Learn as You Play

Last night, our Preschool Director, Laura Sinyard, shared this philosophy for our preschool at the parent meeting. I think it comes pretty close to what Jesus had in mind when he said, “Come as a Child.”
 
Image result for children playing preschoolJust Playing by Anita Wadley
 
When I’m building in the block room,
Please don’t say I’m “Just playing.”
For, you see, I’m learning as I play,
About balance, I may be an architect someday.
 
When I’m getting all dressed up,
Setting the table, caring for the babies,
don’t get the idea I’m “Just Playing.”
I may be a mother or a father someday.
 
When you see me up to my elbows in paint,
Or standing at an easel, or molding and shaping clay,
Please don’t let me hear you say, “He is Just Playing.”
For, you see, I’m learning as I play.
I just might be a teacher someday.
 
When you see me engrossed in a puzzle or
some “playing” at my school,
Please don’t feel the time is wasted in “play.”
For you see, I’m learning as I play.
I’m learning to solve problems and concentrate.
I may be in business someday.
 
When you see me cooking or tasting foods,
Please don’t think that because I enjoy it, it is “Just Play.”
I’m learning to follow directions and see the differences.
I may be a cook someday.
 
When you see me learning to skip, hop, run, and move my body,
Please don’t say I’m “Just Playing.”
For, you see, I’m learning as I play.
I’m learning how my body works. I may
be a doctor, nurse, or athlete someday.
 
When you ask me what I’ve done at school today,
And I say, “I just played.”
Please don’t misunderstand me.
For, you see, I’m learning as I play.
I’m learning to enjoy and be successful in my work.
I’m preparing for tomorrow.
Today, I am a child and my work is play.

Live Your Moments: Recognize – It’s All Made Up

In a lot of family vans, they have movie players so the kids can watch movies while they ride along. You can’t do that while driving, believe me… not that I’ve done it. I don’t have to. I just replay them in my mind. I have them stored, in my brain. Apparently my storage space was full by the time I was twelve because all I have in my mind is movies from childhood.
So, while driving down the long highway, The Wizard of Oz started playing. I can’t decide on who I think is scarier Ms. Gulch on her bicycle, or the Wicked Witch. If you throw in the flying monkeys, I have to say the Wicked Witch, but before that I’d say it’s a tie.
Then, because I am a preacher, I can’t just replay The Wizard of Oz in my mind, I had to consider them philosophically, “Which place is real, is it Kansas or is it Oz?”
Think about it. If you’re first thought is, ‘Of course Kansas real. Oz is made up. It’s just a story, a product of someone’s imagination. Not Kansas. I’ve been to Kansas.’ I must point out to you, in the movie Kansas is in black and white while Oz is in color.
Continue reading “Live Your Moments: Recognize – It’s All Made Up”

Get Found!

hidingWhen I was a youth, I remember a popular add campaign called, “I Found It.” There were bumper stickers, infomercials, and an I Found It book with testimonials from famous celebrities and athletes. What was it that people found which made such a difference in their lives? God. I can’t help but look back on my life since I got my I Found It book, bumper sticker, and read Tom Landry’s testimonial. In my life, my testimonials aren’t really about how many ways I have found God, but instead, my stories are about the many ways God has found me. I wander off, get caught up in current fads, totally doze off in my journey like the hare in Aesop’s fable, or camouflage myself and blend in like Adam and Eve in their cameo of fig leaves, and still, somehow, God finds me. Again, and again, I get found. No matter the degree I seem to be searching for God, or not, God seems to be searching for me. The parallel I’ve found is in how Robert Fulghum described one of my favorite games, Sardines.

In the early dry dark of an October’s Saturday evening, the neighborhood children are playing hide-and-seek. How long since I played hide-and-seek? Thirty years; maybe more. I remember how. I could become part of the game in a moment, if invited. Adults don’t play hide-and-seek. Not for fun, anyway. Too bad.
Did you have a kid in your neighborhood who always hid so good, nobody could find him? We did. After a while we would give up on him and go off, leaving him to rot wherever he was. Sooner or later he would show up, all mad because we didn’t keep looking for him. And we would get mad back because he wasn’t playing the game the way it was supposed to be played. There’s hiding and there’s finding, we’d say. And he’d say it was hide-and-seek, not hide-and-give-UP, and we’d all yell about who made the rules and who cared about who, anyway, and how we wouldn’t play with him anymore if he didn’t get it straight and who needed him anyhow, and things like that. Hide-and-seek-and-yell. No matter what, though, the next time he would hide too good again. He’s probably still hidden somewhere, for all I know.
As I write this, the neighborhood game goes on, and there is a kid under a pile of leaves in the yard just under my window. He has been there a long time now, and everybody else is found and they are about to give up on him over at the base. I considered going out to the base and telling them where he is hiding. And I thought about setting the leaves on fire to drive him out. Finally, I just yelled, “GET FOUND, KID!” out the window. And scared him so bad he probably wet his pants and started crying and ran home to tell his mother. It’s real hard to know how to be helpful sometimes.
A man I know found out last year he had terminal cancer. He was a doctor. And knew about dying, and he didn’t want to make his family and friends suffer through that with him. So he kept his secret. And died. Everybody said how brave he was to bear his suffering in silence and not tell everybody, and so on and so forth. But privately his family and friends said how angry they were that he didn’t need them, didn’t trust their strength. And it hurt that he didn’t say good-bye.
He hid too well. Getting found would have kept him in the game. Hide-and-seek, grown-up style. Wanting to hide. Needing to be sought. Confused about being found. “I don’t want anyone to know.” “What will people think?” “I don’t want to bother anyone.”
Better than hide-and-seek, I like the game called Sardines. In Sardines the person who is It goes and hides, and everybody goes looking for him. When you find him, you get in with him and hide there with him. Pretty soon everybody is hiding together, all stacked in a small space like puppies in a pile. And pretty soon somebody giggles and somebody laughs and everybody gets found.
Medieval theologians even described God in hide-and-seek terms, calling him Deus Absconditus. But me, I think old God is a Sardine player. And will be found the same way everybody gets found in Sardines – by the sound of laughter of those heaped together at the end.
“Olly-olly-oxen-free.” The kids out in the street are hollering the cry that says “Come on in, wherever you are. It’s a new game.” And so say I. To all those who have hid too good. Get found, kid! Olly-olly-oxen-free.

