Where the Wild Things Are

where-the-wild-things-are-2-1In Genesis chapter one, God creates both/ands
God makes both light and dark and calls them “Day.” Each day has both bright and night.
God makes both land and sea as the earth.
God makes animals that are both wild and tame.
This world of both/ands, God calls, “Good.” God doesn’t say “perfect” though, in this balance there is a perfect unity of both/ands.
In this world of the tame and wild, there is a peace that can only be found outside of the walls we surround ourselves in for protection, beyond control and into the naturally ordered chaos, where the Wild Things Are.
Here are two poems that capture the essence of this wide wild world as good, among the wild things…


The Peace of Wild Things

by Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Wild Geese
by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

September 11th, December 25th, and April 14th

Christmas will be on a Sunday this year. We will gather in a smaller than usual Sunday worship service and celebrate that the greatest Christmas gift was in a manger and not under a tree. All will seem right with the world.

Yesterday, we gathered in worship and the past entered our present on the fifteenth anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks. Having just moved from Orlando, where we worshipped a mile and a half from The Pulse night club where 50 of God’s children were shot and killed, I was suffering from some pastoral ptsd yesterday as I stood in front of our congregation, thinking of New York, Orlando, and Babylon as I shared how Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego didn’t bow to Nebuchadnezzar’s terrorizing fiery furnace or whatever fear they held within their own hearts. They stood. Across the country, yesterday, people stood. Across the world, people continue to stand and not bow to terrorists. Some from those outside their countries, some from within, some from outside their houses, some even in their own homes facing abuse by those who are supposed to love them most.

During Christmas, we’ll read from Luke’s version of Christmas with shepherds and angels. We’ll ignore Matthew’s story with the Nebuchadnezzar type of ruler in Herod and his terrorizing soldiers that tried to kill Jesus by slaughtering babes in Bethlehem two years old and younger. At Christmas, we’ll dream of a fairy filled world of babes, angels, and flying reindeer until some other holy day reminds us that the world we live in is not the world God dreams about, which is why Jesus came, which is why those who claim his name, or at least his title, are sent outward into the world that can be often dark and full of terrors.

The language of faith is not a promise of impenetrable safety but a daring leap into an unknown but certain risk. I often think of Moses who stared down Pharaoh not one time but ten telling him of God’s relentless dream of his children’s freedom. Moses didn’t back down. He went repeatedly into his encounters with Pharaoh that could well have resulted in his own demise. I think of the three who stood in the fields of Babylon while not only king but neighbors demanded they cower before the power. Their future’s were uncertain. God being the I AM was not one for testing or serving as someone’s body guard. “We don’t know whether our God can or will save us,” Shadrach, Meshach, or Abednego confessed to the accusing Nebuchadnezzar. “Regardless,” they continued, “we won’t bow.” They didn’t. Nebuchadnezzar carried out his promise and then, to the surprise of all, God showed up in the fire. While the three survived, I’m sure they were impacted, cringing any time a match was struck, standing back a bit farther from the smallest camp fires. No matter the result, those nightmares stay with us. That’s what we do, carry our past terrors into our futures no matter how hard we try not to think about them.

We all want to be safe, but the world won’t let us be. Sometimes a lone gunman or mad king, sometimes it’s simply gravity and the frail formed bodies that carry around our souls. Safety would be great but anyone that promises it to you is selling you something and likely not lived much or read much of the Bible. It is our big temptation. Martin Luther said that security can be our greatest idol. Acts of horror challenge our fantasies about safety. We try and proclaim faith as our get out of pain free card, but the storytellers, the prophets, and the poets tell us that all our great virtues, from love to hope, come with a required risk and sometimes a world of hurt.

During the Christmas season of 1940, one of the greatest terrorists in recorded history was urging the most powerful military across Europe and into Asia fostering genocide along the way. In that time of great anxiety, poet W.H. Auden encouraged faith, not an immature faith fostered by Macy’s, but a mature faith that fostered living into God’s dreams for the world by facing all the nightmares the world could generate. Auden observes that the courage to live out the virtues can take us beyond our fears, beyond the tragedies of yesteryear or fears for what might be into something greater, something of God’s design. All we have to do is leap.

