might have captured the imagination of the world.”
Today’s Word: ‘Comma’ as in… what a difference it makes where it goes.
I’m learning the difference between saying “I’m not a racist” (which I am), and “I’m not anti-racist” (which, if I am honest, I most certainly am not).
I detest that about myself.
It’s easy to “like” something on the social media page hosted by my black friend. But not standing up for her, not coming to his aid, or refusing to back them up when they’re oppressed reveals the lie. I can say “I’m not racist” (which I am), but if I’m not also consistently, vehemently, honestly “anti-racist” (which, if I am honest, I most certainly am not – my silence has ironically proven that!) then the whole thing falls apart.
It’s at that very point that the little comma holds me accountable. That comma – right there, gives me the chance to reconsider taking one more step toward healing.
No more “Not racist.” No, more anti-racist.”
No more killing. No, more living.
No more walls. No, more bridges.
No more violence. No, more peace.
No more sleeping. No, more waking.
No more apathy. No, more empathy.
No more them and those. No, more we and us.
No more silence. No, more speaking truth to power.
No more standing alone. No, more standing together.
No more hopelessness. No, more hope against all hope.
No more looking away. No, more looking at one another.
No more “My way or the highway!” No, more Christ-like Third Way.
No more resisting self-reflection. No, more insisting on self-awareness.
No more “humanity’s inhumanity to humanity.” No, more humanity, period.
No more “Send someone else.” No, more “Send me, send us!”
No more wringing my hands. No, more holding your hands.
Today’s Word: ‘Peace’ as in… this Peace Prayer. A song. A prayer. A prayer song.
Long ago the words to this song rolled out of me nearly as fast as I could write them down. So did the music. All these years later these words still speak.
We do long for peace, but we’re not dealing with a Cosmic Vending Machine so we’ll need to join our hearts and our wills to make it happen. I’m beginning with this. I’ll just need to figure out a way to get this recorded for you. For now, I’m in a praying, singing mood.
Give us your peace, Lord, in our times / Bring deep contentment to our raging lives. / Bring us that cool breeze of the New Life that you bring / Let it blow away… blow away all our fears.
Lord, hear our peace prayer for peace where fears are running high / Hear our peace prayer for peace where love is running dry / Hear our peace prayer for peace this day and for this night / Hear our peace prayer for peace, O lord, and hold us tight.
Give us your healing, Lord, in these days / Embrace our broken lives and shattered dreams with your love / Give us the Spirit’s power and the courage to go on / Into all of life with the ‘Mender of Broken Hearts’.
Lord, hear our peace prayer for peace where lives are needing you / Hear our peace prayer for peace where hope can be made new / Hear our peace prayer for peace this day and for this night / Hear our peace prayer for peace, O lord, and hold us tight.
Give us forgiveness, Lord, in our lives / With your fire of love, melt our hearts of ice / Give us the willingness to move beyond ourselves / To see your image borne in the life of every child.
Lord, hear our peace prayer for peace where hurting children weep / Hear our peace prayer for peace where peace seems fast asleep / Hear our peace prayer for peace this day and for this night /
Today’s Word: ‘Solidarity’ as in… we’re moving into the last day of praying together the “Solidarity Prayer: An Alternative Liturgy In a Time of Uncertainty” from Chris and Phileena Heuertz, co-founders of Gravity, the Center For Contemplative Activism in Omaha, Nebraska.
Written primarily as a prayer to move us through the global pandemic, the words certainly resonate with all who struggle with the illnesses of inequity, injustice, violence and death. We’ve taken this one prayer and spread it over several days.
Today we As we move into this final section, take your time breathing through each petition. Move slowly, don’t rush as you hold for a moment those who come to mind as you move through each petition. Then, when you are ready, we’ll all breathe the response together in solidarity:
“You’re not alone. We’re in this together. We’ll do everything we can to help.”
“For the hospice workers who wrestle with the risks of showing up or not showing up to care for their patients, and the difficult consequences of either choice. “You’re not alone. We’re in this together. We’ll do everything we can to help.”
For the chefs, bartenders, delivery folks, dish washers, hosts and hostesses, line cooks, servers, and all the hospitality industry who’ve prepared and provided meals for us but are about to lose their jobs. “You’re not alone. We’re in this together. We’ll do everything we can to help.”
For parents whose employers won’t make concessions for you to stay home with your children who aren’t able to attend school. “You’re not alone. We’re in this together. We’ll do everything we can to help.”
For the health care professionals who put themselves in risk to care for the suffering bodies of our collective humanity. “You’re not alone. We’re in this together. We’ll do everything we can to help.”
For every single one of us who will lose a loved one, a friend, a family member, or a partner to this virus and will be forced to grieve alone. “You’re not alone. We’re in this together. We’ll do everything we can to help.”
“You’re not alone. We’re in this together. We’ll do everything we can to help.”
“You’re not alone. We’re in this together. We’ll do everything we can to help.”
Today’s Word: ‘Solidarity’ as in… We’re into the third day of breathing this Solidarity Prayer from Chris and Phileena Heuertz. We’re taking this one beautiful, longer prayer and dividing it over a few days.
As we move into the third section, take your time as you breathe through each petition. Move slowly, don’t rush as you hold for a moment all who come to your mind as you move through each petition. Then, when you are ready, we’ll all breathe the response together in solidarity:
“You’re not alone. We’re in this together. We’ll do everything we can to help.”
“For the activists, charities, and non-profit organizations fighting to build a better world one donation at time while watching their funding thin out. “You’re not alone. We’re in this together. We’ll do everything we can to help.”
For our elders in assisted living communities who fear they may never see their family again. “You’re not alone. We’re in this together. We’ll do everything we can to help.”
For the authors, artists, musicians, speakers, and everyone else in the gig-industry whose livelihood is dependent on events that have been cancelled. “You’re not alone. We’re in this together. We’ll do everything we can to help.”
For the immunosuppressed and immunocompromised who fear running down to the market to buy the basics so they can get by one more day. “You’re not alone. We’re in this together. We’ll do everything we can to help.”
For the undocumented who have been illegalized by an unjust and unwelcoming system who fear applying for assistance at the risk of deportation. “You’re not alone. We’re in this together. We’ll do everything we can to help.”
For those who are incarcerated and concerned for their own health in their isolated communities or worried they may lose loved ones they’ll never see again. “You’re not alone. We’re in this together. We’ll do everything we can to help.”
For the flight attendants and local grocers who graciously serve all their customers while making themselves vulnerable. “You’re not alone. We’re in this together. We’ll do everything we can to help.”
Today’s Word: ‘Solidarity’ as in… continuing today with the Solidarity Prayer from Chris and Phileena Heuertz.
Remember… take your time as you sit with each petition. A helpful way to move through this is to read the petition bringing to mind those you may know who are indicted. Then, when you are ready, we’ll all speak the response together in solidarity:
“You’re not alone. We’re in this together. We’ll do everything we can to help.”
Here we go:
“For the parents of newborns who feel the sadness of not being able to introduce their babies to friends and family because of social distancing. “You’re not alone. We’re in this together. We’ll do everything we can to help.”
For retired folks who are already struggling to get by but now watching their shaky financial futures vaporize with every hit the stock market takes. You’re not alone. We’re in this together. We’ll do everything we can to help.”
For everyone getting married over the next few months, try to remember you’re not celebrating alone even if your community can’t be there for the ceremony. “You’re not alone. We’re in this together. We’ll do everything we can to help.”
For the refugees trying to make sense of this chaos in a foreign country and a language that’s often difficult to comprehend. “You’re not alone. We’re in this together. We’ll do everything we can to help.”
For the small business owners who are forced to close shop out service to our collective health but will struggle to stay in business once this has all passed. “You’re not alone. We’re in this together. We’ll do everything we can to help.”
For single parents who were already under-supported and over-worked. “You’re not alone. We’re in this together. We’ll do everything we can to help.
For the 20+ million kids in the US who need public school meal assistance just to get one or two hot meals a day and their parents who are suffering the pain of seeing their kids go hungry. “You’re not alone. We’re in this together. We’ll do everything we can to help.”
Today’s Word: ‘Solidarity’ as in… the Solidarity Prayer from Chris Heuertz.
Chris co-founded Gravity, the Center For Contemplative Activism in Omaha, Nebraska with his wife, Phileena, “for people who care about their spirituality and want to make the world a better place.” In wake of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis just one week ago, I’ve been tossed emotionally, psychologically, spiritually. No handles, no steps, no personal floatation device in this sea of raging hate, injustice, violence along with all of the peaceful demonstrations against all of the ways we’re killing one another.
And yet I’m so aware that my experience is nothing compared with the life experience of my brothers and sisters for whom systemic racism has been constant. In the midst of that, I’ve been introduced to the work of Chris and his wife Phileena.
Chris is described as “an Enneagram coach, bestselling author, speaker, non-profit consultant, anti-human trafficking activist, contemplative activist, ecclesial provocateur, curator of unlikely friendships, instigator for good, witness to hope, and clergy for common people.” I ran into the Prayer for Solidarity on Chris’s podcast. First created as a response to the COVID-19 Pandemic, the prayer is deeply helpful in a time when we long for solidarity more than we know. Flowing the “Responsive Prayer” tradition, we’ll respond to Chris and Phileena’s petitions with “You’re not alone. We’re in this together. We’ll do everything we can to help.”
My invitation to you is to dwell in these words until you feel compelled to respond. Moving through this week, let’s join our voices with Chris and Phileena. Chris writes:
“I’ve been pretty sad for a couple weeks given the assault on our collective consciousness’s peace of heart and mind. Lots of us aren’t going to be able to adjust to the new reality without each other. So right now, let’s make an intention of hope and resiliency for those out there aching the uncertainty of how vulnerable we all are—specifically for some of the most susceptible among us:
“You’re not alone. We’re in this together. We’ll do everything we can to help.”
Today’s Word: ‘unbelievable’ as in… what we’re seeing, what we’re hearing, what we’re experiencing together.
My broken heart has felt so heavy for so long. The images of raging fires, indiscriminate looting, and wanton destruction fueled by hate, injustice and disregard for human life somehow organized and orchestrated by some shadowy group we have yet to identify, has weighed so heavy on me.
The moments of mouthing the word “unbelievable” with no air behind it, no sound to carry it forward, no energy to make it heard have been too numerous to count. And tonight as the evening news began once again, I hesitated to see the stories that I knew would bring more heartache; watching images that once you see you can’t unsee and hearing stories that once you hear, you can’t unhear.
But then came the news story that would shift all of that for me.
It was the story of hundreds of volunteers flocking to Minneapolis to help with the massive cleanup even as the city braced for another night of confrontation.
For a moment, two moments, perhaps more, my heart lightened. For a moment, two moments, perhaps more, my heart beat strong again as the images of fires, looting and destruction were replaced with images of men and women, boys and girls, “black, white, brown, and indigenous” coming together to clean up a mess made by others who don’t live here and have no regard for others.
For a moment, two moments, perhaps more, I found myself saying out loud, “unbelievable, unbelievable!” as I watched people smiling, laughing, encouraging each other, filling garbage bags with one another, walking, working side by side, all coming together for one purpose: to be unified in body and spirit, working together—even playing together so that in the midst of so much destruction and loss, there is now a small ray of hope and light.
When people come together to work together, play together, talk and laugh together, they begin to listen and then hear one another in ways that draw them together even more.
The past several days have been deeply troubling on so many levels. The death of George Floyd on Monday, May 25, 2020 by Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin has sent another massive tremor through the human community.
I’ve seen things that people have done that have triggered significant anger within me.
I’ve heard things that people have said that have made me shake my head and fists in utter frustration and disbelief.
I’ve wanted to respond to the deeply troubling images of hatred and violence, but haven’t had the faintest idea where to begin.
Welcome to the human condition, right? As it turns out, all of that is a remarkably common experience for the whole human family. There are times in life when our words simply fail. Yet, it’s precisely in those moments that the ancient book of Psalms speaks most clearly into our silence. Over the past several days Psalm 46 has given me words when mine fail.
This is our prayer together.
“Gracious God, you are a safe place to hide. You are our refuge and strength, ready to help when we need you; a very present help in trouble. So we stand fearless at the cliff-edge of doom, courageous in the sea-storm of violence and unrest. There is a river whose streams create gladness as they flow into your city, O God – as they flow into your holy habitation. And God, contrary to what it seems like, you are in the midst of the cit. And ultimately it shall not be moved. You will help it when the new morning dawns. The nations—the people are in an uproar, the kingdoms—the neighborhoods totter. But you, O God, speak and we hear your voice reminding us of the call to be still and know that you are God; that you are lifted up among the nations, that you are lifted up in the earth, that you, great LORD of Hosts are with us. God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Rebekah, Sarah and Rachel, you are our refuge.”
Today’s Word: ‘silence’ as in… it really is golden.
I did an early morning workout today at a neighborhood park. I had the place to myself. Halfway through my workout I heard a Blue Jay announce its presence. It was so sudden and beautiful that I realized how silent the previous minutes had been.
Gordon Hempton, the founder of One Square Inch once said, “Silence is not the absence of something, but the presence of everything.”
He should know.
Hempton has discovered deep within the Hoh Rain Forest of Olympic National Park what is quite possibly the quietest square inch on the planet. It’s one of the most pristine, untouched, and ecologically diverse environments in the United States and believes that if nothing is done to preserve and protect this quiet place from human noise intrusions, natural quiet may be non-existent in our world in the next decade.
Silence is a part of our human nature which can no longer be heard by most people. Just close your eyes right now and listen for only a few seconds to your surroundings and you’ll hear the lack of true silence. Refrigerators, lawn mowers, airplanes are just some of the things that have become part of the ambient sound and prevent us from listening to the natural sounds around us. It is our birthright to listen, quietly and undisturbed, to the natural environment and take whatever meanings we may from it.
By listening to natural silence, we feel connected to the land, to our evolutionary past, and to ourselves. One Square Inch of Silence is in danger, unprotected by policies of the National Park Service, or supported by adequate laws. Hempton’s hope is that by listening to natural silence, it will help people to become true listeners to our environment, and help us protect one of the most important and endangered resources on the planet, silence.
At some point today find as quiet a setting as you can. Let the stillness, the silence of the moment create a space where the Spirit can reverberate in you.
Today’s Word: ‘rushing’ as in… I had several things on my ‘“Ta-Dahhh!” list today, and it perfect morning to be outside. Perfect in so many ways: sunny, not to cool, not too warm, and a lot of mostly non-discretionary time.
But there I was: rushing. I rushed twenty minutes of meditation before rushing a walk with Nancy Lee and the pooch. I rushed raking around the perimeter of the house before rushing through the first mowing of the season. Let me just pause right here to say that the First Mowing of the season is always a rather mystical experience. Honestly, it’s a holy moment; it’s quite literally a bunch of holy moments for me. It’s an opportunity to ‘walk the land’ and with each trip down and back I give thanks for our home, for the trees, the shrubs, the plants, the river, aka: rive gauche and the waterfall (remember that! I’ll return in a moment), the garden—all of it just a bit of heaven right here. The First Mowing is always a moment of gratitude for me. Anyway, I was rushing through the mowing so I could rush through the edging. Everything looked really good outside as I rushed through the cleanup. I put away the hose and all of the tools, parked the mower, swept the driveway.
Rushing, rushing, rushing.
So much rushing that I misplaced my gloves. Retracing my steps, I rushed around the house, into the garage, under the deck, around the garden. Geez, Gauche; what on earth! When I finally went back around to the river, aka: rive gauche and the waterfall, I found my gloves by the pond where a river’s worth of water was pooling. The water: rushing down the hill, laughing, tripping, falling over rocks until it landed in the pool at the bottom.
I sat down for a few minutes watching, listening, thinking of all I’d missed by rushing. I might have missed this –the only kind of rushing one might experience on a perfect day like this… perfect in so many ways: sunny, not to cool, not too warm, a mostly open.
Today’s Word: ‘trust’ as in… we thrive together in our lives when we each a make the daily commitment to trust this one truth: that strengthening our relationships comes by practicing purposeful acts of kindness and showing gracious hospitality.
Kindness, plus hospitality, equals trust.
In a very basic way, when we show one another kindness, we’re compelled, almost without even realizing what’s happened, to extend hospitality to one another. In this way, it’s a kind of transaction of grace which, if you think about it (and that would be a good idea), is an oxymoron.
Just go with me on this: I’m going to trust that making this commitment to each other creates even deeper trust among us which, in turn, builds mutual respect and sustains trust in the wider community. When we trust one another well, fully, deeply, everyone around us benefits. Common trust becomes highly visible because of its power to transform. This kind of trust is what can ultimately transform and enrich whole societies. It will have impact. So I’m going to trust that God, who breathes life into all of us and aliveness into all things through us, is moving us toward a deeper trust today.
We could also look at it this way: trust is the bridge that connects people in relationships. Trust brings neighborhoods, towns, cities, states, regions and even countries together. To experience healthy, whole and life-giving relationships we must first arrive together at the common understanding that we are fully able to ultimately trust one other. This becomes a shared act; we do this together. It is finally a powerful affirmation of our deepest connection as human beings.
This, of course, demands a deeper level of vulnerability: I must be willing to give you my trust and you must give me your trust. Vulnerability opens us up. Belief in our mutual connectedness brings us together. Trust is the pathway – the bridge that leads us toward each other.
What one thing will you do to strengthen trust with someone else today? Thanks for reading this. I’m trusting that this is helpful for you.
Today’s Word: ‘hospitality’ as in… the distance between ‘hospitality’ and ‘hospital’ is rather short. Either way, showing hospitality is providing a place and some space for healing and wholeness, life and aliveness.
I have a friend who returned home, not too long ago, from a two-week stay in the hospital. The particular fragility of my friend’s overall health necessitated a longer stay which provided a unique view into the rhythm of life in this usually bustling health center. Because of the current reality related to the coronavirus, this normally bustling hospital was oddly serine; much quieter, less hectic, far less populated than usual. Let’s just say that the ratio of medical staff to patient was vastly higher than normal.
But then, what’s normal?
Normal seems to have taken the last boat out of the harbor some time ago. Because there were far fewer patients in the hospital, there seemed to be much more hospitality that usual. This is not – please let me be clear, this is not to say that busy hospitals are inhospitable. But there was something about the intentional care – the intense personal care that my friend received in the past two weeks that seemed overwhelmingly hospitable. For that care and those precious caregivers, there is only deep, heartfelt gratitude.
Mother Teresa, reflecting on the gift of hospitality once said,
“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. Succeed anyway. If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway. What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway. 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.”
Leaning into forgiveness, kindness, honesty, creativity, happiness, and doing your best today for the sake of someone else is showing hospitality.
Today’s Word: ‘kindness’ as in… I received a message yesterday from a friend simply thanking me for an interaction we shared some time ago. It took me off guard since I didn’t have any recollection of the moment to which he was referring. In the end, though, it didn’t matter because what was done wasn’t done for any reason other than to share the moment. Some small act was received in a big way that made a huge difference for both of us.
I was reflecting on this exchange of kindness with gratitude and how they really are two parts of one thing. Being open to others, being aware of the needs of others around us opens us up to the possibility of sharing kindness in a world that often could use an extra dose of kindness.
Our ancient Hebrew sisters and brothers practiced kindness as a sacred act by keeping one’s house always open and welcoming to strangers. The Hebrew scriptures give us a glimpse of this as Abraham and Sarah kept all four sides of their tent open for guests coming from every direction. I got to thinking about what this might mean for us.
The four sides of our tents: open to those we love, open to those we know, open to those we don’t know, and open to those who are difficult to love.
In the Middle Ages people would build a ‘guest house’ which would later be known as a sanctuary.
Well, that makes sense.
In this time of sheltering in place, being open takes on completely new dimensions. Being open to others without being in their space with them takes a great deal more creativity. Creating community and sharing a welcoming Spirit with others, even from a distance, and even digitally, means putting much more thought and effort into it. Perhaps a way of opening ourselves up on all four sides might mean sending an “old fashioned” handwritten note through the mail. Now there’s’ a novel idea!
How have you been shown kindness in this challenging time?
Today’s Word: ‘relational’ as in… we are relationally connected to a planet-full of others with whom we, all of us, have some kind of relationship.
And the extent to which we are willing to invest ourselves in those relationships is the extent to which our lives will thrive together.
I’m continually moved by the stories of people in New York City who, at 7:00PM each evening, open a window, step out onto the front porch, and applaud, sing, shout, and otherwise verbally encourage nurses, doctors, EMTs and everyone in the medical field fighting to keep the city safe. It’s pretty moving. It’s pretty inspiring. It’s pretty relational. It’s really a gift when someone goes out of their way, makes a huge effort, takes a moment to give some love to someone else.
One of the most used phrases that we’ve adopted in our common fight against the coronavirus is simply, “We’re in this together.” I’m going out on a limb here, but there’s almost a sense that before all of this started, we really had no idea how deeply we really are in our life journey together. Now we really know!
I think of the ancient story in the Gospel of Luke of the Samaritan who put aside just about every reason he might have had to not help the wounded traveler, but then went way beyond what he needed to do to be a “neighbor.” As far as stories go, it’s pretty moving. It’s pretty inspiring. It’s pretty relational. I’m thinking about the people who have reached out to me over the past several weeks with some kind words, some encouragement, some love. It’s made a huge impact.
Who has done that for you?
Who has given you the gift of friendship, of love, of compassion? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: “We are relationally connected to a planet-full of others with whom we, all of us, have some kind of relationship. And the extent to which we are willing to invest ourselves in those relationships is the extent to which our lives will thrive together.”
Today’s Word: ‘Innovation’ as in… it’s May fourth, so may the innovative force be with you!
This will date me, but I’m okay with it. It was a long time ago in [what seems like] a galaxy far, far away… when I stood in line at the Music Box Theater in Downtown Seattle in Late May 1977 waiting to see Star Wars. The first one. I was so moved by what I saw that I walked out the back door and went around to the front, bought another ticket and watched it again.
It’s been said that “Star Wars is more than a franchise [it’s become] a part of the culture and one of the few cinematic experiences that was literally embraced by the entire world it changed the way movies were made and touched the lives of billions of people.” And to think that when George Lucas showed his idea to Warner Brothers, they were disappointed and shelved it. Innovation is a risky business.
There will always be someone telling you that you need to really “hone your skills” and “make sure you’ve got all your ducks in a row” before you get permission, and then “look before you leap.” (Well, that might be helpful).
Innovation isn’t just about painting the Mona Lisa or writing a bestseller or nailing the song on the first take (although that certainly could happen).
What’s your story?
What makes you sing?
What stirs your heart?
Why do you get up in the morning?
What creative project are you dreaming about?
That good idea, that impulse that won’t go away – just go after it! Do one little thing today that will push it ahead. If you did that each day for a whole year, what would you have a year from now?
Now, get going and let the God-breathed creativity that you inhaled with your very first breath make its way out and beyond you today. Inhale then exhale this holy and sacred oxygen.
Innovation is about breathing out what you’ve first breathed in. And may the forth be with you. There I said it.
Today’s Word: ‘Imagination’ as in… we are our fullest, deepest, truest, most thriving selves as we delight in the wonder of our imagination.
And you do have one. You know that, right? You do know that your ability to imagine grows out of the creative impulse that was set loose in you in the beginning?
Creativity and imagination: the two work – or rather – play together. Our creativity was breathed into us from the very beginning from the Creator of all things.
At the beginning we had little if any difficulty expressing that creativity. We sat in our high chairs and made boats with sails and fish with gills with our spaghetti noodles. We made rushing rivers and placid lakes with the sauce. We imagined new opportunities during torrential rain showers which turned common dirt into a remarkably useful artistic medium that’s been around, literally, since the beginning of time: mud. With that mud we made everything from replicas of our current family members to vehicles and buildings that we could only imagine. We took handfuls of dirt and mud and rain, mixed it all together and recreated old family members and even imagined new ones. And with some strange impulse coming from who-knows-where at that age, we took those lumps of earth and dirt and breathed life into pets and parents, buffalos and brothers and snakes and sisters and fish and friends.
