Animated

Today’s Word: ‘animated‘ as in… Mickey, Pinocchio, Woody, and a mysterious girl name Lisa all have this 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. So, 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 the 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 is that they’re all animated,  brought to life by someone else. Mickey was animated by Ub Iwerks and a guy named Walt who had a thing for theme parks. Woody was animated by Bud Luckey. Pinocchio was animated by Carlo Lorenzini Collodi, a children’s book author. In early 1542, Lisa Gherardini’s husband hired Leonardo to paint her portrait. Lisa’s smile is what brought her to life and apparently launched a thousand ships. And it’s her smile that continues to animate that timeless painting.

So, who animates you? Who brings you to life? The artists brought these characters to life; they 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: brings life to our lives. The extent to which we acknowledge that the Spirit brings us shape, form, and function is the extent to which we’ll continue to bring joy, wonder, beauty, grace, and some mystery to others.

#100days50words

Inspired

Today’s Word: ‘inspired’ as in… those moments in life that either take our breath away or breathe new life into us. Or both.

The basic trajectory of every human life is to move through each present moment toward an ever-more generative future. Understanding that our breath has a purpose, that it comes from the Source 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 breathe life into their lives. The purpose of this ongoing inspiration is to breathe life into us as we 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, sights I’ve seen, music I’ve created, meals I’ve shared, countless breath-quickening moments with Nancy Lee, our kids, and our grandkids, are all equally breathtaking and breath-giving, each one a heart-pumping and life-inspiring gift.

On this long list, somewhere, is the experience of hiking the Superior Hiking Trail. Traversing into deep forests, over streams, through prairies, and up challengingly steep hillsides would frequently bring me to a high ridgeline. The reward was always a spectacular view of the Superior National Forest on one side and Lake Superior on the other. With my heart pounding, I’d hold the image, then close my eyes for just a moment setting the inspiring scene into my memory. Then, I’d intentionally receive twelve deep breaths, slowing my heart rate down enough to appreciate the scene more fully before me when I finally opened 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.

Some questions:

:: What kinds of experiences ‘take your breath away’?

:: How do the things that “make you breathless” breathe life back into you?

:: How does breathing the oxygen of the Spirit move you to move others?

Let’s continue to move with thoughtful purpose toward a deepened sense of identity—that we are spirited, creative, and connected people, called to be present, grateful, generous, and missional with our lives. Let’s make the commitment to explore what it means to intentionally live into this particular series of life rhythms which helps 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.

#100days50words

Spirited

Today’s Word: ‘Spirited’ as in… we are spirited human beings animated by the power of the Spirit, and we thrive by acknowledging that we are inspired, animated, and enthused by the Source of all life and that every breath is a gift.

On January 2, 2023, on Monday Night Football, an unprecedented tragedy took place. With 5:58 remaining in the first quarter, Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field after tackling Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins and suffering a cardiac arrest.

The breath that was first breathed into him 24 years earlier on Wednesday, March 4, 1998, left his body. 

Moments later, Bills athletic trainer Denny Kellington began CPR and, with the help of the medical staff, worked to revive Damar Hamlin as he received the first of a new lifetime of breath. By now, you may know that Hamlin was released and flown back to Buffalo after seven days at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.

In his remarkable book, “The Great Conversation,” Belden Lane writes about breath: “Our first intense experience of the world comes through breathing—gasping for air. For the rest of our lives, this happens automatically, without conscious effort, handled by a respiratory control center at the base of the brain. We breathe an average of 28,000 times a day. But breath is more than a physiological function. It represents an interior, spiritual dimension of a life that is more than us. According to ancient wisdom, God’s breathing brought the first humans into existence, filling them with the “breath of life” (Genesis 2:7). Breath is a divine energy recognized across every religious tradition.”

Each breath is a gift from the Creator. That’s our starting point. Shifting our thinking from breath as something we take to a gift we receive creates a deeper rhythm of thriving in our lives. Damar Hamlin has shifted his thinking. He seems to be thriving. A lot.

Some questions: How do you understand inspiration? Where does your animation come from? What crates enthusiasm in you? How can you cultivate a sense of gratitude for the gift of your breath?

#100days50words

Thriv’ëra

Today’s Word: ‘Thriv’ëra’ as in… this is the time to thrive.

When you hear the word thrive, what comes to mind? What does it mean for you to thrive? Are there certain rhythms of life, particular times, or places that naturally generate a sense of thriving for you? How would you describe that to someone? On the other hand, are there moments or circumstances in your daily life that tend to get in the way of how you understand thriving? How would you talk about that?

I was having a conversation with a friend about New Year’s Resolutions and how we often make long lists of things we want to start or stop doing, things we want to tweak a little bit or change completely so that we have a more fulfilling experience of life. It didn’t take long for us to feel overwhelmed by all of that. So I suggested that we do something completely different rather than focusing on long lists of New Year’s Resolutions we know we’ll abandon by Valentine’s Day.

Something completely different like Thriv’ëra.

Thriv’ëra, also known as the Thriving Rhythms Project, challenges us to move with thoughtful purpose toward a deepened sense of identity—that we are spirited, creative, and connected people, called to be present, grateful, generous, and missional with our lives. Thriv’ëra explores what it means to intentionally live into this particular series of life rhythms which helps 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. I think we can agree that if we did even a fairly good job of that, the world could be a fairly different place by this time next year.

Try this: write “Thriv’ëra” on a sticky note, put it somewhere where you’ll see it often, and ask yourself, “What one thing can I do today to experience a sense of thriving?”

As we move into the weeks and months ahead, I’ll explore that with you right here. So, tell your friends, and let me know if I can help.

#100days50words

Magi

Thursday, December 29, 2022

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.

In much the same way, we are too.

#100days50words

Counterintuitive

Today’s Word: ‘Counterintuitive’ as in… “contrary to what is logical, counter to intuitive expectations.”

The Messenger knew that those living in a land of deep darkness would be looking for something else, for someone else. They were looking for someone walking heavy-footed and carrying a big stick, a military leader who would finally tell Rome where to go.

“This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby….” A baby, not a soldier? An infant, not a warrior?

“…a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger.” Strips of cloth, not a robe? A manger, not a palace?

How very deeply counterintuitive. In Pete Greig’s book, Dirty Glory: Go Where Your Best Prayers Take You, he writes, “A baby, lying in a manger. I have become so familiar with this story that I forget to be shocked by it. This is the staggering message of Christ’s incarnation: God’s glory became dirt so that we—the [dust] of the earth— might become the very glory of God.”

How very counterintuitive. And this is just the beginning.

God’s living Word, cooing, gurgling, squealing, crying. The One whose name was above every other name is nameless during the first week of his life. The Creator of the sun, moon, and stars becomes a woodworker, a carpenter, making tables around which people gather to share the Bread of Life. The infinite becoming finite, Divinity becoming humanity, “infinity dwindled to infancy,” as the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins writes. How very counterintuitive.

Friends, when you finally arrive at the manger this Christmas, consider this: Jesus is the Ruler of rulers, the King of kings, the Leader of leaders, born not in a palace, but a cave, a stable. Jesus, though a king, is The Baby nestled into a feeding trough of our hearts and lives because there was no room in the Inn and no crib for a bed.

Jesus is light in our darkness, breath in our lungs, hope in our despair, peace in our turmoil, healing in our brokenness, and eternal love in our temporary lives.