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.

Last night at our youth group, Garrett Campbell, our youth leader, asked whether the world full of more evil or good. The general consensus was that the answer was undetermined and left up to how we decided to respond, and ultimately, how God responds. After all, following Christmas, Jesus heads to that terrible day when Rome showed the world what it did to any perceived threats by nailing Jesus to a cross. What should be called, “Horrible Friday,” we call “Good Friday,” April 14th in the new year to come. “Good Friday.” Apparently God, and God’s people, can take the greatest acts of terror and bring good from them. That’s quite a leap of faith, but worth the risk.

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Beyond Certainty to Wise Insight

Here is another video from our Wednesday night study challenging us to go beyond our interpretations of the world around us to encounter the world before us.

In Proverbs 9, wisdom calls out to those lost in their own certainties to find greater understanding,

To those without sense she says,
“Come, eat of my bread
and drink of the wine I have mixed.
Lay aside immaturity, and live,
and walk in the way of insight.”

How Do You View the World – and People in It?

Last Wednesday, we used this clip from The West Wing to examine how our perspective of world geography effects our view of people looking at the world from ‘the top down.’ These cartographers challenged the White House staff to see not just the world, but our own perspective of it.

In Luke 10, Jesus challenged a lawyer’s world view and how the man perceived people from a top down through the familiar story of The Good Samaritan. Notice how he flips the man’s expectation taking the lowly Samaritan and makes him the hero of the story and in the holy priest and Levite turn out to be not quite as righteous as their roles normally portray them.

LUKE 10: 25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus.[j] “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27 He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii,[k] gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”
37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.”
Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

 

Thumbs Up for Bob Britt

Bob Britt's ThumbAs my friend, Bob Britt, has his final radiation treatment in this long fight against cancer, I want to celebrate my friend today. I shared some of this in my church newsletter this month and at our fundraiser last Spring as we started this journey, but I think it’s a message to put in print and to share with others. You don’t have to be a guitar player to understand this way of life, faith, and love that I see in this man.

I was reminded about how I experience Bob as he posted this cover photo on Facebook.

At first look, it may not seem so impressive, but if you know the man, you get the picture.

To understand the man, this message, and your own way in the world, consider your own thumb and fingers and how your hand works.

Fingers can touch many things, even grasp quite well. What the fingers of your hand lack the ability to do is to touch one another. The tip of your index finger cannot touch the tip of your pinky directly, at least not the ones on your same hand. Thumbs, however, are unique among the digits of your hand in that the thumb is capable of touching each finger directly.

In this life, you will encounter people who are like fingers, they can be touched, they can grasp and grab, but are unable and unskilled at touching others directly. They are close to others but unable to make direct contact no matter how they reach and stretch. In life, you also encounter people who are like thumbs, they touch others with ease. They can grasp and grab like others, though it doesn’t come as natural to them. What does come natural is intimate contact and support. They are designed for and have developed skill in touching others and enabling each to reach his or her designed purpose and potential.

Thumbs also play a crucial role for guitar players. For most of us who pluck at a guitar, our thumbs never press a string. Thumbs do not press strings directly, so at first, the essential role a thumb plays may go unnoticed. If you pay attention, even look closely at the picture of Bob’s thumb and guitar, you see how, without the supportive effort of the thumb, the fingers would never have the strength alone to press the strings and make music possible.

My friend Bob is a thumb. As a guitar player, he is able to step into any group of musicians and see what not only the band needs as a group and as individual artists, he can even see what the song needs and offer it. He makes music as well as life better for others. Bob has touched lives directly and personally made so many people, musicians, artists, and just regular Joes and Janes like Carrie and me experience life in a way much fuller than we would have without him. That’s what thumbs do.

So, Bob’s thumb is a great image for him as well as an example for us. Be a thumb. Touch another life. Make music possible.

JOY!