What does Reaching out to the lost mean for Macland? I believe it is a challenge to Get Found! And help others do the same, for we, like Adam and Eve before us, hide far too well. So to all you who have been hiding, “Get Found!” Come out, come out, wherever you are.

The Holy Declaration of Independence

If you ever feel lost in a crowd, then you understand what Meg was feeling in the climax of A Wrinkle in Time, Meg struggles to find life as a person out of the crowd. The crowd is a planet called Camazotz. The lines are marvelous. On this strange planet, she struggles to both live out her calling as an individual and as a person in relationship to her brother. Here are some of my favorite lines.

The houses in the outskirts were all exactly alike, small square boxes painted gray. Each had a small rectangular plot of lawn in front, with a straight line of dull-looking flowers edging the path to the door. Meg had a feeling that if she could count the flowers, there would be exactly the same number for each house. In front of all the houses, children were playing. Some were skipping rope, some were bouncing balls. Meg felt vaguely that something was wrong with their play… This was so. As the skipping rope hit the pavement, so did the ball. As the rope curved over the head of the jumping child, the child with the ball caught the ball. Down came the ropes. Down came the balls. Over and over again. Up. Down. All in rhythm. All identical. Like the houses. Like the paths. Like the flowers.

The brain of the town, the central coTnsciousness of the planet, was in the CENTRAL Central Intelligence Building, and the brain, devoid of personality, was called IT. And IT monitored all the planet for any distinctiveness among the people. Meg resisted the uniformity of Camazotz. Later in the book, Meg faced IT to rescue her brother from the control of the oversized brain who spoke to her through her brother. She decided to confront IT. For encouragement, she recited The Declaration of Independence. Continue reading “The Holy Declaration of Independence”

For Fathers, Sons, and Daughters

In Matthew 6, Jesus taught his followers to pray in this way, “Our Father…” 

As we approach Father’s Day, with a celebration of dads heavenly and otherwise, I see a parallel between God the rest of us regulars, we all want the same for our children, to grow, to become, to live, and to love. As my son Nathan continues to grow into his teenage year and is gaining wrestling skill from camp and club, I am well aware that it won’t be long until my son pins his father. For the hopeful continued growth for Cayla, Abbie, and Nathan, and to encourage all of us to continue to grow and encourage growth in each other, I offer this simple poem by Orval Lund that he wrote for his father.
Wrist-wrestling father
Orval Lund
for my father

On the maple wood we placed our elbows
and gripped hands, the object to bend
the other’s arm to the kitchen table.
We flexed our arms and waited for the sign.
I once shot a wild goose.
I once stood not twenty feet from a buck deer unnoticed.
I’ve seen a woods full of pink lady slippers.
I once caught a 19-inch trout on a tiny fly.
I’ve seen the Pacific, I’ve seen the Atlantic,
I’ve watched whales in each.
I once heard Lenny Bruce tell jokes.
I’ve seen Sandy Koufax pitch a baseball.
I’ve heard Paul Desmond play the saxophone.
I’ve been to London to see the Queen.
I’ve had dinner with a Nobel Prize poet.
I wrote a poem once with every word but one just right.
I’ve fathered two fine sons
and loved the same woman for twenty-five years.
But I’ve never been more amazed
than when I snapped my father’s arm down to the table.

What’s Your Vocation?

