The Ukrainian city of Borodyanka is just over 30 miles northwest of Kyiv. A drone flies over the main street, looking down at the images of war. Buildings lie in ruins, fires blaze, and smoke rises above the streets now littered with the wreckage of war. There is mind-numbing devastation everywhere. Once filled with people with hopes and dreams, a multi-story apartment building is charred; all the windows are shattered, and the middle section is collapsed from the shelling. There are burned vehicles in the streets. Most of the power lines are down and lay twisted on the ground.
Near the destroyed apartment building is a park where children once played, people rode bicycles, and friends shared lunch on sunny afternoons. In the middle of the park, a statue remains of the mid-nineteenth century poet Taras Shevchenko. There are bullet holes in the forehead. The pillar on which the bust rests is pockmarked with the shrapnel.
Yaroslav Halubchik, an artist from Kyiv, is in Borodyanka with other artists on a mission to create “an instant memorial.” They call it ‘The Healing of Shevchenko.’ Three policemen hold a ladder while Halubchik climbs up and begins wrapping gauze bandages around the large head. Moments later, a man dressed in a Ukrainian military uniform arrives and asks if they are repairing the statue. “No, this is performance art,” Yaroslav explains.
Since February 24, 2022, when Ukraine was invaded, stories and images have emerged that have shaken the global community. More times than I can count, words have utterly failed me in response to reports of horrific atrocities. A sense of futility has overwhelmed me many times. How does one respond to evil on such a massive scale? As it turns out, one artist’s act of creativity becomes a powerful moment of subversive defiance and even hope. Out of the ashes and dust of war rises the spirit of purpose and life. Three cheers to the artists in the world! Three cheers! Three cheers!
Paul Gauche is the Pastor of Life Transitions at Prince of Peace. His posts are part of his #100days50words project, where he blogs about a different word each week. You can follow his project on Instagram (@pgauche) or his blog, Thriving Rhythms.
Today’s Word: ‘Resurrection‘ as in… Easter! Thanks be to God for the power of God’s amazing grace and extraordinary love for all people everywhere, no exceptions! Christ is risen! Christ is risen, indeed!
Because of this day, this Easter day, each day is a day of resurrection. Because of this day, this Easter day, we can celebrate the power of God’s love within us and through us, not just making a difference in the world but creating hope for a different world altogether! 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 provides 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 the 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 openheartedness. 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 fire of momentum not only to make a difference in the world but to make a different world altogether. Christ is risen! Christ is risen, indeed!
Today’s Word: ‘Remember’ as in… “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” So said writer and philosopher George Santayana.
Saturday, April 9, 2022, marks the 77th anniversary of the death of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer’s life story is one of the great epics of courage and conviction. A young Lutheran pastor in Germany when Adolph Hitler came to power, Bonhoeffer was one of the first among his colleagues to recognize the threat posed by Nazism to the fundamental human values of Western civilization. He was a leader in the Confessing Church, a group of pastors who actively opposed the Nazification of the German Lutheran Church and played an active role in the German resistance movement. As a result, he was arrested by the Gestapo in 1943 and spent his last two years in prison and concentration camps. Those in prison with him recalled his strength and perseverance as he provided guidance and spiritual inspiration not only to fellow prisoners but also to the prison guards.
On April 8, 1945, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was taken to Flossenburg concentration camp, where he was interrogated late into the night. Early the following morning, he and the other condemned prisoners were led out of their cells and executed by special order of Heinrich Himmler. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was 39 years old. Recalling the details sometime later, the prison doctor wrote these words: “Through the half-open door, I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer, still in his prison clothes, kneeling in fervent prayer to the Lord his God. The devotion I saw in the prayer of this intensely captivating man moved me to the depths.” Since his death, his countless writings and life stories have inspired and challenged countless people worldwide.
As we mark the anniversary of Bonhoeffer’s death, we dare not remain overwhelmed by the violence of the past or mesmerized by the evil in this present moment. But let us move ever more toward a future where all people are more fully human, free, fully alive, and resurrected.
When we give ourselves to that, we will say with Dietrich: “This is… the beginning of life.”
Today’s Word: ‘Immeasurable’ as in… love is not measurable.
“Simon, do you love me more than these?” Peter says, “Yes, Lord; you know I love you.” Jesus says to him, “Feed my lambs.”
Peter’s head must be spinning. It’s a head-spinner of a question, for sure. So let’s make sure we understand the question before we respond.
Jesus, are you asking me if I love you more than I love these guys? Are you asking me if I love you more than these guys love you? Or are you asking me if I know that my love for you is limited at best?
This is very counter-intuitive, but the sooner we acknowledge our limited ability to love well, the sooner we’ll be set free by Christ’s love through us. Love was never meant to be measured. Rather, love is immeasurable, extravagant, and unconditional by its very nature. Love is limitless, or it isn’t love.
Love can never be measured by comparing it with others, but we do this more than we think. I hear myself saying, “You know, I can always love God more than I do, but at least I love God more than you love God.”
So why does Jesus ask Peter, “Do you love me more than these?” Because Peter measured his love against the others. “Not me, Lord! They’ll run, but I won’t. I love you more than I love these guys. And for sure, I love you more than these guys love you.” But before the whole thing was over, Peter had denied even knowing Jesus three times.
So let’s turn the whole thing inside out. By asking Peter, “Do you love me more than these?” Jesus challenges Peter to acknowledge his love’s weakness and limitations. Jesus moves Peter from pride to humility, from a false sense of devotion to honesty that will set him free.
Only when Peter can be honest about who he is, his limitations, and who Christ is shaping him to be can his relationship with Jesus is restored.
Today’s Word: ‘Inside‘ as in… a significant part of the wonder of creativity is knowing what’s inside of us that, once freed, will bring joy to others.
What’s inside the piano? What’s inside the palette of paints, the word processor? What’s inside the grocery bag, the refrigerator, the spreadsheet, the keyboard? What’s inside the manuscript? These are essential questions. But knowing what’s inside of each one of us that longs to emerge is equally – if not more significant.
In 1501 when Michelangelo began chipping away at a chunk of marble in his dusty little studio in Florence, Italy, he certainly had a strong inkling that David was locked deep inside, longing to be set free. As he stood on the scaffolding and stared up at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, he certainly had a good idea of what would emerge through the array of paints and colors and whatever other collection of materials he had available. (I prefer the version of him painting the ceiling while lying on his back. But those who know, know that he was standing. Details.)
But Michelangelo also knew what was inside of him. It’s up for debate as to whether he really said this or not, but one legend contends that when asked about his sculpting and how he accomplished such magnificence, he replied, “The sculpture is already complete within the marble block before I start my work. It is already there; I just have to chisel away the superfluous material.” A slightly different version of that legend is that Michelangelo would chip away at everything that didn’t look like the image in his imagination.
These stories are terrific fodder for great discussions in art, philosophy, or theology classes. But let me ask you a few questions. What’s inside of you that longs to appear? What colors, shapes, textures, sounds, and tastes are waiting to come to life through you to bless the world? What’s inside of you? How are you emerging? A significant part of the wonder of your creativity is knowing what’s inside you that, once freed, will bring joy to others.
Today’s Word: ‘Lilies‘ as in “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet … even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.”
In Matthew 26, Jesus reframes life’s struggles by pointing to the Creator who is still creating ways for life to thrive, even in unimaginable circumstances. Everything we need comes from God. God feeds the birds of the air and clothes the grass of the field through the human community. No one is truly alone; we all take care of one another.
In her article, “The Ancient Guide For Uncertain Times,” Amanda Ruggeri synthesizes some ancient wisdom from the ancient Stoic philosopher, Epictetus, who didn’t have it easy. His story included torture, imprisonment, exile, and poverty. But out of his story comes wisdom that transcends the centuries. Here’s a small sample from her article:
Recognize what you can (and can’t) control
It’s not the events that disturb people; it’s their judgments concerning those events. So while we’re often overwhelmed by fighting against circumstances beyond our control, we also have the power to release our attachment to what isn’t in our power. And that liberates us to imagine healthier responses to evil in the world.
Help others, and ask for help – but protect yourself emotionally
Philosophers and theologians alike have always taught that the main goal in life is to excel at being human. The Hebrew and Christian scriptures teach that we are naturally drawn toward others with compassion when we live into our essential humanness. When nations or leaders of nations are not in touch with their essential humanness, the lesson is that we still have much work to do.
Jesus never said that the grass would not wither and fade. He didn’t say that the winds and rains would not fall hard against the lilies. What he did say was that he would be present with us. When we are present to one another, we reveal Christ’s love, mercy, justice, and compassion which, if you think about it, looks a lot like lilies in the field!
Today’s word: ‘Joining’ as in… we’re joining countless numbers of people who know that we’re stronger together than we are apart.
Are you feeling overwhelmed? That’s normal. Have you passed angry like it was standing still and moved on to utterly incensed? That’s appropriate. Are you feeling helpless? That’s a common reaction.
After an airstrike hit a maternity hospital in the besieged city of Mariupol and images of pregnant mothers being carried through the rubble began to surface, did you scream out loud? If you did, I couldn’t hear you over the decibels of my own screams.
Do you find it incomprehensible that Ukrainians have discovered that their relatives in Russia don’t believe a war is going on? You’re joining countless others who are utterly mystified.
After reading Olena Zelenska’s open letter to the global media in which she described the casualties inflicted on children as the invasion’s most terrifying and devastating aspect, did you share her righteous indignation? You’re joining countless others in this.
Did you drop to your knees in thanksgiving for the evacuation corridors opened in the Sumy, Kharkiv, Donetsk, and Kyiv regions? You’re joining with millions of others.
Do you imagine yourself sending an email to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy telling him that you’re cheering him on, praying for an end to the madness? You’re joining countless others in this.
The message of Lent is that out of death comes life. The message of the cross of Christ is the reminder that on the other side of death is a new way of living; on the other side of inhumanity is a more profound way of being human together. If this season of Lent has anything to teach us, it’s that death is never the last word.
The last and the first word is always life.
But that still seems like a long way off for millions of Ukrainians. So we’re joining the millions of struggling brothers and sisters in Ukraine and Eastern Europe with the announcement that Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again. May he come through all of us joining together.
Today’s Word: ‘Respond’ as in… how do we help kids respond to humankind’s inhumanity to humankind?
Mr. Rogers was masterful in his ability to talk reassuringly with kids about massively challenging issues in the world. Of course, it’s natural to want to protect young people from the harsher realities of life, but to avoid them does them a disservice. Fred Rogers once said, “Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary.”
So how do we talk to kids about the Ukraine invasion?
Deborah Farmer Kris is a parenting columnist for PBS Kids, an education journalist, and the founder of Parenthood 365. She’s also the mother of an 8-year-old son with questions, feelings, and fears. In her online article at PBSSoCal.org, Deborah suggests several things that she’s found helpful. Full disclosure, this is her stuff because it’s that good:
Using a map or a globe, put a finger on Ukraine, Russia, and the Black Sea. Then, touch the other countries and talk about the formation and breakup of the Soviet Union.
Talk about why wars start in the first place and how this was a “war of choice” because Russia’s leader wants “more.” Explain that this is wrong like it would be wrong for someone to break into a kid’s bedroom and say, “All of this is mine.”
Using simple terms, have a conversation about sanctions (consequences), naming some of the other countries imposing sanctions on Russia.
Talk about refugees. Showing pictures of Ukrainians in a train station can be a helpful image while also talking about appropriate organizations that are equipped to help.
Finally, reassure your young person that it’s appropriate to keep talking about this crisis and that we’re all learning as we go.
Friends, I’m confident in the work of Lutheran World Relief. My challenge to you is when you ask yourself, ” How do we respond to humankind’s inhumanity to humankind?” donating through Lutheran World Relief is an effective step.
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 think about how many times these words will be spoken today. As the season of Lent begins, millions of people around the world will come together to take the first common steps on a journey that each one will experience differently.
The word “Lent” comes from an old English word for “lengthen” and refers to the lengthening of these early 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 ways we live with one another in the world.
I recently officiated at a memorial service and spoke those ancient words at the graveside: “Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” These words are compelling reminders of our essence, who we are, and our ancient/future connection to the Creator who created us once and continues to recreate us as people of light and life in an often very dark world.
Something dynamic happened at noon today. As those ancient words were spoken to me, and the cross was traced on my forehead, I felt the physical pressure of the pastor’s thumb pressing against me. In that very fleeting moment, I had to think about my footing as I absorbed those ashes on my forehead. This made me aware of the many things that push against me in my daily life: fear, misunderstanding, selfishness, brokenness, and my ability to make an utter mess of things. And yet, the announcement is always good news: “Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.”
This ancient message intends to turn all of us toward Christ, who invites us to participate in this journey with him to the end of ourselves, which ultimately reveals the beginning of who we’re becoming: created and recreated, living, breathing, resurrected people.
Today’s Word: ‘Enemies’ as in… “I destroy my enemies when I make them my friends.”
Jim Wallis, the founder of Sojourners Magazine and a globally respected writer, teacher, preacher, and justice advocate believes the gospel of Jesus must be transformed from its cultural and political captivities. In today’s Daily Dig from Plough, the award-winning international magazine of faith, culture, and society, Jim writes that praying for our enemies makes us all sisters, brothers, and friends.
“As long as we do not pray for our enemies, we continue to see only our own point of view – our own righteousness – and to ignore their perspective. Prayer breaks down the distinctions between us and them. To do violence to others, you must make them enemies. Prayer, on the other hand, makes enemies into friends. When we have brought our enemies into our hearts in prayer, it becomes difficult to maintain the hostility necessary for violence. In bringing them close to us, prayer even serves to protect our enemies. Thus prayer undermines the propaganda and policies designed to make us hate and fear our enemies. By softening our hearts towards our adversaries, prayer can even become treasonous. Fervent prayer for our enemies is a great obstacle to war and the feelings that lead to war.”
Russia and Ukraine are at war. These neighboring countries have drawn deep lines in the ancient soil between friends and enemies. Yet, even though we are 5000 miles away, we can toss our pebbles of prayer into the pond of humanity, knowing that we make a difference by doing so.
Jesus said, “I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that.”
Pray for the people of Ukraine and Russia. Remember that with every breath that we pray, we dissolve categories of ‘enemy’ and create circles of friendships.
I was introduced to poetry early in my life. I read a lot of things by a guy named Ted who decided to do what he loved most. It worked out well for him. Not content with just creating political cartoons, illustrating, animating, and filmmaking, he decided to write children’s books. You might have read some. The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham, One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish are just a few.
Along the way, I became fascinated by the way certain words worked well together, how other words rhymed or not, and, of course, the utter brilliance of Haiku. So I took a poetry class as an undergraduate student at Pacific Lutheran University. It was the only course I ever aced.
Nancy Lee and I have long dwelled in the poetry of Mary Oliver. We always read her poems at least twice. The practice of Lectio Divina has taught us that there’s always something more to be discovered with each reading.
Not long ago, we were introduced to the writing and poetry of Margaret Dulaney. In her collection, “To Hear the Forest Sing: Some Musings on the Divine,” Dulaney offers meditative essays on divine themes in everyday life. How lovely is that?
Honestly, you may want to read this lovely poem several times.
Love What There Is To Love
Perhaps all that this day really requires of us
is to step out
from under the cover of our resistance,
step out and
into the warmth of our lives.
To say, today I will do this because I love it.
I will write what I love,
sing what I love,
listen to what I love,
read what I love,
practice what I love,
speak what I love.
I will love what there is to love today,
and leave the details to a wiser hand.
I believe I’m right about this: The few moments you set aside to read a poem today might be the moments you love most.
If you’re a Ted Lasso fan, you’re probably aware of the Latin phrase, Gradarius Firmus Victoria. It means “Slow and steady wins the race.” The first time Ted was offered tea, Rebecca asked, “How do you take your tea?” Ted responded, “Well, normally right back to the counter because there’s been a terrible mistake.” That’s some dope writing right there.