David

p.s.. Here is a video of Bob playing with many different people that gives some great images to what thumbs do. Notice how many folks Bob makes better. That’s what skilled musicians do. It’s also what friends do for one another.

 

Perceptions and Prejudices

Read the following paragraph. How easily do you adjust the words to fit your expectations?

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In John 1, Philip invites Nathanael to come and see Jesus. Because Jesus was from Nazareth, the ‘wrong side of the Israel tracks,’ Nathanael was certain that Jesus could certainly not be the Messiah, and even more was up to no good and was no good as a person. He filled in the blanks in his mind without even meeting Jesus. Here is there encounter:

43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”

Go to John 1 to see the rest of the story…

Go Lift Somebody Up

I just got off the phone with my good friend, Jeffrey Perkins. We were celebrating that our friend, Bob Britt, is about to finish his last radiation treatment in this long journey of kicking cancer. Here are the two of us at the fundraiser for the Britts at 3rd and Lindsley. That picture was the day after my interview when I interviewed with Macland. I shaved my head because, simply put, I didn’t know what else to do for my friend.

The contrast in hair style’s is significant. I was going for Yul Brenner and Jeffrey is a constant Johnny Bravo. The Jones family thinks so much of Jeffrey and Angie, Nate  went as Jeffrey for Halloween a few years ago. (I tried to dress up like Angie but couldn’t pull it off.)

Jeffrey Perkins221

 

 

 

 

 

 
Sunday’s sermon this week in on John 6, the famous feeding of the 5,000. In John’s version, it is the little boy who gives up his lunch. In the other gospels, the donor is anonymous. I like John’s version because the kid leaves me with a personal question, “How have I helped out somebody today?”
A great song to go with this text for those preparing for worship with me on Sunday or for those who just need a good spiritual uplift is Paul Thorn’s, “What Have You Done to Lift Somebody Up?” That’s Jeffrey on the drums. He’s a little like Jesus in this video. You can’t see him, but just believe me when I tell you that he’s there.

Go lift somebody up…

 

 

Can You Believe Your Own Eyes?

At our Wednesday night study, CSI: THE BIBLE, we examined how our surroundings effect how we interpret what we see.

Jesus challenged us to examine our perspective and said of his followers, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see!” To see we must sometimes look beyond our brains’ interpretations to what is really before us – especially when we are with people. As Scott Peck said, “We cannot let another person into our hearts or minds unless we empty ourselves. We can truly listen to him or truly hear her only out of emptiness.”

Your Potential in a Trashcan

Matthew 18: At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 He called a child, whom he put among them, 3 and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

When I forget the distinct personality, the particular possibility and potential each person has, my children remind me, like when my son, Nathan, showed me the possibilities of a trashcan when seen through his eyes.
If I were with you right now, I’d show you a plastic trashcan. Since I’m not with you, find a trashcan or imagine one. It has a function. It was built for that function in a factory. Some factory produces thousands of identical trash cans intelligently designed for one purpose. I usually saw the one in my office as a trashcan and only a trashcan, until Nathan taught me otherwise. For Nathan, the trashcan wasn’t a receptacle and only a receptacle, a container for the unwanted refuse, for with his imagination, there were a thousand possibilities.  It became a stool, a storage container, a hurdle, a hat, a drum, and of course, a paper wad basketball goal. The factory in it’s void of intelligence saw it for one productive purpose and no more. Because Nathan is alive, he can envision, name, and make more than trash cans, he can make possibilities. He is possibility and possibility in a unique and distinctive way that is his and his alone.
To be a product is to be uniform, to be alive is to be unique. Look at any child, they are not a factory model. No child was made like a watch, car, or airplane. Life produces life.
And people who don’t think they are machines, celebrate the differences instead of trying to fix others.
Learning that we are distinct persons is the requirement for living in relationship. You can’t celebrate another person until you celebrate your own personhood. Personhood is required for relationship, as Rabbi Heshcel counseled,

You can only sense a person if you are a person. Being a person depends upon being alive to the wonder and mystery that surround us, upon the realization that there is no ordinary person.