Ever wonder what the difference is between a job, a career, and a vocation? In this excerpt from Out of The Crowd, I try and help clarify the difference.
~~~~~~~~
When Jesus calls the first disciples, he calls them from not just their families, but out of their jobs and careers and into a vocation. The distinction between these three is significant and can be seen in Mark 1,

Jesus was walking along the Sea of Galilee, where he saw Simon and his brother Andrew, who were fishermen, casting nets into the lake.
Jesus speaks to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of people.” And immediately, they left their nets and followed him.
In a similar matter, after walking on a little farther, Jesus, now with Simon and Andrew tagging along, calls out to James and John who were in their family boat with their father, Zebedee. Like the two before, then immediately left their nets, their boat, and their father, and followed Jesus.

In this passage are three groups: the hired men, the fishermen, and the disciples or followers of Jesus. They illustrate the three different ways we work: jobs, careers, and vocations.

JOBS

A job involves basic skill, basic labor, and basic pay to try and meet basic needs. In the passage, these are the workers, those on Zebedee’s boat who likely did a day’s work for a day’s pay. My first job was in a textile mill in South Carolina when I was sixteen. I worked second shift, from 4:00 to midnight. I learned to drink coffee dispensed nightly for a quarter out of a vending machine and was paid by the hour.

CAREERS

A career differs from a job in training and role. A career has background, education, experience, and investment. Jesus encountered some career fishermen in Zebedee and sons with their boat. They had training, skill, and investment in the family business.  After college, I went to seminary, twice. I earned masters degrees in youth ministry and divinity. I studied Greek and Hebrew and passed ordination exams. This is my career, accepted into the Presbyterian system, ordained, blessed, and allowed to pastor. I even have a pension. Do you think Andrew or Simon asked Jesus if he had a health plan or a pension program before dropping their nets at the shore? Likely not.
The word, “career,” comes from the Latin word for car, which comes from carrera, which means “racetrack.” Like a racetrack, careers have structure, direction, and competition. And, like a racetrack, a career can have you feeling like you are going very fast, around, and around, in circles, never ending. No matter who wins a particular race, another competition will start shortly, and another, and another. And if you cannot fill your lane, don’t worry, there will be another to take your place and the race will keep moving, and moving, and moving.
Students are set on college tracks and career tracks taught to compete with each other in race after race, score after score. Students are ranked, from first to last, high to low, with their cumulative score or grade point average. We score their schools as well. The hope is to prepare students to take their place in society and to keep racing as our economy depends on it. They are promised great rewards for their effort, and if they work hard enough and succeed, they can drink from the cup of glory, whatever that is.
Kierkegaard warned about the effects of our jobs and careers and the responsibility of communities to watch out for each other in this story,
A farm village’s crop was infested by a strange bug that contaminated all their food. Once they realized that eating the food made them crazy, they quit eating it. Then they started to starve. The village leaders met and agreed they must eat to survive, but they also decided to work together to remind each other that the very food they ate to survive made them crazy.
Taking our place in crowds, pursuing careers, doing all that we do for food, family, groups, culture, is dangerous when we forget the madness that they can produce, then around and around we go, faster and faster and call it life, saying, “We have no choice.”
When you live going only in circles, how can a sense of direction be possible? The church should be that village voice, the agreement upon leaders that the very food that we eat makes us mad, calling the crowds into question, challenging our consumer economy, our chasing the dollar. We should join the prophets, poets, and playwrights, like Charles Bukowski,

Some lose all mind
and become soul, insane
some lose all soul
and become mind, intellectual
some lose both
and become accepted.

In a critique of business life in America, Arthur Miller wrote The Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman, the tragic character who dominates the play, is laid to rest in a cemetery following his suicide. At the graveside on a bleak and rainy day, the immediate family is huddled together along with a couple of friends. His wife cries softly over the casket, “Why? Why? Why did you do it, Willy?” It is then that Willy’s son, Biff, speaks and says, “Aw, shucks, Mom. Aw, shucks. He had all the wrong dreams. He had all the wrong dreams.”

VOCATION

When I read or tell of the calling of the disciples, I am often asked, “How could they just leave everything – job, career, family, and follow Jesus with no more information, and no guarantees?”
My question is, “How could they not?” James, John, Simon, and Andrew weren’t very good fishermen, we have record of them fishing all night and not catching anything on more than one occasion, and they seldom seem to be fishing but are instead always fixing their boat or mending their nets. But there is more, besides giving them an out to a career they seem ill suited for, Jesus gave them their calling, their vocatio.  “Vocation” comes from the Latin word, vocare, which means, “to call.” Carl Jung describes people with vocation,

What is it, in the end, that induces someone to go his own way and to rise out of unconscious identity with the mass as out of a swathing mist? Not necessity, for necessity comes to many, and they all take refuge in convention. Not moral decision, for nine times out of ten we decide for convention likewise. What is it, then, that inexorably tips the scales in favor of the extra-ordinary?

It is what is commonly called vocation: an irrational factor that destines a person to emancipate himself from the herd and from its well-worn paths.
Vocation is not for God to hear you calling, but for you to hear God’s calling. Vocation is not for God to respond to the desires of your heart but for you to align your life with the passion and fire of God’s heart. Vocation is not for you to have a five-year plan that makes sense to you but for you to live in a way that makes sense to God. To align your life with the heart of God, to live Jesus’ way in the world, to discover your distinctive and particular place as an alive human in the image of God will give purpose and meaning to your life, Frederick Buechner said, 

The vocation for you is the one in which your deep gladness and the world’s deep need meet – something that not only makes you happy but that the world needs to have done.

Vocation is both self-fulfilling and world fulfilling. It is both living into your calling of becoming not just a beloved child of God, but a beloved adult of God and facilitating the world’s growth into The Kingdom of God, which Jesus illustrated in Matthew 5 with the following imagery,