Continuing to celebrate an imagination on the loose, we gave each of them names. As we looked at those creations that we had made in our image of them—made in the image we had in our little minds full of imagination, we declared right then and there: “It is good, it is very good.”
So imagine what next week might be like if we started from the perspective that the Creator, who created-and-still-creates-all-things-new, is setting loose that primal energy in you today! Imagine how your relationships might continue to thrive. Imagine new ways of doing all of those things you used to do, but now, in ways that you never before imagined. Just imagine!
Today’s Word: ‘Innovation’ as in … wondering “what good can possibly come from this?”
We’re navigating the terrain of change and transition every day. Those are two different things: change is situational; there is a physical element: a birth, a death, falling in love, a job shift, loss of role, making a move, retirement.
Transition, on the other hand, is emotional, psychological, internal. As the global pandemic continues to redefine our lives, there is plenty of change and transition.
The question remains, what will we do in response? Even if “the worst is yet to come,” we can certainly turn our energies toward creative ways of dealing with the unknown. As I’ve said before, “this ain’t our first (pandemic) rodeo.” As we embrace our creative impulse (if only to survive!), the extent to which we learn to innovate is the extent to which we will continue to thrive.
Susan Beaumont is a consultant, author, coach, and spiritual director. She works with faith communities and denominational bodies across the United States and in Canada. In a recent article entitled “5 Practices for Coaxing Order out of Chaos” she writes,
“Innovation occurs in predictable stages. It begins with a disturbance in the status quo, which the organization often tries to ignore or resolve. Eventually, the disturbance escalates into disruption, where it can no longer be ignored. As old processes and structures disintegrate, the organization enters into innovation and learning about its new environment. Eventually comes the emergence of new organizing principles and structures. Finally, the organization integrates what is novel into what it knows already—and finds coherence and a fresh identity.”
Disturbance, disruption, innovation, emergence, coherence. Let’s just consider what it means to innovate. Innovation comes from a willingness to look at our current situation and ask, “What good can possibly come from this?”
What have you learned about yourself in the past 50 days that has surprised you?
What are you doing more effectively today than you did 6 weeks ago? What’s the one best piece of advice that you’ve gotten from someone else that you’ve passed along to others?
Today’s Word: ‘PURPOSE’ as in … “Who are you?” and “What are you doing here?” are two of the most important questions we can answer today.
I’ve always been taken with this particular line from the Polish-born American humorist, Leo Calvin Rosten: “The purpose of life is not to be happy—but to matter, to be productive, to be useful, to have it make some difference that you lived at all.”
The story of the Great Commission from Matthew 28 is all about purpose. It’s a story about what matters, being productive, useful and making a difference. It’s a story about the impossible becoming possible through Christ. That, to me, seems like Good News for a post-Easter people. The resurrection really does signal that anything can happen. The mission that Jesus gave his followers in the (twenty-) first century was – and is – to go everywhere and tell everyone about what Jesus is up to in the world today.
The problem is, though, we usually make “going everywhere and telling everyone about what he’s up to in the world” way too complicated.
So much so, that we often just say it’s someone else’s job. It is not difficult.
We’ve all got stories about hope emerging from hopelessness, healing growing out of brokenness; we’ve all got stories about the movement from death back to life. Every time we tell those stories we’re living into our purpose.
The Great Commission is just that: a co-mission. It’s something we all do together. When each of us does a small part, we are part of making a big difference! (think masks, social distancing, staying home, etc.)! Being patient, showing kindness, doing things for others without being told, volunteering, expressing love, writing encouraging notes to grandparents, even picking up trash in a vacant lot is missional.
When we do these things, we’re telling the story of the love of God through Christ to the world… one neighborhood at a time. And by doing these things – especially now during these very challenging days, we’ll be going viral with the love of Christ and living into our purpose.
Today’s Word: ‘Identity’ as in… who are you, really?
The small group meeting of “Thrivers” began with introductions. We went around the dinner table and introduced ourselves; everyone shared their name and what they did. It was the first glimpse into how we’re hard-wired to describe ourselves: “I’m a teacher.” “I’m a coach.” “I’m an artist.” “I’m a musician.” “I’m a writer.” “I’m a marketer.” “I’m a reporter.” “I’m a story teller.” “I’m a mom.” “I’m a pastor.” “I’m a software specialist.” “I work at …” “I do this, that and the other stuff too.”
It struck me that these are things that we do. And when people ask us to tell us a little about ourselves, we often – mostly define ourselves by the things that we do.
But what if we were to respond to questions like “Who are you?“ and “What are you doing here?” by describing our essential identity? If I describe myself as an artist, I also want to be in touch with deeper questions: What, or even who was it that sparked my art to begin with? How did I come to be an artist? Is it because I’m so deeply relational and someone inspired me to follow that impulse? Or is it because I’ve been created to create and someone sparked that in me? What is it that creates the impulse for me to be an artist? Continuing in the same way, what is it that drives someone to be a coach or a mom? Is it the relational or teaching impulse? What is it that drives someone to absolutely love going to work as a marketer, or a software developer, a blogger, a pastor, a teacher? What is the impulse and where does it come from?
If I “press it down” all the way, what is the essential rhythm that makes all of this hum, and makes me thrive?
Some questions: How do you usually introduce yourself? What is the difference between what you do and who you are?
Try to describe yourself the way one of your best friends would describe you.
Today’s Word: ‘discovery’ as in… holding on to our doubts and then releasing them might be the first step toward a remarkable new discovery.
I’ve been working through a meditation series on doubt. Today is Day 9 of the ten day series. When I started I wondered if it was really for me, and when I finished the first exercise I thought I should just move on to a different series.
But something wouldn’t let me do that.
By Day 5 I really thought I was spinning my wheels. I was asking myself, “Honestly Gauche, what do you have doubts about?” After a few thoughtful moments, I answered back: “Nothing. If you can’t think of any, don’t just make some up. You’re a smart guy. What’s to doubt?”
Day 6. Honestly, the only thing I had any doubts about was having any doubts.
We’re a couple of months into a global pandemic. We’re a good six weeks into Social Distancing, Sheltering at Home, Lockdown. And by now we’re discovering all kinds of things that we didn’t know “before.” We’re discovering the complexities between life as we knew it and life as we will know it. In the meantime, this in-between time is filled with all kinds of doubt.
Day 9. Today, on Day 9 of the meditation series on Doubt, the doubt showed up.
Or maybe I showed up to the doubt.
But contrary to what I expected, the doubt wasn’t frightening, it wasn’t threatening. Quite on the contrary, it was quite a moment of discovery. Sitting in silence and holding some bits of doubt was like watching clouds move across the sky: present in this moment, then gone in the next moment.
I suppose that, at some level, being able to just acknowledge that we do have some doubts reveals an important truth for us. Whatever it is that seems frightening or even threatening may, indeed, come and then go, like so many clouds in the sky.
Holding on to our doubts and then releasing them might be the first step toward a remarkable new discovery.
Today’s Word: ‘Creative’ as in… this week we we’re moving with thoughtful purpose toward a deepened sense of identity—that at our deepest and truest selves, we are creative people. We thrive as creative people through the discovery of our identity and purpose in the world, exploring our creative impulse, delighting in the wonder of imagination and the power of innovation.
For the ancient Hebrew people, the temple was the central to their understanding of who they were and what they were doing here: a people gathered and sent into the world to be a blessing to the world. The temple was the location of God. It was the tangible, finite place where the intangible and infinite could be experienced within space and time. The temple was also the location of the people. It was where they gathered in community to move beyond themselves, beyond space and time. Therefore, it couldn’t be just any place. It had to be ultra-cool, super hip and, with all due-respect, very tricked out. During the last phase of the temple building project, the people brought their creative expressions of love and devotion for this God who could not be seen directly, but could be reflected indirectly through their finest, most valuable and creative offerings.
In Exodus 35 there’s a terrific story about how the people’s creativity made their house of worship a home. “…everyone whose heart was stirred, whose spirit was willing … brought the Lord’s offering to be used for the tent of meeting…”
Their creativity overflowed with things they had made: earrings, rings, brooches, pendants, colored yarn, textiles spices and oil. Imagine the creative process!
The challenge for today is to frame our creativity as a response of love and devotion for the One who continually places that creativity within us. Our creativity comes from the Source of “all things creative” and we express that creativity as an act of worship.
You are the location of God. You are the tangible, finite place where the intangible and infinite can be experienced within space and time and beyond space and time.
Today’s Word: ‘Dazzled’ as in…we are dazzled, staggered, and astonished with a prayer by Walter Brueggemann. Each day for the past week we’ve been moving with thoughtful purpose toward a deepened sense of identity—that at our deepest and truest selves, we are spirit[ual]ed people; that we thrive by affirming that we are inspired, animated and enthused by the Source of all life, and that every breath is a gift! Easter kites, Mickey, Pinocchio, Woody, and a girl name Lisa were part of this week’s journey.
Today we are dazzled by the prayerful and poetic power of a German theologian. Please enjoy “In Human Form.”
A prayer by Walter Brueggemann.
“You are God, high, lifted up, majestic. As we say, “Yours in the kingdom, the power, and the glory . . . forever.”
You are high and lifted up; it dazzles us that You work Your will through such human agents as David, the runt of his family, almost left behind and forgotten, and You called him to power and obedience and success.
You are high and lifted up; it staggers us that You have worked Your will through this Jesus of Nazareth, He of no pedigree, He of no form or comeliness, He who emptied Himself in obedience; and You have raised Him to new life, before whom every knee shall bow.
You are high and lifted up; it astonishes us that You work Your will through human agents like us, people of little consequence and limited capacity. You call us beyond ourselves; You send us beyond our imagination; You empower us beyond our capacity, and we become Your agents in the world, day by day doing justice and mercy and compassion.
At the end of the day we still say in astonishment, that You are high and lifted up and majestic. We are Your creatures, and we give our life back to You, filled with gratitude, eager for the rest that only You can give.
Every once in a while someone adds prayer to poetry and we’re dazzled; simply, staggeringly, astonishingly dazzled.
Today’s Word: ‘heartbeat’ as in… heartbeat and breath, two parts of one thing; you can’t have one without the other.
I’ve been using the Headspace meditation app for quite some time. It’s remarkable. When I started it wasn’t remarkable, I had a difficult time sitting still for 10 minutes. To clarify: my body could sit still for 10 minutes – it was my mind that was jumping all over the place. Over time and with practice, I’ve managed to train what’s known as the “monkey mind” to just sit still. Sure, there are times when I’ve been thinking of 237 other things, but I’ve learned to gently bring myself back to my breathing.
I’m grateful to be using some really nice earbuds with the app. When I put the earbuds in I can’t hear anything else.
Several weeks ago I was in the middle of an exercise, focusing on my breathing. I could hear my breathing; the slow, steady rhythm of inhaling, taking a deep breath in and then slowing exhaling; letting the breathe all the way out.
But along with that, I noticed something else. My own heartbeat!
I could actually hear my heart beating inside my chest! It wasn’t much unlike when I was a kid visiting the doctor and being fascinated by the stethoscope which acted as an amplifier of my beating heart. Now during my 20 minutes of meditation I’m focusing on both heartbeat and breath together, the two becoming one, syncing up: 6 to 8 beats per inhale and about the same exhaling. Paired together, my breath and heartbeat trigger all kinds of gratitude.
The guiding narrative for what it means to be a spirited person acknowledges that we thrive by affirming that we are inspired, animated and enthused by the Source of all life, and that every breath is a gift! God gives each of us the profound gifts of heartbeat and breath. As we live and breathe, the Spirit equips us to make the dream of God’s kingdom a reality here, on earth, as it is in heaven.
Today’s Word: ‘Enthused’ as in… the power has to come from somewhere.
Today marks a couple of milestones. First, this is the 400th entry in the Today’s Word Project. It began as a spur-of-the-moment idea that seemed innocent enough: choose a word each morning, dwell in that word all day looking for all of the places where that word connects with life, find an image that conveys a deeper sense of the word, journal about it in the evening, then share all of that with friends and family.
If you’ve ever wondered about the hashtag #100days50words then you know there was initially a finite sense to all of this which I enthusiastically blew by quite some time ago.
The other milestone, of course, is a birthday. Yup, another trip around the sun. Just minutes ago Nancy Lee and I were outside on the deck in the 61-heading-toward-71-beautiful-degrees of this day and she said, “It’s great having a birthday on a day like this!” It certainly is. And what’s more, it’s also Earth Day! After 50 years of celebrating Earth Day on my birthday my friends and family now wish me an enthusiastic happy ‘B’Earth Day.”
The adjective ‘enthused’ comes from the verb ‘enthuse’ which comes from two Greek words: ‘en‘, a prefix which means ‘in’, and ‘theos’ which means ‘God’. I know, right? To be ‘entheos’ – to be enthused is to be “In God.” Or perhaps more to the point, to be enthused is to know that the power has to come from somewhere; to embrace each day with the awareness that the power is coming from the Spirit of God to inspire, animate, and enthuse us.
It’s one thing to be excited, ‘jacked-up, thrilled about life. It’s quite another thing to know that because we’re “in God” everything takes on a bit more enthusiasm.
My birthday wish for you today is that every breath would be a prayer; every action a loving gesture; and every moment filled with the awareness of where your power is coming from. And then just live into each moment with, you know, enthusiasm!
Today’s Word: ‘animated’ as in… Mickey, Pinocchio, Woody, and a girl name Lisa all have one thing in common: they are all animated.
Mickey came to life on November 18, 1928 and was introduced to the world as “Steamboat Willie” and never escaped puberty. To this very day his voice is still as high-pitched as it was when he was a kid.
Pinocchio was born on February 23, 1940. Pinocchio’s dad was a woodcarver named Geppetto and they lived together in a modest cottage in Tuscany.
Woody was born in Emeryville, California in 1995 to the Pixar Family and had a thing for Western themes. He asked everyone to call him “Sheriff Woody Pride” which everyone shortened to “Woody.”
Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo is best remembered by the name given to her famous portrait created by an artist named Leonardo from a little Italian village of Vinci. “Mona Lisa” comes from the Italian word mona, a contraction of the phrase ma donna, or “my lady.”
What’s fascinating about Mickey, Woody, Pinocchio, and Lisa Gherardini, is that they’re all animated to some degree; brought to life by someone else. Mickey was animated by Ub Iwerks and guy named Walt who loved theme parks. Woody was animated by a Bud Luckey. Pinocchio was animated by Carlo Lorenzini Collodi, a children’s book author. Sometime in early 1542, Lisa Gherardini’s husband hired Leonardo to paint her portrait. Lisa Gherardini’s smile is what brought her to life. And it’s her smile continues to animate that timeless painting.
This raises some questions: Who brings you to life? We know that artists brought these characters to life; gave them shape, form, and function. Joy, wonder, beauty, grace, and even some mystery in a smile have given countless others a sense of the profound power of animation. Life coming to life – that’s what the Spirit does in us: brings life to our lives.
To the extent that we know that the Spirit brings us shape, form and function is the extent to which we’ll continue to bring joy, wonder, beauty, grace as well as some mystery to others.
Today’s Word: ‘inspired’ as in… those moments in life which either take our breath away or breathe new life into us. Or both.
The basic trajectory of every human life is to move ahead; to move beyond the present into something always and ever-more generative. To understand that our breath has purpose, that it comes from the Source in order to move us toward new life is the essence of inspiration.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus promised his followers that the Spirit would continue to inspire; to breathe life into life. The purpose of this on-going inspiration is to breathe-life-into-us-to-breathe-life-into-others keeping everything moving toward life.
My list of ‘breath-taking-breath-giving‘ moments is lengthy. People I’ve known, places I’ve been, things I’ve seen, music I’ve made and heard, Nancy Lee, our kids, our grandkids, etc. These and other things are all are equal parts breath-taking and breath-giving; each one heart-pumping and life-giving inspiring.
On that list somewhere is the experience of hiking 150 miles along the Superior Hiking Trail. Traversing into deep forests, over streams, through prairies and up challengingly steep high hillsides would always ultimately bring me out along a high ridgeline. The reward was always a spectacular view of both the Superior National Forest on one side and Lake Superior on the other. With my heart pounding, I’d close my eyes for just a moment to set this inspiring scene into my memory. I’d take twelve deep breaths, slowing my heart rate down enough to more fully appreciate the scene in front of me when I’d finally open my eyes. After those deep breaths, I was both figuratively and physically ‘in-spired’ to carry on. When we acknowledge that we’re continually being ‘inspired’ by the Source of all life, we recognize that the breath of the Spirit is moving us onward. There is purpose in every breath breathed into us. That’s what it means to be inspired.
What takes your breath away?
How do the things that “take your breath away” give you what you need to keep moving ever onward?
How does breathing the oxygen of the Spirit move you ahead?
Today’s Word: ‘spirit[ual]ed’ as in… we’re moving with thoughtful purpose toward a deepened sense of identity—that at our deepest and truest selves, we are spirit[ual]ed people. We thrive by affirming that we are inspired, animated and enthused by the Source of all life, and that every breath is a gift!
Our neighbors are celebrating Easter this weekend. Their church, like many Orthodox churches, base their Easter date on the Julian calendar, which often differs from the Gregorian calendar that is used by many western countries. The Orthodox Easter period often occurs later than the Easter period that falls around the time of the March equinox. That said, kites will be flying once again this weekend!
In many cultures around the world, flying kites at Easter is as common a tradition as serving ham and cheesy potato casseroles at Easter feasts. Kites are powerful symbols of Spring, resurrection, new life. In the Creole language, Monte Kap is the word for kite which means ‘able to be lifted up.’ The visual image of brightly colored material floating – suspended in the air “between heaven and earth” evokes the sense of excitement, movement, and creativity created by something that can be seen – a kite, and something that cannot be seen – the wind. A kite without the wind renders the kite motionless, lifeless. A kite in a sturdy breeze brings delight and a sense of aliveness.
When we acknowledge that we are powered by the wind of the Spirit, we’re holding onto something primal; something that connects us to the beginning of creation as the Spirit hovered over the deep darkness calling life into existence.
Humankind is essentially, spiritual; spirited, not because we make a decision to be so. We are essentially spirit[ual]ed people because the Breath of Life has first been breathed into our very lungs by Spirit. To deny that we are spirit[ual]ed people, then, is to deny our God-breathed identity.
Our very first inhalation at birth was only the beginning of a lifetime of breaths that moves us, lifts us up, and keeps us aloft somewhere between heaven and earth.
Today’s Word: ‘Purpose’ as in… as we move with thoughtful purpose toward a deepened sense of identity—that we are spirited, creative, and connected human beings, called to be present, grateful, generous, and missional people—we gain a deeper understanding of what it means to live with intention into a particular series of life rhythms that help us bring our best to each day, our best to each moment, and our best to each other as we encounter the world around us.
Whew! I know, right?
I’ll break this down over the next several posts to help us understand how these rhythms are active or can be activated in our lives. For now, though, once again, let’s just refresh these seven rhythmic narratives:
We thrive as spirited people by affirming that we are inspired, animated and enthused by the Source of all life, and that every breath is a gift.
We thrive as creative people through the discovery of our identity and purpose in the world, exploring our creative impulse, delighting in the wonder of imagination and the power of innovation.
We thrive as connected people by nurturing healthy relationships, practicing intentional acts of kindness and showing hospitality as ways of creating trust and building respect which sustains community.
We thrive in the present as people who practice rituals rhythms of sabbath, seek margin, welcome silence, pause to listen, acknowledge thin space, and immerse in what each moment has to teach.
We thrive as grateful people who practice gratitude as a spirited discipline, remembering with joy and thanksgiving that all we have is a gift of grace.
We thrive as generous people by seeking lavish interactions with the world so that the abundance of the few can transform the scarcity of the many into a feast of blessing where all have enough.
We thrive as missional people who embrace a vision of life and aliveness by creating momentums of healing and unity by pursuing movements of hope and wholeness.
Write down each of the seven rhythms. Spend a few minutes thinking about where they show up in your life today.
Today’s Word: ‘Why’ as in… just underneath the “The Thrivers Prayer on my ‘Ta-Dahhh!’ list is “My Daily Why.”
Embracing rhythms of life that lead to deeper thriving naturally causes us to ask important questions. Along with “Who am I?” and “Where am I going?” there is the all-important purpose question: “Why am I here?” This isn’t just high-level, existential pondering about what it means to be floating on a huge ball of debris hurtling through space at 67,000 miles an hour in a Milky Way Galaxy that’s 100,000 light years across.
On the contrary, this is about being fully present in this one unique God-breathed moment, welcoming a deepened sense of the Spirit’s presence around us, with our feet on the earth, our arms extended out, our palms facing up, and our hearts open to life right here, right now, and asking: “Why am I here… today?”
This iteration of “My Daily Why” has become a bold statement of daily purpose. It helps me be a little more focused, a good bit more purposeful, and a great deal more intentional. Honestly, it took me awhile to finally arrive at this version. Part of the reason is because I’m captivated by words, and “just the right sentence” is always in the distance; like a carrot on the stick – always just out of reach. However, this gets me really close to whatever it is that happens in that Christ-filled moment when I go out on the driveway, or in the yard by the waterfall, or breathe in the first few morning moments and literally say out loud: “I am here to bring a deepened sense of adventure and wonder to the world by helping people see the spirited depth of life through the Jesus tradition.” So there you go! Life is an adventure filled with wonder. To the extent that we’re willing to help one another move toward and explore the spirit(ual)ed depths of life, is the extent to which we’ll be able to connect into the ancient/present/future power of the Jesus tradition today.
Today’s Word: ‘Ta-Dahhh!’ as in… I don’t have a “To-Do” list.
I have a “Ta-Dahhh!” list which is way, way more fun than a simple “To-Do” list! Don’t get me wrong, it’s super-satisfying to check something off a list or draw a line through some task even if I’ve already done the task and written it down so I can cross it off! Who hasn’t done that? But it’s a lot more fun to feel like somewhere in the Universe there’s a cheer going up with a really cool choir-sounding ‘Ta-Dahhh!’ when I totally nail it.
At the top of my ‘Ta-Dahhh!’ list there is what I call “The Thrivers Prayer.” This prayer comes out of the work I’ve been doing with the Thriving Rhythms Project over the past four years. I wrote the prayer to acknowledge the seven particular rhythms that guide my life. If you’ve tracked with me at all, these seven rhythms will be familiar:
“We are spirited, creative, and connected, called to be present, grateful, generous, and missional people exploring what it means to live with intention into this particular series of life rhythms that help us bring our best to each day, our best to each moment, and our best to each other as we encounter the world around us.”
If I can just pay attention to those seven rhythms each day, I’ve got a much better chance at thriving every day. The Thrivers Prayer is a reminder of who we are and what we’re here to do.
So let’s pray this together. Even while we’re apart we can come together and make this our prayer for today:
“Gracious God, you have created me in your image, breathed the oxygen of the Holy Spirit into me, called me into deeper connections through community, and filled every present moment of my life with more blessings than I can count. I am grateful this day and will commit to practicing gratitude, and I thank you for your generous love that frees me to be your resurrected and missional child in this world.”
Today’s Word: ‘Meaning’ as in… finding meaning in every moment of ‘This Moment’.
Brené Brown’s new podcast “Unlocking Us” is, like all of her other projects, remarkably insightful and helpful. On an early morning run last week I listened to her interview with David Kessler. David is one of the world’s foremost experts on healing and loss and was integrally involved in writing Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s iconic and groundbreaking work on grief.
Their book “On Death and Dying” explored the now-famous five stages of death: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. After Kübler-Ross’s death in 2004, Kessler continued his research and over time and with the blessing of the Kübler-Ross foundation, a sixth stage has been added:
Kessler explains that all six stages of grief are cyclical, not sequential. We find meaning in each of them as we move in and out of these stages.