I’m guessing that the Latin for “Slow and steady wins the race” is far better than whatever the Latin is for “Remember the Turtle and Hare!”
“Slow and steady,” it turns out, is ancient wisdom for everything, including brewing tea, engaging in meaningful conversation, and nurturing relationships. In ancient cultures, tea was made simply by pouring hot water over loose tea leaves in a cup. It didn’t take long for the full flavor to emerge from the fresh tea leaves. Today, if you’re chatting with a friend while waiting for the tea to steep, you won’t get very far into the conversation before that first cup of tea becomes history. It’s entirely possible for people to drink tea together but remain strangers.
The second cup of tea requires a longer time for the leaves to steep and the flavors to emerge. As a result, there is more time to engage in conversation. It’s during the second cup of tea that friendships are made.
The third cup of tea is where love grows into healthy, thriving relationships. The third cup of tea provides enough time to finally arrive at a place in the conversation measured by active listening, genuine empathy, deeper understanding, and growing love. The third cup of tea creates the space to become thoroughly steeped in each other’s hopes and dreams.
Valentine’s Day offers us opportunities to share cups of tea with people we love and care about, to ask thoughtful questions, to enjoy more time to listen. Slow and steady, my friends. One more way, and a few more moments to look someone in the eyes and say, I love you.
Today’s Word: ‘Hell’ as in… the moment we realize that when someone yells “Go to hell!” at someone else, everyone is more or less, mostly more, already there.
The 17th Annual U.S. Pond Hockey Championships wrapped up last weekend, with dozens of teams playing on more than two dozen rinks constructed on Lake Nokomis. Laughter could be heard everywhere as the crowds cheered on their favorite teams with names like “Inglorious Blasters,” “Not Fast, Just Furious,” Bring Your ‘Eh’ Game,” and “Open-Faced Hamm’s Sandwich.” For most people, it was a little bit of heaven. But, unfortunately, it was a little bit of hell for at least a couple of others.
Two players who were already red-faced from all of the start-stop-back-forth-up-and-down game were suddenly in each other’s faces. Awkwardly, they momentarily forgot that they were on skates and had to lean on each other for balance. Then, in a flash, one of them ripped the other’s hockey stick away and whipped it into the air. Several of us instinctively crouched down as the hockey-stick-turned-airborne-weapon-of-mass-dysfunction landed in the next rink. Then, as other players and referees skated in to quell the anger, expletives began to flow. Verbs and nouns were combined with adjectives and adverbs in ways that threw shade on the other’s family members. The whole thing was awful. It was hell on ice.
Hell is about death and disconnection from everything that creates life and more life. Anyone describing their version of hell will likely tell stories of broken relationships, deep loneliness, utter disconnection.
Hell is the experience of being outside of the community. In ancient times, just beyond the walls of the old city of Jerusalem was the Valley of Hinnom. It was the landfill, the garbage dump where human sacrifices took place in even more ancient times. It was constantly on fire, always billowing smoke. It was called Gehenna, the Greek word for hell. Hell on earth.
It would do us all well to let go of the hellish idea of eternal conscious torment after death. Instead, let’s focus on creating ongoing life while we’re still living.
I wish I had a buck and a half for every time someone asked me if I was saved. There always seemed to be some agenda lurking behind this question. A few times, I had my own agenda. I said I wasn’t sure just to see where the conversation would go. But, unfortunately, it usually led to a narrative that included images of fire, smoke, and an angry God making demands that I get it right, or else.
Instead of conversations about what we have to do, what we can’t do, how we should behave, think, or speak, to avoid death and destruction, a better conversation would include narratives about how God’s generative love is creating life and more life.
Frederick Buechner is always helpful. Salvation, he writes, “is an experience first and a doctrine second. Doing the work you’re best at doing and like to do best, hearing great music, having great fun, seeing something very beautiful, weeping at somebody else’s tragedy—all these experiences are related to the experience of salvation because, in all of them, two things happen: (1) you lose yourself, and (2) you find that you are more fully yourself than usual.”
It’s like the experience of love. When we love God and others, we remove ourselves from the center of our own universe. The well-being of others becomes central. When others move into the center, we are removed from the equation. It’s an odd kind of math: less of us means more of others. Buechner writes, ” Only by a curious paradox there is more. You feel that at last you really are yourself.”
Salvation is paradoxical in much the same way. Jesus told his followers: “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
Love isn’t transactional. We don’t love God to be saved by God. Instead, experiencing God’s love in our lives and loving others creates salvation.
The question really isn’t, “Are you saved?” The question is, “Have you experienced love?”
Today’s Word: ‘A440’ as in… are you in tune or out of tune?
Our piano has just been tuned, and it sounds fantastic! Thanks to Chris, the piano technician.
Watching Chris work is fascinating. He’s got a leather bag full of goodies. First, he pulls out a tuning fork that resonates at a specific constant pitch known as A440. This four-hundred and forty Hertz tone serves as the standard for musical pitch and is the musical note A above middle C on the piano keyboard. Next, Chris strikes the tuning fork on the bottom edge of his shoe with his right hand and brings the tuning fork to his ear. Then, with his left hand on the tuning wrench, he makes adjustments until the musical note A on the piano matches the A440 of the tuning fork.
Working with octaves, thirds, fourths, and fifths, Chris creates what could easily be called a harmonious relationship between the tuning fork, the A key, and the rest of the notes on the piano. As a result, every key on the piano, all 88, comes into tune with that A key, tuned to A440 from the tuning fork.
There is, reasonably speaking, a metaphor here for our spirited lives. We tune our lives to many things every day. So tuning our lives to A440 is the difference between being in tune and out of tune. Christ is our A440. Let’s play with this metaphor. We are constantly moving into and out of tune with Christ and one another. Personally, when I’m out of tune, it’s because I’ve fallen out of harmony with those I know and love. Thinking more of myself than others usually results in dissonance in my relationships.
On the other hand, life together has a reasonably pleasant tone to it – there is harmony when I’m in tune with Christ. When we’re in tune with Christ and with one another, we generally play much better together; there’s melody and harmony to the rhythms of our lives.
So, are you in tune or out of tune today? Are you listening for your A440?
Today’s Word: ‘Today’ as in… tomorrow never comes.
I’m sitting at a red light. My fingers are tapping on the steering wheel; old school Morse Code for “C’mon, let’s go!”
Waiting in line at the post office, I shift from one foot to another. My resting foot isn’t resting; it’s tapping. I’ve got places to go, people to see, things to do.
In the middle of a set of planks, I’m thinking about late April and how far I still have to go before hitting my health goals.
Five minutes into my 20-minute meditation with Headspace, my mind is so far into “tomorrow” that “today” is already a distant past. How utterly weird is that?
I understand that this may be more about my personality than universal truths, but there are some universal truths here.
Think about how often you project yourself out of the present moment. You’re thinking about task lists for today, schedules for tomorrow, what you need to do for next month, your goals for next year. Does all of that overwhelm you at times? Do you ever wonder how you’re going to organize your life in such a way today as to get all of those things completed tomorrow?
Feeling tension, uncertainty, and even anxiety in the present is usually about a future that has not arrived and, in truth, never will arrive. Tomorrow never comes. Sure, it’s natural to feel tension about things we can’t see, uncertainty about what we don’t know, anxiety about what hasn’t arrived. But since the future hasn’t arrived, and never will, getting caught up in trying to manage the unseen, the unknown, and the intangible is unhealthy and of no use.
The challenge for us is to live fully into every present moment. We might be surprised by how equipped we are to meet the next moment by being present to this moment.
Jesus reminded his followers not to worry about tomorrow; to deal with each challenge as it comes today. Tomorrow never comes. So, welcome today, and receive your next breath as the gift that it is.
Today’s Word: ‘Epiphany’ as in… here’s something illuminating!
The season of Epiphany has finally arrived! The season of light and illumination is upon us. With Advent and Christmas behind us, we now turn to hope-filled days of light, life, and more life!
For the past six weeks, scores of people around the country, even well beyond, have been using the Welcome the Seasons devotional resource. I’ve heard from so many about the benefits of sitting in quiet solitude each day, allowing the images, scriptures, reflections, and conversation starters to guide the way. Once again, we’ve learned that the rhythms of daily meditation – sitting for some moments each day, or at least frequently, have been deeply enriching.
For centuries, communities of faith around the world have understood the benefits of making time to settle into these kinds of rhythms. But, let’s be honest: we have a knack for sabotaging ourselves by creating fuller, busier, more frantic schedules than we did the last time we promised never to do that again. And then we lament the fact that we’re completely overwhelmed. Yet, having a few moments of stillness each day to be illuminated, to have an actual epiphany, to consider the things that bring life and more life sets a groove, creates a habit that helps us find healthy margins for thriving.
As Epiphany dawns upon us, how will you continue to practice the essential rhythms that have created space in your life through the Advent and Christmas seasons?
Here are a few suggestions:
The Five-Day Devotional created by the Prince of Peace pastoral team
Use the Headspace or Calm apps to practice daily meditation
Read one chapter of the book of Proverbs each day for a month
A Guide to Prayer for All God’s People. You can find this rich resource at Upper Room Books
What’s more important than “what” you do is “that” you decide to actually do something. We don’t create space to fill it back up again. Instead, we make space for illumination. We’re seeking a quiet moment for Spirit to speak to us. Now that’s an epiphany!
Today’s Word: ‘Magi’ as in… those ancient travelers who arrived in Bethlehem later. Much later.
The Nativity scene that was part of the Christmas decorations in my home always included the Magi, a.k.a. Three Kings, Three Wise Men. I placed them just outside the stable, with their camels. They stood waiting, ready to present gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They waited for their opportunity to peer into the manger. What would they say? What would they do? Would they hold the baby? How would they describe the gifts they brought?
Scholars tell us that the Magi didn’t arrive until sometime later, much later. Biblical historians place them in Bethlehem almost two years after the birth of Jesus. By then, it seems, Jesus was gone, long gone.
But they came anyway.
They entered Bethlehem with all who traveled with them asking, “Where is the place? Then, arriving at the Inn, they ask the Innkeeper, “Is this The Place?”
“No…” they are told.
“Then where?” they ask.
Moments later, they are standing in the stable where the Christ child was born. And at that very moment, the one who is called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace is fully present with them.
This story is meant to invite us to consider how Christ meets us where we are. He is continually present to fulfill the ancient/future promise to be God with us, God for us.
Each of us is invited to consider the beautiful mystery of Christ’s presence with us, in us, right here, right now. The Magi, the kings, the three wise men, and all who traveled with them discovered where the human and the holy came together. Where does that happen for you?
The Magi, the kings, the three wise men, and all who traveled with them came to the place where the love of the Creator became flesh and blood to live among us. How do you experience that in your life?
And then, almost as quickly as they had come, they were on their way again.
Today’s Word: ‘Future’ as in… the longing we experience at Christmas might not be so much about looking back as it is about looking ahead.
We’re pondering the question, “What one memory of Christmas stands out for you, and why?” The conversation that follows is vibrant: the ‘first snow’ of the season on Christmas Eve in a part of the country that rarely had snow in December, let alone on Christmas Eve; a family gathering after the recent death of a loved one; gratitude for gifts exchanged even as financial resources are stretched. People, decorations, lights, music, memories are all part of the nostalgia of Christmas.
Christmas is nostalgic. We look back and tell “tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago.” Storytelling is part of our celebration even as we acknowledge our deep longings for the past. Yet, there is also a present tense to Christmas. The tension that people feel each year as Advent recedes seems to grow exponentially with the hopes and dreams of an emerging new season.
But Christmas is ultimately an expression of hope for the future. Christmas points us forward into all of the unwrapped days ahead. Christmas compels us toward a future filled with all the hope-filled moments that the birth of Jesus promises.
The Gospel writer Matthew looks somewhat nostalgically at what happened: “Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way….” But that story is rooted in another far more ancient narrative that is really about the future, a hope for what will unfold: “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 forever.”
While the original Christmas stories recorded in Matthew and Luke contain a good bit of looking back, those stories really set us up for an enormous amount of looking forward with hope. The momentum in the story of the birth of Jesus is all about God writing a new future in Christ for all people, no exceptions.
Today’s Word: ‘2,974’ as in… 2,974 moments of joy.
This will be a reach for some. But please go with me. I’m going to “hoop” for 350 words.
Wardell Stephen Curry is the greatest shooter in the history of basketball. That’s no longer an opinion or point of view. Steph proved it on Tuesday evening, December 14, 2021, in a sold-out arena – Madison Square Garden, no less, the Mecca of Basketball. People came from around the world to witness history.
Sixty-four seconds into the game, Steph shot the basketball from beyond the arc to tie the all-time 3-point record set by Ray Allen on February 10, 2011. Three minutes later, with thousands of cheering people standing on their feet, Steph made history with 2,974 made three-pointers.
Along the way, one sportscaster asked incredulously, “Who does that? Who does that? He’s not from here (planet earth)!”
While all of this is historic, what’s most impressive is the insight offered by Steph’s dear friend and college basketball coach, Bob McKillop. So many who play at this elite level begin with confidence. But, unfortunately for some, that confidence leads to arrogance. And then arrogance leads to entitlement. But this is not the case with Stephen Curry. From the beginning, taking his first shots on a court as a three-year-old, all the way through to his years at Davidson College, Steph played with confidence. But the pathway from confidence took Steph toward humility. And with the kind of humility seldom seen on this level, Steph moved into gratitude.
We have choices in life. We can certainly move from confidence to arrogance to entitlement. But what happens when we choose to move with confidence into humility into gratitude? It won’t make us great basketball players, but it will make us better human beings. That’s the whole point.
As long as I’ve followed Steph Curry, I’ve heard people say, “As great a basketball player as Curry is, he’s an even better human being.”
May that also be said of us. As we move with confidence into humility into gratitude, we are far better human beings.
Today’s Word: ‘Astonish” as in… can the stable still astonish us?
The conversation around the table moved through several of the most recent devotions from Welcome the Seasons. We were astonished at the timing of encountering ‘Empty’ on December 7, an important anniversary, and the same day we happened to tour the WWII exhibit in New Orleans. We processed the emptiness we were feeling, creating space for the filling that came through our conversation.
The next day we read ‘Imagine’ and noted, with more astonishment, the anniversary of John Lennon’s death. Imagine the sense of convergence. Our conversation eventually brought us to Christmas, the celebration of the birth of Christ, the incarnation of God who, in this baby, takes on flesh and blood and moves into our neighborhood, again and again.
We were astonished at how God comes to us, how God steps into our deep, dark, often dank existence and brings light and life. God steps into the raw reality of our stables and reminds us that there is no distance God will not go, no place where God will not inhabit to rescue, redeem, and restore us to wholeness.
And then this lovely poem by Leslie Leyland Fields surfaced, which captured the very essence of what it means to arrive at the stable.
Let the stable still astonish: Straw-dirt floor, dull eyes, Dusty flanks of donkeys, oxen; Crumbling, crooked walls; No bed to carry that pain, And the, the child, Rag-wrapped, laid to cry In a trough.
Who would have chosen this? Who would have said: “Yes, Let the God of all the heavens and earth be born here, in this place.”?
Who but the same God Who stands in the darker, fouler rooms of our hearts and says, “Yes, let the God of Heaven and Earth be born here—-
In this place.”
Astonishing, isn’t it? The “this place” where the God of heaven and earth is born is in us. God can do anything. But look what God chose to do! That’s astonishing.
Today’s Word: ‘Peace’ as in… this is why we pursue peace actively.
It happened again this morning. And really, what breaks my heart most is the use of the word, ‘again.’
The car ahead of me pulls up to the pickup window in the drive-through. What takes place next can only be described as a verbal outpouring of frustration, anger, and rage. The driver is heated. First, some words, then hand waving, then a pointed finger. As tensions rise, there are more words, more gestures. Finally, the driver leaves the barista with nothing but brokenness and pain.