How very counterintuitive.

#100days50words

Baby

Today’s Word: ‘Baby’ as in… that baby, the gift that inspires every other gift.

I wish you could see what I see.

The Salvation Army is in the thick of the Annual Christmas Toy and Joy Shop. I have a front-row seat for the gift drive-through and pickup lanes outside my window.

I wish you could see what I see.

Imagine a family needing gifts. Their online requests direct them to Prince of Peace Lutheran Church. Several volunteers greet them as they drive into the parking lot and into two pickup lanes. These intrepid, hatted, gloved, warm-coated, booted volunteers ensure everything runs smoothly as they welcome, direct, interact with, and serve the guests. The goal is to have fun while ensuring the online gift orders are completed on-site. Inside the building, more volunteers are completing gift orders. They are placing items in bags and delivering them to even more volunteers who deliver the gifts back outside to the expectant families in their cars.

I wish you could see what I see.

For the past three days, the weather here has been challenging. Temperatures hovering just above freezing have meant rain instead of snow. But as the temperatures have fluctuated from just above to just below freezing, the rain-turned-to-ice-turned-to-snow has made things especially sketchy. And yet, for the past three days, families have come. There has been a steady line of vehicles from dawn until dark. Even now, as the snow continues to fall in these final hours, the volunteers are steady at their tasks.

Now, as I write, the parking lot is quiet. The snow is still falling, but the parking lot is quiet. And I’m thinking about all these families, the servers, and the served.

What is this all about? Can we draw a line from each of these moments in the parking lot back to another moment that inspires all of this generosity, love, and kindness? We can. It all goes back to Bethlehem, where a baby was born. That baby, The Gift, is the gift that inspires every other gift given.

Do you see what I see?

#100days50words

Moment

Today’s Word: ‘Moment’ as in… “The Moment.”

It’s as familiar a moment as there is. On Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, there will be “The Moment.” And that moment, while still days away, seems ever-present. It’s a moment we’re planning, researching, rehearsing, and maybe even praying about.

But still, for some, there may be an uneasiness; a familiar hesitation unsettles us. For so many reasons, we feel apprehensive. Why is that? Maybe it’s because despite the planning, researching, rehearsing, and praying, expectations are so great that “The Moment” doesn’t stand a chance.

This raises some questions. What are your expectations? What plans are you making? What are you researching? How are you rehearsing? How do you pray about “The Moment?” Certainly, we’ll continue to plan, research, rehearse, and pray. But the complicated outcomes don’t have to be repeated this year.

We know this to be true: Christmas is coming, and “The Moment” will arrive whether or not we’re ready for it. But here’s the good news: the point of God becoming flesh and blood and moving into the neighborhood is precisely because we’re so fabulously capable of feeling uneasy, hesitant, and unsettled despite all our planning, researching, rehearsing, and praying.

Try this… find a quiet space where you won’t be disturbed. Receive three deep breaths, in through the nose and out through the mouth. On the third exhalation, gently close your eyes and imagine yourself in that place where you love being on Christmas Eve or Christmas day. See yourself right there.

Imagine how you will welcome that moment. If it’s high expectations of intricate meal details, rehearsing and researching gift exchanges, or paying about financial worries, breathe all that in. Then, as you exhale, release those expectations and be aware of your body’s softening. If you feel stressed over having a house full of people or interacting with a friend or family member with whom you have a bit of tension, inhale, then, as you exhale, let that tension subside.

This one moment is all you need to move into every next moment leading up to The Christmas Moment.

#100days50words

Limber

Today’s Word: ‘Limber’ as in… the season of thanksgiving limbers us up to live with intentional thankfulness throughout the seasons of Advent. Christmas, Epiphany, and beyond.

My late, dear friend Eugene Peterson once wrote this about the season of Advent: “Birth:  . . . Wonder . . . Astonishment . . . Adoration. There can’t be very many of us for whom the sheer fact of existence hasn’t rocked us back on our heels. We take off our sandals before the burning bush. We catch our breath at the sight of a plummeting hawk. “Thank you, God.” We find ourselves in a lavish existence in which we feel a deep sense of kinship – we belong here; we say thanks with our lives to Life. And not just “Thanks”… but “Thank You.”

It’s appropriate that the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, and even Lent are preceded by a season of giving thanks. This limbers us up to live with intentional thankfulness. We continue to express gratitude for the colors of sunrises and sunsets, for new acquaintances and familiar friends, for the presence of love in our lives and the memories of loved ones just gone or long gone, for the lengthening shadows of a day well-lived and the anticipation of an even brighter tomorrow.

As the year 2022 and all that it holds for us come to a close, I am noticing that people are especially grateful for life, health, and breath. The stories of gratitude are especially poignant: thanksgiving for the recent birth of a child and grandchild, thanksgiving for family gatherings with life-long friends. Thanksgiving for meaningful work, thankful for health. Most moving, perhaps, is the deep gratitude for a recent memorial service during which an entire room full of friends and family expressed thanksgiving and love for a departed friend and family member.

The season of Advent is the season of waiting and anticipation. It is a season of anticipation for the ongoing arrival of Jesus, whose rebirth in us calls us deeper into Wonder, Astonishment, and Adoration, which changes everything that seems ordinary into something truly extraordinary.

#100days50words

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.

A Good Day

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Today’s Word: ‘A Good Day’ as in… Brother David Stendl-Rast’s epic reminder.

Before you do another thing today, please enjoy a few moments [5 minutes and 22 seconds] with David Stendl-Rast. Watching “A Good Day” will be some of the best moments you will experience.

David Steindl-Rast is a Catholic Benedictine monk living at Saviour Monastery in upstate New York. He is known widely for his participation in interfaith dialogue and his work on the interaction between spirituality and science. He co-founded A Network for Grateful Living in 2000 and continues to serve as a senior advisor on the board. Brother David Stendl-Rast provides a feast of gratitude in his now-famous video A Grateful Day. Watch this just before you enjoy and share a meal this Thanksgiving. You’ll be thankful, grateful, and filled with joy.

#100days50words

A Good Day

You think this is just another day in your life. It’s not just another day; it’s the one day that is given to you today. It’s given to you. It’s a gift. It’s the only gift that you have right now, and the only appropriate response is gratefulness. If you do nothing else but to cultivate that response to the great gift that this unique day is, if you learn to respond as if it were the first day of your life, and the very last day, then you will have spent this day very well.

Begin by opening your eyes and be surprised that you have eyes you can open, that incredible array of colors that is constantly offered to us for pure enjoyment. Look at the sky. We so rarely look at the sky. We so rarely note how different it is from moment to moment with clouds coming and going. We just think of the weather, and even of the weather we don’t think of all the many nuances of weather. We just think of good weather and bad weather. This day right now has unique weather, maybe a kind that will never exactly in that form come again. The formation of clouds in the sky will never be the same that it is right now. Open your eyes. Look at that.

Look at the faces of people that you meet. Each one has an incredible story behind their face, a story that you could never fully fathom, not only their own story, but the story of their ancestors. We all go back so far. And in this present moment on this day all the people you meet, all that life from generations and from so many places all over the world, flows together and meets you here like a life-giving water, if you only open your heart and drink.