Especially in the midst of a global pandemic.
Later that day I saw a headline indicating something like ‘half the globe’s population is on lockdown’. It’s a challenge to image 3,888,752,374 people sitting in their homes. I’m still wondering what that means. Whatever that looks like, I’m convinced that we can continue to thrive by seeking meaning in our daily lives wherever we are. We can do this in a general sense, as in: “I’m part of the global family and what I do right here impacts people over there.” And we do this in a particular sense, as in “I can reach out to quarantined/sheltered/home-bound people in ways that impacts them wherever they are.”
David Kessler’s challenge, as well a Brené Brown’s deep insights lead us to finding meaning in ‘This Moment’ by acknowledging the pain and grief, the suffering and loss. And by doing that we’ll be better able to find deeper understanding about who we are, what we’re doing here, where we’re going, and how we’ll get there which ultimately is essential to our spiritual, emotional and relational health.
It’s a wildly creative rhythm we’ve got going: our grandkids enter the world and some “Grand’ music enters our grandkids. So far all four of them: Ruby, Ryann, Emily, and Manny have music written for them.
I’ve been creating music since my first piano lesson at age 6 when my piano teacher asked me to play the scale. I began on the far left end of the keyboard and confidently announced “A.” That was a great start.
As I played the second key, I said “B.” My teacher’s satisfied reaction only encouraged me, so I continued steadily: “C,” “D,” “E,” “F,” and “G.” I paused there not so much because I wasn’t sure of the name of the next white key, but because it dawned on me that I’d skipped four black keys and wasn’t sure what to do about them.
“Just keep going!” I told myself. So I did.
I launched ahead: “H,” “I,” “J,” “K,” “L,” I said, boldly. On and on I went. I went all the way to “W,” “X,” “Y,” and “Z” which, if you know the piano keyboard, only got me to E above Middle C.
“Hmmm. What next?” I wondered.
Since I’d run out of letters of the alphabet but was only halfway through the keys, the white ones anyway, the only logical thing to do was to start over. So beginning on F above Middle C, I continued out loud: “A,” “B,” “C…”
All these years later, I’m still at it; still using all of the keys and putting them together in new and creative ways. The latest is this wonderful new song, ‘Manny’s Dance’ in honor of the birth of our sweet grandson!
Welcome to the world, Emmanuel Soren ‘Manny’ Gauche! (Emmanuel! God with us! I know, right?)
Heartfelt thanks to Bethany and Soren for gifting us with Manny! Thanks to Manny for arriving!
Thanks to Ethan and Darren who filmed and produced this, and thanks to my first piano teacher who just let me ‘dance’ on the keys!
Thanks be to God for the power of God’s amazing grace and awesome love for all people everywhere – no exceptions!
Christ is risen! Christ is risen, indeed!
Because of this day – this Easter day, every day is a new day of resurrection. Because of this day – this Easter day, we can celebrate the power of God’s love with us, for us, in us, and through us – not only making a difference in the world, but making a different world completely!
Because of this day – this Easter day, we embrace the power of life over death, and we give voice and witness to this power of new life that changes everything. The Good News of Easter is that now the possibilities are endless; resurrection changes everything!
What does resurrection do?
Resurrection finds a way to create the hope, honor the past, unleash the present, empower the weak, fulfill the dreams, sustain the weary, and celebrate the simple.
Resurrection resolves to delight in the young, inspire the old, release the bound, feed the hungry, articulate the beauty, paint outside the lines, and launch the idea.
Resurrection makes it possible to overwhelm the hate, multiply the love, soften the heart, heal the sick, welcome the stranger, invite the lonely, and mend the broken.
Resurrection shows the way to enjoy the moment, lead the followers, follow the leaders, see the possibilities, transform the expectations, expect the transformation, and unlock the courage.
Resurrection creates ability to believe the unbelievable, bring order to the chaos, renew the used, use the renewed, involve the periphery, trust the process, and settle the differences.
Resurrection opens hearts to help the helpless, cancel the debt, lighten the load, brighten the darkness, embrace the prodigal, return the favor, and generate open heartedness.
Resurrection empowers people to imagine the future, act on a hunch, set the course, chart new waters, find the cure, spark the interest, and ignite the fire.
Resurrection fuels the momentum not only to make a difference in the world, but make a different world altogether.
Today’s Word: ‘Silence’ as in… the Saturday between Good Friday and Resurrection Day has, for me, always been characterized by silence, sheer silence.
Between the Passover meal with Jesus’ disciples on Thursday, the violence of crucifixion on Friday and the ‘what-word-in-any-language-could-capture-the-power-and-beauty’ of “The First Day of the Week’, it’s always been silent.
All winter long I’ve made the same meandering walk each morning with Shelbui The Wonder Dog. Out into the snow and cold, past the deck, along the garden, up into the wooded area with the sumac, cotton, apple and birch trees, to the far edge of our property so that Shelbui can “do her business.” At some point in all of that, I pause and intentionally take note of the branches and limbs that are about eye-level. I really look at them, I study them, noticing the tips of branches, sometimes reaching out and feeling the twigs, or tracing the cold bark.
Words come to mind:
Winter’s icy grip on everything … Silent.
Holy Saturday is like that for me: silent, like winter. But more than a few times, standing out there with Shelbui, I let my imagination go and think about all that was going on deep in the DNA of those twigs, limbs, branches, trucks and roots. There is life in there! Deep within the trees there is momentum, and along with the momentum, anticipation! Because we know that just because we cannot see it, doesn’t mean that life isn’t stirring!
In the ancient Hebrew scriptures (1 Kings 19), Elijah’s life feels like winter. He’s terror-filled about his future. But God speaks to him – not in a powerful wind that rips through the mountains, not in an earthquake that shakes the ground, not in a fire that erases a hillside. God speaks to him in “a gentle whisper.” In the original language: “sheer silence.”
A still small voice speaks with words of comfort and promise. That’s a lot like Holy Saturday. Sheer silence.
It’s the kind of silence that lets you know something is coming.
We gather at the cross where Christ is: with us, for us;. We gather at the cross where the power of God is made perfect in every form of weakness, where the light of Jesus shines through every shade of darkness, into what and who we have and haven’t been, into what and who we might yet become because of him.
We gather on this Good Friday more like the first century Jesus followers than ever before: struggling with fears of the unknown, the stress of information overload, the panic of dwindling resources, the worry over the health of others, the pain and grief of loss, and the anguish and suffering of death.
We gather at the cross which is still – even after 2000 years, a terrible reminder of what happened.
And yet … even after 2000 years, the cross remains a powerful reminder of Life in the fullest sense of the word. The cross is traced on our foreheads at baptism and again on Ash Wednesday reminding us of who we are and whose we are, and that we are fully known, unconditionally loved, and extravagantly treasured. On the cross we see Jesus pouring out love for parents parenting children through a pandemic; providing courage for seniors who wonder if they’re healthy enough to withstand today; giving hope to those who depend upon the generosity of others, stirring wisdom in people managing massive systems of resources that are stretched thin, providing stamina for doctors, nurses, medical technicians, firefighters, police officers, tenacity for those on the front lines of research and development working feverishly to find a vaccine to stem the tide and flatten the curve patience for everyone who already feel cooped up, stretched thin, and overwhelmed.
On this Good Friday we gather at the cross to see The One Who Saves; his arms stretched wide embracing us, holding us, loving us with compassion, forgiveness, grace, and power to carry us through this Good Friday into all that lies beyond this day – into the rest of our lives.
Today’s Word: ‘Mandate’ as in… Maundy Thursday, as in Jesus’ ‘mandate’ to love – on this day and every day.
Doulos Discovery School is a faith-based, college preparatory, dual language PreK-12 grade school in Jarabacoa, Dominican Republic. We love the school, the people and support their mission to educate and equip servant leaders through Christian discipleship and expeditionary learning to impact the Dominican Republic.
During a visit in January 2020, I was captivated by a simple piece of art hanging on one of the walls in the guesthouse:
“Do Grace. Do Love, Doulos.”
Five words that are grounded in an ancient story from John 13 where Jesus models love for his followers by washing their feet.
On this Maundy Thursday we’re reminded of the power of love. The possibilities are endless. What does love do?
Love finds a way to create the hope, honor the past, unleash the present, empower the weak, fulfill the dreams, sustain the weary, and celebrate the simple.
Love resolves to delight in the young, inspire the old, release the bound, feed the hungry, articulate the beauty, paint outside the lines, and launch the idea.
Love makes it possible to overwhelm the hate, multiply the love, soften the heart, heal the sick, welcome the stranger, invite the lonely, and mend the broken.
Love shows the way to enjoy the moment, lead the followers, follow the leaders, see the possibilities, transform the expectations, expect the transformation, and unlock the courage.
Love creates ability to believe the unbelievable, bring order to the chaos, renew the used, use the renewed, involve the periphery, trust the process, and settle the differences.
Love opens hearts to help the helpless, cancel the debt, lighten the load, brighten the darkness, embrace the prodigal, return the favor, and generate openheartedness.
Love empowers people to imagine the future, act on a hunch, set the course, chart new waters, find the cure, spark the interest, and ignite the fire.
Love fuels the momentum not only to make a difference in the world, but make a different world altogether.
Love. Love is our mandate. Love is who are. Love is what we do. On this day and every day.
Today’s Word: ‘Satire’ as in… Mark’s Gospel is political satire.
The first century Jesus followers knew that, saw that. Caesar has a crown placed on his head – gold, jewels. Jesus has a crown placed on his head – thorns. Caesar is triumphantly paraded through the streets of the ancient cities for all to see. Jesus is shamefully paraded through the streets as an enemy of the state, carrying an execution stake. Mark’s gospel is a counter narrative which is why Jesus—the “Son of God” is killed.
So when asked, “Do you believe Jesus was the literal ‘Son of God?’” what’s fascinating is that the phrase was originally a figurative term; a Roman, military, propaganda term for someone leading with divine power.
So when asked, “Do you take it literally?” you mean take the figurative phrase literally? Take a metaphor literally? To do that misses the point, robbing the phrase of its power.
The reason the phrase “son of God” is so powerful is because first century Jesus followers were essentially calling out the violence and oppression of the empire.
Instead of crushing your enemy, Jesus says, “Love your enemy.” Instead of marginalizing the poor, Jesus moves towards the poor.
Instead of coercive military violence, it’s a story of radical, sacrificial love. Better to be executed as an enemy of the state with your heart full of love and forgiving your enemies than executing people and calling it peace.
Jesus and his message were deeply political. We can’t possibly read these stories any other way. Again, Mark’s opening line, “The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the son of God…” could not have been a more revolutionary, subversive, political, satirical opening to the story they are telling.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is a counter narrative in the world. It always has been, always will be. When it ceases to be a counter narrative, then we’ve really got problems. If we lose the counter narrative of the gospel, we run the risk of having a lot of smoke, but no fire. We’re just making noise.
Today’s Word: ‘demonstration’ as in… Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was a planned political demonstration.
Although mostly familiar, the story of the procession of Jesus into Jerusalem has some fascinating surprises. In Mark’s gospel (11:1) this is a prearranged ‘counter-procession’ planned in advance by Jesus. As Jesus approaches Jerusalem from the east, he sends two of his disciples to retrieve a colt, one that has never been ridden; a young one. They do so, and Jesus rides the young colt down the Mount of Olives into the city surrounded by a crowd of enthusiastic followers who spread their cloaks, strew leafy branches on the road, and shout: “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!”
This counter-procession is a planned political demonstration. The meaning of the demonstration is clear, and draws heavily on symbolism from the prophet Zechariah in the Jewish scriptures. According to Zechariah (9:9), a king would be coming to Jerusalem (Zion) “humble, and riding on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
In Mark’s gospel, the reference to Zechariah is implicit—Jesus says they “will find a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it.” This king, riding on a donkey, will banish war from the land: no more chariots, no more war-horses, no more bows. And commanding peace to the nations, he will be a king of peace.
This procession of Jesus was deliberately counter to what was happening on the opposite side of the city. But Jesus’ counter-procession into Jerusalem was also a counter-narrative. In fact, the entire gospel message is a counter-narrative. Mark begins his subversive gospel by writing this: “The beginning of the good news (the Gospel) of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
The gospel writers are telling a counter narrative right under the nose of the Roman Empire. It’s a very different and subversive story that challenges the dominant story of the empire.
Next we’ll see how the entire gospel of Mark is actually arranged to follow the steps of a coronation of a Caesar.
Today’s Word: ‘Processions’ as in… there were two processions entering Jerusalem on one spring day in the year 30BCE. Passover was beginning; the most sacred week of the Jewish year.
One was a peasant procession.
From the east, Jesus rode a donkey down the Mount of Olives. He was cheered on by his followers who had come to Jerusalem from Galilee, about a hundred miles to the north, to celebrate the Passover. Jesus was from Nazareth, a peasant village, his message was about the kingdom of God, and his followers came from the peasant class.
The other was an imperial procession.
From the west – on the opposite side of the city, Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor entered Jerusalem at the head of a column of imperial cavalry and soldiers. Jesus’s procession proclaimed the power of the kingdom of God. Pilate’s procession proclaimed the power of empire. These two processions embody the central conflict of the week that led to Jesus’s crucifixion. Pilate’s procession embodied the power, glory, and violence of the empire that ruled the world. Jesus’s procession embodied an alternative vision, the kingdom of God.
This contrast between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Caesar is central to the story of Jesus and early Christianity. The confrontation between these two kingdoms continues through the last week of Jesus’s life, a week which ends with Jesus’s execution by the powers who ruled his world.
Holy Week and this story of confrontation is about an alternative procession; an alternative way of life. The alternative procession is what we see on Palm Sunday: an anti-imperial and nonviolent procession.
Holy Week as the annual remembrance of Jesus’s last week presents us with the always relevant questions: Which journey are we on? Which procession are we in? All of this leads to one place: the cross—the message: “It is finished.”
First, what in our lives needs to come to an end; finished?
Second, if there is an ending, there is also the hope and the promise of new beginnings.
Because Julius Caesar was believed to have had divine origins, his son was called a ‘son of god’. This began with Caesar Augustus, and it went through numerous Caesars from there. The phrase ‘son of god’ was a political/religious term which meant that the son of god was a powerful ruler with divine origins who ruled with the power and favor of the gods.
It was a figure-of-speech for someone who had “something extra.”
So the Caesar who was perceived as a “son of god” was understood to be a savior, a “messiah.” There was even a phrase as part of the ancient Roman military propaganda that said: “Caesar was sent to earth to bring about a universal reign of peace (pax romana) and prosperity.”
So as the first century opened, the Roman government was extremely powerful and their occupation of the land was incredibly repressive, heavy handed, and brutal.
But it hadn’t always been like that. Before the occupation, the Jewish people had been free; they governed themselves, and they even had their own currency. One of their coins prominently featured a palm branch. The palm was sacred in Mesopotamian religions, and in ancient Egypt represented hope, new life, even immortality.
A palm branch was a symbol of victory, triumph, peace, and eternal life. So laying down palm branches ahead of a man riding a donkey was an act of defiance; it was a powerfully subversive and political statement.
The Jewish people wanted to be free and the man riding into town on a donkey was going to change things and restore what was lost. He would be the Savior, the Lord, the Redeemer. Jesus would be understood as the Messiah. Also – and I have to warn you – this may be, for some, somewhat indelicate: in the first century, having children wave palm branches would have been the equivalent of making a rude gesture in the general direction of the Roman Military Machine and Empire, only way more political.
Today’s Word: ‘subversive’ as in… revolutionaries are usually subversive.
Jesus was a revolutionary leader in the first century. He was kind, loving, grace-filled, and very subversive. Jesus’ message was simple: love God, love others, be kind, show compassion, share what you have. By doing so you reveal God’s kingdom right here, right now. Jesus understood the human family as a community of equals; children of a generous God with boundless love and amazing grace.
This was a new social order and to reject it was to reject Jesus – the very presence and movement of God in flesh and blood. Whenever the conversation includes a new social order, things quickly get labeled ‘political.’ And when things get labeled ‘political’ there’s a disturbance in the force.
People can be uncomfortable with the idea that Jesus was political. But if Jesus wasn’t political, he wasn’t anything. As the first century began to pick up momentum, the Jewish people were under the rule and power of the Roman Empire which had conquered a big chunk of the world. Rome was a global military superpower unlike any had ever seen, and Caesar was in charge. It was believed that Julius Caesar, the first of several ruling Caesars was divinely born.
In the first century, if you were going to tell a story about a powerful leader, you would always include something about a unique birth that was somehow related to the gods. Virgin birth stories were common; that’s just how people told those stories. Everybody understood this: if you were truly a great leader sent from the gods to do something new in the world, of course you would have an extraordinary birth story.
But the idea of taking those unique and remarkable birth stories literally was never the practice. It was more about the poetic power of the story.
When data fails, poetry prevails. So the Roman empire expanded because the Caesars were masterful at telling stories and creating unifying narratives of global power, influence, and control.
So when Jesus began teaching about the power of love and grace of course it was deliciously subversive.
Today’s Word: ‘Revolution’ as in… Palm Sunday: the revolution begins.
I grew up absolutely loving Palm Sunday. In my home congregation the whole morning was amazing! I was endlessly fascinated with the ancient stories and the traditions connected to this day.
Palm Sunday was festive! I had new clothes, dad wore a suit and tie, my mom wore a dress she had created. She also wore a hat. The only thing better than Palm Sunday was Easter Sunday – bookends to arguably the most important several days in the life of the faith community. Imagine this scene: the stained-glass windows reverberating as music from the electronic Baldwin organ fills the sanctuary, giving new meaning to the phrase “pulling out all of the stops!” There were loads of palm branches on hand for people to wave during the singing of all five verses of “All Glory, Laud, and Honor.” Kids of all ages processed down the aisle and around the sides of the pews shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” It was so much fun! Such a parade!
After the Palm Sunday worship service, people lingered and talked; adults enjoyed coffee and doughnuts. Kids drank weak lemonade out of Dixie Cups while they safely played outside on the church lawn on this sunny morning. I only remember it being sunny. Selective memory on my part, it was the Pacific Northwest after all. But I can’t ever remember Palm Sunday being anything other than sunny. In my memory, Palm Sunday was warm, safe, festive, joyous.
But the original Palm Sunday was a lot different. It was far from fun, it wasn’t at all safe. It was aggressive, hostile, terrifying, highly charged and deeply political. To understand that, we have to read the original stories. If the next few entries of “Today’s Word” are going to make any sense, I’m going to have to ask you to spend a few moments reading the story from Mark’s Gospel; chapter 11, verses 1 through 10.
“1 When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2 and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3 If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’ ” 4 They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5 some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6 They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7 Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9 Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! 10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Today’s Word: ‘JAZZ’ as in… in life, as in jazz, you may not know exactly what’s coming next, but you’ll need to be ready.
There is still so much we really don’t know about the coronavirus. We’re learning, yes, but there’s a lot we still don’t know. We don’t know when it will slow down. We don’t know when it will peak. We don’t know how to stop it – yet. We don’t know how many lives it will impact.
Yet, in the midst of all of this there is a kind of new agility that we’re experiencing. We’re learning to do some old things in new ways, and we’re learning to do some new things that we never dreamt we’d be doing. It’s a little like playing jazz. In a typical jazz piece – which, I have to admit, is a bit of an oxymoron because Jazz is, by definition, not typical. Musicians gather and agree on a few things. First, a key – the major or minor scale around which the piece of music revolves. It’s good when everyone plays in the same key. Otherwise it doesn’t sound very appealing. Second, a tempo – how fast or slow the piece of music is played. If everyone plays at different speeds it’s not going to sound very good. Not only that, but it doesn’t make sense if I get to the end of the piece and you’re still somewhere in the middle. Third, some architecture – the basic structure of the piece: a beginning, a middle and an end. That’s putting it really simply. Jazz can get very complicated. Once the music starts, everyone supports one another. One leads, others follow and support. But then the leadership suddenly shifts, and another player leads. You may not know when it’s your turn to lead, but here’s the deal: we all have a part to play and when it’s our turn to lead, we just have to take the lead and play our best. In life, as in jazz, you may not know exactly what’s coming next, but you’ll need to be ready. #100days50words
Today’s Word: ‘BLESSINGS’ as in… they do occur. One of my dearest and closest life-long friends sent me a poem today. ‘Blessings’ by Ronald Wallace is one of those poems that you want to read more than a few times; the kind you return to like you return to a photograph or a painting that keeps revealing things even when you’re not looking at it. Honestly, it would be a shame to miss even one syllable of this poem. My friend serves as a chaplain in a Portland hospital. Each day he walks into the lives of people whose names we’ll never know, whose faces we’ll never see, whose circumstances we can’t imagine. But he does, and he can. He is a blessing to them and in some mystical way, they are a blessing to him. With strategies of hope and wholeness already in place for supporting families that are dealing with the coronavirus, he and his colleagues are equally diligent about the strategies for their own health and wellbeing as they walk deeply into every precious life. And they do so with the expectation that there will be at least one moment that conveys blessing on everyone. This much they know: blessings occur. You might want to read this at least a couple of times. Blessings occur. Some days I find myself putting my foot in the same stream twice; leading a horse to water and making him drink. I have a clue. I can see the forest for the trees. All around me people are making silk purses out of sows’ ears, getting blood from turnips, building Rome in a day. There’s a business like show business. There’s something new under the sun. Some days misery no longer loves company; it puts itself out of its. There’s rest for the weary. There’s turning back. There are guarantees. I can be serious. I can mean that. You can quite put your finger on it. Some days I know I am long for this world. I can go home again. And when I go I can take it with me. #100days50words
Today’s Word: ‘connectors’ as in… here’s to our fond and deeply felt wish to be connected!
Oscar reached out to me this morning at 12:47AM. Along with thousands of other long-gone-asleep people, I received an email that absolutely made my day. When I finally woke up this morning, I read this message from the CEO of United Airlines:
“Dear Paul, I hope this note finds you and your loved ones healthy and well … these past weeks have been among some of the most tumultuous and emotional that any of us can remember in our lifetimes. The impact of the coronavirus outbreak has been felt by individuals and families … around the world. The response to this crisis has been extraordinary; as much for what it has required from our society as for what it has revealed of us as a people. Far from causing division and discord, this crisis and the social distancing it has required, has allowed us to witness something profound and moving about ourselves: our fond and deeply felt wish to be connected with one another. The role of connector is one we’re privileged to play in the moments that matter most in your life – weddings and graduations, birthdays and business trips, events large and small – and it’s that responsibility that motivates us most to get back to our regular service, as soon as possible.”
Did you catch it? The response has been extraordinary as much for what it has required from our society as for what it has revealed of us as a people! Our willingness to respond is rooted deeply within us; it’s who we are. What our willingness reveals is illuminated through us; it’s what we do.
We’re most fully human when both are working together. I see this constantly: people expressing affection, an exuberance about life, serenity, a willingness to stick with things, compassionate hearts, the conviction that ‘Spirit’ permeates everything, a commitment to loyalty, not needing to be forceful, an ability to deploy our resources wisely.
The Apostle Paul called all of this “fruit of the Spirit.”