I’m wondering what happens in the time between placing an order and receiving it at the pickup window – a mere 35 yards – that makes possible such a response.
What did the driver experience earlier in the morning causing this kind of interaction? A job loss? A sick child at home? A strained relationship? Some bad news? A death in the family? To be fair, what might the barista have brought to the moment that added to the tension? I might never know. But something triggered the driver’s ire. As the car drives away, a phrase comes to mind: “Hurt people hurt people.”
There’s a lot of hurt going on. We could use some peace.
I’m placing this, of course, in the context of our second week of Advent as we intentionally focus on peace. Not a peace that minimizes, dismisses, or overlooks moments like this. Instead, a peace that acknowledges that these moments happen again and again, but that we are called to our deeper, better, more authentic selves as we bear the image of the Prince of Peace who comes to bring peace.
As we move from days of hope through these days of peace, we long for healing. And as these days challenge us to work for the things that make for peace, we count on the Spirit to breathe the oxygen of peace into each one of us so that moments of frustration, anger, and rage can be met with overwhelming grace, hope, love, and peace that passes all understanding.
The Thriving Rhythms Project, aka, Thriv’ëra, challenges us to move with thoughtful purpose toward a deepened sense of identity that we are spirited, creative, and connected, called to be present, grateful, generous, missional people. In our Thrivers groups, we explore what it means to live with intention into these seven life rhythms, which help us bring some good to each day, something better to each moment, and our best to each other as we encounter the world around us.
Each of the seven rhythms [spirited, creative, connected, present, grateful, generous, missional] has a manifesto. For example, the manifesto of gratitude has a strong statement of purpose:
“We thrive as grateful people by practicing gratitude as a spirited discipline, remembering, with joy and thanksgiving, that all we have is a gift of grace. As children of God, we live as grateful human beings knowing that we are blessed not merely to be blessed but blessed to bring blessing to others.
Create some good conversation using these “Seven Grateful Questions:”
What stories of gratitude will you be sharing this year in this season of thanksgiving?
How would you describe the difference between gratitude and thankfulness?
How can you live a grateful life in the face of pain and suffering?
Consider a challenging situation in your life. Is there any aspect of that situation for which you can express gratitude?
Bring to mind someone who practices gratitude. How does practicing gratitude enrich that person’s life?
When you are around people who seldom seem to be grateful, how does that impact you? How can you encourage them to be more open to practicing gratitude?
Imagine you are on your deathbed. What are you grateful for at that moment? Are there things that you would like to change in your life now so that you can indeed be thankful for a life well-lived when death comes?
Here’s your daily mantra:
As a child of God, I am a ‘grateful’ human being. I’m blessed not merely to be blessed but blessed to be a blessing to others.
Deep in the Hebrew scriptures, there’s a story about a donkey that talks. I know. It’s odd. A talking donkey. One might wonder what language did the donkey speak. Arabic? Hebrew? English? Never mind that in the King James Version, the donkey is called an ass. Oh well. Then there’s that.
Donkeys show up in scripture with remarkable frequency. So when a writer includes a donkey in a story, we ought to pay attention. Donkeys sip water from springs. Donkeys know where their master’s manger is located. They’re a Lyft for royalty, an Uber for the underprivileged. They’re a sign for the Rabbi’s support staff.
Oddest of all, in this story, the donkey is a spokes-beast for the Divine. A lot is going on here; a good bit of fear and foreboding generates a great deal of conniving and treachery. And in the end, the donkey takes a beating for just attempting to steer the rider in the right direction. So unfair.
In any story, any metaphor can easily twist things out of shape. Suffice to say, this donkey in this story provides an essential element: a warning that essential messages are on the road ahead. It’s easy to kick the donkey when we’re on our metaphorical road to whatever is next. We get so focused on the minutiae that we lose the bigger picture, the critical detail, the deeper meaning. And we kick the donkey. So unwise.
The donkey is whatever stands before you, helping you make your next best decision. The donkey is reminding you to take an extra hot minute to think before speaking. The donkey is reminding you to consult one more friend and ask one more question. The donkey is the sentence from a book, the line in the poem, the verse from scripture, the word spoken by a friend that catches your attention and pulls you back into reasonable thinking as you face the next important decision. For every decision we face in life, this is a clear word of wisdom: Don’t kick the donkey.
Today’s Word: ‘Do-Over’ as in… what would you do-over if you hade an extra hour?
We’re just slightly over one week into what is known as Standard Time. So how’s that working for you? Since Sunday morning, March 14, 2021, we’ve been observing what’s known as Daylight Saving Time. You know, long, lazy evenings with light until nearly 10:00 PM. Lovely. With a shift back to Standard Time, we received an extra hour; we got an extra 60 minutes in the span of one 24-hour period. 25 hours. Not 24. Not 26. 25 hours. And just to make sure none of us would miss it, the reminders went something like this: “Remember, we’re falling back this weekend. Don’t forget to turn your clocks back one hour on Saturday night.”
And then this: “We get an extra hour of sleep.”
One hour was given back to us. And extra hour. A do-over. Which raises the question: If you looked at that one hour not so much as an extra hour of sleep (although that’s always nice), what if you looked at it as an opportunity for a do-over? How would you respond? For example, if you got a do-over in any of your relationships, what would that mean? Would you enjoy some extra time with someone you love? Would you use that extra time to tend to a word of confession, to apologize for misstepping or misspeaking? Would that do-over give you some extra margin to rest, recuperate, to be instead of more doing simply? Would that extra hour give you time to consider reaching out to someone who‘s been struggling? Would you read a book? Would you write a card of thanks to someone, expressing gratitude?
An added moment, a do-over to tend to what’s most important, could change so many things.
So here’s the challenge for this week: I’m giving you an extra hour right now to reconsider whatever it is that needs doing over in your life. A do-over, just one hour to embrace in some new, life-giving way. What will you do with that extra hour today?
Today’s Word: ‘Choices’ as in… when faced with change, we always have choices.
We can Pause. Pausing provides time for emotions to subside and prevents us from making rash decisions. When faced with change, it’s good to pause and breathe the oxygen of clarity.
We can Pivot. Often misunderstood as going in a new direction, to pivot (rotating on an axis) means changing perspective; to look at changes from a different angle. To pivot allows us to look at change in ways we have not before.
We can Pull the Plug. Sometimes we have to acknowledge that not everything that seems like an end is an end, not everything that comes to an end should be restarted, and not everything that moves along should continue. Sometimes it’s necessary to cut the power, end it, stop it, and just pull the plug.
We can “Proceed On!” In August 1803, Meriwether Lewis and his friend, William Clark, set out to find a trade route to the West Coast. On August 12th, 1803, Lewis reached the hills where the northwest passage was supposed to be. However, instead of the route to the Pacific, they came face to face with the Rocky Mountains.
In my imagination, they paused, cussed a blue streak (which, you have to admit, would have been quite a moment). They let their emotions subside, which prepared them to take the next step: a pivot. They looked at that situation from several different perspectives. They came to grips with the reality that not everything that seems like an end is an end, not every change should lead to retreat, and every transition should bring deeper wisdom. That allowed them to take the next step. William Clark famously proclaimed, “we proceeded on…” And they did, all the way to the shores of the Pacific Ocean.
In Genesis 12:1-4, God tells Abram to go. It’s a fabulous story of adventure. And Abram had some choices to make. In the end, “…Abram went.”
Are you facing changes? You’ve got choices: pause, pivot, perhaps pull the plug, or you can proceed on. The choice is yours.
All of this began over a decade ago. I was longing for some reflective time in a hectic Advent season. Christmas was coming, and I was feeling cranky about that. Needing a creative diversion, I began writing, exploring the rich daily themes of Advent and Christmas, and posting the entries in a digital journal.
For the past 24 months, we have been shaping this remarkable resource into something practical, inspiring, as well as beautiful. It’s taken a large village to create this.
And so it is with deep gratitude that I acknowledge the following teams of people for their high level of collaboration, creativity, and commitment: Pastoral Team: Jeff Marian, Sandy Rothschiller, and Jason Kramme. Worship Arts Team: Mark Slaughter, Kyle Peterson, Matt Johnson, Deanna Welch, Jean Roberts, and Jan Palmquist.
Editing Team: Liz Caswell, for her relentless pursuit of turning a decent thought into a good sentence and a great paragraph into engaging devotional writing; for Jennifer Cockerill and her ability to turn one-dimensional ideas on paper into three-dimensional realities, for identifying the “through-line” and holding everyone accountable; for Karen Helle and her ability to sniff out typos, and Jeff Heintzemann for finding the publisher. Creative Writing Team: Jody Slaughter and Marilyn Tubbs for scripture and prayers, and Val McLure for the small group resources. Communications Team: Beth Beaty and Liz Ridpath for their work to make sure this resource looks as good on paper as it does online, and seeing to it that Welcome the Seasons has a local as well as a global audience. Media Arts Team: Darren Hensel, Ethan Miller, and Jake Berg.
Artists and photography teams: Ron Bergerson, Rocky Boelter, Mary Brainard, Katie Clymer Pederson, Fred Dingler, Connie Everist, Bonnie Featherstone, Brenda Gard, Robin Kutz, Allen Gray, Scott Bouman, Bob Pelton, Brenda Erickson, Amy Kalsow, and Eric Elton. The Musicians Team: Matt Johnson, Handt Hanson, Megan Kot, Jenna Graves, Sydney Hendrickson, Trevor Wiest, Dash Leander, Mike Miller, and Topher King.
For this collaboration, I am deeply, deeply grateful…
Imagine a community of faith that is purposeful about being the light of Christ for others, encourages each other to live with open hearts, practices generosity seeks ways to “learn Christ” by reading scripture, and gathers to learn in large and small groups.
Imagine a community of faith that actively steps away from old ways of living life that do not build up the Community of Christ and courageously steps toward ways of living in a community that renews, restores, and reconciles us as the body of Christ.
Imagine a community of faith that measures the individual’s good by intentionally considering what is best for the community – that puts the community’s needs above and beyond the needs of the individual.
Imagine a community of faith that acknowledges that while there is a great deal of brokenness in the world, the community of Christ embraces the call to generate momentums of love and respect, which create a different kind of world through love and service in Jesus’ name.
If I were tasked with writing “A Manifesto for A Community of Faith,” that would be it.
We’ve just imagined a remarkable way for communities to live well together. But there’s nothing new here. This vision of the Christian community is described in the book of Ephesians when Paul wrote: “[Y]ou must no longer walk [in mindless futility, and darkened understanding, alienated from the life of God because of … ignorance … and … hardness of heart. That is not the way you learned Christ! But be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”
All of this raises some important questions. First, how close to this vision are we? Second, what specific steps will you take to move toward this vision?
Today’s Word: ‘Welcome’ as in… Welcome the seasons!
For more than a decade, I’ve been aware of my experience of “The Holiday Season.” This generally includes Thanksgiving, Advent, and Christmas. But toss in Halloween and the New Year’s celebration, and it’s a lot.
With the Halloween decorations neatly tucked away, Thanksgiving arrives. Then, seemingly within hours, the season of Advent begins. For four weeks, we’re shopping, cooking, decorating, traveling, shoveling (snow), and preparing for Christmas. Of course, with all of the newness of the Christmas season, there is also the old familiar stress over health, jobs, relationships, finances, spending. Before we can catch our breath, a new year is upon us. Then Epiphany. Then Valentine’s Day. The pace is relentless. Oh, wait! Then it’s Lent!
Did someone say March Madness?
So much, so quickly! If this year is like so many years in the past, we’re going to need a nap or therapy. Or both. I’m not kidding about that. For many, this time of year is a big challenge. Unfortunately, with all that the past year has thrown at us, we may be more inclined at this moment to resist rather than welcome the seasons.
I wanted to change all of that.
So, two years ago, I began working with a team of very creative partners to provide a way to embrace rather than resist the wonder-filled seasons ahead. What emerged is a devotional response to our deep longing to experience more of the beauty of this time of year. The “Welcome The Seasons” resource provides a way to experience each day of the Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany seasons at a pace that breathes life back into us.
The “Welcome The Seasons” devotional book features over 40 daily devotional writings, beginning on the first Sunday in Advent and running through Epiphany Day. In addition, scripture readings, original artwork from our Prince of Peace artists and photographers, small group discussion questions, and prayers specific to each day will stir your imagination and deepen your faith. For information about how you can interact with this beautiful resource, scan the QR code.
Nancy Lee and I are sitting on the deck. It’s early morning, the air is chilled, and the coffee is hot. As we notice the changing colors in the trees all around us, a leaf falls from a branch. It has finally let go. Another leaf drifts slowly to the ground. Then another. And another. And another. The air temperature has gotten to that point when the trees do what they do, causing the leaves to do what they do. The leaves are floating, falling. They are finally letting go.
What a poignant reminder to ask ourselves some essential questions. What do you need to let go of right now? What are you holding on to that, if released, would create some new margin in your life? What are you holding on to that no longer brings joy to your daily life? Each of us has all kinds of things that weigh us down and keep us stuck in long-gone seasons. Likewise, we all have things that prevent us from embracing new challenges and possibilities that lay ahead for us.
What do you need to release today so that you can embrace—or be embraced by life and more life? Is it the fear of letting go? Is it the angst of not knowing what’s next? It’s okay, just let go of it, you’ll be fine.
Let’s try this exercise. Sit quietly with your eyes open. Take three deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth. On the third exhalation, gently close your eyes and settle into the space around you. After a few more moments, clench your fists. Hold your fists closed for a count of ten. Then release you’re your grip. Let the tension go, relax your hands. Open them up. As you open your hands, notice the freedom, the release, the liberation of letting go. Like the falling leaves, this is a powerful image and experience of letting go.
Today’s Word: ‘Emergency’… as in a medical emergency.
It is a moment that one hopes never arrives. When it does, though, the hope is that everyone has what they need. In this case, they did.
With twenty minutes left in our gathering last Sunday morning, mid-way through my teaching about “dwelling in scripture,” a voice calls out, “Sir! Sir! Stop!” The choir was sitting behind me. The voice from one of the choir members shouts again, this time with more urgency. “Sir, Sir! Stop!” So I stopped. And I turned around to see what was happening.
Because no one ever calls me ‘Sir’, and I’m abundantly wired for adaptability, which makes me ready for nearly anything and everything at just about any time, I assumed this was part of some prearranged ruse cooked up by my colleagues who wanted to see “What would happen if…?” When I turned around, it was clear that almost nothing had been prearranged. A choir member was having a medical emergency. The next several moments were quite focused. All of the training and rehearsing were brought to bear. AED. 911. Prayer. Crowd management. Clear communication. Within minutes, the paramedics arrived, and the congregation was dismissed. Soon the ambulance was on its way to the hospital with its precious cargo.
Twenty-four hours later, we celebrated the good news that “all is well.” This time. But for someone, somewhere, at some time, this will happen again. The question is, will everyone have what they need? Indeed, what we needed had been prearranged: training, a plan, and a clear understanding of crowd psychology during crises. But we also had a powerful bit of ancient wisdom. As the emergency unfolded, we dwelled in this: “The LORD, your God, is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”
It is a moment that one hopes never arrives. But when it does, and it will, our hope is always in God’s ancient promises dwelling within us.
Today’s Word: ‘Change’… as in everything is changing, but what does that mean?
The words ‘change’ and ‘transition’ have been on our minds a lot lately. The ramp-up that the end of August signals and the beginning of September ushers in gets more frenetic every year. It seems like Labor Day is that one day in the midst of the hoopla and hilarity when we pause, take a breath, ride a bike, or grill something before we’re right back into the busyness of everything.
But change and transition are two very different movements.
Let’s consider the changes. August has changed into September. Our summer schedule has changed to a Fall schedule. Docks are coming out, long sleeves are in, cabins are closing, schools are opening (for now). Changes are physical, tangible, and exterior: we have a different schedule, a new address, another project. Transitions are cerebral, intangible, interior. A transition isn’t the new job, the different schedule. But the transition asks us to understand what the change means.