Open your heart to the incredible gifts that civilization gives to us. You flip a switch and there is electric light. You turn a faucet and there is warm water and cold water — and drinkable water. It’s a gift that millions and millions in the world will never experience.

So these are just a few of an enormous number of gifts to which you can open your heart. And so I wish for you that you would open your heart to all these blessings and let them flow through you, that everyone whom you will meet on this day will be blessed by you; just by your eyes, by your smile, by your touch — just by your presence. Let the gratefulness overflow into blessing all around you, and then it will really be a good day.

—Brother David Steindl-Rast

Receive

Today’s Word: ‘Receive’ as in… we don’t take a breath; we receive each breath.

On a recent trip with some friends, we were “getting our steps in” on a walking tour of New York City. Approaching Trinity Church Wall Street at the intersection of Broadway and Wall Street, I noticed a large, lighted sign outside the main entrance. Suddenly, on a beautiful Thursday afternoon in the Big Apple, I found myself in a New State of Mind with this simple invitation to breathe.

“Take a moment to be still and centered today. Catch Your Breath and meditate on this brief prayer…

Stand still

Take a deep breath

Take another

Take one more

Feel the ground beneath your feet

Take a deep breath

Take another

Take one more

Repeat as needed.

Peace be with you.”

And so, I did. I stood still for a few moments allowing myself to feel the ground under my feet. This lovely, simple exercise was centering and calming as my chest expanded with the oxygen filling my lungs. And then, after holding it for one more moment, I released it. I exhaled, already anticipating the next breath.

But then I had this thought.

What if we made a subtle shift in the instructions? What if we changed the language of this beautiful invitation? What if the invitation isn’t to “take a breath” but rather to “receive a breath.” What if the subtle shift from “taking” to “receiving” each breath draws us more deeply into the Source of every breath?

We’re busy all day, every day, taking things. We take the trash out. We take the dog for a walk. We take a break from our busy schedules. But we don’t actually take a breath; we receive our breath as a gift.

As we receive each breath as a gift, we become more grateful for the gift of life itself.

So, receive this invitation:

Stand still

Receive a deep breath

Receive another

Receive one more

Feel the ground beneath your feet

Receive a deep breath

Receive another

Receive one more

Repeat as needed.

Peace be with you.

#100days50words

Partnership

Today’s Word: ‘Partnership’ as in… “Two people are better than one. They can help each other in everything they do.” So said the writer of an ancient collection of Hebrew wisdom in the book of Ecclesiastes. Ancient wisdom for every generation.

We’ve all had moments when we’ve needed someone’s help.

Half a lifetime ago, I worked on a gillnetting boat with my dad. We lived on Whidbey Island and often fished the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Rosario Strait in the Salish Sea. Our boat – a stern picker had a large spool and a roller on the aft deck for reeling gillnet on and off. The net was 50 yards long by 8 feet deep, with a lead line on the bottom and a cork line on top. A small buoy with a light attached indicated the end of the net for the fishing crew.

Fishing at night near Deception Pass, we noticed a light between our boat and the buoy at the end of our net. Initially thinking that a small boat was moving toward our net, we turned on a spotlight revealing not another moving boat but a stationary navigational buoy anchored to the bottom of Rosario Strait.

Springing into action, we began working together to pull the net up and over the top of the navigational buoy, made more difficult with each passing second as the strong tide carried our boat away from the buoy. Finally, reminding me to be careful, my dad said there would be a slingshot effect on us and the boat, as the last part of the net was free. He was correct.

I hesitate to think what might have happened if the two of us had only been one of us.

The ancient writers remind us that partnerships are necessary. Collaboration is essential; two are better than one. It’s better to go out two by two. One person plants, and another person waters.

Who are your partners, collaborators, teammates, planters, and waterers? Knowing who they are will help you define your role as a partner. We are all stronger together.

#100days50words

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.

Help

Today’s Word: ‘Help’ as in… “Psychiatric Help – 5 cents. The Doctor Is In.” So said Lucy Van Pelt.

It’s always good to have someone to talk to.

A friend of mine recently told me about another friend who has a friend who has another friend going through difficult things. My friend expressed worry about that. At that moment, I was aware of five people who were struggling. Two hours later, another friend said his emotional life resembled a jigsaw puzzle. Several pieces were out of place. He was desperately trying to put some pieces back together.

Is it just me, or does it seem like the wheels are especially wobbly these days? No, it’s not just me. And, yes, a lot of things are wobbly. There are random acts of weirdness everywhere. People often say, “I feel like the wheels are coming off, and I just don’t know where to turn.” Not surprisingly, turning when the wheels are coming off is difficult.

That’s when it’s time to do something different. So, get out of that vehicle and ask for some help.

I’m not surprised at our hesitation to ask for help. Talking with a friend, making an appointment with a counselor, and keeping an appointment with a therapist is part of our culture’s mistaken belief that asking for help is a sign of weakness. It is not. On the contrary, it’s a sign of health. Seeking help has many benefits, like providing opportunities for self-exploration and self-discovery, developing our emotional, spiritual, psychological, and physical health, and fostering hope, motivation, and encouragement. Asking for help also inspires other people to get help.

That’s what I’m doing here. I walked away from an accident in 2016 that totaled my truck. I was physically unhurt. However, emotionally and psychologically was a different story. Therapy was a gigantic step forward. When the wheels come off, it’s good to talk to someone about that.

Lucy reminds us that “The doctor is in.” You can find help here: https://nami.org/Home.

It’s always good to have someone to talk to. Let me encourage you to do that.

#100days50words

Risk

Today’s Word: ‘Risk’ as in… what keeps us from accomplishing our dreams is our fear of taking risks. But what if risk and failure were all part of the equation?

Most of us have dreams, desires, and ideas that 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. So what is that for you? Is it crafting a long-overdue letter? Is it volunteering at a local school, running for office, or writing a book? We’ve all got lists of dreams, desires, and ideas just aching to come to fruition.

Unfortunately, we’ve also all got a list of things that hold us back. We call them barriers. These are the internal voices and inner critics that prevent us from taking steps toward accomplishing our dreams, desires, and ideas. Barriers taunt us from the edges. “It’ll never work!” “You won’t follow through!” It’s not a worthy idea!” The inner critics seem to drone on forever. But what actually keeps us from accomplishing our dreams is our fear of taking risks. Most of the time, the fear of failure keeps us from accomplishing our dreams.

But risk takers know this: they can learn from their failures and make appropriate adjustments.

So let me ask you this: what would happen if you took the risk that would get you closer to starting (not to mention finishing!) your book? What would the courageous leap toward crafting that long-overdue letter to a friend feel like? What’s your next best step toward volunteering at a local school or running for office?

Here’s my challenge for you. First, write down your dream, desire, or idea. Then make a list of the failures you anticipate along the way. Then, list the joys you anticipate having when you accomplish your goal. Last, how does the joy outweigh the risk? 

Take the risk, make the leap, try the new thing, learn from failure, then adjust. It’s a risk. You could fail. But then, you know this: risk and failure are part of the equation.

#100days50words

Locate

Today’s Word: ‘Locate’ as in… as in the ability to locate ourselves in joy makes all the difference.