When you question your human potential, be encouraged by every trashcan you see. Each can be a waste receptacle, a storage container, a hurdle, a hat, a drum, and of course, a paper wad basketball goal. If each trashcan has so much potential, how much more is there in store for you, Beloved Child of God?

Prayer – Jesus on The Mainline

When I was young, I read Batman comic books and watched Batman on television.
I loved Commissioner Gordon’s Bat Signal for the night sky and his red phone to call Batman directly. The child in me, in moments of stress, reaches out to God when I need heroic help.

Ry Cooder captured that hotline feeling in Jesus on The Mainline. 

Live Your Moments: Wake Up!

In more than one place, the Bible writers assert that our spiritual troubles arise from our lack of attentedness in our daily lives, we are going throguh them as machines, following our patterns paying very little attention to the moments before us.

There are quotes from scriptures: Proverbs 6:9, How long will you lie there, O lazybones? When will you rise from your sleep? There is also Ephesians 5:14,Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead…

Some more recent philosophers have made a similar point. Like Mr. Spock, Leonard Nimoy from Star Trek asked, Instead of asking “Why are we here?” We should ask, “Are we here?” Author Thich Nhat Hat observed that, People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air,  but to walk on earth.

With the challenge before me, I decided I was going to go to our Sunday Service attentive to the present moment. Unconscious patterns are a clear sign of going through life asleep. I know about patterns. I’m a pastor.

My church’s members are like most others, finding comfort in familiar practices, arriving at the same time, parking in the same spots, and seating themselves in the same pews. Most pray patterned prayers offering, “Our Father who art…” when we gather and praying “God is great…” and “Now I lay me…” at home.

When I first started to notice my patterns, I tried to break out of one on a Sunday morning. It did not go well for me or my congregation. After the worship service, I took my position at the front of the church by the door as usual. As I shook the hands of exiting parishioners, I greeted and was greeted with, “Have a nice week,” and, “See you next Sunday.”

One of our members, Kathy, shook my hand and said softly, “Hi, how are you?” without breaking her stride through the door.

I replied, “Fine,” but determined to have more than the typical response, I resisted Kathy’s quick exit. The normal duration for a handshake was over, but I wasn’t finished. She pulled away, but I held on pulling her back into the doorway. I twisted my head to make contact with her already-past-me face. She returned to me. “Kathy,” I said pausing for emphasis, “how are you?”

“Fine,” she said giving a slight tug of return to her hand.

“No, really Kathy, how ARE you? I want to know.” By this time I just had her fingers, “Are you okay? How was your week? Really, I want to know.”

“It was fine,” she said emphatically pulling her hand liberating her fingers. “Fine,” she said again. “Really.” At this point she was out the door.

I gave her the pastoral I understand nod of my head. ‘I think we connected,’ I lied to myself. I looked up to see the parishioners now backed up from the exit like a line of women at the bathroom of a college football game, restless and anxious, trying to will the front of the line to move ahead and make way. The path cleared; one by one they all came through. I let them all go, no questions asked.

In your life, look at your patterns. Do you see any that have become sacred traditions for reasons since forgotten?

 

 

Live Your Moments: Say, “For the moment…”

A king gave one of his servants a challenge, he said, “Go and find a ring that will make a happy person sad and a sad person happy.” The servant searched the jewelers and merchants in every surrounding village and kingdom, and then he returned years later.
The king asked, “You’ve found a ring that can make a sad person happy and a happy person sad?”
The servant nodded and gave the ring to the king who looked at it closely then said to his servant, “Well done. Surely, this is a ring that can make a sad person happy and a happy person sad.”
The inscription inside the ring was, “For the moment…”

To the person with a painful illness or some other terrible burden to bear, “For the moment…” reminds him or her it won’t last forever. To the rich, successful, or the young, “For the moment…” can result in grief knowing it won’t last forever.
Reminding myself of my moments helps me appreciate them. The poet Shiki pointed out how we can miss our moments with others if we are not attentive,

When I looked back
The man who passed
Was lost in the mist.