The hard work of changes and transitions is becoming available to what they have to teach. I like to think that when Jesus called his followers to leave what they were doing and follow him that they took at least a few moments to wonder what their new rhythm of life was going to mean. I hope that even as they set down their nets and walked away from their boats and bean-counting that they wondered: “What now?” Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words still haunt me: “When Christ calls us to follow, he calls us to give up our lives.” That’s asking a lot.
So what do the changes you’re going through mean for you? A different schedule, a new routine, a changing season, letting something go are all changes. What doesn’t change is the heart beating in your chest and the values you hold dear. So asking what all of this means is really to ask this: “Who am I, What am I doing here? How will I live more fully into the days ahead?” Everything is changing. But what does that mean?
Today’s Word: ‘Apprentice’… as in apprentices practice good habits.
Stephen Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, is over 30 years old, has sold over 40 million copies, and has been translated into over 50 languages. Covey’s brilliance is that it’s not about creating a list of things to do and then checking them off. Instead, everything is connected to values, goals, and the heart so that who we are and what we do is rooted in fairness, integrity, service, and human dignity.
Behind the importance of building good life habits is the concept of apprenticeship. Following Christ is a life of apprenticeship. An apprentice watches what the Teacher does and then imitates the Teacher. At first, it’s awkward, and the work is imperfect. But with enough practice, an apprentice develops skills that become habits. Want to get better at tennis? Practice the basics until they become a habit. Want to play the piano well? Practice the basics until they become a habit. Want to become a more fruitful follower of Jesus? Practice the basics until they become a habit.
All of this raises some good questions: After whom are you patterning your life? How will you become an apprentice of Jesus?
Being apprentices of Jesus means practicing habits that connect us with God and others for spiritual growth. Ultimately, the purpose of every spiritual habit is to transform our lives into the likeness of Christ. Jesus called this “abiding.” Paul refers to it as “walking” with Jesus – being close enough to Jesus so that all that he did rubs off on us. Dwelling in scripture is a good habit. Frequent reading or studying a book of the bible with a small group helps set a healthy habit. Another habit would be committing to reading scripture each day. For example, the Book of Proverbs has 31 chapters. Read one chapter each morning, and by the end of the 31 days, you will have set a habit that you’re more likely to keep. You will also be filled with much wisdom. Wise apprentices practice good habits.
Today’s Word: ‘Denial’… as is it’s really not what you think.
In the Gospel of Mark (8:34-35), Jesus tells his followers: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”
Again, Jesus’s wisdom is so counterintuitive. Saving to lose, losing to find, taking up one’s cross to follow is not popular, comfortable, or even remotely life giving.
In the beloved classic ‘Discipleship’ (formerly, The Cost of Discipleship), Dietrich Bonhoeffer explains the power of self-denial. Dietrich writes: “If any want to follow me, they must deny themselves.” Just as in denying Christ Peter said, “I do not know the man,” those who follow Christ must say that to themselves. Self-denial can never result in ever so many single acts of self-martyrdom or ascetic exercises. It does not mean suicide, because even suicide could be the expression of the human person’s own will. Self-denial means knowing only Christ, no longer knowing oneself. It means no longer seeing oneself, only him who is going ahead, no longer seeing the way which is too difficult for us. Self-denial says only: he is going ahead; hold fast to him.
Generally, none of us much likes the idea of saying ‘no’ to anything, much less saying ‘no’ to ourselves. But Dietrich reminds us that saying ‘no’ to ourselves and saying ‘yes’ to Christ actually sets us free. And this isn’t being set free ‘from’ anything or anyone. This is being set free “for” a new kind of life. A life … full of life and more life.
Today’s Word: ‘Discomfort’… as in 182 of the most discomforting words I’ve read today.
Dietrich continues to challenge us to think through the meaning of discipleship. To be a disciple: What does that mean? How do we go about that? I have to confess that often my idea of discipleship is not discipleship at all. That is a very uncomfortable place to be. But that discomfort can be helpful. It has something to teach if we’re willing to learn and then act.
Here is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes:
“Discipleship is commitment to Christ. Because Christ exists, he must be followed. An idea about Christ, a doctrinal system, a general religious recognition of grace or forgiveness of sins does not require discipleship. In truth, it even excludes discipleship; it is [hostile] to it. One enters into a relationship with an idea by way of knowledge, enthusiasm, perhaps even by carrying it out, but never by personal obedient discipleship.
Christianity without the living Jesus Christ remains necessarily a Christianity without discipleship; and a Christianity without discipleship is always a Christianity without Jesus Christ. It is an idea, a myth.
A Christianity in which there is only God the Father, but not Christ as a living Son actually cancels discipleship. In that case there will be trust in God, but not discipleship. God’s Son became human, he is the mediator—that is why discipleship is the right relation to him. Discipleship is bound to the mediator, and wherever discipleship is rightly spoken of, there the mediator, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is intended. Only the mediator, the God-human, can call to discipleship.”
—Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship, page 59
How do these words challenge you? How do these words cause discomfort in you? Pay attention to that discomfort. What is it trying to teach you?
Today’s Word(s): ‘Go’| ‘Learn’… as in our two next best steps.
A certain non-Jew once came before Shammai, a 1st-century Jewish scholar, and said to him, ‘Make me a convert, on condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot.’ The teacher simply pushed him away.
The same non-Jew came to Hillel, another highly respected teacher of the Torah. Hillel converted him and said to him, ‘What is hateful to you, do not to your neighbor: that is the whole Torah, the rest is the commentary; go and learn it.’
Those are the two next best steps: to go, and learn how to love our neighbors.
Anna Zimet Odessa, 12 July 1884 – Auschwitz, 27 August 1943
This makes me want to be a better human being. This makes me want to do whatever I can to make sure nothing like this ever happens to anyone again. Ever.
Anna Zimet was a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother, a friend, a fellow human being with dreams and hopes and a life. Then, in the summer of 1943, everything changed. In a great hurry, Anna Zimet managed to write a few lines to her family before she was deported. The 59-year-old had emigrated from Berlin to Amsterdam in the second half of the 1930s. In late August 1943, she and her husband, Chiam Hirsch Zimet, who was the same age, were deported together from the Westerbork transit camp in the Netherlands to Auschwitz, where they were murdered.
“I’m Getting Picked Up Now” Farewell letter from Anna Zimet Westerbork, 1943
“My dear children I’m getting picked up now Farewell Take good care of yourselves stay healthy Say hello to Erwin Sonja Farewll my sweet Aldo Farewell Max Say hello to the Theindels Mama”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words bring insight: “In a word, live together in the forgiveness of your sins, for without it no human fellowship, least of all a marriage, can survive. Don’t insist on your rights, don’t blame each other, don’t judge or condemn each other, don’t find fault with each other, but accept each other as you are, and forgive each other every day from the bottom of your hearts…”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison
We’ve just come through a time warp. After several days in Berlin studying the life, work, and theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, we traveled seventy miles southwest to the city of Wittenberg to the home of Martin Luther and the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. Holding over 500 years of history in a couple afternoons, connecting Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther, our heads are spinning as we reenter Berlin, ready to return home to the United States. Suddenly, names of other places enter the conversation: Afghanistan. Kabul. In the midst of deeply troubling times, the longing for reformation continues. And while the issues will always be complex, the call to faith the call to hope and the call to love remain; these three. The question remains, with faith and hope, how will we love?
“While we exert ourselves to grow beyond our humanity, to leave the human behind us, God becomes human, and we must recognize that God wills that we be human, real human beings. While we distinguish between pious and godless, good and evil, noble and base, God loves real people without distinction.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, A Year with Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Today’s Word ‘Touch’ … as in contact, reach, feel, connect, know, communion.
We know it by many names: Eucharist, communion, the Lord’s Supper, etc. The result is always the same… we hold in our hands and taste on or lips what our hearts and minds can hardly comprehend: the extravagant and extraordinary moment of God’s touch.
It’s more – so much more, to be sure. But essentially this is God’s touch. A hand on our shoulder, an arm around us, the soft word, “Here, this is – and I am completely and extravagantly for you.”
The simple gifs of bread and wine settle in us with the promise of God’s amazing grace and awesome love for everyone everywhere, no exceptions. #100days50words
“I discovered later, and I’m still discovering right up to this moment, that is it only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes, and failures. In so doing, we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously not our own sufferings but those of God in the world. That, I think, is faith.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer
How does the experience of suffering move you into “the arms of God?”
Sometimes when we see danger, we need to attempt to take hold of the system and stop it from hurting people. Between 1940 and 1943, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was active in the movement to topple Hitler, by coup if possible or assassination if necessary. Defending his actions to his sister-in-law, Emmi Bonhoeffer, Dietrich wrote,
“If I sit next to a madman as he drives a car into a group of innocent bystanders, I can’t, as a Christian, simply wait for the catastrophe, then comfort the wounded and bury the dead. I must try to wrestle the steering wheel out of the hands of the driver.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
What do you wrestle with most as a follower of Christ?
Today’s Word: ‘Action’ as in… not merely watching from the periphery where Christ is not. But instead, leaning into the center where Christ is most active.
Dietrich’s sense of call to follow Christ thrust him into the heart of the resistance movement against unthinkable evil. He was not content to watch from the edges of Hitler’s reign of terror. His response to the massive force of evil against humankind left him no other choice than to act at the heart … from his heart. A member of our class reflected today that “people who make choices like this usually die young.” Dietrich was 39 when he was murderred at Flossenbürg.
“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice; we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, No Rusty Swords
When faced with injustice, what does it mean for you to drive a spoke into that wheel?
Context is critically important. To read Dietrich Bonhoeffer without some idea of what he was living going through is to miss a critical step in understanding his writing. In the same way, to read the words of Jesus or the Gospel writers or Paul without understanding the context is to miss the message behind the message.
The backdrop, the context for Dietrich’s writings, was abject terror. Horror on a large scale was perpetrated by those who had no regard for human life. Our long, deliberate walk through The Topography of Terror gave us just a bit of that. It was difficult to sleep after that tour.
Discipleship means adherence to Christ, and because Christ is the object of that adherence, it must take the form of discipleship. An abstract Christology, a doctrinal system, a general religious knowledge on the subject of grace or on the forgiveness of sins, render discipleship superfluous, and in fact, they positively exclude any idea of discipleship whatever, and are essentially inimical to the whole conception of following Christ. With an abstract idea it is possible to enter into a relation of formal knowledge, to become enthusiastic about it, and perhaps even to put it into practice, but it can never be followed in personal obedience. Christianity without the living Christ is inevitably Christianity without discipleship, and Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ. — Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
How do you respond to Dietrich’s conclusion, “Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ“?
Context is critically important. To read Dietrich Bonhoeffer without some idea of what he was living going through is to miss a critical step in understanding his writing. In the same way, to read the words of Jesus or the Gospel writers or Paul without understanding the context is to miss the message behind the message.
The backdrop, the context for Dietrich’s writings, was abject terror. Horror on a large scale was perpetrated by those who had no regard for human life. Our long, deliberate walk through The Topography of Terror gave us just a bit of that. It was difficult to sleep after that tour.
Discipleship means adherence to Christ, and because Christ is the object of that adherence, it must take the form of discipleship. An abstract Christology, a doctrinal system, a general religious knowledge on the subject of grace or on the forgiveness of sins, render discipleship superfluous, and in fact, they positively exclude any idea of discipleship whatever, and are essentially inimical to the whole conception of following Christ. With an abstract idea it is possible to enter into a relation of formal knowledge, to become enthusiastic about it, and perhaps even to put it into practice, but it can never be followed in personal obedience. Christianity without the living Christ is inevitably Christianity without discipleship, and Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ. — Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
How do you respond to Dietrich’s conclusion, “Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ“?
Today’s Word: ‘Treasure’ as in… costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it, we would go and sell all that we have.
Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.
Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him. ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
The day began with worship at the Berlin Cathedral. We sat with other worshipers; the sun pouring in through the ancient stained glass, the music of the pipe organ filling the sacred space, and the last not of the choir trailing off for 7 seconds as we helped outr breth.
The day ended with a 2 hour walk throught eh Topography of Terror, the that has served as a congregation sin 1451
Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjacks’ wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices. Grace is represented as the church’s inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing. Since the cost was infinite, the possibilities of using and spending it are infinite. What would grace be if it were not cheap?”
Costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. It is costly because it compels a [person] to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
I was introduced to the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer as a Freshman at Pacifica Lutheran University. That I was introduced to his theology so early in my life is one of my greatest treasures. My life-long Bob friend handed me Bonhoeffer’s “The Cost of Discipleship,” telling me that it would change my life. That was an understatement. I had become a follower of Christ in high school, had experienced some early faith formation, and was in the processing of arranging my theological furniture (or having it arranged for me). When I encountered Dietrich’s statement that “…when Christ calls a [person], he bids [that person] come and die, there was no looking back. Dietrich’s call to follow Christ is rooted deeply in resistance, pressing back on anything and everything that distracts us from the call to be followers, disciples. To be followers of Christ and not count this cost, Dietrich would say, is to cheapen God’s grace which, in the end, was so costly.
In his book, Discipleship, Bonhoeffer draws a clear distinction between costly grace and cheap grace. He writes, “Cheap grace is the mortal enemy of our church. Our struggle today is for costly grace.”
And with that sharp warning to his own church, which was engaged in bitter conflict with the official Nazified state church, Dietrich Bonhoeffer began his book Discipleship (formerly entitled The Cost of Discipleship). Originally published in 1937, it soon became a classic exposition of what it means to follow Christ in a modern world beset by a dangerous and criminal government. At its center stands an interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount: what Jesus demanded of his followers—and how the life of discipleship is to be continued in all ages of the post-resurrection church. “Every call of Jesus is a call to death,” Bonhoeffer wrote.
Nancy Lee and I are in Berlin, Germany studying the life and theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. We’re part of a class taught by Nancy Lee’s good friend and Luther Seminary colleague, Dr. Andrew Root, author of “Bonhoeffer as Youth Worker: A Theological Vision For Discipleship And Life Together.” Our home base is Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s home, where he was arrested on April 5, 1943, by the Gestapo. In the days ahead, I’m inviting you to consider some of Dietrich’s most influential writings.
Bonhoeffer, the author of the Christian classics (The Cost of) Discipleship and Life Together, was born in Breslau in 1906. He and began his journey in church leadership during the rise of the Nazi regime. Although Bonhoeffer did not grow up in a particularly religious home, he announced his plans to join the church when he was fourteen. After earning his doctorate in theology at nineteen and working in churches abroad, Bonhoeffer became a pastor and lecturer in Berlin at twenty-five.
Hitler’s rise to power marked a turning point in Bonhoeffer’s career. Despite the mounting cost, Bonhoeffer spoke out against Hitler’s influence. Frustrated by the unwillingness of church leaders to oppose rampant anti-Semitism, Bonhoeffer helped establish the Confessing Church alongside Martin Niemoller and Karl Barth. Eventually forbidden to teach publicly and forced underground, Bonhoeffer taught seminary students for several years until the Confessing Church grew reluctant to contradict Nazi leadership. Bonhoeffer briefly sought asylum in the United States but returned to Germany after concluding that it was wrong to abandon his friends.
Formerly a pacifist, Bonhoeffer concluded that violence against the Nazi regime was necessary and joined the Abwehr, a German intelligence organization whose primary mission was to assassinate Hitler. Ultimately, Bonhoeffer was arrested for his involvement in helping Jews flee the country. Still, he continued to teach with the help of guards who smuggled out his writing until he was transferred to a concentration camp. When his association with other Abwehr agents was discovered, Bonhoeffer was sentenced to death. He was hanged in April 1945, just weeks before Germany surrendered.
Today’s Word: ‘Okay’ as in… “It’s okay to not be okay.” Thank you, Simone. Thank you, Michael.