Each of you is the salt of the earth. If salt has no flavor, can you make it salty again? No, unless it gives flavor to food, it’s thrown out and trampled on. Each of you is the light of the world. When people get together and build a city, they don’t hide it in a valley but put it on a hill so others can come to it. In the same way, why would anyone light a candle or a lamp and put it under a bucket? No, you put it on the table so that it gives light to all the house.

So let it be with you. Let your light shine so that others may see the wonder of what you do and give glory. Being flavor for the earth, letting our light shine, stepping out like a city on a hill, or a singer on stage, can take great courage, bravery that often takes years to develop.

One of my dearest friends is Etta Britt. She got her first ‘record deal’ a little older than the Nashville norm. Here is a selection of an article by Lori Weiss in The Huffington Post on Etta’s story, It Ain’t Over – Out of the Shadows, Mom Signs Record Deal at 55.

From the time Etta Britt was a young girl, she was singing back-up for Diana Ross. It’s just that Diana didn’t know it. Because Etta was in front of her bedroom mirror in Louisville, Kentucky — hair brush in hand, as a microphone, of course — pretending she was one of the Supremes.
“I’d stand there for hours,” Etta laughed, “and pretend I was on stage. And my brother would come in and tease me, and I’d throw the hairbrush at him.”
“When I walk out on stage, I often say ‘You’re probably wondering who I am. Well, I’m a 55-year-old woman who just got her first record deal.’ And I get a standing ovation.
“Just like the title of the CD, I feel like I’m coming out of the shadows,” Etta said with a tear in her eye. “And now I’m showing my daughters that it doesn’t matter what your age is — you can still make your dreams come true.”

Etta came out of her shadows, her cultural, familial, and her own mental crowd to let her light shine. She celebrated the voice she had to share and the songs she has to sing, and encourages others to do the same. When you step out like Etta, it gives other people encouragement to come out of their own shadows and let their light shine. If you get the chance to watch a singer like Etta, one who is a band leader as well as a performer, one who is an encourager sharing both her light and the spotlight, sharing her music and weaving together the music of others, then you can see how one soul taking her place encourages others to do the same.

Etta and I have found these words by Author Marianne Williamson encouraging in both coming out of the shadows and the crowd,

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate,
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be?
Who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking
so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We were born to make manifest
the glory of God within us.
It is not just in some of us: it is in (all of us),
And as we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give other people
permission to do the same.

Let Your Light Shine

I’m preaching today on the light of the world passage from the Sermon on The Mount in Matthew 5:

Matthew 5: 13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and
trampled under foot. 14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

I am amazed at how different images from a scripture I’m living with during the week come to the surface when I’m thinking through my lenses of a Biblical passage. So often we make Jesus a person who is one in a billion, a person like no other, and, I believe, we miss where Jesus’ identity and life point us.

Continue reading “Let Your Light Shine”

A Tigger or an Eeyore?

Galatians 5:22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, JOY, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control.

Randy Pausch began his famous Last Lecture telling of his diagnosis,
   If you look at my CAT scans, there are approximately 10 tumors in my liver, and the doctors told me 3-6 months of good health left. That was a month ago, so you can do the math… So that is what it is. We can’t change it, and we just have to decide how we’re going to respond to that. We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.
   Pausch goes on to say later in the lecture,
   …you just have to decide if you’re a Tigger or an Eeyore  . I think I’m clear on where I stand on the Tigger/Eyore debate. Never lose the childlike wonder. It’s just too important. Continue reading “A Tigger or an Eeyore?”

Faith – Leap Before You Look


Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Do you remember learning to swim? Perhaps you jumped from the side of the pool into someone’s arms. Someone who loved you. Someone who cared for you. That was faith.

As an adult, I find faith to be very similar. God, like a parent, loves me and cares for me. So I believe. So I hope. The difference is, as an adult, faith is more like a leap from a cliff than a pool, more like I’m standing alone and though I believe God is present, I can’t see or hear God. Faith was a challenge as a child by the pool and as an adult in life. Drowning, death, loss, powerlessness are all present. As a child and adult, faith is a leap. Poet W.H. Auden looks deep into the leap of faith.

Leap Before You Look by W.H. Auden

The sense of danger must not disappear:
The way is certainly both short and steep,
However gradual it looks from here;
Look if you like, but you will have to leap.

Tough-minded men get mushy in their sleep
And break the by-laws any fool can keep;
It is not the convention but the fear
That has a tendency to disappear.

The worried efforts of the busy heap,
The dirt, the imprecision, and the beer
Produce a few smart wisecracks every year;
Laugh if you can, but you will have to leap.

The clothes that are considered right to wear
Will not be either sensible or cheap,
So long as we consent to live like sheep
And never mention those who disappear.

Much can be said for social savoir-faire,
But to rejoice when no one else is there
Is even harder than it is to weep;
No one is watching, but you have to leap.

A solitude ten thousand fathoms deep
Sustains the bed on which we lie, my dear:
Although I love you, you will have to leap;
Our dream of safety has to disappear

A Mother’s Difficult Gift

In honor of mother’s day, there will be ample mention of how much mothers do, how much mothers give, and how many wonderful attributes go into being a mother. Those ideals will abound.
The one talent mothers have which often goes unnoted in a Hallmark card is the wonderful way some mothers master the art of simply letting go. Celebrating the difficulty of mothers to let a child grow is this wonderful poem…

The Summer-Camp Bus
Pulls Away from the Curb
Sharon Olds

Whatever he needs, he has or doesn’t
have by now.
Whatever the world is going to do to him
it has started to do. With a pencil and two
Hardy Boys and a peanut butter sandwich and
grapes he is on his way, there is nothing
more we can do for him. Whatever is
stored in his heart, he can use, now.
Whatever he has laid up in his mind
he can call on. What he does not have
he can lack. The bus gets smaller and smaller, as one
folds a flag at the end of a ceremony,
onto itself, and onto itself, until
only a heavy wedge remains.
Whatever his exuberant soul
can do for him, it is doing right now.
Whatever his arrogance can do
it is doing to him. Everything
that’s been done to him, he will now do.
Everything that’s been placed in him
will come out, now, the contents of a trunk
unpacked and lined up on a bunk in the underpine light.
 

Beyond Cooties – a look at The Psychology of Jesus

This post is chapter 11 from The Psychology of Jesus supplemented with video illustrations.

Primary Concept:
We can always claim our place in the world.