I started saying, “…for the moment,” and found the simple phrase to be liberating. Here is what the practice looks like for me.

I say, “I’m married for the moment.” This is not some ominous expectation of divorce or death, but a recognition that neither Carrie nor I are the same people we were two decades ago. Each of us has changed in ways we didn’t expect, plan, or envision. If I don’t recognize our ongoing development, then I’ll say things like, “You always…” when she actually never alwayses. I will become historical (no, not hysterical). I will bring up prior wrongs, prior slights, prior moments that I never lived in the past but for some unknown reason seem to want to bring them out in the present. There is nothing like the past to ruin the present, nothing like yesterday to ruin a relationship today, and nobody like me to keep trying old patterns hoping for different results. Even though I want to be with Carrie in the moments of our relationship, at times, I seem to come at her. If she does not feel as I do, I try to impose on her whatever emotion I have. When I am “Married for the moment,” then I can be with her, sharing a space in time. Yesterdays stay in the past. Tomorrows stay in the future. Now is what we share.

I also remind myself, “I am a parent for the moment.” Our oldest daughter just started college. My relationship with her requires a different approach than ten years ago. Those childhood moments are gone. For her to go to college, I have had to grow up, grow into a new phase, and a new way of relating. With all three of our children, when I think I am an expert and know what they need labeling ‘their’ problems and prescribing for them what they should do, I create distance between us. They are each individuals. What is helpful for one may have the opposite result with another. Being in our moments requires less certainty and more curiosity.

As a pastor, I was deceived for years to believe there was an “Interim Pastor” (one who came in between one pastor and the next) and a “Permanent Pastor.” Now, I remind myself that since all roles are temporary, it’s all Interim. I remind myself of the temporary nature of all my roles by saying, “I am Pastor for The Moment.” This role won’t last forever. How can it?  Moments don’t last, but they don’t have to. Pastors have a great temptation to try and be “meaningful and lasting”. Churches love legacies even though lasting is the way of Emperors and Pharaohs. The Jesus Irony is that the one we call ‘Savior’, in our terms, saves by not saving. He does not try and save the disciples, his family, his synagogue, his Jewish tradition, his nation, his teachings (nowhere does Jesus ever tell someone, ‘Write this down! This is really good!” The only time we have a record of Jesus writing anything was in the sand, and we don’t know what he wrote. No one saved it.) He does not even try to save himself. He just opens his arms wide on the cross and looks to God in the most horrible of moments.

For adults in our various roles, we are often tempted to try reliving our past to get it right or preliving our future to keep ourselves and those we love free from pain and problems. As a helpful role model to life, Jesus pointed to a child and said, “The kingdom of heaven belongs to people like this child.” The Philosopher Heraclitus said similarly, “Time is a game played beautifully by children.” What children do naturally that adults don’t is let go of one stage of life in order to receive the next. My children, through their years in school, never expected one grade to last. They knew they were there for the year, and at the appropriate time, would leave one grade, one space, one age, for the next. I am trying to relearn from them what I have forgotten as ‘Pastor for The Moment.’

I say, “I am alive for the moment.” My life won’t last forever. I can exercise, diet, avoid poor health habits, but eventually, this life will end. “For the moment…” reminds me of my role while I’m alive – to do my best to live well so that I can die well whenever that moment arises. I am trying to do as my children and learn all I can in each grade, each stage, and then, when my time comes, head into the next.

There is one area I have yet to apply, “…for the moment.” I do not say, “My wife is alive for the moment” or, “My children are alive for the moment.” I’m just not there yet. As a pastor, I have buried other people’s spouses and other parent’s children. I am working hard to deny that could ever happen to me. I am certain my acceptance would enrich our time together, but I have some more maturing to do before I give up on denial altogether.