For generations, when faced with challenges, people have been told to suck it up, shake it off, or even rub some dirt in it. More than a few times I’ve heard this one rattling around in my head: “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”
How’s that working for you?
If you’ve been watching the Tokyo Olympics this past week, you know that Simone Biles, arguably the greatest gymnast the world has ever seen, made some important decisions regarding her run for another gold medal. During a competition doing what she has done better than anyone else for the past eight years, Simone said, “Nope, my head’s not right, I don’t trust myself.” In the middle of the evening’s gymnastics competition, with the gold medal dangling in the balance, and the whole world watching, Simone put on her white sweatsuit and withdrew from the competition.
Good on ‘ya, girl!
Later that evening, Michael Phelps provided some perspective. With 28 medals, Phelps is the most decorated Olympic swimmer of all time. He’s kind of a big deal. But that doesn’t make him invincible. Michael has talked openly in the media about his struggles, has gotten the help he needs, and has been a strong voice for mental health, reminding everyone that “It’s okay to not be okay.” And yet for the past 18 months as we’ve stared our mortality in the face while navigating a global pandemic, many have still struggled with whether that is, indeed, true.
What we’re discovering is that it is true.
So, how are you doing?
We live in a culture that at best, doesn’t quite know how to process life’s toughest, most perplexing issues; we’d rather sweep them under the rug. And at worst, we can be remarkably judgmental when struggling with the issues of mental wellness. Let’s ask a different question: Are you okay with not being okay? If not, then let’s do what Michael and Simone have modeled for us. Let’s ask for some help.
Today’s Word: ‘halfway’ as in… we’re at about the halfway point of the summer. I know, right? How did that happen?
I’m going out on a limb here, but I think you need a break. Could you use some time to recuperate? Could you benefit from stepping out of the usual rhythms of work into more generative spaces to breathe, slow down, or even stop? Can you set aside a good portion of a day for rest, renewal, restoration, and re-imagination? Can you, in these next seven weeks, find some sabbath in your life?
There is a powerful model for sabbath woven into the Genesis poem. The writer uses these finite words to describe something infinite: “God rested on the seventh day from all the work that had been done…” It goes on to say that God “blessed the seventh day and hallowed it…” The word ‘hallowed’ means to remove something from common usage. It’s as if God removed one day from common usage, perhaps to discover something uncommon. We need days like this. We need uncommon days. We need days that give us a break from the common, ordinary rhythms that knock the living stuffing out of us. We need a day of emptying to create room for something new.
This raises a question. If a sabbath day is a day for being and not doing, how do we experience that? The question isn’t what will we ‘do’ with our sabbath rest. The question is more about ‘being’ in a sabbath place which is far more about our relationship with needing to be busy.
Instead of trying to figure out how to manage a day of rest, maybe the day just gets to manage us. What does that mean? What does that look like? More really good questions. We probably need just one whole day to dwell in that. I know this for sure: Sabbath is life giving. So just chill out a bit, would you? Dial it back, just a bit. Take some time – or rather, just be in the time. Be restful. Be in the margin. Be.
Today’s Word: ‘HUMILITY’ as in… Part Three of some really well developed, finely honed, and helpful thoughts on Humility.
Several of us were wrestling with the complicated issues of humility. That conversation generated a number of really good questions. Among them: “Who do we know who is really humble?” “What does true, honest humility look like in real life?” It wasn’t long before the example of Mother Teresa came up. Just about every one of us around the table agreed that if we looked up Mother Teresa in her High School Yearbook, she would most likely have been voted “Most Humble.” But she wouldn’t have noticed.
We then asked, “Should we be more like Mother Teresa?” To which we all agreed, “Well, yea, for sure!” But then we quickly realized, “Nahhh, that’s not going to happen.”
Nope. That’s not going to happen. And it shouldn’t happen. Here’s why: If’ we’re content to be simply ourselves, we’ll become more than ourselves.”
The question is not how we become more like Mother Teresa. The question is how we become more like our truest, most essential selves that God is creating. The question is not how we respond to Mother Teresa by doing the things she did. The question is, how did Mother Teresa respond to God’s call in her life that allowed her to live into her essential self, and how is God equipping us to do the things that God calls us to do? That’s humility! And that kind of humility creates big changes in the world. It’s that kind of humility that inspires us to respond to God’s call to live in ways that move us into practicing small, simple, seemingly insignificant, random acts of kindness. It’s that kind of humility that moves us to give up our seat on the bus to someone who is standing. It’s that kind of humility that motivates us to bring groceries to an elderly neighbor. It’s that kind of humility that inspires us to practice the kind of generosity that lives into the next generation.
Today’s Word: ‘HUMILITY’ as in… Part Two of some really well developed, finely honed, and helpful thoughts on Humility.
Again, please tell me you caught the irony, if not the sarcasm in that.
In a riveting story from Luke’s Gospel (14:1, 7-11), Jesus watches a group of grown men treating one another like an unruly group adolescents in an elementary school cafeteria. No humility. A great deal of humiliation. I imagine Jesus leaning forward and saying, “Look guys, If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face. But if you’re content to be simply yourself, you’ll become more than yourself.”
Content being yourself leads to becoming more than yourself. That’s money. That’s humility.
The word humility is – no pun intended, grounded and rooted deeply in the Latin word humus, which means earth, or ground, soil, dirt – all of the things gathered up into the hands of God when we were created, and life was breathed into us. We are simply, and essentially humus in God’s hands, constantly being formed and fashioned into the image of God every day; breathed into with the breath of God.
Humility is about embracing our essential, grounded, rooted selves that God is working nurturing. Humility is understanding that we are the humus, the ground, the soil, the holy dirt of the garden that God is growing which will bring more life to the world. When Jesus challenged the dinner guests to stop lifting themselves up by putting everyone else down, he wanted them to see themselves as growing into the people God was creating them to be. Jesus was challenging them to be simply themselves so that God could continue to grow them into who they could become. That’s humility. Humility isn’t something that we learn by studying or trying harder to achieve. Humility isn’t about holding up our false selves to others. Humility is about living into our true selves; living into who God is calling us to be for others. That’s humility.
What resonates most for you with this view of humility?
Today’s Word: ‘HUMILITY’ as in… Part One of some really well developed, finely honed, and helpful thoughts on Humility.
Please tell me you caught the irony, if not the sarcasm in that.
Understanding and practicing humility is complicated. Part of what makes humility such a challenge is the temptation to reduce humility to a checklist of activities that we believe will make us humbler people. For instance, I read an article in Forbes magazine recently that featured “13 Habits of Humble People.” The more I read, the better I felt about myself. I discovered that “Humble people listen well. Humble people put others first. Humble people speak their minds, are good at setting boundaries, have a high degree of Emotional Intelligence. Humble people have a great deal of self-awareness, they have an “abundance” mentality, they take time to say, ‘Thank you.’ Humble people accept feedback, and humble people have a lot of patience.
I’ll just pause for a moment and let you think about that one.
If you were keeping track, that’s 10 out of 13. That’s pretty good! I do have to say, that generally speaking, I am more or less—mostly more—killing it on the “humble-o-meter.” Thankfully, it didn’t take long for me to snap out of that and begin to ask, “Is humility really about crushing a list of behaviors which lead to becoming a humbler person?” Of course not.
In an ancient story from Luke’s Gospel, Jesus attends a dinner party with some Pharisees, a 1st-century group of religious lawyers known for their strict observance of the traditional and written law. They had perfectly mastered keeping all 613 laws which, from their perspective, set them apart from everyone else. While jockeying around the table for the best proximity to the host, they were actually degrading each other and themselves. That’s when Jesus said, “If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face.”
We’ve all been there. Let me ask you: how is this timeless truth true for you? What have you learned from that experience?
Today’s Word: ‘Magnificent’ as in… there are glimpses of “The Magnificent” all around us. There is abundant evidence at every turn that there is indeed Something Greater than all of us put together at work and play right here, right now. If only we had eyes to see.
I’ve read Mary Oliver’s poem “I Wake Close To Morning” countless times. I’m able to recite the first two lines with just the right amount of disbelief. I can speak lines three and four and follow up with “I know, right?” while rolling my eyes. I can even imagine Sheba, the Queen herself in all of her legendary splendor stopping at the crest of the hill, removing her crown and wiping her brow while asking for the map (again!). Then, glancing up, she squints and asks. “Hey Carl, you sure this is it?”
In case you missed it:
Why do people keep asking to see
God’s identity papers
when the darkness opening into morning
is more than enough?
Certainly any god might turn away in disgust.
Think of Sheba approaching
the kingdom of Solomon.
Do you think she had to ask,
“Is this the place?”
Mary Oliver poetically reminds us that it’s all too easy to miss what’s right in front of us because we’re just not looking. There are glimpses of “The Magnificent” all around; ongoing evidence that Something Greater than all of us put together is at work and play right here, right now.
Our five senses are like open windows to this magnificence. Try this: Taste your food. You can’t taste what you don’t savor. Sit down when you eat. Try to avoid eating in your car. Or this: As your garage door opens in the morning, let it be a grand curtain rising on a new day. Watch as it rises. What do you see? Close your eyes for a moment and listen. What do you hear? Birds? Cars? Take a deep breath. What do you smell? Becoming aware of “The Magnificent” in this moment will convince us that this is indeed The Place.
Today’s Word: ‘Encounter’ as in… each encounter brings some measure of change to the world.
Trappist monk, Thomas Merton famously wrote, “True encounter with Christ liberates something in us, a power we did not know we had, a hope, a capacity for life, a resilience, an ability to bounce back when we thought we were completely defeated, a capacity to grow and change, a power of creative transformation.”
This is outside-in work; something that the Spirit initiates, lest we get too full of ourselves. That’s really the good news – it’s the Spirit at work in us. Sometimes it’s just good to be reminded of that.
For the seventeenth year in a row, I had the opportunity to speak with students at Armatage Montessori School in Southwest Minneapolis. Nearly eighty 5th grade students who have been embracing the challenge placed before them by their principal, Joan Franks: “Change the World.” I shared the stories of Zach Bonner, Emily Lopez, and Jackson Kelley. Each one started with a simple idea that inspired them. Before long, their dreams of changing the world became a reality for countless others.
As I challenged the students at Armatage School, let me challenge you. What’s that one thing that’s in you that moves you beyond yourself? What is that one small idea that you believe can make a big difference? It could be any number of things: becoming a friend to someone who doesn’t have a friend or getting some help for someone who is being bullied or inviting someone on the outside to come in where it’s safe on the inside. Maybe the one thing you can do is cheering up someone who is sad, or holding the door open for someone who’s arms are full. It could be that you’ll make a difference by sharing your talents or showing some kindness.
What’s your dream?
I’m encouraging you today to do that one thing that you believe will change your world. That may be one small encounter that brings a big change to the world.
Well, it’s that time again. Commencement exercises are commencing. Graduates are graduating. And speeches are being crafted by speakers who understand that they have one shot, and one shot only to capture, then hold the attention of scores people who are either baking in the sun, huddling under umbrellas, or sitting on unforgiving bleachers and in squeaky metal chairs with only one thing on their mind: The After Party. Undeterred, commencement speakers embrace the challenge to motivate and inspire graduates to put at least the same amount energy into creating the plans for the great work they hope to accomplish in the future as they did in designing the strategies that brought them to this moment in their life.
It’s that time again. But isn’t it always that time? Graduations are happening for all of us every day. We are always commencing from one thing to the next. Seth Godin writes, “Commencement is today. Actually, it’s every day. We talk about graduation as if it’s the end of some journey, but it’s the beginning of one. The chance to see the world differently, to contribute, to understand.”
Did you catch that? “The chance to see the world differently, to contribute, to understand.”
That’s worth graduating toward! That’s the work we must commence every day; embracing opportunities to see the world differently, exploring new and effective ways to contribute, and doing what we must to understand someone else’s perspective.
We can do this by asking three important questions.
What are you ending that makes room for a new beginning?
What have you learned that can enrich the life of someone else today?
What are you good at that can be leveraged to bring greater good to those with whom you live, work and play?
The Apostle Paul, ‘speaking’ to the always-commencing, ever-graduating folks in Philippi wrote this: “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.”
It looked oddly out of place lying in the middle of the intersection. The contents of a bag of groceries were strewn everywhere. As cars and trucks pulled over on both sides of the street, several people ran toward the center of the crosswalk where a woman was lying on the pavement.
I wondered what to do first: call 911, redirect traffic, rush to the woman’s side? But in that very same instant more than a dozen other people were acting on the same instinct. As the scene unfolded, I was amazed by the diversity of those rushing to help. A woman wearing a hijab was the first to come to the fallen women’s side. A delivery service driver standing next to his van was identifying the intersecting streets to a 911 operator. Three others – two young women and a middle-aged man also knelt next to the woman who appeared, thankfully, to be unhurt. She had not been hit by a car. Everyone was relieved as the woman slowly sat up and was helped to the corner where she sat down on the grass surround by people witnessing something greater than anyone expected.
No one held back their compassion and assistance. No one cared what anyone else was wearing. No one gave a second thought to gender, nationality, religious background, spiritual identification, or political view. No one struggled with the age-old question, “Who is my neighbor?” No one even had to wonder. Everyone showed up, grace showed off and the kingdom came into focus.
Brian McLaren, author, speaker, pastor, and teacher suggests several alternative images for the Kingdom of God. Among them, the dream of God, the revolution of God, the mission of God, the party of God, the network of God, the dance of God. They all work. And they all came into beautiful view in the middle of that intersection.
Today’s Word: ‘Windshield’ as in… there’s a reason the windshield is bigger than the rearview mirror. You already know where you’ve been. To get where you’re going, you’ll need to focus forward with intention and purpose.
“What has the pandemic taught you?”
This is one of the most important and frequently asked questions of the past year. It’s been discussed in large and small groups, around dinner tables, in therapy and counselling settings, and on countless Zoom calls. Naturally, there are other versions: “How are you coping?” “What’s been most challenging?” “How’s your mental health?” “Dairy Queen? Again?” All important questions, each one deserving careful time, attention, and grace.
But there is an important shift taking place in many of our conversations. I noticed it beginning mid-to-late-January. And it picked up steam as the rate and pace of vaccinations began to do the same.
In our quest to understand ourselves in a pandemic, we shifted the trajectory of our questions from looking backward into the metaphorical and much smaller rearview mirror to asking questions that had us looking forward, as through a much larger windshield. Shifting our focus from the past toward the future created a new question:
“Between now and the end of the year, what will you live into with intention and purpose?”
Moving into our future together will be challenging. While the impact of the pandemic has been a global experience, our continued response will be a very local and personal experience. The particular ways that we interact, listen to, and care for each other are as unique as each of us. That is why each of us must be clear about the windshield question. Between now and the end of the year, what one thing will you live into with focused attention?
To answer this one big important question we can certainly refer to the rearview mirror. Looking back is instructive. But clearly, most of our attention will be looking ahead, out through the big, beautiful windshield.
You already know where you’ve been. To get where you’re going, you’ll need to focus forward with intention and purpose.
I’m a fan of professional basketball in general, the Golden State Warriors in particular, and of Wardell Stephen “Steph” Curry II specifically.
(Eyes are already rolling. I see you. Go ahead!)
I’ve followed the Golden State Warriors for the past several seasons which, admittedly, has been easy. As a “Non-Fair-Weather-Fan” my interest in the Warriors isn’t just because they have, arguably, the greatest shooter the sport has ever seen, or because it’s abundantly clear that the entire organization genuinely loves one another. My interest is in what fuels this team to play like they play, do what they do, and be who they are. In countless post-game interviews featuring any number of players, I’ve noticed that more than any other word, “joy” is employed to describe the ethos of all things Golden State Warriors. This, of course, comes from the coach, Steve Kerr who is uniquely positioned to speak about joy even, and perhaps especially in the face of adversity.