Today’s Word: ‘TEMPORARY’ as in… really, this too shall pass. We spent the day outside, in the yard building forts, climbing on rocks, cleaning the pond, getting the waterfall ready to go, having snacks on the deck, and lunch under the fir tree. It was magical! We also spent a few minutes just watching the clouds move along. It was fun to see them change from one thing into another. We saw rabbits and ships, dogs and horses. I saw a kid riding a bike. He had wings and was eating a carrot. When I asked Ruby Grace and Ryann if they saw that, they just smiled and said, “Sure Papa.” As we watched the clouds come and go, I was reminded of how temporary everything is. Thoughts, emotions, situations, physical sensations, nearly everything around us is coming and going. Sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly; big things, little things. It’s all changing, it’s all temporary. As we continue to navigate our way through these challenging days of pandemic, each day presents changes: big and small, frightening and manageable. Andy Puddicombe, co-founder of Headspace is quick to remind us that in times like these, what brings peace of mind is being able to hold ourselves in place when everything seems to be shifting; to be able to see changes taking place without being swept away by those changes. This means not being overwhelmed by the crush of information coming in from the outside while at the same time not being held captive by our internal thoughts. This means putting distance between ourselves and the collective anxiety swirling around us while at the same time taking seriously the gravity of what’s happening in our world right now. It’s about finding balance. Keeping in mind the temporary nature of nearly everything will help. Jesus’s followers were anxious at every turn until he said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” Everything is temporary. Except that. #100days50words
Today’s Word: ‘HOVER’ as in… the Spirit is hovering over all things. I was on a run early this morning. It was that beautiful time of the morning: brisk, clear, bright, and quiet – except for the birds. All of them together announcing the beginning of another new day as they hovered over me. In the first two verses of the book of Genesis in what can only be described as sheer poetry, the writer make a lovely attempt at describing the scene: a formless void, deep darkness. Eugene Peterson translates it this way: “Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness.” And yet the Spirit is present, hovering over absolutely everything. The Spirit is present, hovering over the formless void, over the deep darkness, over the soup of nothingness, the bottomless emptiness, the inky blackness. The Spirit is present, pointing absolutely everything forward, toward new life; calling life and light out of the empty darkness, bringing ‘knowing’ out of the unknown, creating shape out of the shapeless. We’re in a bit of darkness these days. As the entire global community rallies together, ironically, by appropriately distancing from one another, the void – the space between us holds both light and darkness, the known and unknown, even life and death. There is a void between what we know and what we don’t know. But in the midst of it all, we continue to remind one another that the Spirit is present. The Spirit is hovering over everything. And as the Spirit hovers we can re-frame how we look at this present darkness. Instead of asking “How will I make my way through this dark time?” we might ask, “How can I shine light into the lives of people who live in deep darkness?” Instead of asking “How will I make it through this day?” we might ask, “How can I help those around me explore and discover new ways of living into the hopeful days ahead?” We can shift our point of view from looking down to looking up, above, where the Spirit is hovering, over absolutely everything. #100days50words
Today’s Word: ‘PIT’ as in… when we’re in one, it’s helpful to look up. Joseph… you know, the one with the coat, the one with the “I’m dad’s favorite” coat. In Genesis 37 we see just how bad it can get when it really gets bad. Joseph’s brothers want to kill their little brother and throw his body in a pit. They’re willing to do that and even lie to their own dad about it. Sheeesh. Losers. But Reuben, who’s been busy working on an idea for a sandwich with Swiss cheese, corned beef and sauerkraut, doesn’t want to risk it. So he ways, “Nope, we’re not going to do that. Just throw him in the pit.” Now activate your imagination, if you haven’t already. I have. Joseph is in the pit. It’s bad down there. And no one is likely to come along and look in it. It’s empty. No water. No food. No traffic coming by. This is really bad. So Joseph is looking around trying to get his eyes to adjust to the darkness. He can’t see much. He kicks at the rocks on the ground, he reaches out and feels the coolness of the dirt wall. Nothing else. Sound familiar? Feel familiar? When we’re in dark places in our lives, it’s about all we can do to just look down at our feet. It’s almost too much to process what’s going on right in front of us. But in this story Joseph has a reason to look up. Looking up from the pit to the sky above, looking up to the breezes that are blowing up there provide hope. Looking up to a new way of life. Sure, Joseph gets hauled out and sold to the Ishmaelites. But looking up is what got him from where he was to where he wound up, even if he couldn’t see it! Life Lesson: We can either sit where we are and look at our feet. Or we can look up to the promise of new things to come. When we’re in a pit, it’s helpful to look up! #100days50words
Today’s Word: ‘RESILIENT’ as in… I want to tell you about a small group of spectacularly resilient high school students.
We’ve been meeting once each month to explore the seven rhythms of thriving young lives. Taking each one in turn as we go, we’ve been exploring what it means to move with thoughtful purpose toward a deepened sense of identity—that we are spirited, creative, and connected, called to be present and grateful as we become more generous and missional people. The intention is to discover more of what it means to live with intention into this particular series of life rhythms that help us bring our best to each day, our best to each moment, and our best to each other as we encounter the world around us.
I don’t want it to end. These young people have breathed so much life and aliveness into me and one another through this experience.
But lately, they’ve had their lives interrupted. Again!
They’ve had to adjust to the world around them and do everything differently, which they do seamlessly. Even in the midst of the current challenges, they’ve shown such resilience! Again!
I ran across a post on social media recently that I haven’t been able to shake. It’s a huge ‘Shout-Out’ to the Class of 2020. Here’s the content of the post:
“Class of 2020… you entered the world in the wake of 9/11. You graduate during a pandemic. No doubt these events will shape you. You are more empathetic than any other generation. You are independent, yet you are inclusive. You are hopeful, but realistic. You understand that the celebrations might have to wait, and you’re ok with that. You are mature beyond your years. We are so proud of you.”
Profound, honoring words for this year’s graduating class who have, once again, had their plans interrupted. I’m so glad I ran into this now so that as the next 12 weeks unfold—we can all watch in amazement how our young people lead us into new ways of showing empathy and independence, inclusivity and hope, realism and maturity. #100days50words
Today’s Word: ‘PHONES’ as in… let’s try this together: let’s turn them off. Let’s shut them down. Let’s see what happens!
I woke up to the gentle sound of a strumming guitar from an alarm app I use. I picked up my phone, turned off the alarm and headed downstairs to feed the pup and take her outside. Back inside, I opened a weather app to see what it was like outside as I lit a fire in the family room. I brewed some coffee, sat on the couch and put in my earbuds. Looking for the Headspace app, I got distracted by a news app. After reading the first four headlines about Covid-19, US tourists stranded in Europe, a shortage of hospital beds, and another nursing home in lock-down, I continued looking for Headspace. Distracted, I opened a sports app. I wondered what might be going on there. Absolutely nothing. I checked FB and IG, and was just about to launch Headspace when I noticed an alert from my weather app. I opened it. I read it. Never mind that I had just been outside.
Finally, opening Headspace I was greeted by “The Wake Up” which posed this question: “When was the last time you went a day without your phone?” A short video featured a number of ‘Headspacers’ sharing their responses: “Can’t remember…” “Don’t think I ever have…” “Traveling without my charging cord…” “Hiking, and out of range.”
This got me thinking: how would I answer that question? Most of us are up to our eyelashes in technology every day; dawn-‘til-dusk-and-beyond. Giving ourselves a sabbath; not merely a break, but some intentional time to rest, renew, and restore could be the single best thing we “do” all week. I knew I was in trouble when I opened the weather app after just being outside.
So, here’s the challenge for Sunday: decide on a duration of time that you’ll just turn it off. Can you step away from it for an hour?
Let’s try this together. Let’s turn them off. Let’s shut them down. Let’s see what happens!
Today’s Word: ‘RODEO’ as in… this really isn’t our first one, as far as disease goes. We’ve been here before. Maybe that’s the good news.
I know I’m equipped with an inordinate, even maddening amount of positivity (“there’s a pony in here somewhere…”), but this “plague” that we’re dealing with isn’t the first one on record and probably won’t be the last.
Well, now, that wasn’t very positive, was it?
If you think back 493 years or so, give or take a couple, the people of Wittenberg, Germany were scrambling to stay out of the way of a virus that had already seriously impacted countless lives around the world. Martin Luther, monk, priest, theologian, professor, pastor, and hymn writer had some prescient things to say about social responsibility in dire times. Digging deep into his faith for some answers—or, more accurately, some responses, he came up with a plan for moving ahead. It’s a good one.
Here is Martin Luther’s 493 year old manifesto:
“Therefore I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely, as stated above. See, this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.”
(Luther’s Works, Volume 43, page 132)
Prayer, social distancing, a strong sense of community responsibility, service – it’s all there. And it’s all right here as well. So let’s press on, take heart and remind ourselves early and often that this isn’t our first rodeo.
Today’s Word: ‘MOTIVATION’ as in… “What’s your motivation for doing what you’re doing right now?”
Andy Puddicombe is a brother from another mother and another friend whom I’ve never met. I call Andy my “friend” because he and I spend time together every morning. Andy is the co-founder of Headspace, a meditation app launched in 2012 which has millions of followers and subscribers around the world.
(The premium version of the app is now free for all US healthcare professionals working in public health settings).
I’ve used Headspace for a couple of years, but it’s been particularly helpful lately. I’ve found that by making a commitment of 10 to 15 minutes each morning helps frame my mind for moving through the day. Centering into the exercise by focusing on the rhythm of breathing, Andy asks, “What’s your motivation for doing today’s meditation?” I’m paying closer attention to that question.
More broadly, “Why do we do what we do?” My natural inclination, of course, is to do pretty much everything for myself. But challenging me to really think about my motivations gives me that opportunity to step into a different, far more healthy and whole place: our relationship together. I’m doing this right now to create wider margin for clearer doing, thinking, and being.
My motivation for sharper awareness is to learn how this unique time in our shared history can teach us to live differently; to be different each day for one another. I want to be spirited differently, be creative differently, be connected differently, be present differently, practice gratitude and generosity differently so that as a missional child of God I’ll live differently. My hope and expectation is that when we all do this together, when we’re all paying attention to our “other-and-outwardly-focused” motivations for doing what we’re doing, it will be like a drop of water in a pool, rippling all the way to the edges.
That’s some good motivation! A favor, please? Would you be willing to hit the “share” button wherever you read this and let’s widen the circle? Go ahead and “Share” this. Thank you friends!
Today’s Word: ‘PATIENCE’ as in… when patience runs thin, what happens next becomes vitally important.
It’s safe to say that the human race is doing pretty well navigating through this challenging time.
For the most part.
We’re doing pretty well navigating things we haven’t had to navigate before, in spite of describing it with words and phrases like self-quarantining, social distancing, schooling from home, working remotely, national emergency, unprecedented global event, pandemic, to say nothing of the absence of toilet paper. But we’re doing alright.
Aside from the occasional not-quite-so-subtle-sideways-looks from someone wearing a mask toward someone not wearing a mask, or the not-quite-so-subtle-double-take from the person who happens to get within six feet of someone else who is reaching across a five-foot high pallet of paper towels at Costco, we’re doing rather well.
Except for the public, online chastising of apparently the entire boomer population (all 73 million members of the “gray tsunami”) for not appropriately quarantining, by a writer apparently writing on behalf of the entire millennial population (roughly, ironically the same number), we’re doing pretty well.
But I still need some help.
And here’s what I need to keep in mind every day: patience.
Patience allows us to give others the same benefit of the doubt as we need. We’re in this together, so when we’re running low on patience maybe it’s because we’re fearful of what we don’t know. And we don’t know a lot. If we’re looking sideways at someone because they’re running errands and coughing in aisle 14 instead of maintaining a stricter sense of self quarantine, maybe it’s because they needed to pick up some medication from the pharmacy and we just happened to walk past them in the dog food aisle. And speaking of dogs, maybe they have a dog or two and they’re down to their last three scoops of food. When we’re on our last three scoops of patience, we do all kinds of things.
Let’s work at creating a generous amount of space for others to enter in.
And let’s pause, breathe in, and welcome each other with patience.
Today’s Word: ‘GESTURE’ as in… when a grocery store asks the community to just pause, to step aside and let those on the edges come to the center, that’s an amazing way to embrace one another in love!
Yesterday I posted the guiding narrative for thriving generously. Just in case, here it is again: “We thrive as generous people by seeking lavish interactions with the world around us so that the abundance of the few can transform the scarcity of the many into a feast of blessing where all have enough.”
Soon after, I received an email from a local grocery store taking big steps toward generosity. What they’re suggesting is absolutely biblical:
“At this time, we are asking all customers to respect our request of having the opening hour of 7 to 8 a.m. each day reserved for those shoppers who are at a higher risk of severe illness by COVID-19, which includes older adults and those who have compromised immune systems. In doing so, our intent is to provide an opportunity for those individuals to be the first to shop after our overnight cleaning and stocking so they have increased access to essential products.”
This takes me right into the fantastic book of Leviticus (like it does!):
“When you harvest your grain, always leave some of it standing around the edges of your fields and don’t pick up what falls on the ground. Leave it for the poor and for those foreigners who live among you. I am the LORD your God!” (Leviticus 22:23)
In challenging times it’s easy to overlook others. Challenges have a way of narrowing our vision to the point where we’re not looking at the edges where the most vulnerable are. It’s easy to overlook those who are not as mobile, or technologically equipped, or socially nimble, or emotionally agile or savvy as the next person. So when a grocery store asks the community to just pause, to step aside and let those on the edges come to the center, that’s an amazing way to embrace one another in love!
Today’s Word: ‘GENEROUS’ as in… the guiding narrative for a generous life goes like this: “We thrive as generous people by seeking lavish interactions with the world around us so that the abundance of the few can transform the scarcity of the many into a feast of blessing where all have enough.”
I’ve worked with three different small groups over the past two years pulling apart this narrative (along with the other six Thriving Rhythms narratives) in an effort to understand how living into these seven specific rhythms creates a deeper sense of thriving in our lives. I’m convinced that by exploring what it means to be spirited, creative, connected, present, grateful, generous and missional people, we’ll have what we need when global challenges present themselves locally.
There’s an enormous amount of fear swirling around what we know and what we don’t know about Covid-19. Fear is always a response to what we can’t see and don’t know. But as that fear begins to wane—and it will, we will encounter more stories of generosity as they begin to surface. Already stories are beginning to bend the narrative from fear on toward a more generative, generous rhythm of life: people are checking in on others who are not just isolated, but insolated.
Those with financial resources are coming to the aid of others who are vulnerable on just about every level.
Parents with flexible work schedules are reaching out to families with inflexible work schedules and providing not just child care, but tutoring and mentoring with encouragement.
Seth Godin nailed it again today in his blog. He writes,
“Staying at home and sheltering in place is not selfish, it’s generous! Practicing social distancing helps keep the virus from infecting and impacting others and at the same time it flattens the curve of the spread of the pandemic, giving healthy facilities a chance to provide care over time.”
If you need a mantra, here it is: “As a child of God, I am a ‘generous’ human being; I’m free to live open handedly and open heartedly.”
Today’s Word: ‘QUARANTINE‘ as in… maybe just another word for sabbatical.
My good friend Greg, having just returned from Norway, is just beginning a 14-day quarantine.
Three nights ago, Greg and his traveling companions were notified at 3AM that they had a very small widow of time to leave Norway in order to return to the United States. That very small window of time included scrambling to rebook new flights for a party of eight, then driving some pretty gnarly, ice-covered roads through the Scandinavian countryside in the dark to get to the airport. But they’re back, safe and sound. Well, they’re back, anyway. And Greg’s summary of the whole ordeal: “…bottom line, all is well and we’ve got some great stories to tell.” I love that about Greg, he’s got ‘Positivity’ in his Top-5. I just know it.
Isn’t it amazing what happens when our plans are interrupted, when we’re forced to take an alternate route, leave at another time, go in a different direction? Stories. Creativity. Perspective. Quarantine. Sabbatical. The quarantine means that Greg now has a bit of “discretionary time” on his hands. And because it’s impossible for Greg to work remotely, he’s got some time to play, create, and gain some new perspective.
When I asked him what he’ll be doing during the quarantine, he used the words “creative juices,” “Northern Minnesota,” “Cabin,” and “The Milky Way” all in the same sentence. That’s another thing I love about Greg.
This got me thinking about how quarantine is not unlike sabbatical. The gift of quarantine is time to step away from the normal routines. Usual rhythms of life are interrupted and we’re able to tap into new opportunities that we wouldn’t have had. So as long as all of our schedules are a bit wonky, which for some, admittedly, will feel like driving some pretty gnarly, ice-covered roads through the Scandinavian countryside in the dark to get to wherever it is we’re going, we might as well embrace it.
What kind of creativity can come out of your next 14 amazing days?
Today’s Word: ‘DIS-EASE’ as in… the Coronavirus Disease is indeed causing some significant “dis-ease” among us locally and certainly globally.
But let’s pause for a moment, let’s get our wits among us.
Instead of languishing in fear and foreboding and feeling overwhelmed at every turn, let’s be reminded that we are well-equipped to move ahead in ways that breathe life back into us and those we know, near and far.
While exercising a healthy amount of caution, we know that fear and foreboding—which seems to be everywhere, won’t get us anywhere. This is not the end of the world as we know it; far from it. Every day we’re learning new things about how to implement healthy practices that help people thrive. Caution is always a good response to moments in life when the very ground underneath us seems to be shifting. Caution allows us to pause for a moment and get our bearings, check our footing, even more importantly, to educate ourselves and one another about best practices for creating and sustaining healthy communities. We have the choice to move ahead cautiously, yes, but with healthy intention and purpose.
So how can we move forward?
In our community we’re asking important questions about how to live positively into the days and weeks ahead. Let’s begin by being encouraging.
Let’s be hopeful and positive in every interaction. Let’s continue to focus on gratitude and generosity. Doing so helps us reframe things in helpful ways. When businesses, schools, and public places of worship close, see it as an act of love for the most vulnerable; ways of caring for all God’s children.
This gives us a new way to trust one another and trust God. Encourage others to check on people who might be isolated.
This provides a way for people to practice service. Let’s be reassuring. Reassure people that life continues to move ahead in different and creative ways. And above all, let’s reassure one another that God is with us.
This will go a long way in bringing a deep calm to the dis—ease among us.
Today’s Word ‘CLAIM: as in… hey friends, it’s time to claim the good news of our baptisms!
Seriously, I know things are a little dicey out there, but let’s not forget this: you’ve been called, named, claimed, loved and treasured into each new day.
And today is no different.
And because of that, fear no longer will rule this day. Or any day, for that matter. We celebrated three baptisms last night at WoW Worship. And once we were reminded of this:
“In the sacrament of Holy Baptism we are set free from the power of sin and death and are joined to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. No matter what our circumstances may be, in times of joy or sorrow, crisis or calm, the sacrament of Baptism reminds us that our God is faithful. We stand confidently in the promises of God!”
That’s some good very good news! Many people are waking up each morning with a tremendous amount of fear. That fear rides along with them through the morning into the early afternoon and then into the evening. For some who may be consuming far too much ‘news’, that fear becomes overwhelming.
But there’s a better way to live; a far better way.
So let’s just pause, and take a big deep breath. Let’s be diligent. Let’s be smart, wise and prudent. And then let’s remember this:
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns. The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge!”
Today’s Word: ‘SHAKE’ as in… shall we shake hands? Or is there another way to greet one another?
Seth Godin, a brilliant author, speaker and blogger suggested recently that handshaking may just be on its way out. “In the future” he writes, “there are no handshakes. Star Trek, Star Wars or even Spaceballs. No one shakes hands.”
The custom of shaking hands is really only about 500 years old. It was introduced by the Quakers who reasoned that handshaking was far more egalitarian than tipping a hat or bowing. Seth Godin goes on to point out that “along with being a vector for disease transmission, handshakes reward a certain sort of powerful personality and penalize people who might be disabled or uninterested in that sort of interaction. And judging people by the strength of their grip doesn’t make much sense anymore. Until a week or two ago, deciding not to shake someone’s hand was seen as odd and a bit insulting. Today, it comes across as generous.”
So what to do?
An alternative practice for intentionally greeting one another in a way that acknowledges the health concerns of many, honors the preferences and practices of a wide number of people and still maintains the integrity of actually greeting one another might look something like this: When we encounter one another individually or in a group, instead of reaching out to take a hand, we might instead simply place our hand on our chest – over our heart, look one another in the eyes, and say “Peace be with you.”
How refreshingly lovely! In the context of a faith community, we could say, “May God’s blessing be on you” or “May the peace of Christ be with you.” I
’m captivated by the generosity of this very different sort of greeting and the kindness that it conveys. It seems to me that we could all use more kindness and peace. And if doing something as simple and yet as different as looking at you with my hand on my heart does that, then I’m all for it.
Today’s Word: ‘FIRST’ as in… what’s first on your list of things that you’d grab if your house was on fire? If you had less than a minute(!) to grab stuff that mattered, what would you choose?
Here’s a hint just in case you need one: whatever you grab should have a beating heart.
And yes, there must be a better way to ask this question without having to imagine something on fire. I’ll work on that.
Every Monday evening, Tuesday morning, and Wednesday at noon, many of us gather together to plow our way through the Gospel of Mark. This past Tuesday morning we did a deep dive into the story in Mark’s gospel about a scribe who was uber-willing to step out of his comfort zone to ask Jesus a question. And I don’t believe for a second that this is a test question; he really wanted to know: “Rabbi, what is the most important law?” I imagine him alternately looking over his shoulder to see who’s watching him, and trying to get a quiet moment with the Rabbi to simply ask, “Teacher, of all of these laws – all 613 of them, which one is the most important?”
Now let’s use our imaginations with this: Jesus looks at him and thinks to himself, “Two-for-One!” Then Jesus says,
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your might, and with all your strength. Basically, give it all you got! And then some! And just as long as I’ve got you here, and while your buddies over there are still watching from a distance thinking that you’ve got me all tied up in knots—here’s the second one, the second first one, which you didn’t ask for, but I’m going to give it to you anyway: Love your neighbor as yourself!”
It’s no secret that loving God with all we’ve got—with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength will find its clearest, most compelling expression in how we treat others, how we give ourselves away and invest ourselves in others.
Today’s Word: ‘GUEST’ as in… sometimes we’re simply guests of the transcendent… as is beautifully expressed by today’s Today’s Word Guest Writer, Nancy Lee Gauche.
“I am cuddled on the couch with our sweet little two-year-old granddaughter, Emily Joyce. We’re also joined by Shelbui (pronounced ‘Shelby’) the Staffordshire Terrier, also known as Shelbui the Wonder Dog, also known as Shelbui the Pitbull. It’s nap time.
Here’s the scene: Emily is clutching her “sippy cup” of milk with one hand while her other hand is gently patting Shelbui’s shiny, brindle coat of fur. I’ve just finished reading “Lulu and Red,” the wonderful children’s book about of two birds – two red cardinals who love each other. “Okay Emily, it’s time for Nana to lay you down for your nap. Tell Shelbui ‘night-night.’”
Emily lays her head on Shelbui’s back and kisses her up and down her spine. “Night-night Shelbui. Sleepy tight.” I’m holding Emily in my arms as we step into the den where her “Pack ‘n Play” is set up and ready for her. Her teddy bear is nestled among the blankets, waiting patiently. Standing there for an extra moment or two, we sing a song together, and then I speak a blessing over her.
And then, just before laying her down, Emily places her two sweet little hands on both sides of my face; one on each cheek. I feel the warmth and preciousness of her little fingers as I look right into her angelic little face.
And she looks right at me and then says: “I love you Nana.”
I receive her love with a wash of gratitude for a two-year-old who gives and receives love. And I pray for her life to be a love story beyond what this world knows. “And Nana loves you too, Emily. Nana loves you too… all the way to the moon and back. Twice.”
Sometimes we’re simply a guest of the transcendent.
Today’s Word: ‘SPIRIT’ as in… the same Spirit that filled Jesus in his baptism just prior his Wilderness experience, breathes into us and fills our lives.
The rising and falling of our breath is the constant reminder that Spirit is always present; we are never alone in our hunger, in our agitation, when we’re lonely, when we’re tired.