The capacity to rejoice in times of hardship and challenge can be transcendent. We’re not talking about the kind of rejoicing that happens over some fleeting, momentary bit of excitement; a pan of brownies, a snow day, changing fall colors, finding a lost wallet. Instead, a deeper kind of rejoicing is possible even – especially when our back is up against the wall, our hands are tied, our vision is limited, our hope is flagging, and we feel like we’re coming apart at the seams. This is the joy we may know cognitively while not necessarily feeling it. This is the joy we experience by knowing that even during hardship and challenges, we’re being held together by the love and grace of God.

Ancient wisdom written by the Apostle Paul while sitting in a prison cell in Rome cuts to the chase when he communicated with his friends in Philippi. He said, “I’ll continue to rejoice, no matter what… because for me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” This was Paul’s way of saying, “You know what? No matter what, I’m going to locate myself in joy.”

When faced with challenges, finding joy first is the last thing we feel equipped to do. When we face challenges that seem beyond our capacity to deal with them, finding joy is much more than simply having a positive mental attitude about life. It’s way beyond walking into a horse barn to clean the stalls and saying to yourself, “You know, there’s just got to be a pony lurking in here someplace….” Locating the joy is about embracing the truth that “No Matter What” happens, we’re secure in Christ, and that’s a reason for joy, no matter what. It’s knowing that no matter how things change, no matter what kinds of transitions we’re facing, no matter how dire things become, we can rejoice in the reality of being held together even when we feel like we’re completely falling apart.

#100days50words

Welcome

Heya… if you’d like to see the video version of today’s Today’s Word, click this link – https://vimeo.com/743188576/9103d905c7

Today’s Word[s]: [You’re] ‘Welcome’ as in… a great response to ‘Thank you.’

Often at the end of conversations, people say, “Thank you for your time,” to which many respond, “Thank you.” Two people at the end of one conversation express thanks to each other, as it should be. We’re taught from an early age to express thanks. That’s why it’s remarkable, if not rare, when someone responds to “Thank you” with “You’re welcome!”

My good friend and colleague, Ethan Miller, and I were recording in the studio today. As the project progressed, I was increasingly grateful for Ethan’s patience. I had two false starts. Sorry, Ethan. Then, halfway through the main part of the recording, something happened with my contact lens, and I couldn’t see my script, so we stopped again. I’m so sorry, Ethan. We started again, and three sentences later, for reasons well beyond me, I said, “refried beans.” Honestly, I have absolutely no idea where that came from. “I’m sorry,” I said. Ethan replied, “That’s no problem. You don’t have to say you’re sorry. We’re all good.”

When we finished, I handed the microphone back to Ethan and said, “Thank you,” to which he replied, “You’re welcome!” Wow!” I said. I thanked him again, and he replied, “You’re welcome.”

It was a powerful moment as Ethan expressed genuine grace by saying, “You’re welcome.” You probably think I’m paying too much attention to the minutia, but I believe it’s worth thinking about. When we express gratitude to someone, we pour grace into that moment. When our counterpart responds by saying “You’re welcome,” it’s like pouring grace into grace and opening up an additional space where grace continues to grow. Please understand that there is nothing wrong with responding to thanks by saying “thank you.” But when we respond with “You’re welcome,” it’s like completing the circuit and opening up a new dimension of grace for people.

This week, remember to say, “thank you.” And when someone says, “Thank you” back, perhaps you can be the one who responds, “You’re welcome.” See what happens then! That would be fun!

#100days50words

Change

Today’s Word: ‘Change’ as in… change happens all the time.

We know that because we can see it: our address changes, we move from one house to another, from one town to another city. One school year ends with graduations, and as summer makes a turn toward the Fall, some students gear up to move on to college in another city, another state, or even another country. A colleague announces a change. Resignation and retirement make possible the next great adventure. A name on an office door is removed, and, in time, another name replaces it.

These are all changes, and changes happen all the time. But changes are not transitions. Changes are the physical, tangible movements that are exterior; they happen on the outside. Transitions, on the other hand, are the emotional, intangible momentums that are interior, that take place on the inside.

When a beloved friend and colleague announces a resignation, the inner work of transition begins. We ask, “What does this mean?”

The ancient Israelite community experienced a change when they left Egypt. But they didn’t just move into new tents in another community. They themselves became a living, breathing community that moved into the time in-between time. Wilderness is a good name for what happens in the time in-between time.

As we move through the Wilderness of change and transition, let’s keep in mind two essential truths. First, moving from the comfort of what was into the Wilderness of what is and then on toward the promise of what will be is seldom a place of comfort and will always take a significant amount of courage. Secondly, and perhaps far more importantly, the journey through the Wilderness is also often a place of extravagant beauty and life-enriching experience.

Tending to the interior of our hearts and minds, and lives while we move into change and walk through transitions is the essential work that we do together. This work cannot be hurried, manipulated, or even skipped. We don’t get to go around it. We get to go through it. And we are never alone. That’s the promise.

#100days50words

Clarification

Today’s Word ‘Clarification’ as in… clarifying yesterday’s Buechner Post.

I was first introduced to Frederick Buechner’s writings nearly 40 years ago. A professor of homiletics (the art and science of preaching) during my years at Luther Seminary couldn’t get enough of Buechner’s work and wanted to pass that passion on to students. So that started my journey with Buechner’s writings.

Buechner wrote about ancient biblical people in ways that made them three-dimensional. He described places like the Garden of Eden, the Temple in Jerusalem, and Golgatha in ways that made you believe they were right down the street from your house. His son-in-law, David Altshuler, whom I quoted in my post yesterday, reminded us of the treasure that Buechner will continue to be in many lives.

Preachers, poets, writers, and literary fans everywhere will remember Frederick Buechner as an American writer, novelist, poet, autobiographer, essayist, preacher, theologian, and Presbyterian minister. He was the author of nearly 40 books translated into many languages for publication worldwide during his career spanning more than six decades.

Buechner was probably best known for his novels, including A Long Day’s DyingThe Book of BebbGodric (a finalist for the 1981 Pulitzer Prize), and Brendan, his memoirs, including Telling Secrets and The Sacred Journey, and his more theological works, including Secrets in the DarkThe Magnificent Defeat, and Telling the Truth.

Buechner was called a “major talent” by The New York Times, and “one of our most original storytellers” by USA Today. Annie Dillard (Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek) called him “one of our finest writers.” Buechner has been awarded eight honorary degrees from such institutions as Yale Universityand the Virginia Theological Seminary. Buechner was also the recipient of the O. Henry Award, the Rosenthal Award, the Christianity and Literature Belles Lettres Prize, and was recognized by the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.

I did not know Buechner personally. I did meet him once and asked him to sign several books. But holding his words in my hands made it seem like he was writing just for me.

#100days50words

Buechner

Today’s Word ‘Buechner’ as in… Frederick Buechner.

On Tuesday morning, August 16, I opened the email I knew would one day arrive but would have done all I could to postpone it as long as possible. Frederick Buechner’s son-in-law delivered this news to a global community of followers of Frederick Buechner:

“It is with great sadness—but greater appreciation for his long and exceptionally well-lived and listened-to life—that I write to share the news of the passing of my father-in-law, Reverend Frederick Buechner. He died peacefully in Rupert, Vermont. on August 15, 2022, at the age of 96.

Frederick was a life giver to countless many around the world. He told the stories of us all: through overwhelming love, unbearable pain, great laughter, artistry, humility, and awe. His wonder at the miracle of grace around him never left him, and his writing, preaching, and presence will be with us forever.