Here is an area that surprises many. I am comfortable saying, “I am David for the moment.” In whatever is after this life, will I still be called, “David?” Who knows? Even if “David Whitehill Jones” is one day etched in stone on a tomb or at the base of a statue on the national plaza in Washington like my mother thought, my name may not carry over to whatever is after death. In the Bible, names were changed quite often: Simon became Peter, Saul became Paul, and Sarai became Sarah. If it could happen to them, it may happen to me. For now, “I’m David for the moment.”

Try it yourself, say whatever fits, “I’m married for the moment,” or “I’m single for the moment.” “I’m a parent for the moment,”or “I’m a child for the moment.” “I’m a (insert job title, grade in school, or any other roles you play) for the moment.” “My name is ________ for the moment.” “I’m alive for the moment.” And, if you can, “Those I love are alive for the moment.”

Practice using this phrasing to frame your minutes into moments then try some of these other practices as you awaken to your life.

Live Your Moments: See in New Ways

In John 3, Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night because Jesus, as a teacher or Rabbi, doesn’t fit any of Nicodemus’ categories and labels for just how a teacher should act, while at the same time, he was doing far more works of God than those with tenure in the religious world.

Jesus bothers Nicodemus even more when he tells him to be “Born again.”

Nicodemus imagines what a shock that would be to his mother.

Throughout the gospels, Jesus challenges stuck people to think in new ways.

dotsCreativity guru, Michael Michalko, takes a normal creative challenge and then adds twist after twist. What used to be one creative solution to a problem, Michalko adds solution after solution. To begin to grasp Jesus’ teachings in the moments of our lives, we must be open to new ways of seeing. Perhaps Michalko’s exercise will help.

Continue reading “Live Your Moments: See in New Ways”

Live Your Moments: Find Strength in Unity

Ecclesiastes 4 puts forth an image of the strength in numbers whether the amount of cord in a rope or the number of bodies around you on a cold night.

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.10 For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help. 11 Again, if two lie together, they keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone? 12 And though one might prevail against another, two will withstand one. A threefold cord is not quickly broken.

This quick snippets give a marvelous visual to the importance of living in community in an often predatory world.

Live Your Moments: When You Can Give Up – Don’t!

When faced with a reason to quit, don’t do it. Those who inspire us, inspire us most by the will to continue after facing agonizing defeat.

As Paul challenged the church in Galatia 6: So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. 10 So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.

Growing Old with You – a Love Song for Bob by Etta

My friends Bob and Etta Britt have faced cancer this year but not let it come between them. For Bob’s birthday,
Etta wrote a song. “Grow Old with You.” The note and link is below. Etta wrote…
Happy Birthday to my sweet sweet husband!!
Late last night, we snuggled in with a glass of whiskey and watched an episode of “Justified”. When it was over I looked at the clock and it was 12:30am..Bob’s birthday! I asked him if I could give him his birthday gift at that moment. I thought it would be nicer to give it to him last night when it was dark and quiet and private instead of today with cars going by, sirens and dogs barking.. Of course he said yes.
I had him set up his bluetooth speaker and open his computer. I handed him a little box with a thumb drive in it along with a lyric sheet.. His gift was a song I wrote, just for him.
I’d like to share it with you but first tell you how it came to be, if that’s ok:
When Bob was diagnosed with his cancer, I was very open with you about how scared I was. My fear was of losing him. Not having him here with me in a year or two. The thought of us not growing old together broke my heart..
After settling in with the news and with great guidance from dear friends to hold on to my faith, I decided I wanted to write him a song and give it to him for his birthday. I called on my dear friends, Danny Flowers and Kevin McKendree to help me write it. I told them I knew what I wanted to say but not sure how to say.
What I was certain of was they were the only people I wanted to write this song with. We set a date for May 13th.. At first, I thought I wanted it to be a ballad but when we got together, I realized that over the past couple of months, I have only wanted uplifting music and people to be around me so I told them to let’s make it fun and not sappy. Danny started playing a cool riff and Kevin quickly joined him and I started singing. A couple hours later we had “Grow Old With You”.. I originally had written “I WANNA grow old with you” but Kevin suggested I say “I’m GONNA grow old with you”. It was the perfect change from hope to certainty.
I asked Kevin if it was possible to record it and have it by today. He had it booked within thirty minutes. He called on Derrek C Phillips and Anton Nesbitt to come play with him and Danny. We went to Kevin’s studio Sunday and this is our creation..Thank you sweet men for your love and talent on this song..
A song about our future years from now. A song of the certainty of growing old together. A song about a song..our song. Just click the title below to take a listen. I hope you like it and I invite you to share it with the one you love.
(Click  link below to hear the song…)