In the third temptation of Jesus, the ‘tempter’ takes Jesus to a very high mountain and shows him all of the kingdoms of the world in all of their splendor. And the voice of the ‘tempter’ makes yet another false promise that it can all belong to Jesus—all of it, if he puts the ‘tempter’ first before everything else. Of course, as with everything else, the ‘tempter’ makes only empty promises. But before another breath is taken, Jesus turns toward him and says, “Shove off!” Or probably something more along the lines of “Be gone!” And what’s truly remarkable is that at that very moment, the ‘tempter’ leaves Jesus.
Jesus speaks the words: “Be gone!” and the ‘tempter’ is gone.
Jesus then follows that, as he has in the other two temptations, by speaking the strong promises of the Word. In the face of all three temptations the front line of defense in this otherwise offensive confrontation is the Word of promise. Jesus claims for his response to any and every temptation the living, hope-filled, powerful Word of Promise:
“It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ It is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”
The word of Promise is always our best defense in every offensive moment. Trying to satisfy our own appetites without the Spirit as Provider and Protector in our lives is like circling that knife in the snow thinking it’s just harmless popsicle.
Thankfully, the rising and falling of our breath is the constant reminder that Spirit is always present in us, at work through us, bringing life and more life to every living, breathing moment.
Today’s Word: ‘ABANDON’ as in… God will not abandon us. Ever.
To think otherwise, while part of our natural and normal wiring, is the second temptation in Matthew’s archetypal story of temptation in Matthew 4:1-11.
In this second of three temptations the ‘tempter’ takes Jesus to the highest point of the temple and casts doubt by saying something like this:
“If you really are who you say you are, and if God really is who we think God is, then let’s just put God to the test by creating some havoc. Let’s see if God can rescue you. After all, it says right here…”
Jesus interrupts. “Uhhhh, we’re not doing that. God’s promise of faithfulness counterchecks any thought that I’d have to test God.”
When we’re in a bind; in that tight spot between a rock and hard place, it’s easy to default to the really odd reasoning that if ‘God is God’ and ‘God is in control’ then this certainly wouldn’t be happening. Hence the bind: Either God is not in control or God has abandoned me. Or both. If those are our only two choices, then we’ve really got a problem.
Binaries are always troublesome.
When we’re hungry, agitated, lonely or tired, Everything-Adversarial-to-God gangs up to cast doubt on God’s ability to show up when the going gets tough.
But when is God ever not present? When life gets nutty, it’s easy to wonder where God is. When we feel knocked down or abandoned we’ll do just about anything to get ourselves back up and on our way. But we know this about ourselves: we don’t choose very well.
When the ‘tempter’ says, “Jesus, throw yourself down from the highest point and let God come to your rescue!” it’s an attempt to get Jesus to put God to the test instead of trusting the promise that’s already been given. We’ll always have to deal with the seeds of doubt that creep in on us and suggest that “God is nowhere.” But the really good news for us today is that “God is now here.”
Today’s Word: ‘POWER‘ as in… the first temptation is always to rely on our own power to get something for which we are already trusting the Divine.
Let’s jump back into the temptations for a moment, figuratively speaking. Matthew’s gospel gives us a stark picture of Jesus in the wilderness without his usual life-support systems: he’s without food and water, without friends and family, or even a stone for a pillow.
Jesus is alone. Except that he’s not quite alone.
The Spirit is present and leading him through his Wilderness while the presence of the ‘tempter,’ the adversary seems to be everywhere. This is where the universal gets very particular: we’re never without the presence of the Spirit even though we’re also surrounded by an adversarial presence most, if not all of the time. That’s the nature of temptation: it’s nearly always everywhere. Always.
The first temptation in this story is universal and archetypal, one with which we probably resonate deeply. If not, we’re doubly in trouble because not recognizing temptation is often more problematic than the temptation itself. “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”
Again, the first temptation is always to use our own power to get something for which we are already trusting the Divine. Seriously, if The Source of all life is “for us,” who or what can be “against us?” Jesus is in the-Wilderness-of-providing-for-his-own-physical-needs.
Go ahead and read that once again… I’ll wait.
Always trying to provide what God can provide is truly a Wilderness endeavor. All kinds of sketchy things happen when we’re hungry, agitated, alone and tired. When our whole-life-support structures are not in place, we’re prone to all manner of temptations including the everywhere-present-and-persistent-lure of loving things and using people instead of loving people and using things, which is threatening on so many levels.
We probably don’t need a reminder of how the temptation to satisfy our own appetites without the power of Spirit acting as Provider and Protector in our lives is like circling that knife in the snow thinking it’s just harmless popsicle.
I have an annual reminder set for the fourth day of March to do just that: to march forth!
“This is your day, buddy! Go for it! Just get out there and be in it! It’s March 4th so go do that: march forth!”
The challenge of March 4th is to take the next step, put a shoulder into apprehension, stare down fear, and maybe even just say “Nope! Not today!” to that little voice that says “We can’t, so we shouldn’t, so let’s not.” March 4th is the day for choosing to march forth with “vim, vigor and vitality.” It’s not always easy, so we love one another, live well together, and carry each other when we need to. But it’s March 4th, so we should!
That’s why when I woke up this morning at 5:30 to welcome the day and witness the sunrise, I raised my hands into the air and said “Thank you, God, for creating this! You’re amazing! I’m here to march forth into this!”
That’s why when I express gratitude for Nancy Lee, our kids and their families, I raise my hands into the air and say “Thank you, God, for sustaining this family! You’re amazing! I’m here to march forth into this!”
That’s why, right before leading several hundred heartbroken people through a memorial service for their loved one, I opened my hands and said “Thank you, God, for gathering us! You’re amazing! I’m here to march forth into this!”
That’s why after any number of instances that cause me to pause for a moment before going on that I opened up my hands, raise them into the air and say “Thank you, God, for providing life, health and breath, so that living and breathing I can march forth into this day, this life expressing gratitude to you! You’re amazing! I’m here to march forth into this!”
Let me encourage you: this is your day, friends! Go for it! Just get out there and be in it! It’s March 4th so go do that: march forth!
Today’s Word: ‘Déjà vu’ as in… it’s really easy to want to say, “Call me crazy, but I’m sure I’ve been here before!” while reading the ancient/once-and-future story of the temptation of Jesus.
The story recounted in Matthew 4:1-11 is certainly our story. Jesus is alone in the wilderness without his usual support system: food, water, social interaction with his community of family and friends, and a place to lay his head at night. The chances of Jesus becoming hungry, aggravated, lonely, and then tired of being tired, lonely, aggravated and hungry go up exponentially. But while common, this is also a complicated story. Matthew tells us that Jesus was led by the Spirit into the Wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Alrighty then. Luke conveys the same thing but makes a long story super-short. Mark, whose prevailing ‘vibe’ is one of urgency, spins it this way: “the Spirit immediately drove [Jesus] out into the wilderness.” All three versions could easily leave us wondering about the intention of the Spirit. If we’re honest about our usual way of understanding this, with a friend like that, who needs enemies? Right? But let’s consider a different way of thinking about this. In each version of this story Jesus moves from what we’re calling “The River of Life” (his baptism in the Jordan) directly into “The Desert of Temptation.” And the Spirit is behind it all. But instead of viewing the Spirit’s presence as adversarial, as dragging Jesus kicking-and-screaming, could we rather understand the Spirit as simply and profoundly leading and guiding Jesus – along with the rest of us – through the once-and-ever-present-and-future Wilderness places of life? The Spirit’s presence with us in our Wilderness is a very present help in time of trouble, and not, as a misreading of the passage would lead us to believe, the source of the temptation. It’s as if Spirit says, “Hey, you’re going to need some help in this and every Wilderness place of your life. I’m going to be right here with you; right here with you all the way through it.
Today’s Word: ‘TEMPTATION’ as in… it’s such a normal part of life, but what’s abnormal is how we allow it to steal our lives from us.
For as advanced as the human race is, most of us are only one spoonful of Marionberry-Cobbler-à-la-Mode away from gaining back those pounds that we worked so hard to lose. But just because we can dig into the cobbler doesn’t mean we should dig into the cobbler.
Legends tell of how Inuit hunters were able to kill a wolf simply by coating several layers of frozen blood on a sharp knife sticking out of the frozen tundra. Apparently the wolf picks up the scent, and after cautiously circling the knife begins licking the frozen blood. The wolf licks faster and faster as the desire for blood grows ever greater. The craving is so great that the wolf never notices the sting of the frozen blade on the tongue as the blood being consumed gradually becomes its own. As day breaks, hunters find the wolf lying dead in the snow.
The insidious nature of temptation is that it has a way of commanding our attention and clouding our thinking simultaneously. Not every temptation in life is going to lead to such a dramatic demise.
But it can.
The season of Lent provides an opportunity to consider the power of temptation. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus moves immediately from his baptism in the Jordan to the wilderness. Jesus literally goes from The River of Life into The Desert of Temptation where he’ll soon be hungry, alone, and tired. Rather than trust the Source of Life, he is tempted to rely on himself.
This is a universal story, a narrative archetype in which we find ourselves. Temptation is a normal part of life. What is abnormal is how we allow it to steal our lives from us. One minute we’ve got everything under control and the next minute feeling a strange kinship to the wolf.
This raises a legitimate question: When are you most likely to encounter temptation?
When you’re Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired? The acronym there just might be very, very helpful: HALT.
Today’s Word: ‘HEALING’ as in… speaking honestly creates much healing.
One of the gifts of this season is the opportunity to self-reflect. The ability to “think twice” to “think again” about who we are, what we’re doing here, where we’re going, and how we’re going to get there is part of what this season intends. If we’re unwilling to self-reflect; if we’re not up for taking a good honest look how we’ve hurt others by what we’ve done or said, we’re apt to continue making the same mistakes again and again.
Let’s not do that.
Let’s do this instead…
We live in a culture that – at best – doesn’t quite know how to process life’s most bewildering, perplexing issues; the hardest issues of life. We’d rather sweep them under the rug. And at worst, we can be remarkably judgmental when struggling with the issues of mental illness, mental health, PTSD, depression, and suicide.
And that’s just our culture in general.
In particular, through the centuries the church has been spectacularly guilty of missing the mark of grace and mercy by heaping guilt and shame on those who struggle.
Specifically, many have grown up with the message that those who take their own lives somehow place themselves outside of God’s grace, mercy, forgiveness and love; that somehow, when life seems darkest, when life seems utterly unbearable that God is willing to add insult to injury by utterly abandoning a broken soul.
Let me just be as clear as I can: nothing could be further from the truth.
The biblical witness reveals a God who is tenaciously in love with us, who went to extravagant lengths to show us the extent of unconditional love. There isn’t one place in either the Hebrew or Christian Scriptures that supports the notion that God’s back is turned away from anyone in their deepest pain, in their darkest hour, at their most dire moment. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Lent is the journey with Christ to the end of ourselves in order to reveal the beginning of who we’re becoming: recreated, living, breathing, resurrected people.
Today’s Word: ‘REFRAME’ as in… pausing again to reframe our thinking about fasting.
I want to reimagine, rediscover and reframe how this ancient practice of fasting can be much more than dieting, or not eating chocolate, or giving up cream in my coffee or not drinking coffee at all from now until the middle of April.
Fasting is an ancient practice; the human family has been at this for a while. Including Jesus. Including many before him. Including Isaiah, the prophet.
In Isaiah 58 there is a very clear reframing of fasting that is insightful. Yahweh, speaking through Isaiah to “all the people of God everywhere” says,
“This is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke, setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke, sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and homeless, clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.”
This is the challenge to fast in a way that has little or nothing to do with our chocolate or our coffee. It’s a challenge to consider new ways to love God and love others whom God has placed in our lives.
We’re set free to fast from our fear of others, to fast from the ways we include, exclude and separate people into categories, to fast from wasting resources, to fast from limited methods of reading ancient wisdom in ways that are self-serving.
Let’s allow our fasting to help us become more aware of systems that are in place—perhaps deeply in place that overlook the voiceless and powerless, the hopeless and, well, those that we might say are simply “less than us.”
Perhaps the best gift of Lent is to allow our own hunger—however we understand and experience hunger—move us ever more toward being fully human, fully free, alive and fully resurrected people.
When we give ourselves to that, our fast just may help us “…remove from our midst oppression… so that the light will rise for us in our darkness, and the gloom shall become for us like midday…”
Today’s Word: ‘FASTING’ as in… the season of Lent, sometimes understood as a fast, is bookended by two feasts.
The feast on the front end acknowledges that life, as we know it, is coming to an end. Shrove Tuesday marks the end of “life as we know it” at least for the moment.
The feast on the far end acknowledges that death, as we know it, is also coming to an end.
Put another way, Easter marks the beginning of life as we can know it, do know it, will know it, as resurrection comes to life within us more and more each day, each moment. In between Shrove Tuesday, Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday and Easter, the season of Lent offers us an opportunity to observe the discipline of fasting. In our modern consciousness, fasting might most readily be understood as a preparation for lab work where we would go for twelve hours without food consuming only water before a member of the medical community draws blood for testing.
For centuries, people within the spirit(ual)ed community have practiced fasting by going without food in order to heighten the awareness of their need for spiritual support. Hunger does that: it heightens the appreciation of one’s need for food.
A powerful image of the season of Lent is the desert. Mark’s narrative of the life of Jesus doesn’t take long at all to show Jesus going from the waters of his baptism in the Jordan River directly into the desert. For forty days and forty nights (a powerful ‘wilderness’ image), Jesus faces his own hungers. During that wilderness time, Jesus turns away from the normal systems of support that protected him from feeling his vulnerabilities so that he might trust God for sustenance.
During Lent we spend forty days in our own deserts “doing without” so that we too, might trust God for what we need.
Fasting gives us a taste of life as we know it coming to an end, so that death as we know it can bring us back to life and more life; back to resurrection.
Today’s Word: ‘ASHES‘ as in… “earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.”
It’s fascinating to consider how many times these words will be spoken today. Around the world, millions of Christ followers will gather together in order to take the same first steps on a journey that each one will experience in vastly different ways as we begin the season of Lent.
The word “Lent” comes from an old English word for “lengthen,” and refers to the lengthening of the days of spring. We express gratitude for how the season of Lent gives us a few extra moments of light each day to consider what spring, new life, hope, and promise – what resurrection means for us and the way we live with one another in the world.
In the past six days I’ve officiated at two funerals. And each time I spoke these ancient words, they had a fresh meaning. “Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust” is a powerful reminder of our essence; of who we truly are, of our ancient connection to the Creator who created us once, and still continues to create us to be a blessing to others.
Something rather dynamic happened at noon today. When the cross was traced on my forehead and those ancient words were spoken once again, I actually felt the physical pressure of the pastor’s thumb against my forehead. As I felt that pressure against me, I had to think about my footing as I absorbed that cross on my forehead. And it reminded me of all of the things that push against me in my daily life: fear, misunderstanding, selfishness, brokenness, my ability to often make an utter mess of things.
And yet… “earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; remember you are dust and to dust you shall return” was the message that intends to turn all of us toward Jesus who invites us to come along on a journey; a journey with him to the end of ourselves in order to reveal the beginning of who we’re becoming: recreated, living, breathing, resurrected people.
Today’s Word: ‘SHROVE‘ as in… it’s Shrove Tuesday, so get out your sackcloth and ashes!
“Shrove” isn’t a word we use much anymore. Either is “Shrive” or “Shrovetide,” to say nothing of “Shriving.” But just because these words no longer find a place in our day-to-day vocabulary doesn’t mean there isn’t something powerful at work through it.
“Shriving” is the act of confessing one’s sins, and being granted forgiveness. This takes place just one day prior to the beginning of Lent on Ash Wednesday.
And Shrove Tuesday can be quite party. Beth Bevis, a writing instructor at Indiana University reminds us,
“Over time, as the entire season of Lent came to be devoted to the practices of confession and repentance, the imperative to confess before Lent was downplayed, and Shrove Tuesday, along with the preceding week, came to be more focused on feasting and merry making, practices restricted during Lent. In this way, Shrovetide was similar to his European counterpart, Carnival … as a pre-Lenten period of feasting and frivolity, culminating on the Tuesday before Lent.”
Simply put, it’s like this: If you know you’re going to start the Whole30 on a Wednesday, there’s a good chance that you’re going to head to Culver’s for a Cheddar ButterBurger on Tuesday night.
And a Chocolate Malt.
But let’s go back and revisit confession. Confession is a powerful act. Confession is being honest with ourselves about ourselves with someone else. Clearing the air, getting the ‘gunk’ out, creates room for Lent’s work in us. And we do this knowing that forgiveness actually precedes confession and that’s what frees us up to be honest with ourselves, one another and with the Divine. We speak our confession with boldness and confidence knowing that it’s already covered. We speak it out of ourselves, we bring it up from the deep places where we’ve stuffed it way down and we let it fly into the universe where it no longer has power over us, in us, or through us because forgiveness is the first word and grace is the last word.
Today’s Word: ‘ANTICIPATE’ as in… as we prepare for the season of Lent, we have much to anticipate; forty days (not counting Sundays, which are known as little Easters) to wrap our hearts and minds around a journey that has the potential to take us to the end of ourselves in order to reveal the beginning of who we’re becoming: living, breathing, resurrected people.
But not so fast. We’ll have to die first.
Or at least let die those things that stand in the way of life and more life. And let’s remember that the more we embrace the journey, the more the journey will embrace us. These are very small steps we’re taking; daily steps into days filled with thoughtful searching, a good bit of wilderness and even hunger, a deeper look inward. But through these days we’ll thrive!
We’ll thrive as spirited people by affirming that we are inspired, animated and enthused by the Source of all life, and that every breath is a gift.
We’ll thrive as creative people through the discovery of our identity and purpose in the world, exploring our creative impulse, delighting in the wonder of imagination and the power of innovation.
We’ll thrive as connected people by nurturing healthy relationships, practicing intentional acts of kindness and showing hospitality as ways of creating trust and building respect which sustains community.
We’ll thrive in the present moment as people who practice rituals rhythms of sabbath, seek margin, welcome silence, pause to listen, acknowledge thin space, and immerse in what each moment has to teach.
We’ll thrive as grateful people who practice gratitude as a spirited discipline, remembering with joy and thanksgiving that all we have is a gift of grace.
We’ll thrive as generous people by seeking lavish interactions with the world so that the abundance of the few can transform the scarcity of the many into a feast of blessing where all have enough.
And we’ll thrive as missional people who embrace a vision of life and aliveness by creating a momentum of healing and unity by pursuing movements of hope and wholeness.
Today’s Word: ‘BAPTISM’’ as in… baptism reminds us that God is faithful, and we stand confidently in the promises of God.
For centuries the Christian church has framed baptism in a couple of distinct and deeply meaningful ways. Whole books have been written on this, but let me give it the “Today’sWord-350-word-limit” try:
Baptism is God’s action. Baptism is the means by which God sets people free from the power of sin and death, grafting us into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our ancient Hebrew brothers and sisters were held captive, in bondage to oppression in Egypt. They were rescued, saved, delivered, set free as they passed through the waters of the Red Sea. They went from a life of bondage and oppression to live freely and wholly in a new land by passing through the waters of new life.
That’s a powerful story. Our story is remarkably similar.
Baptism is also our action. Baptism is our call to embrace new life each day; to be born again, again and again, constantly being grafted into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
We’ve all got our own “Egypt,” we’re all on that journey from bondage and oppression into a new land flowing with life and more life. Baptism is the reminder that rescue and freedom have already been accomplished; renewal is already at work within us. We commit each day to walk with God, following the rabbi Jesus, animated by the Spirit as we live in a new land.
The details vary: dipping, sprinkling, immersing, large crowds in big churches, small gatherings in homes, lakes, oceans, hospital rooms, bathtubs, water from the Jordan, the faucet, a lake in the Boundary Waters, the Salish Sea. Yet, one thing is constant: God’s promise to be with us and for us, to never ever let us go, to be alive in us. That promise is constant, unwavering, enduring.
So no matter what our circumstances may be, in times of joy or sorrow, crisis or calm, baptism reminds us that God is faithful. We stand confidently in the promises of God.
Today’s Word: ‘Cranny’ as in… nook and cranny, as in a space, a gap, some leeway, latitude, some margin in our otherwise “brimmed-out-and filled-to-the-top-with-no-more-room-to-add-anything-more” schedules.
Creating some ‘cranny’ in our lives is an ongoing challenge which takes effort and discipline. How counterintuitive is that? The season of Lent is approaching; a season which offers us much, if only we’ll let it. But “letting it” will necessitate some understanding. Frederick Buechner writes this about Lent:
“In many cultures there is an ancient custom of giving a tenth of each year’s income to some holy use. For Christians, to observe the forty days of Lent is to do the same thing with roughly a tenth of each year’s days. After being baptized by John in the river Jordan, Jesus went off alone into the wilderness where he spent forty days asking himself the question what it meant to be Jesus. During Lent, Christians are supposed to ask one way or another what it means to be themselves.”
If we’re going to give ourselves half a chance to understand what it means to fully human, then we’ll need some cranny. I’m more and more convinced that Lent is not so much about giving something up: chocolate, coffee, cream in my coffee, sugar, technology (even one day a week!) as it is about creating some space, a gap, some margin, — some cranny in our busy lives so that we can think differently about all of these things we usually do without thinking about them.
As we move into the weeks ahead, I’m inviting you into some deeper thinking about the remarkable journey through the season of Lent. If this is going to be helpful at all, instead of giving up some behavior, let’s just create a little cranny to ask ourselves what it means to be our truest God-breathed, Spirit-inspired selves. A few moments each day to explore how, at the end of it all, or rather, at Easter, at the new beginning of it all, we’ll have discovered how we too have been brought back to life, renewed, restored, reinvigorated, resurrected.
We’ll only be able to do that if we find some cranny.
Today’s Word: ‘Remember‘ as in… remember who you are and whose you are.
There’s something wonderfully poignant about being in a familiar space decades after the space first became familiar. The Chapel of the Cross on the campus of Luther Seminary in St. Paul is one of last untouched spaces on a campus heading toward significant change and transition. At one time it was a central gathering point for students being trained for ministry. It was “a place apart” where people could find quiet moments of worship in an otherwise bustling community.
One of the truly remarkable features of the Chapel is the sculpture, “Crucifixion”, designed specifically for the chapel by the late artist, Paul Granlund. Placed in the midst of the worshippers, the sculpture created a strong response from all who viewed it. Almost no one was neutral to the piece. Granlund’s hope was that people would be able to confront the horror of the crucifixion “up close.” For decades that has been the case.
Not long ago I had the opportunity to be in the chapel with two of our three granddaughters. They had me sit in the ‘pew’ while they ‘did’ church. One of them welcomed the congregation (me), the other read “the Gospel” from the 8th chapter of Job (with a little help with words like ‘Bildad,’ ‘papyrus,’ and ‘gossamer.’) We enjoyed great music: the three of us sang Jesus Loves Me. Hymn 436.
But the real poignant moment came on our way out when we walked passed the baptismal font. I reached into the basin of water, then traced the sign of the cross on my forehead, then did the same on the foreheads of my girls. They wondered about that. So, “dipping” way back into a worship class held in this very space 38 years ago, I said,
“Whenever we come into this special space, we trace a cross on our foreheads to remember who we are and whose we are; that we’re named, claimed and loved, a bunch.”
Today’s Word: ‘REMODEL’ as in… when our hearts get remodeled, there’s more room for gratitude.
We have a house guest with us these days. His name is Boris. We’re in the midst of a small “up-do” on a couple of small spaces and we’ve got our new friend Boris doing some remodeling; turning an older space into a new space. Sometimes when people remodel their homes, much more than the home gets changed. I sure experienced that! Last weekend, our house was full of hoopla and hilarity: a sleep-over with the Hoonies. We were on our way outside to play when our remodeler arrived. It was a fascinating few moments trading introductions all around. “Ruby Grace, Ryann and Emily, this is our new friend! Boris is doing some work for us, and he’s going to be here with us all day!” The girls said hello.