Throughout his life, Frederick enjoyed the support of an uncommonly devoted readership. His readership nourished him and helped inspire him to write nearly 40 books now read in over two dozen languages world-wide. On his family’s behalf, I wish to extend our most heartfelt gratitude.”

Absorbing the news, sitting in front of my collection of Buechner’s works, I was keenly aware of my own heart full of sadness mingled with a deep appreciation for his life. Immersed in his words, I would often laugh out loud one moment while weeping into my pillow the next.

It is impossible to describe in 350 words how Frederick Buechner has influenced my life.

But three passages point in that direction:

“Your vocation in life is where your greatest joy meets the world’s greatest needs.”

 “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.”

“Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis, all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”

Thanks be to God for Carl Frederick Buechner, American writer, novelist, poet, theologian, and friend.

#100days50words

Third

Today’s Word: ‘Third’ as in… we’re well into the third third 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.

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Dip

Today’s Word: ‘heartbeat‘ as in… heartbeat and breath are two parts of one thing. We can’t have one without the other.

I’ve been using the Headspace meditation app since 2014. When I began, sitting still for even 5 minutes was quite challenging. To clarify: my body could sit still for 5 minutes, but my “monkey mind” was jumping all over the place. Over time and with practice, I continue to learn and practice ways to lessen the commotion. Sure, there are times when I’ve been thinking of 237 other things, but I continue to bring myself back to the rhythm of breathing.

I’m grateful to be using some really nice headphones with the app. When I put the headphones on, I can’t hear anything else. Recently, I was in the middle of an exercise, focusing on my breathing. I could hear my breathing; the slow, steady rhythm of drawing in a deep breath, holding it for a moment, then slowly exhaling, letting the breath all the way out. While doing that, though, I also heard my heartbeat! What the noise-canceling headphones could not cancel out was the sound of my own heartbeat. It was like when I was a kid visiting the doctor and being fascinated by the stethoscope, which, aside from providing a distraction, 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. Breath and heartbeat paired together now 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.

We simply can’t have one without the other.

#100days50words

Listen

Today’s Word: Listen’ as in… “be quick to listen and slow to speak.”

I’m guessing, of course, but there’s a good chance that most of us are more apt to get this twisted up. We’re far more inclined to be quick to speak and slow to listen. Even with our closest friends, most of us would rather talk first and then listen, if we’re willing to listen at all. That’s when it’s good to remember that we’ve been given two ears and one mouth for a good reason: to listen twice as much as we speak. When we don’t listen to that wisdom, things quickly go south.

Think for a minute about what is gained by taking an extra moment or two between listening and speaking. For instance, recall conversations you’ve been in that have escalated into arguments. You know the moment when things become dicey, don’t you? The conversation is getting heated—and it’s heating up because everyone is speaking, and no one is listening.

I usually stop listening because I’m so busy thinking about crafting my next really awesome sentence. And when I stop listening because I’m creating a clever and insightful statement, there’s no way on God’s green earth that I will hear you, let alone honor you and your role in the conversation. Unfortunately, this often happens when we discuss things we’re passionate about, like sexuality, religion, spirituality, politics, justice, peace, church doctrine, and climate change. Gun violence. Whole30. I’ve got a perspective! You’ve got a perspective! And when we talk about those differing perspectives, we’re usually quick to speak and slow to listen, and that’s when trouble starts and conversations come to a grinding halt.

A lot is happening in our world right now; issues stir our thinking, ignite our passions, and draw our ire. Finding common ground is difficult. Add to that the fact that we don’t always know how to talk through things about which we disagree.

What to do? Let me suggest three things. First, let’s take a big deep breath. Second, let’s count to ten. Third, let’s listen to each other.

#100days50words

Change

Today’s Word: ‘Watching’ as in… long ago and far away, a beloved mentor shared a timeless truth I’ll never forget. He said, “Remember this, Paul… ‘Someone will always be watching, and it’ll probably be a kid.'”

You can look at this in several ways. First, you might hear this as a warning. Keep your hands clean and your feet in your own shoes. Cover your tracks, and be careful what you do, what you say, and where you go because it could all fall apart in a minute. That, to me, seems really defensive.

There’s another way to look at this. Rather than hearing it as a warning, this reminder can be liberating and generative. Having in mind that someone – a child, another impressionable human being might be watching encourages me to live well, leaning into my most authentic self, the “me” into which the Spirit is continually breathing.

We’re all models for one another; that’s a bit of reality that we don’t get to debate. But what we do with our modeling, how we handle that responsibility, and how we choose to live and carry ourselves so that we bring “life, and more life” to one another is the careful work we do together.

“Someone may be watching, so I better not mess it up!” That’s no way to live. I’m already defeated. “Someone may be watching, so let me bring my best, most genuine, loveliest, most gracious, and grace-filled self to the moment so that you, the kid in my life, can have some way of answering the question, “How then, shall I live my life?”

It may seem that someone is acting poorly every time we consume news. What that provides, though, is the opportunity to counterbalance what is essentially death with the kind of life that generates more life!

“Someone will always be watching, and it’ll probably be a kid.” What more extraordinary privilege is there than showing someone how to experience the height and depth of goodness in life? For me, someone is always watching, and it’s a kid. It’s this kid! What a privilege! 

#100days50words

Watching

Today’s Word: ‘Watching’ as in… long ago and far away, a beloved mentor shared a timeless truth I’ll never forget. He said, “Remember this, Paul… ‘Someone will always be watching, and it’ll probably be a kid.'”

You can look at this in several ways. First, you might hear this as a warning. Keep your hands clean and your feet in your own shoes. Cover your tracks, and be careful what you do, what you say, and where you go because it could all fall apart in a minute. That, to me, seems really defensive.

There’s another way to look at this. Rather than hearing it as a warning, this reminder can be liberating and generative. Having in mind that someone – a child, another impressionable human being might be watching encourages me to live well, leaning into my most authentic self, the “me” into which the Spirit is continually breathing.

We’re all models for one another; that’s a bit of reality that we don’t get to debate. But what we do with our modeling, how we handle that responsibility, and how we choose to live and carry ourselves so that we bring “life, and more life” to one another is the careful work we do together.

“Someone may be watching, so I better not mess it up!” That’s no way to live. I’m already defeated. “Someone may be watching, so let me bring my best, most genuine, loveliest, most gracious, and grace-filled self to the moment so that you, the kid in my life, can have some way of answering the question, “How then, shall I live my life?”

It may seem that someone is acting poorly every time we consume news. What that provides, though, is the opportunity to counterbalance what is essentially death with the kind of life that generates more life!

“Someone will always be watching, and it’ll probably be a kid.” What more extraordinary privilege is there than showing someone how to experience the height and depth of goodness in life? For me, someone is always watching, and it’s a kid. It’s this kid! What a privilege! 

#100days50words

Thriv’ëra

Today’s Word: ‘Thriv’ëra‘as in… Real Thriving in Real-Time.

It’s early Sunday morning. I’m at the local Caffeine Palace, ready for “That First Sip Feeling,” when one of the baristas exclaims, “Oh, my gosh! That guy just stole the tip jar!” It all happened so fast. A young man parked his truck, walked up to the drive-through window, grabbed the tip jar, and took off. He soon discovers that his nefarious plan only nets him about a buck and a half. I want to run after him and demand that he give it back, but I’m thinking twice. People have been killed for a buck and a half. On my way out, I turn and say to my friends, “I’m so sorry that this happened to you.”