When Kerr was 18 years old, his father Malcolm H. Kerr, an American academic who specialized in the Middle Eastern Studies, was killed by two gunmen during the Lebanese revolution in 1984. That tragedy shaped Steve Kerr for the rest of his life and he used it to apply focus on his passion, basketball, both as a player and as a coach. As Steve made his way around the NBA, eventually playing for the Chicago Bulls with Michael Jordan, wherever he went he focused on building a culture of joy, mindfulness, competition, compassion.
What sets Steve Kerr apart isn’t that he’s an eight-time NBA champion, five as a player and three as a head coach, or that he has the highest career three-point field goal percentage (45.4%) in NBA history for any player with at least 250 three-pointers made, or that he is coaching future Hall of Fame players including one Wardell Stephen “Steph” Curry II. What sets Steve Kerr apart is that he creates joy in everything he does.
How do you find joy in the face of your greatest challenges?
Today’s Word: ‘Compassion’ as in… showing the compassion of Christ. In Luke 7 Jesus ‘brings back to life’ the son of a grieving mother. Luke tells this story in a way which creates a palpable tension between death and new life. We’re supposed to feel the depth of this pain and loss. We’re supposed to experience the sheer ache of grief here, because the deeper the sense of loss, the greater the sense of new life and resurrection that comes from it.
Luke tells us that the young man who died was “…his mother’s only son.” Think about this: her only son! And as the community is carrying the body of her “only begotten son” to the cemetery, Luke adds this little tidbit: “…and she was a widow.”
She’s lost both her husband and her only son? That would have been a death sentence for her. With her husband gone, her life is waning. Now with her son gone, the grief is immeasurable. She’s alone. And from her perspective, she’s done.
Friends, this is where the kingdom of God breaks into the reality of loss with the message of New Life. Jesus wants this mother to know that in the midst of grief, loss, and death, she is not alone. And she was not done. In a way that she doesn’t understand quite yet, the people of Nain surround her, embrace her, show compassion for her, and they are carrying her too.
Jesus intends to ‘bring back to life’ a sense of compassion in our lives for all of those who are struggling, grieving, experiencing loss and pain. The purpose of this story is to stir up compassion in us for those who are living with grief and loss. So, how will we show the compassion of Jesus for others around us?
This, then, is NOT a story about death. This is a story about life; about lives filled with compassion which leads to action!
So the point is more like this: In Luke 7 Jesus ‘brings back to life’ a sense of compassion in the wider community.
Today’s Word: ‘GENEROSity’ as in… the adjective that describes one of the core rhythms in the lives of those who experience a deeper sense of thriving.
It happened again last week. I got to the pick-up window of my favorite caffeine palace and was ready to pay when the barista said (again) “The person in front of you took care of your coffee.” Whenever that happens there’s a moment that follows, when it’s just beginning to sink in, that the generosity of someone else stirs something inside me. There’s an urge to replicate that moment for others.
In the Christian Scriptures there is an essential list of characteristics that describe thriving, generous people. The list, found in Galatians 5:22-23, includes love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control – fruit of the Spirit. It’s a good list. It’s an important list to pay attention to.
There are some reading this who may have grown up going to bible camp or vacation bible school or Sunday School, or perhaps had a terrific grandmother who taught this ancient wisdom while baking cookies. You may even have learned a song that set these words to music because everything is easier to learn when set to music. But interestingly, that song and most of the newer versions that have followed swapped out the original word, “generosity” with the word ‘goodness’.
What a difference three syllables make.
I dare say we might have “lost something in the translation.”
These ancient words from Galatians (and I’m willing to say that if these words were some of the only words we had, they’d be just enough) are central to our thriving, if not our survival. If we get these few words right, then we get just about everything else right. Right?
Love brings joy which creates peace. In that peace, we experience more patience. When we’re patient there’s more capacity for showing kindness. When that happens, we practice a wider kind of generosity that has the potential to lead an entire community into deeper faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control with one another and the world around us.
Today’s Word: “Verdict”as in… a verdict reached; a verdict announced. Just moments after 3:30PM on the afternoon of April 20, 2021, text messages hit millions of cell phones around the world. The jury in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for the killing of George Floyd on the early evening of May 25, 2020, after just over 10 hours of deliberation had reached a verdict. Then for over 30 minutes it seemed as if those millions of people collectively held their breath together. Finally, just after 4PM CST, the verdict was read. The jury returned guilty verdicts on all three counts: second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. Verdict reached. Verdict read.
In the days since the verdict, conversations about what this means and the ramifications for all of us has gained enormous momentum.
And now, one central question is emerging: What now?
People from nearly every neighborhood in the global community now seem to be expressing cautious hope, tempered joy, guarded optimism, along with sober reflection that while we’ve come a long way, there is still so very far to go.
A generation from now our grandkids along with their children will be facing another verdict. That verdict will be a judgment on how effectively the global family responds to the transcendent call of the ancient prophet Micah to every generation: “…do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”
That verdict will measure our response to these questions: What now? How are we talking to our children about issues of racial justice? Are we standing up for those who cannot stand and speaking for those who have no voice? If not, why not? If so, what works best? Are we eradicating systematic obstacles to equal opportunity and equal justice? Are we investing ourselves in societal change so that trials like this never have to happen again? How well do we love one another?
Our hope is that when asked, the response will be “So say us one, so say us all, we are doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God.
Today’s Word: “Table” as in… moving away from “Us-vs-Them-and-We-vs-They” creates room at the table.
Our society is awkwardly, if not painfully splintered. The work for all who long to make a difference in the world in order to make a different world altogether, is to create a place at the table for everyone. This is not wishful, naïve thinking. There is precedence. Psalm 23:5-6 describes a feast that isn’t as insulated as our imaginations lead us to believe.
I grew up with the idea that the “table prepared for me in the presence of my enemies” was set for me and only me. I even read it with a bit of an attitude.
You know what I mean.
But I got to thinking, what if “my enemies” are thinking the same thing? What if I’m their enemy? What if the “table prepared for me in the presence of my enemies” is a table for everyone, prepared for everyone the midst of everyone? What if, in the act of sitting together, the whole idea of enemies evaporates in the magnitude of the grace that invites us?
I imagine an endless table. Everyone is looking around and thinking the same thing: “How did they get in here? Who invited them?”
Then a voice begins to speak:
“Welcome, everyone.” I know you’re all thinking the same thing: “How did ‘they’ get in here? Who invited ‘them’?” I did because a party just isn’t a party unless everyone is invited. Once we’re all at the table we’re no longer enemies because the table creates friendship. And when you’re my friends, it’s impossible to have enemies. I’m honoring you by anointing your heads with oil, so just watch how your cup overflows with blessing. My goodness and my unfailing love for every one of you will help you shift your thinking from “Us-vs-Them-and-We-vs-They” to everyone together.”
Left on our own, we’ll always be the center of our own universe. “Me” will be the most important word we know. But when we gather together and make room for everyone, the table expands and the feast continues.
Today’s Word: “Urge” as in… are you sensing the urge to consider something completely new?
Henry Ford is credited with saying, “When you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.” He might as well have been quoting Jesus. Although Jesus would have said, “If you want something you’ve never had, you’ve got to do something you’ve never done.”
After Jesus’ death, the disciples returned to what they’d always done. They defaulted to their old ways of life, old habits, rhythms, and patterns. They defaulted to what was familiar, known, measurable, and safe.
“I’m going fishing,” Peter said, and you can almost hear the resignation in his voice.
“We’ll go with you.” the others respond with equal apathy.
They fish all night and get skunked. The next morning Jesus stands on the beach asking them if they’ve gotten anything. “Nope, nothing…” they reply. They’re describing their current reality. But Jesus inserts a “calling” into their current reality and shakes up everything. It’s like a stone is rolled away from the entrances of their new lives.
“Then throw your nets on the other side of the boat and you’ll find some.”
The other side? That’s 6, maybe 10 feet away, right? What possible difference would that make? But remember, “When you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.”
The difference between our current reality and our calling is where resurrection happens. Our current reality is often the place where we are stuck in what’s familiar, known, measurable, and safe. But Jesus enters that resurrected space and urges us to try something completely new. Resurrection invites us into the unknown, unfamiliar, and immeasurable. When we do this, we’re often surprised at the abundance of experience that is unfolding all around us.
So where are you right now? Are you satisfied with what’s familiar, known, measurable, and safe? Or are you sensing the urge to look in a new direction, or perhaps to even jump in and see how you swim? If you want something you’ve never had, you’ve got to do something you’ve never done.
Today’s Word: “Donkey” as in… this beautiful poem by Mary Oliver about the donkey that Jesus rode into Jerusalem.
The story of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem at the beginning of Passover is thick with layers. No detail is too insignificant. For instance, the Gospels of Mark, Luke, and John each refer to only one donkey. In Matthew’s Gospel (21:1-11), Jesus specifically tells his disciples to “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me.”
Why two donkeys? Who knows, really. Except that just about everything that Jesus did had a deep connection to community. Nothing was done in isolation; travel in twos, where two or three are gathered, have them sit in groups, etc. So, we have this beautiful picture of “the donkey and the colt” being brought to Jesus. It’s an image of compassion. The journey through the streets of Jerusalem, with the throngs of people all around Jesus and the donkeys, obviously would have been much easier for the colt if the mother donkey were led together down the same road.
Perhaps even as this week begins, we’re being reminded that any journey is better taken together. Especially the journey into and through this week that we call Holy.
On the outskirts of Jerusalem the donkey waited. Not especially brave, or filled with understanding, he stood and waited.
How horses, turned out into the meadow, leap with delight! How doves, released from their cages, clatter away, splashed with sunlight.
But the donkey, tied to a tree as usual, waited. Then he let himself be led away. Then he let the stranger mount.
Never had he seen such crowds! And I wonder if he at all imagined what was to happen. Still, he was what he had always been: small, dark, obedient.
I hope, finally, he felt brave. I hope, finally, he loved the man who rode so lightly upon him, as he lifted one dusty hoof and stepped, as he had to, forward.
The ground is thawing. Sheets of ice are turning to puddles of water. Mountains of snow piled high by snowplows, snowblowers, and shovels are shrinking by the hour. Winter is loosening its icy grip on everything. Even our hearts are warming. We’re beginning to come back to life.
Yet along with this thaw comes the revisiting of grief.
In the weeks ahead, people will gather to say farewell to loved ones for whom they have already grieved and to whom they’ve already said goodbye. Caught in the double snare of the ravages of COVID19 and a global pandemic along with winter’s icy grip on the earth, many communities have had to forego traditional memorial services and burial practices. Large gatherings have been replaced by more intimate and far too often all-too-brief graveside services. In some areas, conventional in-ground burials have been put on hold until the Spring thaw, and with this thaw comes the work of revisiting grief. As spring-time temperatures rise and vaccination rates continue to climb, people will gather in growing numbers to revisit the grief that had been stuffed away by either convenience or necessity during colder days.
And yet, with this grief comes the reality of an enduring hope.
The days are warming. So too, the ground. So too, our hearts. The hope of spring, along with the promise of the coming season of Easter is that winter will defrost, the snow and ice will melt. There will be a loosening, a warming and as teacher, speaker and writer Anne Lamott reminds us, we will dance again.
“You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.”
Today’s Word: ‘HELP!” as in… asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It is, ultimately, a sign of humanness.
Perhaps you were among the 17.1 million viewers who watched Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex. So much ground was covered in the 110-minute conversation; everything from strained relationships with family members to feeling trapped in one’s own home; from the impact of unfiltered narratives made public in print and social media to confronting racism and possible speculation about a child’s skin color; from episodes of bullying, depression, and suicidal ideation to the effects of silence in the midst of important conversations. In the days since the interview public conversations have take the usual paths of gratitude and ridicule, judgement and empathy, minimization, and acceptance.
At the end of the interview what stood out most for me was the underlying call for help that apparently went unacknowledged. There is a stigma in our modern culture that interprets asking for help as a burden to others and a sign of emotional weakness, an admission of limitations on our part, and it continues to be nearly pandemic in scope, as if we need another one, right? Let me be clear: it is none of those things. Asking for help, seeking assistance, guidance, and perspective is essentially a sign of humanness. Coming to the end of ourselves and finding a caring soul to meet us there is, at the end of the day, a gift of grace!
While it is certainly far too early to call the COVID-19 Pandemic “nearly over and done with” what isn’t nearly over and done with is our shared human struggle to ask for help when we need it. The extent to which we are willing to create safe places, welcome, inviting, and open places for people to share their struggles is the extent to which we will be able to thrive as a spirited, creative connected, present, grateful, generous, and missional culture.
If you need help, ask for help. A courageous, human call for help is just 10 digits away … 800-273-8255.
Today’s Word: ‘March’ as in… march forth! It’s March 4thand the reminder is waiting for me again this morning: “This is your day! Go for it! Just get out there and be in it! It’s March 4th so go do that: march forth!
The enduring challenge of March 4th is to say ‘yes’ to hope, ‘yes’ to the next step, ‘yes’ to putting a shoulder into apprehension, ‘yes’ to staring down fear, and saying “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, but we continue to find ways to “live well, laugh often, love much” even before we’re reminded by the poster.
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 another heartbroken people through a memorial service for their loved one a week ago, 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 open 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 and 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, dear friends! Go for it! Just get out there and be fully in it! It’s March 4th so go do that: march forth!
Today’s Word: ‘Listen’ as in… Mother Teresa’s method of praying.
Some of us were talking together about the purposes and methods of prayer in worship. Sometimes the prayers are spontaneous, verbal responses to what we’ve experienced. At other times, prayers are well-crafted and thoughtful, resembling polished poetry.
I was reminded of the now legendary story of an interview with Dan Rather and Mother Teresa. Rather, an American journalist and former national evening news anchor, asked Mother Teresa about her particular practice of prayer in her life.
Now let’s just pause there for a moment and let that sink in. That’s a great question to ask Mother Teresa. For those who may remember this larger-than-life woman who barely fit into her 5-foot frame, it wouldn’t be a stretch at all to think that her conversations with God could easily have gone on for hours, or, perhaps days.
“What do you say to God when you pray?” Rather asked her. She was thoughtful for a moment, and then answered quietly, “I don’t talk, I simply listen.” After a briefly awkward moment, Rather pivoted, “Ah, then what is it that God says to you when you pray?”
At that moment right there, I imagine the entire audience very subtly leaning forward, holding its breath, awaiting Mother Teresa’s reply to this even better question.
Mother Teresa smiled, and said, “He doesn’t talk either. He listens.”
What goes on when you pray? Do you talk? Is there a list? Do you have a list of agenda items for God to deal with? Does God have a list for you? Do you listen? No judgement on any of that; we all enter into transactions with God from time to time.
But what if the next time you sat quietly to pray, you took a few deep breaths, closed your eyes, and just listened in silence? No words. Scripture characterizes God’s voice as still, small; even a gentle whisper like the wind, a breeze. What if the next time you prayed, you simply said, “I’m here.” and then listened? I suspect God would do the same thing.
The conversation in my small group is exploring what it means to be “fully present” in any given moment. We know that we thrive when we are attentive to what each moment has to teach, but we also struggle with knowing how to be that present, that fully present.
The question arises: “How much time do we waste in between places?” How much time is wasted between our workplace and the grocery store, between the school and the bank, between here, there, and back home again? How much time do we waste in between all those places?
I wrestle with this while waiting at stop lights. I’m approaching the intersection. The traffic light turns from green to yellow. In that split-second before either accelerating or braking I realize there isn’t enough time to safely get through the intersection. So, I hit the brakes, I curse the light, and come to a stop. Time also comes to a stop. In the time between the red and green lights, I wait, the car idles, I’m fuming. Fingers tapping on the steering wheel betray a deeper restlessness. The light turns green and off I go, still fuming. Wasted time.