Then Boris said “hello girls” to them, and that’s when they heard it: a Russian accent! When Boris said “hello girls,” the house was suddenly filled with sunlight, color, culture, and poetry! Nancy Lee asked if he would mind sharing a phrase of the Russian language with them. Without skipping a beat, Boris asked if he could pray for us.
(Again, just go back and reread that last sentence. I’ll wait for you here.)
“Absolutely!” I said. And once more, the house was filled with the most remarkable, poetic, artistic, lyrical, mouth-full-of-beautiful-sounds that I’ve heard in a long time.
I had my eyes closed, but I’m sure everyone was smiling.
When our friend came to the end, he said something that sounded a lot like “Amen!” We all chimed in with our “Amen.”
Boris then told us that he was giving thanks for the new day and for new friends. He asked for safety as he worked and as we played. And he asked God to bless our home and the people in it.”
In that very moment, I realized that some important remodeling had taken place inside me. My whole heart had expanded to hold a lot more gratitude for a moment like that, and for a new friend like this.
Today’s Word: ‘Unexpected’ as in… you just never know.
Ivy and her husband Don had made dinner plans with some friends, but the normal frenzy of the unexpected changed everything. With a “To-Do” list which included cleaning the house, picking up toys, and vacuuming Cheerios off the couch, this was just the beginning. Don was stuck at work, so Ivy had to pick up the boys, return home to feed them, and then get ready for their guests.
Ivy was just heading the table with “meatloaf-peas-and-corn” when the doorbell rang. On her way to the door, Ivy realized that her youngest wasn’t wearing his diaper and in the excitement of the moment, decided that right there was as good a place as any to illustrate that fact. Ivy quickly cleaned him up, then went to the door to greet a young woman.
Thinking she was part of the guest list, the boys yelled, “Come in!” Ivy was desperate to tend to her dinner plans, but what else could she do? Her name was Marta, and she was selling kitchen cleaner. Feeling compassion, Ivy invited her in as the two boys asked, “Are you going to eat with us?” Ivy shuddered, but in a bold and unhindered moment, found herself asking, “Can you join us for dinner?” Ivy recalls, “There we were eating warmed up “meatloaf-peas-and-corn” on a table set for three, in a messy house, expecting company from out of town in less than an hour. And my crazy, loving children had invited this stranger to dinner.”
Long story short, Marta did stay for dinner. The boys asked if Ivy was going to pray, and in another bold and unhindered moment, Ivy simply prayed,
“Dear God, thank you for new friends. Amen.”
As it turned out, it was a beautiful dinner! Marta and Ivy talked for an hour until Don came home and found them talking about life, family, cleaning products, and laughing like they had known each other forever. Just as Marta left, skipping down the sidewalk, the other dinner guests called to reschedule. You just never know!
Today’s Word: ‘Tune’ as in… it’s so important to be in tune in order to play well together.
The room was filled with remarkable music! But as the brass choir and the pipe organ launched into the stirring introduction, and the grand piano added beauty from at least five different octaves, and several hundred stood eager to sing, it was Matt who caught my eye. Matt was tuning his instrument, using a little device that measures the frequencies produced by vibrating strings on his guitar.
The device, a tuner, then aligns those measurements with the corresponding notes in the scale. As Matt fine-tuned each string, the tuner displayed the name of each note on an LED display. Voila! The guitar is in tune! I was sort of geeking out that Matt was able to accomplish this with all of the other music going on in the room, but that’s another subject.
As the room was filling with some truly extraordinary music, two thoughts occurred to me. First, how truly amazing it all sounded. And second, how in tune it all had to be in order to sound that amazing.
For a moment I wondered what this would have sounded like if no one paid attention to the tuning. It would have been a mess; it would have been a wall of sound that made no sense, had no distinctive quality, and was far from appealing.
Another life lesson!
It’s safe to say that in life, when we’re in tune with one another, when we’re aligned with things that make for peace and justice, when we’re supporting efforts that benefit those who don’t have a place in the choir, or even a voice, or don’t have any food, or even a seat at the table, then we’ll probably create some really great music together.
In that beautiful musical moment, Matt reminded me, as I watched him tune his guitar, how important each voice, each string, each key, each pedal, each stick, each individual part is, and how, important it is to be in tune in order to play well together.
Today’s Word: ‘’SOMEONE’ as in… Imagine someone who loves you deeply, cares for you, knows you completely, embraces you fully; someone who laughs with you when life is a circus, cries with you when life is a crisis; someone who adds hoopla-and-hilarity to your breezy life when your life is breezy and walks deeply with you into your deepest questions, your raw doubt, and utter disbelief.
Imagine someone who knows just what to say when saying something is important; someone who will sit in the silence of your not knowing, not understanding, not comprehending; someone who helps you make sense of the senseless.
Bring to mind that person. Safe. Right? Yes. You’re safe.
Now imagine that you’ve come down with a bad cold. Or worse; a serious flu virus.
You’re done. You’re “stick-a-fork-in-me” done. Your temperature is 102. You can’t keep anything down – or in.
Life is miserable.
Yet, with whatever bit of human strength you still have, the next-to-last thing you would do is place the blame for that on the person who loves you. Right? The last thing you would say is that this one—the one who loves you, cares for you, knows you, and embraces you; the one who laughs with you, cries with you, doubles your joy, and divides your sorrow; the one who knows when to speak and when to keep silent—the last thing you would think or say is that this one–the one who loves you gave you the flu–or even worse, that this one gave you the virus in order to test you, teach you a lesson, make you stronger.
And the very absolute very last thing you would say is that your pain, sorrow, heartbreak, struggle is part of some Larger Plan that someone who loves you has for your life.
This reminds me of these ancient words:
“Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, as downright nasty as you’re capable of being, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
“Light, space, zest—that’s GOD! So, with him on my side I’m fearless, afraid of no one and nothing.”
Nancy Lee was reading a passage from our late, dear friend Eugene Peterson’s life’s work, The Message. Specifically, Psalm 27.
“Listen to this; this is just captivating!
“Alright, captivate me!” I said.
“Light, space, zest—that’s GOD! So, with God on my side, I’m fearless, afraid of no and nothing.”
Captivating! I grew up with another version:
“The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”
Those Hebrew poets were hitting on all cylinders, for sure, but I’ve just got to tell you, “Light, space, zest” really works for me!
When I think of light, I think of the power of light; what it does. It literally pushes back against the darkness, both physically and figuratively. If you were to walk into the darkest room you have and turn on a flashlight, or the light from your phone, you’d see how the light forces the darkness to the edges of the room. And when you’re in a dark space, physically or metaphorically, you’re probably more aware of the light than the darkness, no matter how dark it is.
Space. I think Eugene was teasing out the word ‘stronghold’ when he landed on ‘space.’ Think of the places in your life where you feel strongest, most confident. Whether it’s a small or a large space, it’s still a place where you are and where God promises to inhabit. Space. Stronghold. It sounds solid, even if I don’t know how much space there is!
Finally, “Zest!” Seriously, Eugene! Zest! Think about those moments in life when we’re full of love, surrounded by others who “get us” know us, love us, care about us. Like on a day like today, Valentine’s Day, when we’re just a bit more aware of all of the love around us. I like to think that’s a place full of light, space and zest!
Today’s Word: ‘Ornery’ as in… I’m the least ornery person I know. Honest. I oughta know, I’ve lived with me for a long time.
But being ornery and being honest go together. I was blessed with an abundance of positivity. ‘Positivity’ is in my Top 5 Strengths right along with ‘Adaptability’ which means that when I’m up to my eyeballs in “farmyard fruit,” I’m the one saying, “There’s just got to be a pony in here somewhere!”
I’m also an Enneagram 7 which means I’m always bringing the party! At my best, I focus my talents on worthy goals, becoming appreciative, grateful, and satisfied. At my worst, I’ll do what I can to avoid pain.
Last week I had the spectacular opportunity to ‘swoop’ my daughter after work and head to our favorite caffeine palace. With Chai lattes in hand, we talked about our day. Actually, I talked about my day. And, dang, was I ornery! For seven minutes, I dumped the good, bad and ugly, but left out the good. So it was just bad and ugly. When I finally stopped to take a breath, I realized what I had done. For seven minutes I’d dumped a whole load of “farmyard fruit” on my sweet daughter. And because she and I have always felt completely safe and understood with one another, I even sprinkled in a few colorful adjectives that she and I picked up from watching Blair Witch Project years ago. At the end of my rant, I apologized.
That’s when she said the most lovely, transformational thing to me: “Papa, you don’t have to apologize! Thank you for trusting me with that! Really, I feel very loved and honored that you’d be willing to be that honest with me. It reminds me that you’re like me; I feel that way at times, too! We don’t ever have to hide that stuff from each other!”
Marvelous! (You sweet girl, of mine…) Simply marvelous!
Healthy relationships bear the weight of our honest life experiences.
And at the end of the day, we can certainly be ornery. But let’s also certainly be honest.
Today’s Word: ‘Dwell’ as in… we get twisted into emotional knots avoiding the reality of pain when the most human thing we can do is just dwell in it.
In 2010, Brene’ Brown presented a TED Talk entitled “The Power of Vulnerability.” It’s safe to say that one TED-Talk launched a thousand different conversations (okay, millions!) around the planet on the difference between empathy and sympathy. To date, there are over 13 million views of Brene’ Brown’s powerful talk.
Sympathy says, ‘I see your pain. Want a sandwich?’
Empathy says, ‘I feel your pain, I’m here with you. Sandwiches can wait. In fact, right now, search for “Brene Brown Empathy Video” or click the link above and watch it.
Go ahead, watch that now. It’s that good. I’ll wait.
In some recent conversations about our general disdain for and discomfort with entering into one another’s pain, we identified some choices: We try to “fix it,” “fight it,” or “flee it.”
First, we try to “fix” the pain. We often do this is by trying to cover it up, pretending it’s not there, hiding it. It’s like using a Band-Aid which is a quick and temporary solution to a problem which calls for more in-depth caring and problem-solving. When we try to “fix” pain, we never get close to the heart of it, or even understand it.
Second, we try to fight pain. If pain hurts us—which is by nature what it does, we’re naturally conditioned to fight against it. But fighting pain always takes an enormous amount of energy. It actually takes less energy to simply be in it; to dwell in it!
Third, we try to flee from pain. Someone says, “I can’t talk with so-and-so about their loss. I’ll cry. So I’m not going to try.”
But sitting with someone who’s in pain, and sharing tears with them is one of the most human things we can do! Pain has so much to teach us if we’ll just let it. We get twisted into emotional knots avoiding the reality of pain when the most human thing we can do is just dwell in it.
Today’s Word: ‘Pain’ as in… entering our own pain allows us to enter into other’s pain.
The next time you’re playing Trivial Pursuit and you get the question, “What’s the shortest verse in the bible?” You’ll know the answer, right?
In most English versions it’s “Jesus wept.” But this is certainly anything but trivial. There’s far more going on here than simply a rabbi weeping over the death of a dear friend. This is a profound teaching moment about what it means to be honest about pain and suffering, about brokenness.
The story that gives us this poignant look into the heartache which drove Jesus to tears, and probably to his knees, was the death of his friend Lazarus (in John 11). What does it mean to be a community of faith that weeps? As long as most of the human race is dealing with at least one heartache a day, we might want to understand this.
One of the core insights is that to be a community that’s able to weep with others, we need to be able to weep ourselves. If I’m not able to be in touch with, or express my own grief, I’m not going to be any help to you. I can’t enter into the honesty of the brokenness of in your life if I’m not honest with my own brokenness.
In the midst of all that breaks our hearts and causes us to weep, we say the darnedest things, don’t we? When trying to console someone whose lost a loved one, why would we say, “Well, they’re better off now!” or “God needed another ‘fisherman, grandparent, or baseball fan in heaven!”
Really? Does God look around and think, “You know, we could sure use someone who loves dogs ‘up here’ because all dogs go to heaven!”
If God could create the Grand Canyon, then certainly God is more creative than that.
The truth is, we say these things because we’re uncomfortable with weeping and grief.
How about you? What keeps you from walking deeply into another’s pain? Why is grief difficult to share?
Today’s Word: ‘Promises’ as in… we speak our promises to out loud and then, however high and lofty they may be, we walk into them with our whole selves.
“I take you to be my wife/husband/spouse/partner in life, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to care for, until we are parted by death. This is my solemn promise.”
Over the past 35 years I’ve stood with over 400 couples who have made these, or sometimes similar, or sometimes even wildly different promises. It’s always a profound moment: the couple turns toward each other, takes each other’s often times trembling hands, and having either flipped a coin, or rock-paper-scissored themselves into deciding who’s going first, launches in:
“In the midst of our families and friends, and in the presence of God, I commit myself to you as your spouse. I promise to love you and to be supportive of you as we both continue to grow and change. I promise to help you achieve the goals that you set for yourself and for our marriage, and I promise to give you the freedom to be all that you were intended to be. I promise to be faithful to you, to join with you in both sorrow and celebration, sharing all that is to come until death parts us.”
And every time I’m astounded at how remarkable daring these promises really are! And that’s the point!
Making promises isn’t a static endeavor.
Making and keeping daring promises is a dynamic and daily adventure!
We make promises and then live into them with our whole selves every day. We speak them, then we walk into them. We say them out loud, then give our whole selves to making them a reality. We speak our promises to out loud, we state our plans, we articulate our purposes, we craft our goals, we say our vows and then, however bold and daring they may be, we walk into them every day with our whole selves!
Today’s Word: ‘Yir’ah’ as in… the Hebrew word for fear. And awe, respect, and admiration!
Okay, so I have an equation for you: R÷T+F÷C×A+C=D.
That’s not fair. I admit it. You simply do not have enough information.
Let me help you: Risk ÷ Trust + Fear ÷ Courage × Adventure + Confidence = Discovery.
Now we’re getting someplace!
I know a guy who spent a year preparing to hike the Superior Hiking Trail from Canada to Duluth. He collected all of the best and most essential gear: boots, clothing, trekking poles, first aid, compass, maps, tent, food, sleeping gear, bug juice, waterproof matches. He had considered and planned for everything except what would happen if he slipped off the trail, fell down an embankment and had to lay there for hours until someone happened to hear him yelling—in one of the most remote sections of the trail. On Day #2.
Talk about fear of the unknown!
The Hebrew word for fear is the is the same word for awe, respect, and admiration! The Hebrew language has far fewer words than the English language, so when we encounter a word in Hebrew, there’s naturally room for imagination, creativity, wonder, and amazement. The English language has too many words for the same thing.
I don’t have many fears, but I have great amounts of awe, respect, and wonder. I don’t fear bears, snakes, or squirrels, but I do have a healthy respect for being careful.
In an ancient Genesis story, God told Abraham and Sarah to leave everything safe, secure, and known and head toward a completely new and unknown place. Embracing God’s promise of provision, they took off. They must have had great fear for what lay ahead. But they went. They must have been in awe of what was to come. They went anyway!
Risk divided by Trust plus Fear divided by Courage multiplied by Adventure plus Confidence equals Discovery.
They discovered that God was with them leading them into Risk, trust, fear, courage. So, what Discovery will you make by taking some calculated Risk?
What risks will you say “yes” to this next week? What Risk ÷ Trust + Fear ÷ Courage × Adventure + Confidence will equal Discovery for you?
“Nailed it!” I said it out loud, driving home after my workout this morning. It was Ludwig van Beethoven. The piece was Piano Sonata No. 21, “Waldstein.” Because Beethoven is one of my favorite classical composers, I can usually identify his music. I was 6 years old when I first heard “The Moonlight Sonata” and I was hooked.
“Nailed it!” I said again.
Full disclosure: I only knew that I was listening to Beethoven. Identifying the name of the piece is a whole other deal.
I listen to Classical MPR every morning and, as I’ve indicated here before, the host is John Birge, one of my closest friends that I’ve never hung out with. I did meet him once, but the room was crowded just before a concert at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, so we didn’t have time to chat. We do email, though, and John always gets back.
Anyway, I was playing “Name That Composer.” I listen to the piece and attempt to identify the composer without looking at the radio display. It’s great when I can identify the composer as well as the name of the piece, but the real joy comes from simply listening. I feel positively affected when I listen to Beethoven. Or Brahms, or Shubert, or Rossini, or Mendelsohn, or Chopin, or Haydn, or Bach, or even John Williams. I also feel that way when I listen to Snarky Puppy, or Erik Mongrain, or Jay Stocker, or Jeff Lorber. But that’s another story.
The phrase “The Mozart Effect” comes from the fascinating studies that suggest that listening to Mozart’s music in general, and the Sonata in D for Two Pianos in particular, has a positive effect on the brain.
There’s a ton of research behind all of that, but all I know is that when I listen to any of these composers, all is well.
I feel more spirited, creative, connected, present, grateful, generous, even missional.
I feel more in rhythm with who I am and what I’m doing here.
Today’s Word: ‘Collaboration’ as in… when everyone gives a little, big changes happen.
The plane backed away from the gate, taxied to the far corner of the airfield, and then stopped. If you’ve ever been on a flight that taxied to a far corner and then stopped, you know disappointment. The pilot then made this announcement:
“Well folks, I have bad news and some really bad news. There’s a storm coming and Denver is shut down. We’ve looked for alternatives, but there aren’t any. So we’ll be sitting tight until things open up. That’s the bad news. The really bad news is that we don’t have any food on board and we can’t return to the gate. We’ll see what we can do. I’m so sorry!”
Everyone groaned. Some passengers started to complain, some became angry.
But then, one of the flight attendants made this announcement:
“Hey everyone, we’re so sorry about this. For many of you this is a big deal. There are those on board who haven’t eaten in a while, others may have a medical condition and food would help. Some may not care one way or the other. So here’s what we can do together. We’re going to pass some baskets through the cabin and ask everybody to offer something. Perhaps you’ve brought some cookies, crackers, chips, or some fruit. If you don’t have anything edible, you may have something that might cheer someone else up a bit: a good book, a small toy, a collection of paper clips—something that you wouldn’t mind parting with. We’ll then we’ll pass the baskets around again and everybody can take out what they need.”
What happened next was amazing. The griping stopped. People dug in their pockets, opened backpacks and suitcases and produced all kinds of surprises. People were laughing and talking.
The flight attendant transformed a group of people who were focused on need and deprivation into a community of sharing and celebration. Everything changes when people consider the health and wellbeing of the whole community.
Today’s Word: ‘Impact’ as in… that person who has deeply impacted you.
You know who it is, right? A coach, a piano teacher, a counselor, your best friend’s mom, a barber. For me, it was my 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Helen Bean. Broadview Elementary School.
I’ll come back to her in a moment.
Let’s go back to those seven questions from yesterday (scroll down, you’ll find them). Seven important questions to dwell in when thinking about the connections that impact you most; seven questions that we’d probably do well to ask each day.
But it’s the last question that I’d like to linger on a moment further: “Who best modeled “connection” for you?
There’s a good chance that the person who modeled connection well for you made a huge impact on your life. I was talking with my seven senior high school “Thrivers” about the important connections in their lives—those who had impacted them most. And each one of them named a parent.
In fact, each one of them named their moms. Now, they also gave props to their dads, but I was amazed at the powerful impact that their moms have had in their lives.
Okay, back to Helen Bean. Mrs. Bean was like a mom to me. Long ago and far away, I entered the 4th grade having essentially missed out on half of my third grade year. I went every day, but for only half a day. The student body of the school I attended was so huge that they had to cut the day in half to accommodate two shifts of students. So when I got to the 4th grade, I was half a year behind. That’s when Helen Bean, like a mom, scooped me up and poured all kinds of time, effort, and love into my life. By the end of the year I was caught up. I’ll never forget her impact. Years later I called her to thank her for impacting my life.
What kind of impact would you make if you made a call like that today? Make some impact!
Today’s Word: ‘Connected’ as in… we are, all of us, after all, connected to one another.
Since the Fall of 2018 I’ve been leading a group of seven couples through the Thriving Rhythms Project.
I call it “Thrivers 1.0.”
At our first meeting I was clear: healthy small groups have a beginning and an ending. We began in October of 2018, and agreed to end in June, 2019. We had a party to introduce the series, a party to end the series, and from November to May we met seven times to talk about what it means to be ‘Thrivers;’ spirited, creative, connected, present, grateful, generous and missional people.
At that June meeting the group told me—and this is the quote, “You can do what you want to do, but we’re still going to get together!”
Two years later we’re still thriving together!
So I thought to myself, “If one group is fabulous, then two groups, of course, would be spectacular!”
So since October 2019, I’ve been meeting with a spectacular group of seven High School students.
I call it “Thrivers 2.0.”
We’ve studied what it means to thrive as connected, relational young people who bear the image of the Creator; who find deep satisfaction in practicing intentional acts of kindness with all people; who explore the kind of hospitality that creates trust and builds mutual respect; and who know the level of connectedness that sustains the community that we all share together.
We then wrestled with seven questions:
What makes a good friend?
Why would your best friend say that you’re their best friend?
What “key ingredients” are necessary in healthy connections?
How does being connected to people we don’t know and may never meet impact the way we live?
How does one’s connection to the Divine impact connections with others?
How does practicing intentional acts of kindness and showing hospitality strengthen relationships.
Who modeled all of this for you?
Engaging in this level of reflection always leads to more thriving ways of being connected.
Because we are, all of us, after all, connected to one another!
Today’s Word: ‘Wells’ as in… we can choose to drink from one of two wells.
I was standing in the Customer Service line waiting to return something when I overheard part of a conversation between two coworkers. Something had happened to one of them the afternoon before, and she was recalling the details. Her friend said, “Send me a text, I want to hear all about it!” The woman replied, “I’ll call you. A text would take forever.”
She then turned toward me. “How can I help you?”
“Wow, sounds like there’s quite a story there.” I replied,
“Yea, there is…” she said. Then she told me this story.
“I was in my car yesterday afternoon and I accidentally pulled out in front of someone. They came right up behind me, laying on the horn. So I pulled over to the side of the road to let them pass, but instead, the guy pulled in behind me, got out, walked up to my window, which was open, and he just spit on me. It was awful.”
We make choices every day.
We can drink from wells that only temporarily satisfy us, wells filled with anger, bitterness, hurt, unkindness and brokenness. When we drink from those wells, crazy things happen. And oddly, we keep returning to those wells thinking that we’ll find some satisfaction.
But like the saying goes, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again.”
Or we can drink from another well which promises life and aliveness. Drinking from this well fills us with love, joy, peace patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. And when we realize what drinking from this well does for the wellbeing of the entire human race, we discover yet another kind of thirst—a thirst for more and more of that living water.
Long ago, Jesus said to a woman at a well…
“Those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”
Today’s Word: ‘Poetry’ as in… Wendell Berry’s Poetry.
Wendell Berry is an American novelist, poet, essayist, environmental activist and cultural critic. Wendell Berry is also a farmer, which, when you read his works you discover that his commitment to stewarding the land drives all of those other passions. Search online for all things Wendell Erdman Berry, and you’ll be scrolling for days.
To scratch our Berry itch, Nancy Lee and I are looking forward to pairing Wendell Berry’s “This Day: Collected & New Sabbath Poems” with the coming Lenten season. We’ll use a resource from the fine folks at http://www.saltproject.org that uses his poetry to explore the Sabbath; giving things a rest, some space, some new life. We’re excited to let his writings guide our days and stir our thinking.
Just yesterday we were reading a poem from a collection called “Sabbaths 2013.” Whenever I encounter a poem, I usually read it twice. The first time I read a poem, I just get all of the words inside me. The second time through I begin to look for meaning. That’s usually when something special happens. Something very special happened when I read the last seven lines of the second stanza of “Sabbaths 2013.”
Before I take you there, let me say that jumping into the middle of a poem and trying to understanding what’s going on is nearly impossible. I get it. Berry is writing about a poet and the poet’s craft. He provides an image of what the poet (or writer) does with words.
