Challenge

ChallengeToday’s Word: ‘Challenge’ as in… back to “quick to listen, slow to speak” challenge.

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

Think for a minute about what is gained by taking an extra moment or two between listening and speaking. For instance, recall conversations that you’ve been in that have escalated into arguments. You know the moment when things become dicey, don’t you? The conversation is getting heated—and it’s heating up because everyone is speaking and no one is listening anymore. I usually stop listening because I’m so busy thinking about crafting my next really awesome thought. And when I stop listening because I’m creating a clever and insightful statement, there’s no way on God’s green earth that I’m going to hear you, let alone honor you and your role in the conversation.

This often happens when people are talking about things they‘re really passionate about: sexuality, religion, spirituality, politics, justice, peace, church doctrine, sports teams, March Madness. Whole30. I’ve got a perspective! You’ve got a perspective! And when we try to talk about those differing perspectives, we’re usually quick to speak and slow to listen and that’s when trouble starts and conversations come to a grinding halt.

There’s a lot going on in our world right now; issues that stir our thinking, ignite our passions, draw our ire. Finding common ground is difficult. Add to that the fact that we don’t always know how to talk through things about which we disagree. What to do? Let’s take a big deep breath. Let’s count to ten. Let’s listen.

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Stop

StopToday’s Word: Stop’ as in… It’s great to be able to stop when you’ve planned a thing that’s wrong, and be able to do something else instead.

It’s also really great when some ancient wisdom comes along from a wise sage, a respected elder, a learned teacher with a kind and gentle heart and leaves you wondering how you ever managed to get along without it. It’s even more remarkable when that wise sage, respected elder, learned teacher with the kind heart steps through the front door into your own living room, changes from a jacket into a cardigan sweater, trades his street shoes for some blue sneakers and welcomes you to a special place called Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood… and then launches into this:

“What do you do with the mad that you feel when you feel so mad you could bite? When the whole wide world seems oh, so wrong and nothing you do seems very right? What do you do? Do you punch a bag? Do you pound some clay or some dough? Do you round up friends for a game of tag? Or see how fast you go? It’s great to be able to stop when you’ve planned a thing that’s wrong, and be able to do something else instead and think this song: I can stop when I want to, I can stop when I wish, I can stop, stop, stop any time. And what a good feeling to feel like this and know that the feeling is really mine. Know that there’s something deep inside that helps us become what we can.”

I like how the ancient writer James puts it when he writes these ancient, enduring words:

“Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger. Human anger does not produce the [justice, peace, well-being, peace, goodness] righteousness that the Divine desires for all people everywhere.”

Quick to listen. Slow to speak. Slow to anger.

I like how James says it. But I really love how Mr. Rogers said it.

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Theophany

TheophanyToday’s Word: Theophany’ as in… theophany and theodicy are two completely different things.

And here’s why we might care about that at all…

Frederick Buechner, one of my main theological squeezes, writes this:

“Theodicy is the branch of theology that asks the question: ‘If God is just, why do terrible things happen to wonderful people?’ The Bible’s best answer is the book of Job.”

Buechner goes on to remind us that Job was one of the good guys, if not the best guy. Not that it mattered, really. If God had been in the business of showing Job some favor because Job was a good guy, then God was certainly having what we’ve come to know as a ‘terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day…’ of biblical proportions.

In the space of just a few short heartbeats, Job lost everything that put him on the biblical map. Buechner describes it this way:

“…his cattle are stolen, his servants are killed, and the wind blows down the house where his children happen to be whooping it up at the time, and not one of them lives to tell what it was they thought they had to whoop it up about.”

If God is just, why do terrible things happen to wonderful people? That’s the theodicy question.

But there’s a different question.

I have a really dear friend who is wrestling with grief and loss; the deaths of two close family friends in the space of just over one year. It’s January and the grief is all coming back, as if it had ever left in the first place. With the new perspective that one year brings, she is discovering that the question isn’t about Theodicy: “If God is just, then why does God let this happen?” The question is about Theophany: “How is God continually being revealed, illuminated in all of this?”

When we wrestle with that question, everything changes: light is brighter, hope is stronger, grace is wider, love is deeper! Epiphany celebrates all the ways that God “locates” in our lives.

Theophany invites us to whoop it up without fear!

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Epiphany

Epiphany.jpg

Today’s Word: Epiphany’ as in… the Feast of Epiphany, the last full day of the Christmas season!

It’s not an overstatement to say that Epiphany is the most important feast of the Christmas Season.

Epiphany is observed around the world with much celebration; the day is like a Christmas stocking filled with treasures! We recall the arrival of the Three Kings, Sages from the East, the Wise Men (most likely along with their large entourage), and the remarkable gifts they brought. There was gold, gift fit for a king. There was frankincense, a gift for a priest to be used for much more than fragrance, it would have been burned in the temple and only by a priest of God; and myrrh, used in burial rituals as an embalming material.

And yes, of course, we do know that if it had been three wise women instead of the three amigos who came to visit the infant King, they would have asked for directions saving themselves about three years of searching, they would have arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, cleaned the stable, made a casserole (gratin) and brought some diapers as gifts!

And yes, it is an old, tired, probably outdated attempt at humor. But what the heck.

Also known as Twelfth Night, Epiphany comes from the Greek word epiphineia, which get translated as coming, arrival, manifestation.

Epiphany celebrates all of the ways that the God of the Universe is revealed and located in our very earthy lives, all of the ways that God comes to us, shows up, arrives!

Epiphany celebrates God’s presence in our relationships and conversations with one another, “locating” with us wherever we live, work, and play!