Grow Old with You by Etta Britt and Friends

Live Your Moments: Be a Child of Your Heavenly Father

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Back in my hometown of Anderson, SC, Carrie and I were in that auto line of cars following a funeral. I was trying to figure out my position in line behind the hearse. A man I had met earlier came up to the car. I rolled down the window. “Are you Ben’s boy?”
“Ben.” I had not heard that name in so long from anyone outside my family.
As the manager of a textile mill, in my childhood neighborhood, my father had been the king, the patriarch, but I long ago moved from there and from then. I switched towns and states. No one knew me as “Ben’s boy,” or “Ben’s son.” To hear that name washed over me and I was twelve years old again.
“Yes, sir,” I said with pride.
My father died when I was 18, three decades ago. I have moved far from anyone who knows him, but this man did. This man in a way knew me that others don’t, not even Carrie. He knew me as “Ben’s son”. With pride I said, “Yes, sir.”
As a youth, my father and I fought. He had an image from me as a future man far different from the one I was trying to become. In my mind, it was an either or proposition.
As I’ve gotten older, I see my relationship with my father as a both and, I am “Ben’s Boy,” yet at the same time, “My Own Man.” I have become far different than either of us envisioned, but now I can claim them both.
A Father’s love enables and empowers us to become both claimed by our Dad’s, and at the same time, grow unto something more than the images our father has for us or we have for ourselves, we can become the Imago Dei, the image of God, Our Father who art in heaven, and on earth, and in us, hopefully more and more each day.
“Are you Ben’s boy?”
Yes, I am.
“Are you God’s child?”
Yes, I am.
Prayer: Gracious God, on this Father’s day and every day here after, may I give my own son an example to follow and the freedom to find his own path. If it’s not to much to ask, could you arrange for my own father and I to have ‘a catch’ in a mystical corn field/baseball diamond in Iowa? Until then, tell my father I said, “Hello,” and that I’m still proud to be Ben’s boy.”

 

Orlando, Sunday’s Coming

A week ago, Carrie, Nathan, and I met with a doctor to hear the good news of Nate’s recent MRI as he told us what wasn’t there. That night, I hugged him tight, and he assured me, “I’m going to live a long time.” For that moment, death seemed distant.

Since then, I’ve seen pictures and heard stories of lives ended too soon not from ill health but horrific violence. I’ve heard theories of more than one gunman, theories of conspiracy from ISIS to “The Company.” Because I don’t have their intellect, I’ve had little response. I have no theories. I cannot make sense out of the past week’s events. The images of mass homicide at a nightclub along with the death of a two year old from an alligator attack at the happiest place on earth has scarred my psyche perhaps to that broken place beyond repair for this week’s events are beyond sense, beyond any rationales, traumatic by definition for a trauma is any disturbing experience which the brain cannot comprehend by relating to previously held concepts or experiences.

Though traumatic, let us stay here for a moment. Let’s forget the explanations of the philosophers and the rhetoric of the politicians lobbying for us to let them aim our anger at the evil among us. Let’s give witness to the pain of our neighbors, some we know, some we don’t. Let’s find language for their pain by looking beyond politics and philosophy to the poetry. Philosophers nor politicians can express the pain of the survivors from the Pulse shootings or the family who will return to Nebraska without their son. Only the poets can. Poets like Jane Kenyon,

The Sandy Hole

The infant’s coffin no bigger than a flightbag…
The young father steps backward from the sandy hole,
eyes wide and dry, his hand over his mouth.
No one dares to come near him, even to touch his sleeve.