“He is a gatherer of fragments, a cobbler of pieces. Piece by piece he tells a story without end, for in the time of this world no end can come. It is the story of eternity’s shining, much shadowed, much put off, in time. And time, however long, falls short.”
I think of all the fragments we enjoy here; the fragments of the stories of our lives and how they create life and more life for all of us. What story are you telling today? What kind of poetry is being written into eternity through you today?
Today’s Word: ‘Hoops’ as in… our Spirit(ed)/(ual) life is not about jumping through hoops.
I simply can’t write that with enough emphasis. I’d write it again, but I’d bust my 350 word limit here in my Today’s Word.
Recently, in a fascinating conversation, a lovely and ‘spirited’ young couple had questions about moving from one spiritual tradition to another; specifically about moving toward the Christian tradition. The word that was used was “convert” as in, “I want to convert” [to Christianity].
I thought to myself, “So do I!”
After all, isn’t the movement toward the heart of faith the daily conversion of our own hearts? Somewhere behind their very thoughtful questions was the idea that following The Way of Jesus somehow meant hurdling hoops, meeting metrics and entertaining expectations. Simply put, it’s easy to equate the Spirit(ed)/(ual) life with a long list of “dos and don’ts.”
But it was never intended to be that way!
Breathing the oxygen of the Spirit is simply and only a gift. And we don’t earn gifts.
When this couple asked what they needed to do to become Christian, I had this thought: What if I’d asked what I needed to do to become the love of Nancy Lee’s life. What would I have had to do to be loved by her, to be the object of her affections, to be called and known as Nancy Lee’s husband? What on earth would I have to do to earn any of that?
Not one thing.
So I told this sweet young couple that there really wasn’t anything they had to do. That felt counter intuitive. I admit. But if they really wanted to do anything, they could look for a community of faith near their neighborhood and simply enter into the full life of those people; to be in that community of faith and learn right along with everyone else what it means to love God and love others without reserve.
Seems to me that the Spirit(ed)/(ual) life is really only about loving God and loving others. I simply can’t write that with enough emphasis.
Today’s Word: ‘That’ as in… I want to be like THATguy!
Traveling home from the Dominican Republic, I arrived at JFK for a two-hour layover. Walking from “Gate-C-way-over-here” all the way out to “Gate-B-near-the-end-of-the-world” I worked up quite an appetite. So I stopped to eat something.
For several minutes I watched Darrell completing several orders at once. Like a dancer, he moved from his work station to the counter calling out the names on the orders. This was not without confusion: two guys named Dan got each other’s order. Shelly got a drink that should have been diet. Darrell handled it all with confidence, composure and grace. He was amazing.
But Paul Gauche being Paul Gauche simply couldn’t NOT say something.
“Hey, great job back there!” I said over the top of the crowd. Darrell looked up.
“You still waiting?” he asked.
“Yup, but take your time, I’m all good” I said, and then added, “I’m just here to cheer you on as my brother from another mother.”
Darrell looked my way again, smiled broadly and then went back to his task. Four minutes later Darrell walked to the counter and set my order down. He peeled off his purple latex gloves and said,
“I just want to shake your hand. Thank you for what you said. We don’t get much of that around here and I just want to thank you.”
I paused, then said, “Here’s what I’m going to do: tonight when I take a moment to say some Big Thanks, I’m going to say some Big Thanks for you.”
And I did.
I thanked God for Darrell because, while I set out to make a small difference in his life, he made a big difference in my life and in the lives of a dozen people who happened to be standing in line for a burger and some fries. He gave everyone a bunch more: he gave us joy, humor, a deeper sense of love, grace and gratitude. And he modeled hospitality.
I walked away thinking to myself, “I want to be like THAT guy.”
Today’s Word: ‘vending’ as in… God is not a vending machine.
Here’s the good news: :God is always present. Here’s the really challenging news: God is not a spiritual vending machine.
Please let me offer this as gently as I possibly can, and with all due respect: We don’t “offer up” prayers for things we want or need like we dispense money in a vending machine, press a button, and have whatever we think we want or even desperately need delivered to us. It just doesn’t work that way. If it did, then when whatever we think we want or even desperately need isn’t dispensed, we’re left with frustration or even anger at the machine. We might stand there lost in a little disbelief and perhaps a lot of contempt. We might even give the machine a little nudge, a bump, or even something a little stronger. When nothing happens we feel robbed, slighted, cheated. God is not a robber, a fraud, or a cheater.
Maybe you’ve noticed that along with our own personal griefs, much of our culture is dealing with the collective sadness over the recent deaths of nine people killed in a helicopter crash in California. You don’t have to be an athlete or even into professional sports to appreciate this cultural grief storm.
In the depths of grief, life can certainly seem like a storm. We often feel helpless in the whirlwind of tragedy and loss, tossed about like leaves in the wind, landing here and there not knowing when the next gust will come creating more questions: “Why?” Why did this happen now, to this person, to those people?
These are good and helpful questions and the ancient scriptures continue to speak into these questions. And while they don’t speak to the “Why” questions, they certainly do speak to the “Who” questions.
The “Who” is the One who is known as the Faithful One, the Healer, our Rock, our Fortress, our Strength, our Helper, our Friend, the one who speaks powerfully and with deep comfort to us “from the midst of the whirlwind, the eye of the storm (Job 38:1).
Today’s Word: ‘Assumptions’ as in… whenever we mingle our grief with our spirituality—what we believe about the Spirit’s presence in our grief, or why we’re grieving, it’s easy to make all kinds of assumptions.
Our assumptions are usually based on long lists of questions that we have about whatever it is that is causing our grief. Why do we do this? There are many reasons, but mostly we do this because it’s easy and it’s safe. When we’re buried in grief it’s easy to assume God is AWOL.
We ask, “Where is God in this mess?”
We wonder, “Why is God so hard to find?”
The assumption, of course, is that that God is somehow absent; that God has to be found. But if we assume that God is absent and has to be found, then we’re faced with even more questions:
Does God really play “hide-and-seek” with us?
Does God have a schedule that gets filled up while we get squeezed out?
Does God really get too busy for us?
If we keep holding on to these assumptions, at some point we’ll end up here: either God is with us or God is against us. People have been bumping on these questions since The Beginning.
But as long as these questions have been mingled with our grief, this, too, has been true:
“When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears, and rescues them from all their troubles. The LORD is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD rescues them from them all.”
Powerful, ancient words for our present and future hope!
My late friend, Eugene Peterson heard these words from Psalm 37 a slightly different way:
“Is anyone crying for help? God is listening, ready to rescue you. If your heart is broken, you’ll find God right there; if you’re kicked in the gut, he’ll help you catch your breath. Disciples so often get into trouble; still, God is there every time.”
Let’s choose a new assumption: God is always with us.
Today’s Word: ‘Grief’ as in… it’s like trying to handle a basketball while wearing oven mitts.
In the past three days I’ve been having two different experiences with two different groups of people dealing with grief.
The first experience is with a small group of dear friends that I know and love deeply. In the space of just a couple of days, the news of the deaths of two life-long friends-one of which was somewhat expected, the other coming as a complete surprise. While I didn’t know those who had died, I was feeling deep emotions with and for our friends. News of these deaths brought moments of deep sadness and introspection mingled with love and gratitude.
Grief does that; it brings those experiences together. And we, for lack of a better phrase, float around in it. Maybe that is the best phrase.
The second experience has been with a group that is anything but small; the group is global. Whatever one may think or know of Kobe Bryant is secondary to the fact that Kobe was known and loved around the world. When I heard the news of the tragic accident which claimed the lives of 9 people I’d never met and will never know, I was caught off guard by how I responded. In both instances while I was receiving the news, I realized that I was holding my breath. For several moments, and without realizing it, I just held my breath. There was no breath left in me.
Grief does that. Whether it’s the death of someone we know well or simply know of, or it impacts those we deeply love, it can leave us breathless. Dealing with grief can be like trying to handle a basketball while wearing oven mitts. That it’s difficult to hold on to is an understatement. Death and grief takes us off guard; our emotional footing is challenged and we can stumble and feel like we’re falling.
That’s when it’s good to just find a bench to sit on and feel the love of others sitting around us, sitting with us.
Today’s Word: ‘Mountain’ as in… have you ever noticed that whenever Jesus wants to get clear about who he is and what he’s doing, he goes up on a mountain?
Time and again, Jesus “elevates” the teaching location when he really wants people to elevate their understanding. From the plains around the Sea of Galilee, Jesus takes his band of merry followers and “heads up” to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. It’s an elevation of about 1150 feet, give or take a few, just enough to alert us to the “heads up” moment that is about to happen.
“So, who do people say that I am?” Jesus asks his buddies. Did Jesus not know? Seriously. Is this a mid-course correction? Is this an evaluation? Is this an “If-you’re-going-to-be-my-disciples-then-you-have-to-pass-this-pop-quiz”?
No. Absolutely not.
There’s never a quiz. Never… A… Test…
What it is, I believe, is the first of two important questions that will lead us to seeing more clearly who Jesus is. There’s a good chance that what you believe about all things religious is part of a body of work that was handed to you over the years. This is what I’ve referred to before as The Theological 3×5 Card. This is part of the narrative about religious things that people have shared with us.
Who do people say that Jesus is? Well, Sunday School teachers, VBS leaders, pastors, parents, family, and friends say this about who you are.
But then Jesus turns the question just a bit and gets very personal: “Who do you say that I am?” It’s at this point that Jesus is not asking us to recite the list of popular opinion about him, or regurgitate knowledge of what others people believe. Jesus is inviting us into that deeper, creative, wonder-filled place where we actually explore out loud: “Who on earth are you?”
Peter, brave and robust Peter proclaims: “You are the Messiah!” It’s such a great moment of clarity and insight. But it’s also short-lived. In the next breath, Jesus tells his followers what it all means.
Today’s Word: ‘Process’ as in… Can you see anything?
When Jesus asked the “blind man” if he could see anything, something within me believes that Jesus knew the journey toward clearer understanding would be a process.
“Can you see anything… new?”
“Can you see anything… differently?”
To think that it took Jesus a couple of attempts just to get it right would probably be missing the point. If that’s you, that’s okay. Like me, you may have been taught that by someone who didn’t have a clear understanding of the bigger picture here. No judgment; that’s most of us.
But the piercing question, “Can you see anything?” is a really good question. We might want someone we know and love to be willing to ask us that question every day.
“Can you see anything new, differently, more clearly today that you did yesterday?”
I think this story is placed here on purpose: Mark has woven together several stories that necessitate us asking how we understand who he is and what he’s doing! 5000 people are fed. How were they fed? Well, people learned to share.
A storm on a lake is about how Jesus meets us in our storms.
Jesus eats with the “riff-raff” while the religious elite get all hoity-toity about it. Well, aren’t we all a little “riff-raff” at some point?
4000 hungry people are fed “on the Third Day” and the religious elite ask for a sign! Really? How about the massive picnics Jesus has been hosting?
“Can you see anything?” It’s such a good question!
“Can you see anything?”
Do you understand what’s going on here? Do you get it?
We should all be so lucky to have someone ask us this question each day: “Can you see anything?” By dealing with the question, we remain open to new ways of looking; new ways of seeing what God is up to.
Here’s some really good news: It’s okay if, when responding to that question, all you see is “people, but they look like trees, walking.” Seeing life differently is always going to be a process.
Today’s Word: ‘8:22’ as in… the Gospel of Mark, chapter 8, verse 22.
I had a really illuminating conversation with some friends last week. We pulled apart Mark’s ancient story about Jesus’ interaction with “a blind man.”
(btw… you’ll need to pay close attention to my use of ‘single quotation marks’ going forward. They’re there intentionally.)
When Jesus and his followers arrive in Bethsaida, Jesus is all about ‘making clear,’ ‘shedding light on,’ ‘illuminating,’ ‘furthering understanding’ (get it?) about who he is and what he’s doing there. See how it always comes back to identity and purpose?
Mark tells us that “Some people brought ‘a blind man’ to Jesus, and begged (implored!) him to touch him.” This reveals so much about this community of people.
Why did they do this?
Maybe, just maybe they wanted nothing more than to get this guy off the street corner. Begging day in and day out for absolutely everything he needed was most certainly a drain on the economy. But what if he had his sight back? Could he then potentially find employment, maybe even help others do the same, adding to the wellbeing of the entire community?
Maybe. Just maybe.
Or maybe, just maybe this tells us more about the depth of friendship, awareness, compassion and love among this small group of friends, than it does about the man who couldn’t see any of that (yet). This was a small group of people who ‘looked out’ for each other. They were ‘eyes wide open’ about the needs of their small community. They had ‘gained new insights’ about looking out for one another.
Maybe. Just maybe.
Compassion drove them to bring this man to the rabbi whom they had heard was healing people and helping people see. Maybe, just maybe this was a small group who had begun to ‘see everything about everything’ from a completely different perspective! They had become a community who discovered that compassion and love for others – whether they knew them or not – could change the dynamics of the wider community.
If this is merely a story about Jesus fixing this guy’s eyes, then we’ve lost sight of what the larger message is; we’re certainly not seeing all that is really there for us to see.
Today’s Word: ‘RUSH’ as in… what kind of rush are you experiencing?
On April 5, 2019, I introduced you to a phrase that continues to speak deeply to me:
“Sometimes you have to go far in order to come near.”
For me, this has always been about stretching myself into new and different experiences that demand that I think, behave, and live differently, so as not to get stuck. Sometimes you have to go a great distance – physically, mentally, spiritually – in order to arrive at what the moment is trying to teach.
It happened again this past weekend in the Dominican Republic. While hiking in the mountains around Jarabacoa with several Board members and staff from Doulos Discovery School, including my birthday girl, Nancy Lee, one of my fellow trekkers asked me what my Today’s Word was. It hadn’t revealed itself to me yet, but just that question sparked a deeper awareness of what was happening all around me. Moments later while standing at the foot of a waterfall, the word arrived: Rush, as in the rush of the mighty waters. As I stood at the base of the falls, I thought of all of the ways I was experiencing the ‘rush.’
The rush of the mighty waters was loud and powerful, dynamic and moving.
There was the rush of the wind and the rain that sabotaged our attempt to climb Pico Duarte, the highest point in the Caribbean Islands.
There was the rush of the moment that kept returning, again and again, reminding me that the rush of what I was experiencing was on “repeat.”
But by far the most important “rush” of all was the rush of the quiet reminder to not rush through all of these moments, to not rush from one experience to the next, to not rush forward without lingering in this present moment, learning what this has to teach.
Isn’t it ironic that by being in such a rush to get to the next moment, we often miss the rush of this moment.
We’re still in the Epiphany season. It’s okay if that’s new news. It hasn’t been on my front burner either. Not like Advent and Christmas were front and center. Much of our culture got a running start on Thanksgiving, jumped right over Advent into Christmas, then briefly paused on New Year’s Eve, and is now leaning heavily into Valentine’s Day. After the chocolate is gone, it’s on to March Madness.
Epiphany began on January 6 and stretches into the gray days of mid-winter, right up to February 23, the Sunday before Ash Wednesday which marks the beginning of Lent. But again, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
There is an ancient practice that is directly linked to Epiphany called “Chalking.” It seems to be making a bit of a resurgence, or at least I’m starting to notice it more; kind of like when you start noticing multiples of things after seeing just one, like when you notice red cars, or motorcycles, or perhaps even other guys wearing beautiful Carhartt shirts. “Chalking” begins either on the eve of Epiphany, January 5, or on the Day of Epiphany, January 6, when Christ followers around the world mark their door frames with this pattern: “20+C+M+B+20.”
Let’s break that down a bit. The ‘20’ on both ends refers to the calendar year. The crosses points to Christ. The three letters refer to the initials of the Magi: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar, who visited Mary, Joseph and Jesus, as well as the abbreviation of the Latin blessing Christus mansionem benedicat, “May Christ Bless this house.” And all of this, of course, recalls the Passover in Exodus 12 where the Israelites marked the door frames of their houses.
So why do this? It’s a home blessing that we share with those who visit. As hospitality was shown to the Magi, we’re called to show extravagant hospitality to all people as we invite the presence of God into wherever we live work and play.
Today’s Word: ‘Connected’ as in… connected people connect people.
I was with some students and getting into our van when we heard someone yelling obscenities. These were full-bore, foul invectives backed up with a rage that really concerned me. Fifty yards away, someone in a car was screaming at an employee through a drive-through window. As I walked toward this ugly commotion, the car sped off and disappeared into the otherwise beautiful Saturday morning.
When I got to the drive-through window and looked in, I saw a small group of employees gathered around their coworker; the one who bore the brunt of the ugly experience. She was in tears. Approaching the window, I asked if everything was okay. What the manager told me revealed that everything was not okay. The 16 year old employee had accidently miscounted the change due back to the driver. He then looked at me with that “you’re-really-not-going-to-believe-this” kind of look:
“It was only 11 cents. She missed the correct change back by 11 cents.”
Let’s just pause a moment to let that sink in.
There’s a well-known phrase for moments like that. When someone deliberately hurts another human being, we say “Hurt people hurt people.” Neither the driver of the car nor the young woman whom he’d verbally abused had any sense of thriving in those moments. Yet, the connectedness between those workers began to reorient that young girl back toward thriving. And the thriving began to emerge from the connectedness that she had with her coworkers.
Thriving healthy relationships come from communities that are willing to invest in one another for the sake of deeper connectedness.
Those caring coworkers who gathered around their wounded sister were invested in showing her a deeper kind of hospitality. It’s the kind of hospitality that makes us aware of the similarity between the words ‘hospitable’ and ‘hospital.’ While they are different words, they are similar in the sense that the amount of trust and respect along with an enormous amount of care and compassion becomes part of the power of a connected community filled with rich relationships.
Today’s Word: ‘Primary” as in… another look at the primary questions.
Let’s take yet another look at John 1:1-14:
The Word was first, the Word present to God, God present to the Word. The Word was God, in readiness for God from day one. Everything was created through him; nothing—not one thing!—came into being without him. What came into existence was Life, and the Life was Light to live by.
The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness couldn’t put it out. There once was a man, his name John, sent by God to point out the way to the Life-Light. He came to show everyone where to look, who to believe in. John was not himself the Light; he was there to show the way to the Light.
The Life-Light was the real thing: Every person entering Life he brings into Light.
He was in the world, the world was there through him, and yet the world didn’t even notice. He came to his own people, but they didn’t want him. But whoever did want him, who believed he was who he claimed and would do what he said, He made to be their true selves, their child-of-God selves. These are the God-begotten, not blood-begotten, not flesh-begotten, not sex-begotten.
The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish.
There are a number of “primary questions” that we continue to ponder. The first is this: “Who are you?” This is the “Identity” question. The 16th century mystic saint, Teresa of Avila probably said it best:
“You are the presence of Christ in the world—who has no body now but yours; no hands, no feet on earth but yours—yours are the eyes through which Christ looks with compassion on the world. Yours are the feet with which Jesus walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which God blesses all the world.”
That’s who you are. To continue to ask this question of ourselves will eventually make us better for one another.
The second question is this: “What are you doing here?” This is the “Purpose” question. You could also say it’s a question of mission. Again, Teresa of Avila:
“You are here to reach across the gap – across the chasm into the life of someone in need. You are here to be the hands, the feet, the eyes—the body of Christ, because Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”
In what’s known as The Prologue from the first chapter of the Gospel of John, the writer is rather poetically connecting these questions to Jesus. John tells us that Jesus is the living, breathing, life-giving, breath-giving Word who exists from beyond time and continues to create in real time. John, the “one whom God sent” wrestles with these same questions. The fascinating layer here, though, is that by locating these questions in Jesus and John, they become our questions. Who are we and what are we doing here? We are the living, breathing, life-giving, breath-giving people of God who “tell about the light so that everyone might believe.” We are those who are constantly becoming children of God.” We are living out our “birth that comes from God,” and we are those for whom “the Word became flesh” in order to make his home among us!
Today’s Word: ‘Doer’ as in… let’s be doers, not just hearers!
I recently had a conversation with a remarkable group of parents. We made a list of the character traits that we want our kids and grandkids to develop in their lives: compassion, love, empathy, kindness, joy, hope, patience, a sense of justice, self-control. We all agreed that they won’t develop these traits unless we are modeling them.
I was reminded of the challenge from the ancient writer James. I imagined him holding up his very practical letter (with whatever he used for ink barely dry) and saying something like this:
“Hey, it’s not enough just to hear this and think it’s a great idea. You’ve got to get into this so that this can get into you! Hear it, then live it! Make this so much a part of you that it impacts the whole community!”
My late, great friend, Eugene Peterson understood it this way:
“Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don’t act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like.”
Those who embody this ancient gospel-good-news will naturally bear the image of the ever-present Christ. Whether we’re in middle school or high school, a college student, young adult, middle aged or older, when the good news of God in Christ flows out of every part of us, the world shifts a lot.
So how do we practice this? Three “Ls”.
First, Listen. This is about developing the discipline of intentional hearing. We have to actually decide that we’re going to listen well before speaking.
Second, Linger. This is about practicing the art of counting to 10. Counting was never so challenging! By withstanding the temptation to speak right away, we create common space for differing views.
Third, Love. No one walks away from expressions of love and forgets what they look like.
Today’s Word: ‘ING-ING’ as in… yelling, waving, pounding, sputtering, freaking (out) gets us nowhere!
I’ve got this “quick-to-listen-slow-to-speak-slow-to-get-angry” business rolling around in my frontal lobe; that where decisions get made. Yesterday afternoon while driving home I had a “frontal lobe moment” with another driver. Something I did apparently “set” him off. Honestly, I have no idea what it was. He honked (beeped? Is there a difference?) his horn and pulled up on my right side. I thought it might be someone I knew, so when I turned my head and smiled, I realized that I didn’t know him. And it was obvious that I was no friend of his (I’m thinking that this is his loss!). My smiling probably didn’t help, either.
Man, he was hot!
As he matched my speed, he was “ing-ing” at me: yelling, waving, pounding, sputtering, freaking (out). For a moment it was rather comical; all of that “ing-ing” going on while driving 35 miles an hour, fifteen feet apart, our windows up, through two frames of glass and a lot of metal and road noise. Did I mention I had Snarky Puppy cranked up in my cab.
It was really funny. For just a moment. And then it wasn’t. That’s when I felt it kick in: Anger.
Let’s just pause there. Most of you who know me know that I’m really easy going; long fuse. I’m a 7 on the Enneagram (with two 7 wings!) and I’ve got Positivity and Adaptability in my Top Five Strengths. So I’m super-chill. Am I not? So why, on God’s green earth did I speed up when he went on his $&%%# way*?
I’ve clearly got some work to do.
Anger isn’t inherently bad, but it’s important that we learn to manage it well. There are a couple of kinds of anger. Destructive anger is reactionary and often creates even more anger which leads to the death of contentment, peace, and relationships. Constructive anger creates life and health and leads to deeper, healthier relationships.
When we’re slow to anger, we create some space between an action and the reaction; where we find anger dissipate-ing and peace expand-ing. Perhaps these are the healthier versions of “ing-ing” that would get us everywhere…
Today’s Word: ‘Challenge’ as in… back to “quick to listen, slow to speak” challenge.
I’m going out on a limb here, but there’s a good chance that most of us are more apt to get this twisted up. We’re far more inclined to be quick to speak and slow to listen. Even in our closest relationships, most of us would rather talk first and then listen, if we’re willing to listen at all. That’s when it’s good to remember that we’ve been given two ears and one mouth for a good reason: to listen twice as much as we speak. When we don’t heed that wisdom, things quickly go south.