We can choose to accept or reject
where others try to place us.

    Remember ‘cooties?’ Cooties is that game in elementary school, where someone declares that one kid in the class has ‘cooties.’ If that child touches you or you touch that child or that child’s stuff, then you become cootified. You have cooties, your stuff has cooties, and your mama has cooties. That’s the way cooties works.
    The only difference for the woman in this text and ‘cooties’ in the elementary school, was that for her, rejection was no game and segregation had no clear end, until she reached out for Jesus.
    Read the following text. Imagine you are the woman. When you reach out toward Jesus, are you afraid?

Text

Matthew 9: 20 Then suddenly a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind (Jesus) and touched the fringe of his cloak, 21 for she said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well.”  22 Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well.

Concept in the Text

    As with other characters in the gospel narratives, we don’t know this woman’s name. And, in the spirit of this book, we will treat her as a person; she is not just an illness. As Kierkegaard said, When you label me, you negate me. To avoid negating her with a label like “the woman with the flow of blood,” I am going to call her Amy because ‘Amy’ means ‘Loved.’ Amy must have had a strong sense of self for her to move toward Jesus in the way that she does. If she was unaware of being loved and valued at the beginning of the story, she is certain by the end.
    Amy has three problems that we can identify in the passage.
    Amy has a physical problem. Her physical problem is a continuous hemorrhage of blood which she had suffered from for a dozen years. Though most women experienced this as part of their regular cycle, she has it constantly. The consequences are several, one of which was weakness due to the loss of blood.
    Amy has a social problem. The religious leaders of the day, the social norm and even the Holy Scriptures declared her ‘unclean’ because of her continuous flow of blood. The scriptures were clear. The Leviticus 15 law was well known, 25 If a woman has a discharge of blood for many days… all the days of the discharge she shall continue in uncleanness; as in the days of her impurity, she shall be unclean. 26 Every bed on which she lies during all the days of her discharge shall be treated as the bed of her impurity; and everything on which she sits shall be unclean 27… And whoever touches these things shall be unclean, and shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the evening. Society, especially religious society, considered her soiled, contaminated, dirty, and unclean.
    Finally, Amy has a personal problem. As other unclean people, she had been segregated, assigned distance, placed on the outside. This is her personal problem, as far as we know, up until this moment in the text, she has accepted her place on the outside.
    Then Amy moves from her isolation toward Jesus. In spite of her physical weakness, in spite of her social separation, she pushes through the crowd toward Jesus. She reaches out to him in spite of her isolation as unclean. And in spite of her separation as a woman (women don’t reach out and touch a man who is not their husband). In reaching out, she is made well.
   
Concept in Depth

    Being ostracized is far too common today and far more than a game. In the beginning of her book, Queen Bees and Wannabes, Rosalind Wiseman describes this incident (a common occurrence) at middle school…
    Mrs. Clarke, a well meaning but clueless fifth-grade PE teacher, tells the girls to get into a circle for a game. Mrs. Clarke wonders why it takes the girls so long to get into a simple circle. The reason, which she fails to see, is right in front of her. Who will hold hands with whom? As the girls vie for the various positions that will display their social status of the day, Mrs. Clarke gets impatient and yells at the girls to get it together – now! And then a horrible thing happens. Carla, the most popular girl in the grade, happens to be standing next to Cynthia to hold her hand? As their hands touch, Carla grazes Cynthia’s fingers and then jumps away as if she’s touched a dead fish. The other girls giggle…[i]


   
In groups today, as in Jesus’ day, there are insiders and outsiders, popular and unpopular, clean and unclean, cootie-free and cootified. In all of these dualistic divided groups, to have them both, to have insiders and outsiders, it takes an agreement on both parties. For example, in the game of cooties, you can’t have people with cooties unless those designated as cootified agree that they have cooties and that cooties are bad. If they neither agree they have cooties, or proclaim that having cooties is wonderful, there is no game. In a similar manner, you can’t have people who are unclean unless they agree that they are unclean and that being unclean is bad. It takes an agreement on both parties for the dualistic arrangement to work.
   
Let me put it in a more personal context. When I was in early high school, I was clearly a ‘nerd’ and Peggy was ‘cool’. (Sad to say, our language was still affected by the show Happy Days as we let Richie and Fonzie shape how we defined ‘insiders and outsiders.’) Peggy hung out with older guys with cars, most of them athletes. Peggy and I saw little of each other at school, but the summer after sophomore year, we spent a week together on a church trip. We grew close. At the end of the week, I said to Peggy, “I’d like to see you when we get back.” I didn’t know what it meant, I just said it.
    “I’d like that,” she said. And then she said, “Call me.”
    ‘Call me?’ I had never imagined I would call her – or that she would want me to. What would I say? What would I call her for? To go out…on a date? I wanted to go out with Peggy, but calling her? The wide gap between cool and nerd, between girls who dated older guys with cars and me seemed insurmountable. Did I call her? No. Why? She terrified me. Not she, nor culture, nor ‘cool’ kids or ‘nerd’ set my distance from her on their own. I chose it. I didn’t call her because the very idea made my hands sweat and my mouth mute. I agreed to the distance between us. Together, insiders and outsiders, we agreed to the separation. Again, for any segregation to exist, you need the segregators and segregates to agree on placement. You can’t have ‘cool’ kids and ‘nerds’ in the same way unless the ‘nerds’ agree that being a ‘nerd’ is bad. Who knew?
    In the text, as far as we know, Amy had been defined by culture, scripture and those in power as an outsider, as less than – and she had accepted it – until this moment. Here, she moves. She comes out of the dark. She doesn’t stay back. She approaches Jesus. She crosses the distance others had set for her and she had accepted. She refuses the placement of any leader and any scripture that would call her ‘less than.’ She reaches and touches Jesus and in doing so is made well. And, likely, if history shows us anything, she gave permission to other women to do the same.
   
Application

  

 

In 1943, Rosa Parks got on board a bus in Montgomery. If you were black in Montgomery in 1943, you got on the front door of the bus, paid your fare, and then had to exit the bus and reenter by the back door which was the accepted entrance for blacks. But in 1943, a tired Rosa Parks entered the bus, paid her fare but instead of exiting to reenter just walked down the aisle and took her seat. The bus driver was James Blake, a young man recently back from World War II. Blake refused to drive the bus. He told her that she would have to exit the bus and reenter at the appropriate door in the back. After Rosa exited, Blake refused to open the rear doors and then drove off and left her. He was trying to teach her a lesson. She had to walk home.