…poets like Reed Whittemore

Psalm

The Lord feeds some of His prisoners better than others.
It could be said of Him that He is not a just god but an indifferent god.
That He is not to be trusted to reward the righteous 
and punish the unscrupulous.
That He maketh the poor poorer but is otherwise undependable.

It could be said of Him that it is His school 

for the germane that produced
the Congressional Record.
That it is His vision of justice that gave us cost accounting.

It could be said of Him that though we walk with Him all

the days of our lives we will never fathom Him
Because He is empty.

These are the dark images of our Lord

That make it seem needful for us to pray not unto Him
But ourselves.
But when we do that we find that indeed we are truly lost
And we rush back into the safer fold, impressed by His care for us.

And poets like the Psalmist,

Psalm 13

1 How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I bear pain[a] in my soul,
and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
3 Consider and answer me, O Lord my God!
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,
4 and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed”;
my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.
5 But I trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
6 I will sing to the Lord,
because he has dealt bountifully with me.

All the above exhibit a darkness that we too easily dismiss but after weeks like this past one, cannot reasonably deny. If we let the poets like the Psalmist guide us, there is a way in the overwhelming wood, there is a light in the dark.

That Psalmist, even when feeling forgotten by God, looks toward the future with hope when he or she would sing again to God who has and will deal bountifully in a way more plentiful than even the Psalmist can imagine in the pain of the present moment. Yet, he or she trusts God even when God seems silent and absent.

This week, this 13th Psalmist’s story is our story. The Psalmist’s path is our path. And, honestly, it is the only path. Who should know that better than we? Our worship is on Sunday, and every Sunday is Easter Sunday. Every Easter Sunday has one prerequisite, Friday comes before it. As Easter people, we only find life beyond death, paradise beyond our pain, the kingdom of God beyond whatever this is for the path to Easter is through Friday, which only in reflection, only looking backward, can we call it, “Good.” The hope of God’s resurrecting power is the only hope that enables us to face the horror of any cross trusting that no matter how terrible, the power of Friday is always limited, because Sunday is coming.

See you on Sunday.

For a lift to your soul, listen to this excerpt from a sermon by Tony Campolo that asserts this central facet to our faith, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s Coming.”

Live Your Moments: Feed Your Better Emotions

Often we become our emotions, so full of whatever we are feeling; there is little or no room for anything other than the emotion. We indicate we have become our emotion when we use ‘to be’ verbs. For example, “I am so angry,” or “I am afraid,” imply you are your emotions not that there is a larger “you” experiencing them. “I feel angry,” allows a recognition of the emotion, and your ability to feel it fully while listening to what your anger, fear, or other emotion is telling you. By becoming aware of your emotions, you can also choose how you will respond as well as learn about your situation from seeing where your emotions are directing you to look. Here is a helpful story attributed to The Cherokee Nation,

A boy looked at his grandfather whose face was tight and tense. Seeing his grandfather was troubled, the boy asked, “What’s the matter, Grandfather?”
He replied, “There is a great war inside me.”
“A war?” the boy asked.
“Yes, between two large wolves. One is dark, stormy, and angry, expecting evil and trying to force me to strike out at others. The other wolf is bright, full of warmth, and light. He expects wonder and joy. He encourages me to give love to others.”
Now, greatly concerned, the boy asked, “Grandfather, which wolf will win?”
The man’s face brightened as he looked at his grandson and said, “Whichever one I feed.”

Before the grandfather can decide which wolf to feed, he must see the wolves. To be aware of our emotions allows us to be instructed by them without becoming them and then nurture the ones that are more life enriching. To help you call them by name, create a list of emotions so you will know them when you feel them.

A Better Dream for Memorial Day

When we pray “Thy Kingdom come…” or speak of “One Nation under God,” what do we imagine? Proverbs 29 warns, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” (KJV) What are your visions for the world?

George McKorkle provides a dream grand enough for Memorial Day and for people of God everywhere. Etta Britt shared this song with me and our congregation on September 11, 2001. I still haven’t lost the dream.