It’s Lent. It’s the season for slowing down, for coming to a full stop. It’s time to reconsider what it means to be in the moment between all our moments. It’s time to ask if that time really isn’t wasted at all. What if the time in between time has a purpose? What if the time in between all that you do today provides the opportunity to notice what is really going on: people walking, runners running, flags blowing in the breeze, red cardinals heckling squirrels at the feeder?
Time flies. But what if the time in between all that we do today allows us to really see what we would have missed if we had raced through the intersection? What if that time in between time is really the gift of grace in the present moment unfolding right in front of us?
Today’s Word: ‘Instructions” as in… Mary Oliver’s Instructions for Living a Life.
In early 2019 the world was diminished ever so slightly by the passing of a bright poetic light. Mary Oliver was an American poet who won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. Her vast work was inspired by nature, stemming from her lifelong passion for solitary walks in the wilderness. In 2007 she was declared to be the country’s best-selling poet. Krista Tippett, the creator/host of “On Being” had the rare opportunity to interview Oliver in 2015, and in a subsequent program described her as “among the most beloved writers of modern times. Amidst the harshness of life, she found redemption in the natural world and in beautiful precise language.”
It’s the beautiful and precise language of Mary Oliver that fuels me so often. This week, Mary Oliver’s “Instructions For Living a Life” has been inspiring me to live as intentionally as I am able. In her poem, “Instructions For Living a Life,” Mary writes:
Tell about it.”
Far be it from me to dissect or deconstruct the words of such a master. Perhaps the best we can do is allow Mary’s Oliver’s poem to be the momentum for life today.
So pay attention, be more fully aware than you usually are. See the children sledding down the hill? They laugh, they run, they are lost in the play! Pay attention!
Notice what that scene does to you. The delight of those kids on that hill stirs something in you, doesn’t it? Isn’t it astonishing how that scene takes you back years or even decades to a long ago time, in a far distant town, on a long forgotten hill where you spent countless hours during timeless days? Be astonished!
There are stories in you that you long to share. Stories of pain, joy, hurt, healing. Stories of sorrow turned to celebration that long to come to light. Mary Oliver’s poetry was created in that crucible, and yet, even today her light still shines brightly. Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.
Today’s Word: ‘Marked’ as in… I’m a marked man. You’re a marked woman. We’re a marked people.
If the central message of the season of Advent (the four week preparation for Christmas) is “God With Us…” then the central message of the season of Lent (the forty day preparation for Easter) is “God For Us…” For a lot of us who may have grown up with the message that God is, quite frankly, “Out to get us” this may take a bit of unpacking. Let me see if I can help.
“God for us.” Let’s just hold that for a moment; let’s not rush it. “God for us.”
In fact, let’s repeat that phrase three times, each time emphasizing each subsequent word. Say it with me:
“God” for us.
Next, God “for” us.
Finally, God for “us.”
“God for us.” That’s the message of the season of Lent. That is the spirited oxygen that we breathe together that gives us life and more life. And after a long season of a global pandemic, the ravages of COVID-19, racial injustice, the unrest and reckoning, and a political season that threatened to undo us, if ever there was any really good, “this-really-changes-everything” news, this is it: God is for us.
The ashes on our forehead remind us that we are dust and to dust we shall return. We are mere mortal. That message is intended to unsettle us at least, and undo us at most. But it’s in our unsettled and undone lives that this good news also has the power to set us free from that which threatens to unsettle and undo us, and to set us free for all that God is up to in the world through us. God is with us, God is in our corner, by our side! God is for us.
By now, the ashes on our foreheads have disappeared; wiped off, washed away. But what remains, and will not fade is the good news that we’re set free as marked people, called to partner together for the dream of God, for the mission of God, for the party, the network, the dance, the commonwealth, the revolution of God that is always unfolding all around us.
Today’s Word: ‘Post-It’ as in… the important note I wrote myself:
“Where are you right now? Come back.”
My natural tendency is to jump ahead, to think about what’s next. Because I’m thinking about being “there” in the next moment I often miss some of the deepest joy of being here in this moment. I’ve had to work on slowing down, coming to a full stop in order to be here, now, in this moment.
The art of coming back takes effort, but here’s how I roll with it: If you and I are talking, and I’m mentally somewhere else, I need help to come back.
To do that, I do three things.
First, I breathe. Taking time to focus on the rhythm of my breathing helps me come back. Andy Puddicombe, the co-founder and host of Headspace, the meditation platform, has taught me how to focus on breathing; specifically, the sensation of the rising and falling of my chest. When I focus on my breathing and what’s going on with my body, I’m more able to come back to you from wherever I was a moment ago.
Second, I savor. While you’re talking to me, I’m resisting the urge to figure out where you’re going with the conversation. Instead of managing the destination of your train of thought, I let myself be the passenger. I’m along for the ride. I savor your words as they roll out. I hear them. I listen to them. And when I catch myself formulating my next sentence as you’re still talking, I come back to the breath and savor the moment.
Finally, I dwell. A deep breath opens me up to this moment with you. I’m here, now, listening, savoring, hearing. When we allow ourselves to dwell in the present moment, we arrive at the invitation to be awake, aware, and available to what’s going on right here, right now in this moment.
It’s in this moment of awakening, of coming to a deeper awareness and availability of what’s actually happening right here, right now that we experience thriving life, and more life.
Today’s Word: ‘Candlemas’ as in… the ancient festival of light marking the shortest and darkest days of the year.
According to the ancient Celtic calendar, each year is marked by the two solstices and the two equinoxes. At the Winter Solstice, between December 21 or 22 in the Northern Hemisphere, the days are the shortest of the year. At the Summer Solstice, between June 20 and June 22 in the Northern Hemisphere, the days are the longest of the year. At the Autumn Equinox in September, and the Spring Equinox in March, the days are exactly as long as the nights. The days that mark the halfway point between these four celestial events are traditionally named “cross-quarter days” as they fall between the quarters markers.
Candlemas is celebrated on February 2, the date that falls halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. It is a hope-filled celebration of the noticeable lengthening of the days. Winter is waning. Early Christian communities would gather to prepare wax for the dipping of candles and clergy would provide a blessing as the candles were distributed to the wider community.
Candlemas also marks 40 days after the birth of Jesus; a holy day (holiday) of purification with the candles representing the purifying nature of light, both spiritually and physically, the light of Christ among us. The author of 1 John writes this: 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.
The days are lengthening. we are one minute, one hour, one day closer to the longest days of the year. In the meantime, let each of us reflect the light of Christ day and night. Let the light of Christ shine into every dark corner we can find. And when the darkness overtakes us and pushes us back and presses us to the edges of ourselves, may we discover even there, the light of Christ.
Today’ Word: ‘Interruption’ as in… what if an interruption was really just an invitation?
I follow a well-worn daily rhythm nearly every day. I do an early morning workout, get myself ready for the day ahead, kiss Nancy Lee au revoir, head to the caffeine palace drive-through before settling into my favorite little corner of creativity for some meditation and devotional time using the Headspace and Lectio 365 apps. After that I do some journaling and reading, and then move through the day with my “Ta-Dahhh! list. This is a good, creative, thriving rhythm for me. And it all goes very well until I’m interrupted by something or someone who needs me.
We all experience interruptions. Think about the last time you were interrupted. An email from a coworker pops up on your screen: “Coming to the meeting?” A text message from your bank: “Did you intend to spend this amount on that item?” A call comes from your granddaughter: “Will you make the cheesecake for my birthday party?” The possibilities for interruptions are seemingly endless. Circumstances arise which demand that we set aside whatever rhythm we were in and ‘pivot’ in an entirely different direction. That’s happened to me hundreds of times. And if you’re like me and thousands of others just like us, sometimes interruptions can seem like an inconvenience.
But they don’t have to be.
What if there were ways to reframe interruptions? What if we trained ourselves to treat the interruption as an invitation? What if we understood the interruption as an invitation to experience something we might otherwise have missed? What if we treated the interruption as an invitation to bring goodness, kindness, love to someone, to expand love, to help another human being thrive? What if we treated the interruption as an invitation to see Christ in that moment? What if we welcomed the interruption as the visible, tangible presence of Jesus in our lives? That could change everything.
Interruptions are not going away. Interruptions are part of the rhythm of our lives together.
How we respond to them, though, makes all the difference.
“…speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.
We all have a voice. That matters. But what matters more is what we choose to give voice to and how we choose to do that. Does what we say tear down or build up? How we answer that question matters most.
By the evening of January 6, 2021, I was nearly voiceless. I was a jumble of raw emotions because of what I had seen taking place earlier that afternoon in Washington DC. I had no idea how to respond. I was adrift, floundering somewhere in that thin space between feeling equal parts anger, disbelief, fear, grief, and despair, and that very odd sensation that we call “numb.” The only relief I found was from a Lutheran pastor in Denver who tweeted this encouragement: “Don’t expect yourself to be productive right now.” I don’t like feeling numb. I don’t like not being able to speak into very difficult situations with calm, clarity and direction. But on Wednesday evening I was without words, without a voice, and feeling numb.
What to do? What to say? How does one respond to the madness that we saw?
I’ve been doing some intentional study on the difference between “Limiting Beliefs” and “Liberating Truths.” Limiting Beliefs are attitudes that we embrace about ourselves, about others, about the world. Limiting Beliefs are rooted in scarcity thinking and cause us to be risk-averse, complacent, stagnant, prone to defeat, cynical and stingy. Limiting Beliefs tells us that the world is mess, that there is a powerful minority wholly uninterested in what is good for the majority of the world, and at the end of the day we don’t have what we need to navigate any of that. That was the limiting belief that I had taken hold of me as the sun went down on Wednesday, January 6, 2021.
Liberating Truths, on the other hand, are rooted in an abundance mindset and help us orient our lives toward health and wholeness. With an abundance mindset we are much more likely to be adventurous, ambitious, hopeful realists, generous, open-handed and open-hearted. Liberating truths boldly proclaim that the beauty of the world far outweighs the mess we’ve made of it, and that there are so many more kind and generous people bringing so much more goodness into the world. That was the liberating truth that longed to lean into as the sun came up on Thursday, January 7, 2021.
Since last week when an angry mob entered the Portico on the west side of the Capitol building in Washington DC and smashed their way into the Rotunda and into the sacred halls and inner chambers of our Democracy, I’ve wrestled with the limiting belief that my one voice isn’t strong enough, clear enough, compelling enough to make a difference in the world. I hear a whisper attempting to tell me that I don’t have any real helpful perspective, no salient point of light to lodge against any counterpoint of darkness, that I don’t have enough breath in my lungs to speak against the high tide of evil, that I don’t have a clear word of hope that can bring change in the lives of others. It’s a wretched kind of whisper. And this is a challenge, of course, because for as long as I can remember my highest joy has been to bring a deepened sense of spirited adventure and creative wonder to every encounter by helping others explore the depth of life through the Jesus tradition.
And that’s where the liberating truth comes from.
The counter to the Limiting Belief is the Liberating Truth. Let me be clear: the liberating truth isn’t just a bit of positive thinking. It’s a statement of purpose that propels us forward and has the effect of actually creating goodness, wholeness, life and more life. I am now declaring this Liberating Truth:
“Yes, the world can be a really messy place, but I am here to bear witness to the Light, the Source, the Spirit and the Word – the Good News that out of chaos comes order, out of darkness comes light, out of death comes new life. And I bear witness to that Good News by realizing that my voice is strong enough, my voice is clear enough, that my voice is compelling enough to make an impact on the world, one person at a time.”
David Wood, a friend of mine, is the Senior Minister at Glencoe Union Church in Glencoe, Illinois. In a stirring and compassionate letter to his congregation last week after the events on Wednesday afternoon, David wrote this:
“There are moments we live through in our common life when we know we are living through a moment that will be remembered, collectively, as a turning point in our lives. [January 6, 2021] was one of those days. There are days we live through when we are jolted into a new, unshakable recognition of the precarity of things we hold most dear. In such moments we know, as never before, what is required of us if those things are to endure. [January 6, 2021] was one of those days.”
I deeply appreciate David’s voice. Much will be required of us. January 6, 2021 was a turning point in our lives. And to be sure, more days and more turning points are coming. But the extent to which we acknowledge that each of us has a voice is the extent to which we will recreate a world that is filled less with the darkness of another day of pain and violence, but more with the light of the Epiphany – people from near and far gathering to worship – of all things – a baby, the Prince of Peace.
Centuries ago the Apostle Paul used his voice to urge Followers of Jesus to use their voice to speak words of love. By doing so, we grow up into Christ, the Living Word, the Living Voice which creates love and more love, life and more life. We all have a voice. What matters most is what we choose to give voice to and how we choose to do that.
What’s your Liberating Truth? Use your voice to speak it.
Today’s Word: ‘Light’ as in… the light of love in the face of hate will always prevail against the darkness of violence in the face of fear.
The dust is still settling in Washington DC. While tempers are still elevated, some semblance of order is being restored as the collective blood pressure of a nation divided is showing some signs of returning to a previous level. Although we’ll never be able to call that level “normal” again.
On Wednesday, January 6, 2021, millions of people around the world watched in disbelief and even horror as the halls of the Capital in Washington DC were filled with hate, darkness, violence and fear. A friend described it this way: “I watched in utter disbelief as the rioting hoard mobbed the Portico on the west side of the Capitol building, smashing their way into the Rotunda and into the sacred halls and chambers of our Democracy.”
On Wednesday evening, I began to notice what I was experiencing: equal parts of disorientation, nausea, anger, disbelief and powerless. The only relief I had was this tweet: “Don’t expect yourself to be productive right now.” I was feeling numb, which seems, even now, to be so counterintuitive.
Dr. Martin Luther King once wrote: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it … I have decided to stick to love…Hate is too great a burden to bear.” These words, of course, echoing even more ancient words: “There is a light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it.” (John 1:5)
Our response in the face of hate and fear is the light of the love that continues to push back against violence and darkness. That light and that love, once born in a stable in Bethlehem, is constantly being reborn through us.
The light still shines. And against the darkness of violence in the face of fear, that Greater Light will always prevail.
Today’s Word: ‘Peace’ as in… A Prayer for Peace as we welcome the new year by Saint Francis De Sales.
There are moments when we hear ancient words spoken in a way that cause us to pause or perhaps even to stop, to really listen, to fully hear words that both comfort us because of what has been and inspire us for what can and will be. Saint Francis de Sales’s Prayer For Peace does just that.
Francis was born in France in August of 1567. His entire childhood was filled with the rigors of study. Historians tells us that he was a successful student at Paris, France and Padua, Italy, eventually becoming a lawyer. But while his mother loved him and his father had wonderful plan for his life, Francis had other ideas. His vocation was to become a priest, but he didn’t have the courage to tell his father until he was 26 years old. Francis was well regarded for his deep faith and his gentle approach to the religious divisions in his homeland because of the Protestant Reformation. He is remembered today for his writings on spiritual direction and spiritual formation.
Saint Francis de Sales’ Prayer for Peace is powerful for us as we enter a new year. While we’re more than content to let the old year pass, we also have no illusions about the challenges that are still before us. But these words – especially spoken by a child remind us that peace is at hand:
Do not look forward in fear to the changes in life;
rather, look to them with full hope that as they arise,
God, whose very own you are,
will lead you safely through all things;
and when you cannot stand it,
God will carry you in His arms.
Do not fear what may happen tomorrow;
the same understanding Father who cares for
you today will take care of you then and every day.
He will either shield you from suffering
or will give you unfailing strength to bear it.
Be at peace,
and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations.
Today’s Word: ‘LOVE’ as in… Love is going to change you this Christmas. That’s the gift!
While I’ve always tried to draw an imaginary line between Advent as the “Season of Love” and Christmas as the “Season of Gift,” it’s difficult for me not to blur them into one big season of “Love/Gift.” How very binary of me, right?
Advent is the “Season of Love” –
The season of love that encourages us to think more about others than ourselves; the season of love that motivates us to consider how we might enrich the lives of others; the season of love that moves us to offer gifts of love with a little surprise added.