Epiphany celebrates God’s presence with us in the tender touch of a friend or loved in in the midst of grief or in the joy of celebration.

Epiphany is incarnation (God with us) and manifestation (God for us!) all at once.

Epiphany is the good news that the Good News is for all people everywhere, no exceptions, no exclusions. Epiphany is lovely, extravagant, tangible grace.

What an epiphany!

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Drumming

Drumming1Today’s Word: ‘Drumming’ as in… Twelve Drummers Drumming, on this Twelfth Day of Christmas!

As a kid, I’d occasionally come up with a question that would set my parents back on their heels. Joyce would respond with something like this:

“Paul Eugene! What are you thinking?”

That, of course, was a mostly rhetorical question. I could tell, she used my middle name.

There were times, though, when I’d come up with a doozie, a real keeper. And that keeper would actually be kept. She would write it down in her journal. One of those entries seems especially timely on this particular twelfth day of Christmas. The conversation between my mother, Joyce, and me went something like this:

Paul: “Why don’t the drummers in those movies get shot?”

It was fascinating to me that in early American war movies, while uniformed soldiers ran around battlefields pointing guns at each other and firing, the drummers drumming their hearts out in the midst of all of that chaos and carnage, never got shot. To my recollection, they didn’t even carry a weapon. They carried drums. They never were killed. At least not that I saw.

Joyce: “Because they’re the drummers. They carry drums, that’s why nobody shoots them.”

Now, just imagine the mental gymnastics going on in the mind of a little kid processing that information: People with guns, shooting other people. Death. People with drums, drumming their hearts out. Life. Hmmmm.

“Paul Eugene, what are you thinking?” Joyce asked.

A deep breath… and then I said what I was thinking:

“Well, then everyone should carry a drum.” I said.

On this twelfth day, as the light of this waning Christmas season illuminates the approaching season of Epiphany – the revealing of Christ to all people, it’s a good reminder to find a drum and pound out Good-News-Rhythms of peace and justice. In this new year, in this new season, today, let’s resolve to live, work and play well together to create rhythms of hope, peace, joy, and love for all people everywhere.

This is the beautiful and enduring challenge of this Twelfth Day!

Let’s drum on!

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Piping

PipingToday’s Word: ‘Piping’ as in… Eleven Pipers Piping, on this Eleventh Day of Christmas!

Long ago and far away I played the trumpet for several hours each day. Ed Bridges, a beloved friend and musical director, had a passion for Sousa Marches. Every rehearsal and concert began with a Sousa March “just to warm up.”

In “Stars and Stripes Forever,” there’s a section that is affectionately known as “The Dog Fight.” It happens twice. You know it when you hear it. The Dog Fight is big, bold, and brassy. But there’s another section that features a piper; the piccolo. The piccolo player has a solo that is featured twice: first beginning at about 1:55, and then again at about 2:35. When you hear the high-toned descant of the piccolo/piper, there’s no missing the beautiful, powerful little refrain; it soars high above every other instrument. Finally, the band goes all in again with a repeat of “The Dog Fight” which sets up the final phrase of the march; everyone is playing like there’s no tomorrow.

Above all of this, above the tubas, trombones, French horns, trumpets, flutes, bassoons, clarinets—above every other instrument—you hear the piccolo/piper piping that beautiful, soaring descant. It’s unmistakable. It’s there. It’s steady. It’s strong.

On this Eleventh Day of Christmas I’m aware that the Christmas Story of a baby born in Bethlehem seems more like a piccolo descant than the big, brassy, melody it was eleven days ago. But Christmas Story is still being told. With the help of every piper, the Christmas Story continues to soar high above the rest of the orchestra and the crowd gathered to hear it, as well as those outside and beyond the concert hall.

So we might want to get piping. Or at least we might want to start practicing. Let’s pick up our instruments and play this powerful melody together. Who knows, there may be someone who hears this ancient, remarkable Christmas descant once again, or maybe for the first time, and wants to play along. Pipers are piping the Good News! Let’s join them!

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Leaping

LeapingToday’s Word: ‘Leaping’ as in… Ten Lords A-Leaping on this Tenth Day of Christmas!

There is general agreement that these ten leapers is a nod to the Ten Commandments. That’s worth considering. When Jesus was approached by a young lawyer asking him what the greatest commandment is, Jesus summed it up: “Love God, love others.”

I made my usual stop for dark roast this morning. Billy must have seen me coming because by the time I stepped to the counter, it was nearly ready.

“Hey Paul, Happy New Year! How’s it going?”

As he hands me the cup, I consider—just in that one very brief moment—how remarkably ‘present’ Billy is to the people he serves. Anticipating service is Billy’s gift and when he combines service with hospitality, something really remarkable happens: the Kingdom of God comes into sharper focus.

I’m not aware if Billy knows that; but that’s not the point.

The point is that the Kingdom, the Realm, the Party, the Dance, the Movement of God becomes visible in that moment – and ten lords are leaping!

Because of Billy, I’m more aware of the questions that lead to my “2020 clarity”: How can we be more present to the people we encounter? How can we anticipate more effectively the needs of others? How can we be more attentive to ways of serving vulnerable people? How can we learn to be more available to people we don’t know well or even at all? How can we serve others without any thought of how we’re being served?

These are good and challenging questions for this tenth day of Christmas! When we serve others well, isn’t there just enough joy in that? Of course there is!

When Jesus said over and over again, “The kingdom of God is at hand…” this is probably what he was talking about.

So today the ground shakes with joyous leaping to the tune of the good news that today we’ve been loved in ten different ways by ten different people giving us ten different opportunities to love others. And in ten remarkable ways the dream of God comes into better focus!

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