Think for a minute about what is gained by taking an extra moment or two between listening and speaking. For instance, recall conversations that you’ve been in that have escalated into arguments. You know the moment when things become dicey, don’t you? The conversation is getting heated—and it’s heating up because everyone is speaking and no one is listening anymore. I usually stop listening because I’m so busy thinking about crafting my next really awesome thought. And when I stop listening because I’m creating a clever and insightful statement, there’s no way on God’s green earth that I’m going to hear you, let alone honor you and your role in the conversation.
This often happens when people are talking about things they‘re really passionate about: sexuality, religion, spirituality, politics, justice, peace, church doctrine, sports teams, March Madness. Whole30. I’ve got a perspective! You’ve got a perspective! And when we try to talk about those differing perspectives, we’re usually quick to speak and slow to listen and that’s when trouble starts and conversations come to a grinding halt.
There’s a lot going on in our world right now; issues that stir our thinking, ignite our passions, draw our ire. Finding common ground is difficult. Add to that the fact that we don’t always know how to talk through things about which we disagree. What to do? Let’s take a big deep breath. Let’s count to ten. Let’s listen.
Today’s Word: ‘Stop’ as in… It’s great to be able to stop when you’ve planned a thing that’s wrong, and be able to do something else instead.
It’s also really great when some ancient wisdom comes along from a wise sage, a respected elder, a learned teacher with a kind and gentle heart and leaves you wondering how you ever managed to get along without it. It’s even more remarkable when that wise sage, respected elder, learned teacher with the kind heart steps through the front door into your own living room, changes from a jacket into a cardigan sweater, trades his street shoes for some blue sneakers and welcomes you to a special place called Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood… and then launches into this:
“What do you do with the mad that you feel when you feel so mad you could bite? When the whole wide world seems oh, so wrong and nothing you do seems very right? What do you do? Do you punch a bag? Do you pound some clay or some dough? Do you round up friends for a game of tag? Or see how fast you go? It’s great to be able to stop when you’ve planned a thing that’s wrong, and be able to do something else instead and think this song: I can stop when I want to, I can stop when I wish, I can stop, stop, stop any time. And what a good feeling to feel like this and know that the feeling is really mine. Know that there’s something deep inside that helps us become what we can.”
I like how the ancient writer James puts it when he writes these ancient, enduring words:
“Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger. Human anger does not produce the [justice, peace, well-being, peace, goodness] righteousness that the Divine desires for all people everywhere.”
Quick to listen. Slow to speak. Slow to anger.
I like how James says it. But I really love how Mr. Rogers said it.
Today’s Word: ‘Theophany’ as in… theophany and theodicy are two completely different things.
And here’s why we might care about that at all…
Frederick Buechner, one of my main theological squeezes, writes this:
“Theodicy is the branch of theology that asks the question: ‘If God is just, why do terrible things happen to wonderful people?’ The Bible’s best answer is the book of Job.”
Buechner goes on to remind us that Job was one of the good guys, if not the best guy. Not that it mattered, really. If God had been in the business of showing Job some favor because Job was a good guy, then God was certainly having what we’ve come to know as a ‘terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day…’ of biblical proportions.
In the space of just a few short heartbeats, Job lost everything that put him on the biblical map. Buechner describes it this way:
“…his cattle are stolen, his servants are killed, and the wind blows down the house where his children happen to be whooping it up at the time, and not one of them lives to tell what it was they thought they had to whoop it up about.”
If God is just, why do terrible things happen to wonderful people? That’s the theodicy question.
But there’s a different question.
I have a really dear friend who is wrestling with grief and loss; the deaths of two close family friends in the space of just over one year. It’s January and the grief is all coming back, as if it had ever left in the first place. With the new perspective that one year brings, she is discovering that the question isn’t about Theodicy: “If God is just, then why does God let this happen?” The question is about Theophany: “How is God continually being revealed, illuminated in all of this?”
When we wrestle with that question, everything changes: light is brighter, hope is stronger, grace is wider, love is deeper! Epiphany celebrates all the ways that God “locates” in our lives.
Today’s Word: ‘Epiphany’ as in… the Feast of Epiphany, the last full day of the Christmas season!
It’s not an overstatement to say that Epiphany is the most important feast of the Christmas Season.
Epiphany is observed around the world with much celebration; the day is like a Christmas stocking filled with treasures! We recall the arrival of the Three Kings, Sages from the East, the Wise Men (most likely along with their large entourage), and the remarkable gifts they brought. There was gold, gift fit for a king. There was frankincense, a gift for a priest to be used for much more than fragrance, it would have been burned in the temple and only by a priest of God; and myrrh, used in burial rituals as an embalming material.
And yes, of course, we do know that if it had been three wise women instead of the three amigos who came to visit the infant King, they would have asked for directions saving themselves about three years of searching, they would have arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, cleaned the stable, made a casserole (gratin) and brought some diapers as gifts!
And yes, it is an old, tired, probably outdated attempt at humor. But what the heck.
Also known as Twelfth Night, Epiphany comes from the Greek word epiphineia, which get translated as coming, arrival, manifestation.
Epiphany celebrates all of the ways that the God of the Universe is revealed and located in our very earthy lives, all of the ways that God comes to us, shows up, arrives!
Epiphany celebrates God’s presence in our relationships and conversations with one another, “locating” with us wherever we live, work, and play!
Epiphany celebrates God’s presence with us in the tender touch of a friend or loved in in the midst of grief or in the joy of celebration.
Epiphany is incarnation (God with us) and manifestation (God for us!) all at once.
Epiphany is the good news that the Good News is for all people everywhere, no exceptions, no exclusions. Epiphany is lovely, extravagant, tangible grace.
Today’s Word: ‘Drumming’ as in… Twelve Drummers Drumming, on this Twelfth Day of Christmas!
As a kid, I’d occasionally come up with a question that would set my parents back on their heels. Joyce would respond with something like this:
“Paul Eugene! What are you thinking?”
That, of course, was a mostly rhetorical question. I could tell, she used my middle name.
There were times, though, when I’d come up with a doozie, a real keeper. And that keeper would actually be kept. She would write it down in her journal. One of those entries seems especially timely on this particular twelfth day of Christmas. The conversation between my mother, Joyce, and me went something like this:
Paul: “Why don’t the drummers in those movies get shot?”
It was fascinating to me that in early American war movies, while uniformed soldiers ran around battlefields pointing guns at each other and firing, the drummers drumming their hearts out in the midst of all of that chaos and carnage, never got shot. To my recollection, they didn’t even carry a weapon. They carried drums. They never were killed. At least not that I saw.
Joyce:“Because they’re the drummers. They carry drums, that’s why nobody shoots them.”
Now, just imagine the mental gymnastics going on in the mind of a little kid processing that information: People with guns, shooting other people. Death. People with drums, drumming their hearts out. Life. Hmmmm.
“Paul Eugene, what are you thinking?” Joyce asked.
A deep breath… and then I said what I was thinking:
“Well, then everyone should carry a drum.” I said.
On this twelfth day, as the light of this waning Christmas season illuminates the approaching season of Epiphany – the revealing of Christ to all people, it’s a good reminder to find a drum and pound out Good-News-Rhythms of peace and justice. In this new year, in this new season, today, let’s resolve to live, work and play well together to create rhythms of hope, peace, joy, and love for all people everywhere.
This is the beautiful and enduring challenge of this Twelfth Day!
Today’s Word: ‘Piping’ as in… Eleven Pipers Piping, on this Eleventh Day of Christmas!
Long ago and far away I played the trumpet for several hours each day. Ed Bridges, a beloved friend and musical director, had a passion for Sousa Marches. Every rehearsal and concert began with a Sousa March “just to warm up.”
In “Stars and Stripes Forever,” there’s a section that is affectionately known as “The Dog Fight.” It happens twice. You know it when you hear it. The Dog Fight is big, bold, and brassy. But there’s another section that features a piper; the piccolo. The piccolo player has a solo that is featured twice: first beginning at about 1:55, and then again at about 2:35. When you hear the high-toned descant of the piccolo/piper, there’s no missing the beautiful, powerful little refrain; it soars high above every other instrument. Finally, the band goes all in again with a repeat of “The Dog Fight” which sets up the final phrase of the march; everyone is playing like there’s no tomorrow.
Above all of this, above the tubas, trombones, French horns, trumpets, flutes, bassoons, clarinets—above every other instrument—you hear the piccolo/piper piping that beautiful, soaring descant. It’s unmistakable. It’s there. It’s steady. It’s strong.
On this Eleventh Day of Christmas I’m aware that the Christmas Story of a baby born in Bethlehem seems more like a piccolo descant than the big, brassy, melody it was eleven days ago. But Christmas Story is still being told. With the help of every piper, the Christmas Story continues to soar high above the rest of the orchestra and the crowd gathered to hear it, as well as those outside and beyond the concert hall.
So we might want to get piping. Or at least we might want to start practicing. Let’s pick up our instruments and play this powerful melody together. Who knows, there may be someone who hears this ancient, remarkable Christmas descant once again, or maybe for the first time, and wants to play along. Pipers are piping the Good News! Let’s join them!
Today’s Word: ‘Leaping’ as in… Ten Lords A-Leaping on this Tenth Day of Christmas!
There is general agreement that these ten leapers is a nod to the Ten Commandments. That’s worth considering. When Jesus was approached by a young lawyer asking him what the greatest commandment is, Jesus summed it up: “Love God, love others.”
I made my usual stop for dark roast this morning. Billy must have seen me coming because by the time I stepped to the counter, it was nearly ready.
“Hey Paul, Happy New Year! How’s it going?”
As he hands me the cup, I consider—just in that one very brief moment—how remarkably ‘present’ Billy is to the people he serves. Anticipating service is Billy’s gift and when he combines service with hospitality, something really remarkable happens: the Kingdom of God comes into sharper focus.
I’m not aware if Billy knows that; but that’s not the point.
The point is that the Kingdom, the Realm, the Party, the Dance, the Movement of God becomes visible in that moment – and ten lords are leaping!
Because of Billy, I’m more aware of the questions that lead to my “2020 clarity”: How can we be more present to the people we encounter? How can we anticipate more effectively the needs of others? How can we be more attentive to ways of serving vulnerable people? How can we learn to be more available to people we don’t know well or even at all? How can we serve others without any thought of how we’re being served?
These are good and challenging questions for this tenth day of Christmas! When we serve others well, isn’t there just enough joy in that? Of course there is!
When Jesus said over and over again, “The kingdom of God is at hand…” this is probably what he was talking about.
So today the ground shakes with joyous leaping to the tune of the good news that today we’ve been loved in ten different ways by ten different people giving us ten different opportunities to love others. And in ten remarkable ways the dream of God comes into better focus!
Today’s Word: ‘Word(s)’ as in… what’s your One Word for the year 2020, on this ninth Day of Christmas?
On New Year’s Day, my small group convened for our “Third Annual One Word Reveal Party.” For a couple of hours, nine of us gathered for dinner and a conversation to reveal our “One Word” for 2020. Having done this twice before, each of us is getting pretty good at discerning the “one word” which helps us get clarity about the more essential questions simmering in our lives:
“Who are we?”
“What are we doing here?”
“Where are we going?”
“How will we get there?”
Here’s how we do this: each of us chooses a word.
Or, as I like to say, “a word chooses each of us.”
This one word becomes a primary lens through which we view each day. For instance, my word for 2020 is “Clarity” as in… this will be a year of seeking clarity in the seven primary areas of my life as I explore what it means to be a spirited, creative, connected, fully present human being with a call to be grateful and generous while living as a missional child of God. I’m confident that by the end of 2020, I will experience greater clarity in every area of my life.
By the end of New Year’s Day, we’d had a marvelous conversation about leaning into a year of Spirited life together. Knowing each other’s word will help each of us bring our best God-breathed selves to each day, to each moment, and to each other. By pursuing strategies for living into words like “Opportunity,” “Explore,” “Stretch,” “Vivid,” “Congruence,” “Health,” “Accomplish,” “ Ownership,” “Gratitude,” and “Joy,” we’re better able to create more life and aliveness all around us.
This, of course, raises some questions. If you were to choose one word that focuses on what you hope to experience in the next year, what would it be? How does that one word bring clarity to your relationships? How does it illuminate your spirited life? How does it create more gratitude, generosity and mission within you?
Today’s Word: ‘YES!’ as in… a day of saying ‘Yes!’ to the Feast of Mary on this Eighth Day of Christmas Today! There’s so much here! Where do we begin?
In the ancient tradition of the Twelve Days of Christmas, today is all about “Eight Maids a Milking.”
According to some legends, this is a wonderfully subversive reference to the Beatitudes found in Matthew 5: the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the merciful, those who seek righteousness, the peacemakers, etc.
In other versions of The Twelve Days, the eighth day also references eight ladies dancing, hares a running, hounds a running, or eight boys singing. One ancient version even includes eight biting cows on this eighth day of the season! Let’s just let that all soak in for a moment. Okay, ready to keep going?
Whatever the case may be, in an even more ancient version of what’s known as the Liturgical Church Calendar, today is the Feast of Mary, the Mother of God. This is the young woman who said “Yes!” to the remarkable dream of God: the Incarnation—God with us, God for us, Christ among us, Christ in us. Mary’s response of faith and trust, her “Yes!” is stunning considering her young age, her vulnerability, her utter humanness. Facing that and in spite of that, she said “Yes! I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”
The old year has passed. The old decade is now behind us. A new year stretches out in front of us all with weeks and months already filled to the brim with ideas, hopes, dreams, and expectations as well as, perhaps, some fear and trembling! Yet, as this new year unfolds, let’s step into and through each day with Mary’s courageous “Yes!” ringing through the centuries right into each of our moments. Her ‘yes’ becomes our dream! Her faith becomes our hope! Her trust becomes our response! Her obedience becomes our model! And like Mary, we, in our vulnerability and utter humanness can keep all these things and ponder them in our hearts. Absolutely. Yes.
Today’s Word: ‘breathe’ as in… breathe in, breathe out. Again. Again. We’ve done this before, right? Let’s do it again with gratitude. It’s always good to keep breathing. Just sayin’.
We’ve come to the Seventh Day of Christmas! It’s also New Year’s Eve! And not just any New Year’s Eve. It’s a rather remarkable moment of “in-between!” We are in between two times: the (chronos) time that was 2019 and the (kairos) time that is yet to come in 2020.
During these past few days I’ve enjoyed so many conversations with friends and family about the in-between-ness of these particular days; the end of one decade and the beginning of another. I was thinking about how observing New Year’s Eve is like letting our breath out. An exhalation—a breathing out of what was. Let it all out, let it go, thankful for what has been. And then a pause. And-Then-A-Pause. Then on New Year’s Day, a breathing in! An inhalation—a breathing in of what will be! Ready to embrace all that is to come!
However, it’s in that one split second in between that inhale and that exhale when we consider where our breath comes from and where it goes.
And the gift, of course, is knowing from Whom it comes! Air, wind, breeze, breath, holy, spirit, Holy Spirit, breathing!
I’ve also been dwelling in John’s sweet poetry from the first chapter of his Gospel:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the word was God. And the Word became flesh and lived (and breathed) among us, and we have seen his glory…”
We get to breathe that in and let it fill us completely! And this, of course, raises some questions. Are you in between? How would you describe the “in-between-ness” of your life right now? What are you content to let go? What are you looking forward to embracing?
Today, on this Seventh Day of Christmas, we breathe in the Word who has been breathing in us since the beginning!
Today’s Word: ‘Anna’ as in… the Feast of Anna on this Sixth Day of Christmas!
We don’t know much about Anna, but what we do know is just enough.
She’s not in a hurry.
She knows what her jam is: Anna is focused on the good news of Christ for all who were and are waiting expectantly for the freeing of the people of God everywhere!
(Go ahead and reread that last line. I’ll wait here for you.)
Why is it important to pause and consider Anna on this sixth day of Christmas? Because when we linger, we don’t miss what’s important. Already our culture is yawning and thinking, “Christmas? That was so last week!” Yet, a week ago we couldn’t get enough, literally. Shopping, sales, parties, travel, eggnog, gifts, batteries, decorations, shipping, theater, orchestras, music, worship. This week it’s difficult to find a Christmas carol playing anywhere. And next week Christmas will be like “so last year.”
How fickle is that?
The Gospel writer Luke (2:36-40) tells us just enough:
“Anna the prophetess was also in the Temple, a daughter of Phanuel from the tribe of Asher. She was by now a very old woman. She had been married seven years and a widow for eighty-four. She never left the Temple area, worshiping night and day with her fastings and prayers. At the very time Simeon was praying, she showed up, broke into an anthem of praise to God, and talked about the child to all who were waiting expectantly for the freeing of Jerusalem.” Did you catch what Luke wrote? “Anna never left the temple, but worshipped there night and day. When she saw the Child, Jesus, she began to give thanks to God and to speak about the child.”
That’s what it looks like to linger! Which raises a few good questions: As Christmas continues, what’s your focus? What are you lingering on? How has Christmas already become passé?
Take a few moments today and linger on how the birth of Christ in you brings new life to you and everything around you.
Today’s Word: ‘Simeon’ as in… the Feast of Simeon on this Fifth Day of Christmas!
Simeon comes to the center of the Christmas stage and reminds us of those moments in our lives when we’re moved to say something like:
“Sheeeesh! My life is now complete! I’ve seen everything, I can die a very happy person!”
The Spirit had made a promise to Simeon, “that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.” Simeon held onto that promise until it was fulfilled. “My life is now complete!”
It’s a powerful, hopeful, even generative statement. It’s what we experience right after something remarkably transcendent takes place in our lives: a great vacation, a beautiful sunset, a tender kiss, a touch, some really good news, a hug from a friend, a smile from a child, a gift from a grandchild, forgiveness being spoken. I suppose you could even say it’s what you feel right after winning big on Wheel of Fortune or just discovering an unspent Chipotle gift card for twenty-five bucks in your wallet.
It’s all sort of the same thing which leads you to exclaim “Sheeeesh!” The Latin for all of this, of course, is not “Sheeeesh!” which people say all the time. The Latin for this is “Nunc Dimitis” which is the combination of ‘Now’ and a form of ‘to send away’ or ‘dismiss’ which hardly anyone (okay, no one) ever says anymore. But it’s what Simeon said: “God, you can now release your servant: release me in peace as you promised. With my own eyes I’ve seen your salvation; it’s now out in the open for everyone to see…”
So on this Fifth Day of Christmas it’s the exclamation of an ancient, wise old sage of a faithful man that reminds us of the presence of Christ, here, now, and finally! The Christ-child, Jesus, steps into our otherwise ordinary, even mundane, often broken-but-healing days with hope and peace and joy and love! And he reminds us of this good news of great joy: the Savior is born! And that changes everything.
Today’s Word: ‘INNOCENTS’ as in… the Feast of the Holy Innocents on this Fourth Day of Christmas.
Wading back through centuries of humankind’s inhumanity to humankind, we arrive at a faraway place in a faraway time that still seems far too close for comfort. The Gospel writer Matthew narrates the reaction of King Herod to the news that what the Prophet Isaiah had spoken centuries earlier had come to fruition.
Herod, the leader of the Jewish people under the authority of Rome during the time of Jesus’ birth was threatened by the Magi’s report that a child—an infant had been born in Bethlehem and would become king. Seeking to rid himself of the possible threat to his power, authority and throne,
Herod responds with violence, fear, jealousy and rage. He commands that all male children in and around Bethlehem, two years old and under, be killed. The darkness of his own small world closed in on him and backed him into his own dark corner. He failed to acknowledge the Good News of the coming of God-Light into the dark world as something life-giving and hope-filled.
And innocents suffered.
Yet, for as long as innocents have suffered, people have come together and proven that love wins. In the midst of death, sickness, disease and brokenness, human hearts filled with the power of life, health, healing and wholeness have gathered together to proclaim that love prevails, that faith stands in the light and creates hope where there is no hope, makes a way where there is no way, loves where there is no love, speaks where there are no words, breathes where there is no breath, lives where there is no life.
“A child has been born for us; a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore.”
Today’s Word: ‘JOHN’ as in… the Feast of Saint John the Evangelist on this Third Day of Christmas!
I’m not sure when this all first began, but for as long as I can remember, when I read the opening sentences of the Gospel of John, I hear an orchestra.
Honest, I do. I hear an orchestra.
And not, like, just in my imagination. I hear musical instruments: cellos, violins, harps, oboes, brass, percussion and reed instruments. It’s very tactile, experiential.
In very much the same way, when I sing the old hymn, “Children of the Heavenly Father,” the right side of my face warms.
Honest, I do. Not the left, just the right.
This is probably because when I sang that hymn as a kid, the morning sun streamed through stained glass windows on the east side of my home church touching the right side of my face.
I know, right?
Now when I sing that hymn I feel warmth. When I read the Prologue of John’s Gospel I hear an orchestra. A heated hymn and an orchestral poem.
John, known as “The Evangelist” was “The Bringer of Good News.” With words that are equal parts poetry and soaring theology, John created a symphony of Good News that has inspired poets, theologians and musicians right along with the rest of us. John reminds us of the early moments of creation when the silence and darkness were filled, first with the Word, and then with Light! John gives us just enough to imagine that moment that is, of course, beyond our imagination!
But then near the end of the first part of the passage, John writes what amounts to the sweetest of melodies, the most profound poetry. John, the Evangelist gives us this very intimate image of the Incarnation: “The Word-of-Promise became the Word-made-Flesh and moved into the neighborhood and lived among us full of this grace and truth.”
How poetic, how musically beautiful, how warm to our hearts that God would move into our neighborhood and live across the street, next door and right in our own homes!
Today’s Word: ‘STEPHEN’ as in… the Feast of Stephen and the inescapable tension between good and evil, darkness and light, life and death.
Historically, the day after Christmas is set aside as the Feast of Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Even as a kid growing up in the rhythm of the liturgical calendar, I knew this was a head-twister, incomprehensible, bonkers, even. I’d barely gotten batteries into whatever gift my parents had given me at Christmas (yesterday!) and there was talk of death. And not just a story of “old-age-he-really-lived-a-good-long-full-life” kind of death. But a violet death. It seemed so absurd.
And I wondered, “So the birth of Christ: it does change everything? Or doesn’t it?”
But as per usual, the community of Christ, the church takes the counter-intuitive approach by reminding us of the reality of brokenness and suffering hard on the heels of the joy of Christmas, the Nativity, the Incarnation.
This is illuminating! This seeming dissonance is deeply significant!
Advent reminds us of our longing for the light of Christ in the midst of our darkness. When we linger on this second day of Christmas – the Feast of Stephen to remember the connection between life and death, between the incarnation of Jesus and his crucifixion. Even at the cradle we’re forced to consider the trajectory of Jesus’ life toward the cross, a fact that is illuminated by the gifts of the Magi. Along with gold and frankincense, gifts fit for kings and priests, there was also myrrh, a fragrant spice used to prepare bodies for the grave. In the life and death of Stephen we turn the gem of the incarnation enough to see that Christ is born into our brokenness and suffering. That is the gift of the second day of Christmas! Christmas is about wonder, about the mystery of God entering our world. It is also about how the incarnation transforms our lives, so that even suffering and death can be endured with hope!
and so right along with Christ followers throughout the centuries, we celebrate and remember our redemption, but never forget the cost.
Today’s Word: ‘INCARNATION’ as in… it’s time! He’s here! The Word has become flesh and blood, and has moved into the neighborhood!
A Christmas Lullaby: “On A Night Such As This.” The last verse, a chorus and a tag…
“On this day as we worship “The Word Made Flesh” the messenger again brings Good News: “God is with us, God among us, Emmanuel!” “God is with us Emmanuel!
Come and worship the Lord, let the heavens ring! For He comes to bring justice and peace! As the darkness is scattered we rejoice in the light, We rejoice in the light of the Lord! We rejoice in the light of the Lord! He is born! Christ is born! For all humankind!
Christ has come to make all things new! We rejoice in the news that our Savior is born! We rejoice that our Savior is born! We rejoice that our Savior is born!