Driving away, I’m struggling with one question: How do we change all of this?

The Thriving Rhythms Project. Thriv’ëra: Real Thriving in Real-Time is gaining momentum. It’s about moving with thoughtful purpose toward a deepened sense of identity—that we are spirited, creative, and connected people, called to be present, grateful, generous, and missional with our lives. It’s about a way of life that helps 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.

Could Thriv’ëra be part of the change? Yes, and here’s how.

We can be transformed by the good news that we are spirited human beings animated by the breath of the Source of all life; creative human beings, exploring the Divine Impulses of wonder and imagination; connected human beings, living in healthy relationships with others; present human beings, immersing in what each moment has to teach; grateful human beings practicing gratitude as a spirited discipline; generous human beings, living open-heartedly and open-handedly, and missional human beings with a vision of hope and wholeness for the world.

Embracing these truths increases the possibility that somebody, somewhere, could be part of the transformation of the life of the guy who stole the tip jar.

That would be nothing short of real thriving in real-time.

#100days50words

Juneteenth

Today’s Word ‘Juneteenth‘ as in… grateful for it.

The Apostle Paul wrote the book of Philippians from a prison cell in Rome in about the year 61 BCE. Paul and his ministry partners had started this community of faith on what we now know as Paul’s Second Missionary Journey and became 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 a prison cell. When life gets tough, when the significant 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 ending 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 2022. It’s a reminder that while we’ve covered a good bit of ground, we’ve got miles and miles to go before we rest.

So as we mark this day, let’s pause to give thanks for voices who speak clearly for justice. Let us express our gratitude for the hearts and hands that join together in the ongoing work of freedom for all people. No exceptions.

#100days50words

Senses

Today’s Word: ‘senses’ as in… we’ve got five of them. Five windows through which to see the world a little differently each day.

I’ve been revisiting Frederich Buechner’s unique challenge to live differently than we usually live. In his book, Now and Then: A Memoir of Vocation, Buechner writes,

“Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis, all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”

What a grand invitation to listen, see, touch, taste, and smell the fullness of life!

But living like this requires extra measures of intentionality, mainly because we usually move far too quickly to allow such extravagances. And yet, our senses were given to us for a reason. The ability to listen, see, touch, taste, and smell has kept us alive in some instances. Listen. Look. Touch. Taste. Smell. Five windows into deeper, thriving lives today. An excellent way to live this kind of life is to begin by thanking the One who gave us our senses.

Try this: Taste your food. You can’t taste it if you don’t chew it. And sit down when you eat. And for crying out loud, don’t eat in your car. Or this: Don’t hurry to get into your car when the garage door opens in the morning. Stand still and watch the curtain on the morning rise as the door opens. Give yourself a gift by dwelling in that moment. Just look at the day. What do you see? Close your eyes for a moment and listen. What do you hear? Birds? Breeze? Cars? Children? Now take a deep breath. What do you smell? What do you taste? Be aware of where you are right now.

When we participate in disciplines like these, we open ourselves up to thriving at a deeper level. I’m pretty sure you didn’t do this yesterday, and today you did. See how great it is?

#100days50words

Wardrobe

Today’s Word: ‘Wardrobe’ as in… like the one made famous by C. S. Lewis, it’s more than just a nice piece of furniture.

Imagine the wardrobe. You’re standing before it; the two doors are closed. But there are handles. You’ve got a decision to make. You can stand there looking at the wardrobe or take hold of the handles and open the doors. You decide to open the doors. Now imagine all of the clothing hanging there before you – shirts, pants, coats, etc. Again, you’re facing a decision. You can stand there looking in or take a step closer and move the clothing aside. You move the clothing. Now imagine another door on the back wall. You’re facing another decision. You can stand there looking at it, or you can open the door on the back wall of the wardrobe. You decide to open the door, and as you do, a whole new world opens up to you. You’ve now got more decisions to make: you can remain there. You can turn around and back out. You can just stand there. You can listen to your fears, rehearse your apprehensions, and recall your past interactions with this strangely familiar moment; you can let all of that lock you up.

Or you can be opened up. You can receive your next breath as a gift from the One who first breathed it into you. Filled with the oxygen of the Spirit, you can take just one step into this whole new world of light and growth and opportunity; take just one step into this whole new world of “life, and more life.”

Imagine your life. Your life is a gift, and you are a child of God. You are filled with the breath of the Spirit, and the Divine spark has ignited another day of life for you today. Face it. Walk deeply into it, knowing that the One who has breathed new life into you continues to open you up to life and more life. The One who invites you to be open walks deeply into this day with you.

#100days50words

Hardship

Today’s Word: “Hardship” as in… Whatever the hardship, keep rising up.

Six weeks ago, when the worship staff at Prince of Peace began planning for this weekend’s worship services, we could not have imagined the unspeakable horror of what took place on Tuesday, May 24, at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

As details began emerging, the collective heart of a community, nation and the world began breaking for the families and friends of the 19 students – precious little girls and boys – along with two adults whose lives were lost. As familiar as these tragic events are becoming, we will never be used to them, nor should we. Instead, we now face the challenge of using our voices, positions, and platforms to speak truth into power, love into hate, light into darkness, and life into death.

So once again, we enter profound grief and dwell in it with mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, extended families, and friends with whom we share a common bond as the human family.

Six weeks ago, as we began thinking about this week’s theme, “Whatever the Hardship, Keep Rising Up,” There was so much we did not know. And yet, amid this current devastation, we turn again, with confidence and hope to what we do know.

As our hearts break and we are at a loss for words, we turn to ancient wisdom, which still speaks comfort and hope. Let’s be clear, however. When we turn to scripture, we are not simply attaching words to cover our pain, like a bandage covers a wound. Instead, scripture covers us and reminds us that our refuge and strength can be found in our God, who calls us to claim the power of the resurrection so that whatever the hardship, we can keep rising up.

For these next several days, you are invited to dwell in these ancient passages so that the hope found within them will dwell in you. Lord, have mercy.

Day One – 2 Corinthians 6:1-10

Day Two – 2 Corinthians 4:8-9

Day Three – Psalm 34:15, 17-18

Day Four – Psalm 46:1-7

Day Five – Romans 8:1, 35-39

#100days50words

Generosity

Today’s Word: ‘Generosity’ as in… Would you like room for cream?

I recently talked with a friend about how practicing the rhythm of generosity intends to create lavish interactions with “the world around us.” I couldn’t help feeling overwhelmed [again!] with the enormity of the word “world” in that phrase. The ubiquity of the phrase “Let’s change the world…” makes me want to either not use it or sit down, sip some coffee, and strategize how to do that.

So, how on earth do we make creative, generous changes in the world? I suggested that if we make small commitments to creating lavish interactions with just one other person each day, we’ll have been faithful to the intention of the sixth rhythm of generosity.

I recalled an experience I had while standing in line at, of all places, a coffee shop. Ellie is a barista with a global coffee company. When I walked in, the place was hoppin’. Drips were dripping, pour-overs were being poured over, and lattes and mini scones flew over the counter.