    Twelve years later, the same bus driver, though Rosa didn’t realize it at the time, was driving when she got on board after working at a department store. She paid her fare and sat in an empty seat in the first row of back seats reserved for blacks in the “colored” section. As the bus traveled along its regular route, all of the white-only seats in the bus filled up. Bus drivers, if the white section filled up, were supposed to reassign seats for the whites.
    Blake noted that the front of the bus was filled with white passengers and that there were two or three white men standing. He then moved the “colored” section sign behind Rosa and demanded that she and three others give up their seats in the middle section so that the white passengers could sit down. Parks would later recall, “When that white driver stepped back toward us, when he waved his hand and ordered us up and out of our seats, I felt a determination cover my body like a quilt on a winter night. When he saw me still sitting, he asked if I was going to stand up, and I said, ‘No, I’m not.’ And he said, ‘Well, if you don’t stand up, I’m going to have to call the police and have you arrested.’ I said, ‘You may do that.’”
    In her biography, My Story, she would later write, “People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn’t true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was    forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”
    Like Amy in the text, Rosa refused her placement. She wasn’t going to play by the bus rules, the rules of the city, or the U.S. government. People could do what they want, arrest her, throw her in jail, but she was not going to take a seat as ‘less than.’ Was the bus driver an evil man? No. Were the police evil? No. Did Rosa Parks want to destroy them? No. She just refused to be placed as ‘less than.’ She refused to be treated, in her own words, as a “second class citizen.” Through refusing her assignment as an outsider, she showed others we never have to accept placement as ‘less than.’ We never have to accept where others assign us. We always have a choice. We can always move (or not move in Rosa Parks’ case).
    Yet, how do we know what’s right? Did Amy know how right her movement was when she started toward Jesus? Did Rosa Parks know how right her movement was when she remained in her seat?
    The litmus test from this text and the story of Rosa Parks is simple.  Right movement makes us well. Jesus tells Amy after she reaches out to him that “Her faith made her well.” Right movement makes us well. If I move toward my family, my neighbors, my coworkers in a way that makes me ill, there is something wrong with the movement. Right movement makes us well.
    Right movement also liberates others to move. Following Rosa Park’s bravery, others realized that it takes two groups to play at insiders and outsiders. Others realized that they, too, had a choice. Others were liberated. Likely, when Amy reached out to Jesus, others were liberated to do so as well.
   
Challenge for Us

    We can always move. No one can designate us as outsiders, and as insiders we can reach out to whomever we choose. Dividing lines are arbitrary. Jesus challenges us to cross and recross all arbitrary separations. It only takes one to change the world for others.

Reflection

    Read the following quotes. How do they apply to the concept and stories above?

Deceive yourself no longer that you are helpless in the face of what is done to you. Acknowledge but that you have been mistaken, and all effects of your mistakes will disappear. – Helen Schuman

Each man must have his I; it is more necessary to him than bread; and if he does not find scope for it within the existing institutions he will be likely to make trouble.
– Charles Horton Cooley

I think it’s unfair, but they have the right as fallible, screwed-up humans to be unfair; that’s the human condition. —
Albert Ellis

Acceptance is not love. You love a person because he or she has lovable traits, but you accept everybody just because they’re alive and human.
– Albert Ellis

Exercise

    Think back to labels you have been given by others. Did a location of distance go with the label? Did you accept it or reject it?
    How have you given labels to others that assigned distance? Is there a way you can move toward them now?
    How can you cross the distance between yourself and others?

his post is chapter 11 from The Psychology of Jesus supplemented with video illustrations.

[i] Rosalind Wiseman, Queen Bees and Wannabes, p. 18.

Live Your Moments: Don’t Be Stronger Than You Need to Be

The Bible has a lot of paradoxical statements, die to live, lose to win, and then there is this one from Paul, “When I am weak, I am strong.” It’s a tough workout to practice, make yourself weaker to become more powerful. Here are Paul’s words of encouragement to the church in Corinth. He begins by sharing about his own struggles and praying three times for relief then opens up to what he learned from the process.

2 Corinthians 12: 8 Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, 9 but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10 Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

Here is a song written by Gary Nicholson and shared by Seth Walker. He provides a more palatable image of what might be gained in our weakness and encourages us to not be Stronger Than You Need to Be…

 

Can’t Shake Jesus

When I was younger, there was an evangelism program called, I Found It, complete with celebrities, booklets, and bumper stickers. One of the messages of the advertising campaign used the image from Revelation 3 with Jesus standing at my door and knocking, promising if I will just let him in, he will come in and be my friend.
As an adult, in Russia, on a trip I did not select as much as was sent, I was in the home of one of my new friends who had an almost life-size framed picture of Jesus standing at the door and knocking. “Do you know this passage?” he asked. “Yes,” I said, “but in my life, I feel more like Jesus doesn’t knock and wait hoping I’ll open it, but my experience with Jesus is that he kicks it in.” Even after translated by another in Russian, he did not seem to understand. I wish I had Gordon Kennedy with me to help explain. He has a marvelous way of singing about Jesus in songs like, Can’t Shake Jesus,

naked, alone, cold cobblestones
they beat Him until the blood ran
they brought Him to die, on a cross, up on-high
with spikes through His feet and His hands
a crown of thorns on His brow, His eye on the crowds
all of God’s daughters and sons
they’re spitting on Him, cursing at Him
“Forgive them for what they have done…

you can use Him, abuse Him, mock and accuse Him
sell Him out for thirty pieces
betray Him, slay Him, do the devil’s mayhem
but you can’t shake Jesus

well I’ve had my bouts, questions and doubts
you know there are those who deceive
I’ve tried to resist, escape and dismiss
but there’s one who’s shadowing me

 I can lose my religion, break with tradition
say I’ll hold out till Hell freezes
I can test Him, try Him, but I just can’t deny Him
no, I can’t shake Jesus

Here is Ricky Skaggs preforming “Can’t Shake Jesus”

Here is my promise. Run if you want. Hide if you can. I don’t see it going well for you. If he’s after you, he’ll find you. You can’t shake him. A warning Edith Lovejoy Pierce captured in her poem, Drum Major for a Dream,