In chapter 2 of Luke’s gospel, Mary’s Magnificat captures the essence of the gift of God’s love in Christ with these words:
My soul sings in gratitude. I’m dancing in the mystery of God. The light of the Holy One is within me and I am blessed, so truly blessed. This goes deeper than human thinking. I am filled with awe at Love whose only condition is to be received…It’s the Love that we are made for, the reason for our being. It fills our inmost heart space and brings to birth in us, the Holy One.”
Christmas is the “Season of Gift” –
The season of unwrapping the gift of God in Christ; the season of discovering the extravagant lengths to which God is willing to go to show us amazing grace and awesome love; the season of opening ourselves up to the radical nature of “the Word becoming flesh and blood, and moving into the neighborhood.”
Both Advent and Christmas are filled with wondrous gifts. But a gift isn’t something we get for ourselves; that’s called a purchase. A gift is an act of love that is shared with others. That’s called a sacrifice. And yet, a gift of sacrificial love for someone else is going to demand that we give something up. We give up part of ourselves to make room for the gift that love creates.
Love is costly
In my family we often to those beautiful moments when we’re sure we can’t possibly love each other any more than we do at that moment as “knowing high cost of loving so deeply.” Love is costly. When we go all-out for the sake of love, some will think we’re nuts to give of ourselves so unconditionally, so extravagantly without any expectation of something in return. And yet, there’s a gift in that.
Love is painful
There will be times when we want to quit. There will be times when we look in the mirror at ourselves and think “You don’t have it, you never did. It’s not going to work. You’re an imposter. Go back to bed.” And yet, there’s a gift in that.
Love is inspirational
Love is what happens when the Spirit breathes into us – literally “inspires” us to do what we do for the sake of love. When we feel as if we’re nearly out of oxygen, can’t go one more step, Spirit blows in us, through us, reminding us that every breath is a gift.
Love is healing
When we give ourselves away – when the love of God in Christ is birthed through us into the lives of others, birth happens, new life happens. Others “come back to life” when we embody the love and grace, the compassion and mercy that God breathes through us to others.
Love is transformational
Love changes things. Love changes the world. Love changes others. Love changes us. Love changed everything when Jesus, the Bread of Life was born in Bethlehem – literally, the “House of Bread.” Bread becomes the gift of food that God provides out of love for all humankind, so that we, in turn may partner with God in that love for one another.
For thousands of years and for millions of people, the gift of Advent/Christmas love continues to change everything one moment at a time, one person at a time, one gift at a time.
Love is going to change you this Christmas. That’s the gift!
Today’s Word: ‘PEACE’ as in… let’s slow down today. Let’s be still long enough to hear the unmistakable voice of John Lennon singing, “Give Peace A Chance.”
We’re somewhere in the middle of the season of Advent. Christmas is approaching. Tomorrow is almost here and I’m still trying to catch up to last week. I found the Yule Log in a mislabeled box in storage, but the candles that go with it are still missing! While it’s a bit on the balmy side, winter has arrived and my favorite gloves are still in a plastic bin in the crawl space next to a box of lights that need to be tested to see if they work before I put them up! There are several parts This “Holiday Season” already feels overwhelming! Every year I promise to slow down, be still, and give peace a chance. But finding peace is always the greatest challenge. And to be honest, that’s probably because being still is always a challenge.
The Gospel writer Mark tells a story about Jesus, the disciples and a storm. It’s “dark,” they’re “going in a different direction,” they’re “alone” and they’re on “a lake.” One rich metaphor after another! It’s a perfect storm. So, of course a storm arises and threatens everything. “Peace. Be still!” Jesus says. Isn’t it fascinating how peace and stillness go together!
Here’s the story from Mark 4:35-39…
“When evening had come, Jesus said to them, “Let’s go across to the other side.” Leaving the crowd, they got into the boat. A great windstorm arose and the waves were tossing them. Jesus was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. So they woke him up and said, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Jesus rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.”
On this particular day in this particular season of advent, let me just invite you to be still and give peace a chance by considering the calming presence of the coming Christ who is always present, meets us in every moment, and invites us to be still and give peace a chance!
Today’s Word: ‘HOPE’ as in… The season of Advent is a season of longing for hope. Václav Havel was a writer and a former dissident who served as the last President of Czechoslovakia until the dissolution of Czechoslovakia in 1992, and then as the first President of the Czech Republic until 2003. He once famously said, “Hope is definitely not the same as thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well. But the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out.”
We’re ten months into what someone recently characterized as “the long season of hopelessness.” Even equipped with my own filter of positivity, I’d have to agree that, well, there certainly have been moments. But let’s be clear: the apparent absence of hope does not contradict the reality of hope’s presence. God’s promise of hope was given precisely because we so often experience an absence of hope.
We have hope in the midst of hopelessness. From the challenges of a pandemic, to the division in our country, and racial disparity, the hope that we have reminds us that our circumstances are met with God’s promise to be fully present with us. Our prayer in this hopeful season of Advent is that we’ll acknowledge our discontent, our frustration, our anxiety—and that we’ll be renewed by the hope and promise of God with Us – Emmanuel.
This doesn’t change the circumstances we find ourselves in; it changes us and how we view our circumstances; it changes our perspectives.
That hope, then, begins to brighten even the darkest corners of our daily lives and allows even more light to shine from this promise: “For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the hope of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.” That’s good news!
So light the candle! Call it your Hope Candle. Notice how the candle’s flame illuminates the hope of Christ with you, Christ in you, Christ through you.
Today’s Word: ‘Shoot’ as in… “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.”
2020 seems to have been on fire since it began. Fires have ravaged several Western States with California being particularly hard hit. As of November 24, 2020, over 9,279 fires have burned 4,359,517 acres, which is more than 4% of the state’s roughly 100 million acres of land, making 2020 the largest wildfire season recorded in California’s modern history. But that isn’t the end of the story. We know from history that new life will emerge. From burned-out stumps, green shoots will reappear as new forests began taking root. From scorched prairies, new grasses will grow again. From poisoned rivers, lakes, and streams, new habitats will support new life.
The ancient prophet Isaiah still tells a similar story. We’re continually pointed toward the hope of new things to come!
“A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.”
Advent hope announces that from the scorched earth of our relational terrain comes the promise of new growth through renewed caring and serving. Advent hope promises that in spite of the bridges we’ve burned, the power and promise of forgiveness remain. Advent hope assures us that the damage done by heated, destructive arguments will be soothed by the cool water of the spirit of wisdom and understanding. Advent hope reminds us that in spite of the seeds of discontent and self-centeredness that choke the roots of healthy lives, the soil of our lives can be renewed. Advent hope assures us that even out of devastating loss in our lives comes the promise that we will be found.
How does the promise of something new rising out of something old give you hope today?
Today’s Word: ‘Wonder’ as in… Advent continues to be a powerful season of hopeful wonder!
As the first week of the season of Advent comes to a close and makes way for the opening of the week to come, we have reason to be hopeful as we continue to wonder about a lot of things…
We wonder about the health and wellbeing of our friends and loved ones as we continue to hope for a resolution of the global pandemic. We wonder about students young and old, hoping that they can continue to navigate the challenges of distance learning, remote exploration, and digital conversations. We wonder about the season of Christmas and hope that our celebrations will, even if in some small ways, meet at least some of the expectations that we have – especially in a year like this.
We wonder about these and so many other things. And in the midst of all of our wondering, we are still hopeful people.
In this season of wonder and waiting, of hope and expectation, we long to hear the hope-filled Birth Story once again, and we wonder what it will birth in us, what it can possibly reveal in a new way this time around.
In these shortest days of the year, we look for light. With colored lights on our trees and with flashing decorations on our homes, we wonder about the Great Light and how it shone in the night sky so long ago. We are filled with wonder about how it led people to the stable; how it brought both the rich and poor, the mighty and lowly, into the stable and right next to the manger.
The Gospel writer Luke reminds us, “There will be signs in the sun, the moon and the stars … now when these things take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:25a, 28).
What part of the wonder of Advent is most hopeful for you?
What do you most fear about this season and what brings you the most joy?
Today’s Word: ‘Joy’ as in… joy transcends human experience and is not dependent upon outward circumstances.
Joy Cowley is a writer and poet from Featherston, New Zealand. In her poem “Modern Magnificat” she aptly captures the of Mary’s song:
“My soul sings in gratitude. I’m dancing in the mystery of God. The light of the Holy One is within me and I am blessed, so truly blessed. This goes deeper than human thinking. I am filled with awe at Love whose only condition is to be received…It’s the Love that we are made for, the reason for our being. It fills our inmost heart space and brings to birth in us, the Holy One.”
Did you catch it? Both happiness and joy (no pun intended!) are palpable in Mary’s song. But there’s a difference between the two. Happiness tends to be achieved externally, while joy is something achieved internally.
We feel happy when we achieve an award or receive an honor. This happiness comes from the outside, from an external source. A friend gives us a gift and we’re delighted in the moment. We’re suddenly happy, we laugh, we cry, and then go through the ritual of catching ourselves wanting to hug one other, and resort to air high-fives. That’s happiness as a result of outward circumstances.
Joy, on the other hand, has an internal source; it comes from “somewhere way down deep.” We can experience joy in both positive and negative circumstances. We receive a text, an email, or phone call that a friend of ours has lost a parent. Our hearts are heavy, thoughts and prayers take us deeply into our friend’s grief. At the same time, we experience a depth of joy for that loved one’s life. We feel this joy for days.
Ponder these questions:
How have you experienced the difference between happiness and joy?
Can you think of a time when you experienced joy in the midst of challenge?
Simply put, happiness is mostly dependent upon outward circumstances and fades over time. The experience of joy transcends human experience and leads toward enduring gratitude.
Today’s Word: ‘Longing’ as in… for people who long for joy, Mary’s story inspires trust that God will lead us forward into joy, even as we continue to make our way through challenging times.
Imagining young Mary, we may see her wearing softened shades of blue and white, sitting on a donkey, praying with her head bowed, a halo glowing behind her head. Many traditional images show a sweet, beautiful, innocent, and probably a fair-skinned girl. These are common perceptions of Mary before we start peeling away a couple thousand years of Western culture.
To fully appreciate the power of Mary’s prayer, let’s consider the dire context of her sung response. When the Messenger announced that she would become pregnant and give birth to the Messiah, Mary was ‘much perplexed’, ‘thoroughly shaken’. Her soul was ‘greatly troubled’ by this ‘disturbing’ news. Because Mary was about thirteen years old, a virgin and about to become pregnant without a husband, she was understandably afraid for her life. In the first century being connected to a husband was mostly about security. Growing into adulthood was hard enough but doing so without the social connection of a male was dangerous. The engagement could be called off. Mary could be canceled by her culture for the shame of it all, leaving her physical, emotionally, spiritually, psychologically, and otherwise utterly abandoned. Becoming pregnant was, for Mary, like receiving a death sentence.
Let’s just pause and consider some questions…
Over the past several months have you experienced moments that you would describe as dire?
Has your heart ached about anything?
Has your soul been troubled at all?
Have there been days that have left you confused by what you’ve seen, heard, or read in the media?
Have you felt isolated, worried that being exposed or exposing someone else to the coronavirus might be a death sentence?
Mary’s story and our stories really aren’t far apart. For people who long for joy, this is a story that inspires trust that God will lead us forward into joy. Even as we continue to make our way through challenging times.
Today’s Word: ‘Magnificat’ as in… the ancient song that begins with these lyrics: “My soul magnifies the Lord…”
A popular local radio station well-known for featuring classic hits for roughly 46 weeks out of the year switches to “All-Christmas-All-The-Time” from the middle of November through December 25th. At any hour of the day you’ll hear Christmas favorites from the likes of Elvis, John Legend, Kelly Clarkson, Perry Como, Faith Jackson, Frank Sinatra, Michael Bublé, and even Yogi Yorgesson singing “I Yust Go Nuts at Christmas…”
But there is one song you won’t hear. It’s called “The Magnificat” which is Latin for ‘Magnify’.
Long ago and far away a young girl by the name of Mary was inspired to sing this song. What is remarkable, however, is that while her song was inspired by angst and terror, she was also filled with a deep sense of hope, peace, joy and love. The Magnificat is Mary’s joyful response to the announcement that God would partner with her to gift the world with the Savior, the Messiah, Jesus.
I just want you to read the words of her song in Luke 1:46-55. Notice especially what catches your attention. What words or phrases stand out for you?
“I’m bursting with God-news; I’m dancing the song of my Savior God. God took one good look at me and look what happened—I’m the most fortunate woman on earth! What God has done for me will never be forgotten, the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others. His mercy flows in wave after wave on those who are in awe before him. He bared his arm and showed his strength, scattered the bluffing braggarts. He knocked tyrants off their high horses, pulled victims out of the mud. The starving poor sat down to a banquet; the callous rich were left out in the cold. He embraced his chosen child, Israel; he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high. It’s exactly what he promised, beginning with Abraham and right up to now.”
Today’s Word: ‘Normal’ as in… the normal we knew isn’t the normal we’ll know.
If I’ve heard it once I’ve heard it a thousand times over the past several months: “I hope we can get back to normal!” I’m going out on a limb here, but I’m willing to bet you‘ve said that a time or two yourself. And why not? There hasn’t been a time quite like this that any of us can remember. When we talk about ‘getting back to normal’ someone should really set us down and gently remind us that we’re not going back to any version of normal that we once knew. We’ll only be going forward to the way it will be. The normal we knew isn’t the normal we’ll know.
That’s the ‘next normal.’ And that is very good news.
That’s why this season of Advent is so important for us as we continue our momentum not just toward Christmas, but into the year to come.
We’ll need to create the ‘next normal’ that‘s filled with hope even in the midst of the isolation of a pandemic. We’ll need to create a ‘next normal’ in which we can experience peace or joy even when it feels a lot like we’re losing more than we’re gaining on just about every level. We’ll need to create a ‘next normal’ even while we’re questioning if it’s possible to know the depth and power of love when we can’t be with those we love.
Moving from the normal we knew toward the normal we’ll know provides opportunities to reframe everything. In these days of Advent we are clinging to the Good News that in midst of all that we may not know, there is one thing that we absolutely do know: that the coming birth of the baby, Jesus, the Savior changed everything two-thousand years ago. And that birth is still changing everything right now. The old normal, the one that we had gotten so used to experiencing on a daily basis is long gone.
2020 has been a bit of a blur, to say the least. Just one year ago at this time as we entered the season of Advent, it was mostly Christmas we were planning for. Within a matter of weeks we were making plans to office from home while others were planning funerals. Come, Lord Jesus.
By April we had a new vocabulary. Words and phrases like quarantine, super-spreader, cluster, asymptomatic, and flattening the curve were part of our daily conversations. Come, Lord Jesus.
By May we had witnessed rampant spreading of an invisible killer. The deaths were mostly on the coasts but the trend was beginning to move toward the Midwest. If we could have, we’d have turned our eyes away from the nightly news and images of refrigerator trucks parked behind hospitals. Come, Lord Jesus.
Then there was George Floyd. Then there was an election. Come, Lord Jesus.
Advent is upon us. It is the season of waiting and wanting, looking and longing, a journey through a wilderness that leads to a manger where Jesus was born. Was it a cave? Was it a stable? Was it a barn? It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that our hearts become the (re)birth place for Jesus because when Christ is (re)born in us, we carry the Christ-love to others.
Moving into 2021 might just include standing with a coworker who is planning a memorial service for a loved one.
It might just include learning the new language of love for those who have come to the end of themselves but don’t yet understand that Christ meets them there and you’re the one conveying that love.
It might just include being okay with not knowing what to say when hearts are broken, when hope has run out, when others are wondering if there is any good news at all. The response to that is simply “Yes!” There is good news. Advent is upon us. The hope of Christ coming into our world and into our lives is the good news. Come, Lord Jesus.
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!