The person in line in front of me was having trouble. It was almost like she’d never been in a place like this before. But Ellie, the barista, was so gracious, kind, and welcoming to her. Above all, Ellie was patient. When all of the transaction stuff was finally finished, the customer paused, looked at Ellie, and said, “Thank you.” It was the kind of “Thank you” that might as well have included the phrase, “…for being so very patient with me!” at the end of it. Ellie looked at her, smiled, and said, “You’re so very welcome! Have a wonderful day.”

In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus tells his followers to “Go into all the world (and start with your local coffee shop) and preach the good news to every creature.” So there was Ellie behind the counter preaching the good news with a kind word, a patient and very lavish interaction in that one very cool caffeinated moment. Each one of us gets to do that today. That just might change the world!

#100days50words

Love

Today’s Word: ‘Love’ as in… the world needs to be a far better place. It all starts with love.

I’m heading out of town to do a wedding for a young couple I’ve known for several years. We’ve spent the last eight months intentionally walking through nearly every facet of the human relationship, trying to tease out the best life lessons. Becoming students of their relationship and bringing intention to making a good thing even better is a good practice.

That’s been insightful for me, as well, and has got me thinking. Weddings are a lot of fun. But there’s a good chance during the ceremony that guests will face the existential question: “Did I request the chicken, the beef, or the fish? Or did I ask for the vegetarian option?” When one’s stomach begins to growl, it’s a challenge to focus on what’s going on in the actual ceremony.

But wedding celebrations offer far more than just another opportunity to have a party, although they do that well. Wedding ceremonies are far more than simply ceremonies. And guests invited to weddings are far more than spectators.

Consider this when you attend the next wedding. There’s something in it for everyone. For example, if the officiant is challenging a couple to consider “A love of a different kind,” then certainly everyone could benefit from taking a few moments to think about their relationships, what love is, what love does, and how love matters, and how love changes so many things. And what relationship couldn’t use a little reflection?

At the end of the day, what I share with this couple at their wedding, I’m sharing with everyone who comes to cheer them on. If we all spend a few extra minutes thinking about how we love those we love and how we might better love others – even those we have difficulty loving or don’t know yet, the world will be a better place. I’m sure we can agree on this: the world needs to be a far better place. So here’s the heart of my message: It starts with love.

#100days50words

Mother

On this Mother’s Day weekend, I’m thinking about Joyce. She’s been gone for 16 years, but she’s not forgotten. In many ways, she never left. The life lessons keep appearing.

Joyce always carried three things in her purse. A pack of gum, a harmonica, and a pocket-size New Testament. Let me explain. As a kid, when I was feeling fidgety, Joyce would playfully ask if I had ants in my pants. That was perplexing; I wondered how they might have gotten in there and how they would get out. But Joyce would open her purse and pull out a stick of gum. Something was soothing about how she unwrapped it from the silver foil and handed it to me. It was a minty moment of gracious hospitality, compassion, and love.

There was also a harmonica. Not a plastic harmonica, but a genuine M. Honer Marine Band harmonica. I don’t recall her ever playing it, but it was always there. And I knew that if the right moment arrived and someone needed someone else to pull a harmonica out of their purse and play it, Joyce would be ready. It was a whimsical reminder of the power of providing a creative moment of diversion for someone whose life had become overly complicated.

And yes, Joyce always carried a dog-eared, scuffed up, pocket-sized New Testament and Psalms. I found it in the school parking lot one afternoon on my way to the bus. When I got home, I gave it to Joyce as a gift. It was a constant reminder that at some point, someone would need to hear a really good word during a really bad time.

Today I don’t carry a pack of gum, but I’m more in tune with the gift of each present moment. I don’t have a harmonica in my pocket, but I do have music for you because of Joyce. And because of my mother, I do know that the Lord is our shepherd, and we have everything we need. Thanks, mom.

#100days50words

Groove

Today’s Word: ‘Groove’ as in… the discipline, constant practice, and ongoing hard work that creates the groove of gratitude.

Gratitude isn’t a feeling. Gratitude is a choice that we can make every day. But choosing to be grateful each day doesn’t just happen; it takes discipline. The more we make gratitude a part of our daily rhythms, the more gratefulness will wind its way into our lives.

In an ancient story in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus heals ten men with leprosy. In this story of death and resurrection, it’s difficult to overstate how radically altered their lives had become. But in a moment of clarity, one of the nine men stops, turns around, and heads back to say thank you. Why did he return? What made him come back? Discipline was probably the most significant of all the things that could have driven him back to Jesus. Somewhere in that guy’s wiring, there was the discipline, the constant practice, the ongoing hard work, the groove of gratitude. The practice of stopping, turning, and returning to express gratitude was part of his life. He’d done it before. The groove of practicing gratitude had been set in his life.

But what about the other nine? Why didn’t they come back? It would be easy to judge them for being ungrateful. But let’s turn that narrative around. Maybe, in some other version of the story,  they did return. We don’t know. Maybe after being separated from their loved ones for God knows how long, they all ran home to their families and friends to tell them about the rabbi who healed them, but then came back and found Jesus the following afternoon. I’m not ready to throw the lepers out with that grungy bathwater. But this one thing is sure: one guy returned to express his gratitude for his life-after-death experience. And here we are thousands of years later, still talking about that one thing that one guy did on that one afternoon. That takes some discipline. Gratitude isn’t a feeling. Gratitude is a choice that we make every day. So let’s groove on that!

#100days50words

Art

Today’s Word: ‘ART’ as in… one artist’s act of subversive creativity becomes a powerful moment of defiance and even hope.

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!

#100days50words

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.

Resurrection

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!

#100days50words

Remember

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.”

#100days50words

Immeasurable

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.”

Wow.

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.

“I love you! I do love you! You know I love you.”

#100days50words

Inside

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.

#100days50words

Lilies

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!

#100days50words

Joining

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.

#100days50words

Respond

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.”
  3. Using simple terms, have a conversation about sanctions (consequences), naming some of the other countries imposing sanctions on Russia.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

#100days50words

Ashes

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.

#100days50words

Enemies

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.

#100days50words

Poetry

Today’s Word: ‘Poetry‘ as in… the few moments you set aside to read a poem today might be the moments you love most.

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.

#100days50words

Love

Today’s Word: ‘Love’ as in… Happy Valentine’s Day! I love you. How about a cup of tea?

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.

#100days50words

Hell

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.

#100days50words

Saved

Today’s Word: ‘Saved’ as in… we experience salvation through love.

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?”

#100days50words

A440

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?

#100days50words

Today

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?

Sound familiar?

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.

#100days50words

Epiphany

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!

#100days50words

Magi

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.

In much the same way, we are too.

#100days50words

Future

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.         

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2,974

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.

#100days50words

Astonish

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.

#100days50words

Peace

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.

#100days50words

Manifesto

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:”

  1. What stories of gratitude will you be sharing this year in this season of thanksgiving?
  2. How would you describe the difference between gratitude and thankfulness?
  3. How can you live a grateful life in the face of pain and suffering?
  4. Consider a challenging situation in your life. Is there any aspect of that situation for which you can express gratitude?
  5. Bring to mind someone who practices gratitude. How does practicing gratitude enrich that person’s life?
  6. 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?
  7. 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.

#100days50words

Donkey

Today’s Word: ‘Donkey’ as in… don’t kick the donkey.

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.

#100days50words

Do-Over

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?

#100days50words

Choices

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.