Above the shouts and the shots,
The roaring flames and the siren’s blare,
Listen for the stilled voice of the man
Who is no longer there.
Above the tramping of the endless line
Of marches along the street,Listen for the silent step
of the dead man’s invisible feet.Lock doors, put troops at the gate,
Guard the legislative halls
But tremble when the dead man comes,
Whose spirit walks through walls.

What About Holy Saturday?

Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday – But what about Saturday?
Certainly Saturday must have been what seemed like one of the longer days of the week.  Jesus had died, terribly, but burried certainly. With each moment came the expectation that those who came for Jesus might come for them, that the “Jesus Problem in Jerusalem” wasn’t going to be settled until all his followers were rounded up and seen to their own demise.
Saturday is the between time. The after the cross but before the resurrection.
The importance of the between time, the day between the crucifixion and resurrection, the day between Friday and Sunday, is holy time. For the Jews, that day, Saturday, it was worship, Sabbath, the Holy Day.
For Christians, Holy Saturday marks that between time, that space between the crucifixion and resurrection, the day of emptiness, which, if noticed for what it was, could have pointed to the emptiness of the tomb.
To enter nothing, to step into the void, is our holy journey. It is where, like the disciples, we encounter God. Meister Eckhart said, It is characteristic of creatures that they make something out of something, while it is a characteristic of God that he makes something out of nothing. Therefore, if God is to make anything in you or with you, you must first become nothing. Hence go into your own ground and work there, and the works that you work there will all be living.
       The first symbol of Easter is a void. Easter begins with nothing. Easter begins with the empty place. Easter begins with the empty tomb. And an invitation, “Come and see the empty place.” Emptiness opens us to possibility. As the proverb says, It is not the bars but the space between them that holds the tiger. Without space, there is no room for life symbolized by the tiger.
A priest will often use a cup as a symbol of self. Like the tea cup, it is not the pottery but it is the space between the pottery which gives life. Without space, the cup would be a ceramic ball – a poor ball that breaks soon after you throw it. It is the space that allows the cup its purpose. In a similar matter, not the notes but the empty space between them that creates the music. It is the empty places that make the music. In a similar manner, it is not the walls, but the space between them that makes a home… or a church. Without space, a church would be one giant block of concrete. Space makes room for life. We call church space between the walls ‘sacred’ space.
Easter invites us to let our minds be sacred space. The transformation of Easter, which took a tomb of death, and made it sacred, is to take your mind and make it sacred space – an empty place where you can experience the power of God to give full life. What does God want from you? Nothing. And it may be one of the hardest things you have to give. Especially on a Saturday. Especially when we face a tomb. That’s why we call those moments, “Holy.” Soren Kierkegaard described prayer as going intentionally to that empty space, a great way to live out Holy Saturday.

As my prayer became more attentive and inward,
I had less and less to say.
I finally became completely silent.
I started to listen
–which is even further removed from speaking.
I first thought that praying entailed speaking.I then learnt that praying is hearing,
not merely being silent.
This is how it is.
To pray does not mean to listen to oneself speaking.
Prayer involves becoming silent,
and being silent,
and waiting until God is heard.

Why Jesus Died

To this day, I am haunted by a sermon that I heard. The church is Ebenezer Baptist in Atlanta where Martin Luther King, Jr. and Sr. both preached. I was there with a seminary group on the Sunday before Easter.
The preacher asked, “Why did Jesus have to die?” We thought about it while he went on to describe all the details of Jesus trial, beating, crucifixion and death?
He asked again, “Why did Jesus have to die?” Then described the scene of Jesus death again.
Then he said, “There is one thing I want to know? Why was Jesus alone? Where were the disciples?” We all knew they were off hiding. He asked, “Where were the rest?” Rest? what rest? “The people shouting ‘Hosanna’ in the street? Where were they? Where were those that Jesus healed? Where were the ten lepers? The blind and the lame? The woman who was caught in adultery that Jesus kept them from stoning her, where was she? Zachaeus who Jesus brought down from the tree and into the community? The roman centurion that Jesus healed his slave? Nicodemus who came by night? Where were they? Where were they all? What about Lazarus? Jesus raised him from the dead? Why was he not there? He was living on bonus time! How could he not be brave enough to show up? Where was he? Where were they all?”
“You want to know why Jesus died? He died because no one waws willing to stand beside him! Because no one was willing to stand with him!
Because no one was willing to stand up for him! He died because when he needed them most, when he – the one who did so much for them needed them most, they were off hiding. Or if they were in the crowd, they were to afraid to act! Jesus died because the ones he healed, cared for, loved…did nothing.”
Since I heard that sermon, I hear this story with new ears. In that crowd were people, followers of Jesus, lovers of God, people who knew Jesus was innocent, and they were too afraid to act. So I scream at them, “Do something!”
Jesus died because they did nothing.
The truth of the matter is, how many more times does Jesus die because people like us, people who have felt his special touch, people who know the love of God, do not act.
Martin Niemoeller was a pastor in Germany in the 1930’s and 40’s. He said this, “They came first for the communists, but I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came fo the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak.”
When Khrushchev came to power in the Soviet Union, he denounced Stalin and his brutal actions during his rule. In a crowded hall, someone shouted, “Where were you, Comrade Khrushchev, when all these innocent people were being slaughtered?”
Khrushchev paused, looking around the hall, and shouted, “Who said that?” “Will the man who said that stand up so I can see him.”
Tension built. All was quiet. No one said anything or moved.
Then Khrushchev said, “Well, whoever you are, you have your answer now. I was in exactly the same position then as you are now.”
As the saying in your bulletin reads, “All that is needed for evil to triumph is that the good do nothing.”
As we face this Holy Week, as we remember all that was done to Jesus and all that others didn’t do, as you wake to another Easter season and another day in your life, what will you do? How will the world be different because you lived another day?

Doubt as a Path to Faith

“Don’t be a Doubting Thomas,” was a charge I heard both at home and church. Doubt was bad. It was below lying and stealing, but doubt was otherwise high on the list of nonchristian characteristics and Thomas was the icon for doubt like Judas was the icon for betrayal.
Through the years, I’ve gained a little more respect for Thomas, doubting, and found little use for such polar dichotomies like doubt and faith. I’ve found throughout my life that there are few opposites. As a toddler, falling was not the opposite to walking but just part of the learning process. A little older, I found that mistakes in math were just part of the process in learning to add, subtract, multiply, and divide. Throughout my life, I’ve found that doubt and questions just part of the process of growing in not only faith toward but love with someone as mysterious as Jesus.
In the recesses of my mind, I have stored a simple quote by Paul Tillich, “Doubt is not the opposite of faith, it is an element of faith.” As I searched for more on doubt from Tillich, I came across this article on faith from Frederick Buechner who weaves words together with an unmatched art.
As you, perhaps, wrestle with your own doubts and questions, hoping to encounter a Lord you can not only see but touch and be touched by, I hope Buechner’s words may be helpful.

When God told Abraham, who was a hundred at the time, that at the age of ninety his wife, Sarah, was finally going to have a baby, Abraham came close to knocking himself out—”fell on his face and laughed,” as Genesis puts it (17:17). In another version of the story (18:8ff.), Sarah is hiding behind the door eavesdropping, and here it’s Sarah herself who nearly splits a gut—although when God asks her about it afterward, she denies it. “No, but you did laugh,” God says, thus having the last word as well as the first. God doesn’t seem to hold their outbursts against them, however. On the contrary, God tells them the baby’s going to be a boy and they are to name him Isaac. Isaac in Hebrew means “laughter.”
Why did the two old crocks laugh? They laughed because they knew only a fool would believe that a woman with one foot in the grave was soon going to have her other foot in the maternity ward. They laughed because God expected them to believe it anyway. They laughed because God seemed to believe it. They laughed because they half believed it themselves. They laughed because laughing felt better than crying. They laughed because if by some crazy chance it just happened to come true, they would really have something to laugh about, and in the meanwhile it helped keep them going.
Faith is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” says the Letter to the Hebrews (11:1). Faith is laughter at the promise of a child called Laughter.
Faith is better understood as a verb than as a noun, as a process than as a possession. It is on-again-off-again rather than once-and-for-all. Faith is not being sure where you’re going, but going anyway. A journey without maps. Paul Tillich said that doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith.
I have faith that my friend is my friend. It is possible that all his motives are ulterior. It is possible that what he is secretly drawn to is not me, but my wife or my money. But there’s something about the way I feel when he’s around, about the way he looks me in the eye, about the way we can talk to each other without pretense and be silent together without embarrassment, that makes me willing to put my life in his hands, as I do each time I call him friend.
I can’t prove the friendship of my friend. When I experience it, I don’t need to prove it. When I don’t experience it, no proof will do. If I tried to put his friendship to the test somehow, the test itself would queer the friendship I was testing. So it is with the Godness of God.
The five so-called proofs for the existence of God will never prove to unfaith that God exists. They are merely five ways of describing the existence of the God you have faith in already.
Almost nothing that makes any real difference can be proved. I can prove the law of gravity by dropping a shoe out the window. I can prove that the world is round if I’m clever at that sort of thing—that the radio works, that light travels faster than sound. I cannot prove that life is better than death or love better than hate. I cannot prove the greatness of the great or the beauty of the beautiful. I cannot even prove my own free will; maybe my most heroic act, my truest love, my deepest thought are all just subtler versions of what happens when the doctor taps my knee with his little rubber hammer and my foot jumps.
Faith can’t prove a damned thing. Or a blessed thing either.

For more by Frederick Buechner, you can start at this link: http://frederickbuechner.com/content/faith

Is God a Morning Person?

I often find poets make the best preachers. They focus on each word and every line to provide in often-succinct fashion interpretation of life and scripture. Along with the images of creation in Genesis and Psalms, I hold this version of our beginning by Vassar Miller dear to my heart.

Morning Person
Vassar Miller

God, best at making in the morning, tossed
stars and planets, singing and dancing, rolled
Saturn’s rings spinning and humming, twirled the earth
so hard it coughed and spat the moon up, brilliant
bubble floating around it for good, stretched holy
hands till birds in nervous sparks flew forth from
them and beasts – lizards, big and little, apes,
lions, elephants, dogs and cats cavorting,
tumbling over themselves, dizzy with joy when
God made us in the morning too, both man
and woman, leaving Adam no time for
sleep so nimbly was Eve bouncing out of
his side till as night came everything and
everybody, growing tired, declined, sat
down in one soft descended Hallelujah.

Whether the creation stories of Genesis or poets like Miller or James Weldon Johnson, the great ones point not just toward what God has done but what God continues to do daily. This week take Miller’s poem and perspective with you. See each day, each encounter, each dynamic moment as a work of an ever creating God.

Throughout These Forty Days

Forty is a number that shows up again and again in the Bible. In the flood story, it rained forty days and forty nights. After they were liberated from slavery in Egypt, the Israelites wandered in the desert for forty years. Jesus, after his baptism, was sent out into the desert where he fasted, prayed, and wrestled with the devil for forty days and nights.

We mark Jesus’ forty days in the season of Lent from Ash Wednesday to Easter. For our congregation, I’ve sent out a daily poem and prayer to facilitate time with God on this forty day journey. For the unconventional who may not want an email a day or who may want to pray another forty days after Easter or in some other part of the year, here are the days poems and prayers for reflection in one document.

40 Days PDF

40 Days WORD DOCPreview

 

Pray to Your Audience of One

Somewhere in the recesses of my mind, I have a vague memory from my childhood when I prayed in a family or other group gathering. Someone, perhaps a sibling, snickered at the words I chose in my prayer. My mother, the ever protector, responded quickly, “He wasn’t talking to you.”
Jesus taught that prayer was never a public performance but a private one. Here are his words again from The Message and Matthew 6:

“And when you come before God, don’t turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for stardom! Do you think God sits in a box seat?
“Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.

Instead of doing a dance for the world, you do your dance for God, your audience of one, The One. Instead of proclaiming your righteousness, you seek alignment with the heart and desires of God. Paul Thorn offers a great image for when God is your target audience and simple prayer in a phrase in, I Hope I’m Doing This Right, Continue reading “Pray to Your Audience of One”