#100days50words

Collaboration

Image by Katie Clymer Pederson

Today’s Word: ‘Collaboration’ as in… The Welcome The Seasons project launching on November 20-21, is a study in collaboration.

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…

#100days50words

Imagine

Today’s Word: ‘Imagine’ as in… a healthy, thriving, robust community of faith that loves one another courageously, prays with and for one another intentionally, worships together, and celebrates all of the ways that God is active in the world through your community of faith.

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?

#100days50words

Welcome

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.

#100days50words

Release

Today’s Word: ‘Release’ as in… freedom, liberation, letting go. It’s okay, just let go. You’ll be fine.

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.

It’s okay, just let go. You’ll be fine.

#100days50words

Emergency

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.

#100days50words

Change

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?

#100days50words

Apprentice

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.

#100days50words

Denial

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. 

But wait…

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.

So let’s just hold fast to him.

Let’s hold on for dear life!

#100days50words

Discomfort

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?

#100days50words

Go / Learn

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.

#100days50words

Zimet

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Today’s Word: ‘Zimet” as in Anna Zimet.

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

#100days50words

Reformation

Today’s Word: ‘Reformation’ as in… always reforming.

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

#100days50words

Touch

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

Love

Today’s Word ‘LOVE’ … as in Martin loved Katie and Katie loved Martin.

Our stroll through the ancient town of Wittenberg revealed so much history. Including this love between the two reformers.

490 years later, we’re still talking about this love affair.

Will people talk about our love in 500 years?
#100days50words490

Pray

Today’s Word: ‘pray’ as in… prayer doesn’t change God, prayer changes us.

“I can no longer condemn or hate a brother for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble he causes me.”

― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

How does your experience with prayer bring transformation to your relationships with others?

#100days50words

Faith

Today’s Word: ‘faith’ as in… our wrestling with faith allows us to throw ourselves completely into the arms of God.

“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?”

#100days50words

Wrestle

Today’s Word: ‘Wrestle’ as in… our faith demands that we wrestle with complex issues.

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?

#100days50words

Action

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?

#100days50words

Memorial

Today’s Word: ‘Adherence’ as in… adherence to 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“?

#100days50words

Discipleship

Today’s Word: ‘discipleship’ as in… adherence to 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“?

#100days50words

Treasure

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

How do you experience following Christ as costly?

#100days50words

Costly

Today’s Word: ‘COSTLY’  as in… costly grace.

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

How do you experience following Christ as costly?

#100days50words

Cheap

Today’s Word: ‘Cheap’ as in… cheap grace.

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.

[Source: https://www.augsburgfortress.org]

Read Dietrich’s Biography here [Source: The Dietrich Bonhoeffer Institute].

How would you describe the difference between cheap and costly grace?

#100days50words

Bonhoeffer

Today’s Word: ‘Bonhoeffer’ as in… Dietrich.

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.

[Source: https://www.crosswalk.com]

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Okay

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.

#100days50words

Halfway

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.

#100days50words

Humility [part three]

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.

How is humility being nurtured in you today?

#100days50words

Humility [part two]

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?

#100days50words

Humility [part one]

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?

#100days50words

Magnificent

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.

#100days50words

Encounter

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.

For 8 minutes and 55 seconds of goodness, follow this link.

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.

#100days50words

Commencement

Today’s Word: ‘commencement’ as in… graduation.

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.”

#100days50words

Dream

Today’s Word: ‘Dream’ as in… the revolution, the mission, the party, the network, the dance, the kingdom of God is always coming into focus.

The first thing I noticed was the bicycle.

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.

Such a dream come true!

#100days50words

Windshield

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.

#100days50words

Joy

Today’s Word: ‘Joy’ as in… it’s not whether we win or lose, it’s finding the joy in it.

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?

#100days50words

Compassion

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.”

Wait, what?

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.

#100days50words

Generosity

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.

#100days50words

Verdict

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.

#100days50words

Table

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.

#100days50words

Urge

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.

#100days50words

Donkey

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.

The Donkey

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.


—With deep gratitude for Mary Oliver

#100days50words

Thaw

Today’s Word: “Thaw as in… defrost, melt, loosen, warm.

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.”

#100days50words

Help

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.

#100days50words

March [Fo(u)rth!]

Today’s Word: ‘Marchas in… march forth! It’s March 4th and 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!

#100days50words

Listen

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.

#100days50words

Time

Today’s Word: ‘Time’ as in… time flies, but the “time in between times” is never wasted time.

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?

#100days50words

Instructions

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:

“Pay attention.

Be astonished.

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.

#100days50words

Marked

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.

We are marked people. God is for us.

What will you do with that good word today?

#100days50words

Post-It

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.

#100days50words

Candlemas

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.

#100days50words

Interruption

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.

#100days50words

Voice

“…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.

Ephesians 4:14-19

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.

#100days50words

Light

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.

#100days50words

Peace

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.

#100days50words

Lovegift

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!

#100days50words

Peace

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!

#100days50words

Hope

First Sunday in Advent

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.

#100days50words

Shoot

First Friday in Advent

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?

#100days50words

Wonder

First Saturday  in Advent

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?

#100days50words

Joy

First Thursday in Advent

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.

#100days50words

Longing

First Wednesday in Advent

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.

#100days50words

Magnificat

First Tuesday in Advent

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.”

Let’s meet back here tomorrow for more.

#100days50words

Normal

First Monday in Advent

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.

The ‘next normal’ is about to be birthed.

#100days50words

Come

Today’s Word: ‘Come’ as in… Come, Lord Jesus.

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.

#WelcomeTheSeasons

#100days50words

Thanksgiving

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.

You’ll be thankful, grateful and filled with joy.

#100days50words

Approach

Today’s Word: ‘Approach’ as in… coming near.

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.

What are you waiting for?

#100days50words

Being

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.

#100days50words

New

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.

#100days50words

Questions

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?

4. How would you like your day to end?

5. What did you learn today?

#100days50words

Fruit

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.

#100days50words

Subversive

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.

That’s unfortunate.

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.

That’s fortunate.

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?

#100days50words

Decorum

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?

#100days50words

Memoriam

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?

#100days50words

Go

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…”

Would you go?

Really?

#100days50words

First

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.

#100days50words

Element

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.

#100days50words

Canaanite

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.

#100days50words

Desperation

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.

#100days50words

Clarity

Today’s Word: ‘Clarity’ as in… seeing 2020.

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.

#100days50words

Intersection

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?

Or aren’t we?

#100days50words

Fifty

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!”

xoxo pg 

#100days50words

Neighboring

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.

#100days50words

Light

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!

#100days50words

Imagination

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.”

#100days50words

Wedding

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.

That’s what should happen at a wedding.

#100days50words

Juneteenth

Today’s Word ‘Juneteenth’ as in… grateful for it.

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.

No exceptions.

#100days50words

Agility

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.

Let’s press on together!

#100days50words

Life-Lessons

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.

Click here for some goodness: https://vimeo.com/419939586 Enjoy!

#100days50words

All

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.

Sisters, get the bread and the wine.

Christ is present. Lord, have mercy!

#100days50words

Elks

Today’s Word: ‘Elks’ as in… the Club.

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.

Wait, what?

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.

A toast to Gene: Let’s never go back there.

#100days50words

Racism

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.”

#100days50words