Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Got Change?

Today I went on a field trip with my son's school. I eagerly chaperoned a group of 5th, 6th, and 7th graders at the Shakespear Theater for a performance of Richard III. What a treat! Never mind that Michael Kahn had directed this impressive production. He always has the most interesting way of treating the script - giving it thematic focus, encouraging creative character development and scene-setting. But, when the play began and the curtain went up, we were struck by the off-kilter nature of the set. All of the horizontal pieces - with the exception of the floor itself - were leaning at a severe angle. The in-your-face quality of the industrialized adaptation of medieval architecture was, well, in your face. You couldn't miss the connection or the connotation that this story was taking place in a world that was off balance. The set was also very dark to match the dark nature of the main character.

If you are unfamiliar with this particular Shakespearean interpretation of historical events, in a nutshell, this is a nutty family. (The movie still above is from an outstanding adaptation of this play set in 1930's fascist Europe - I highly recommend it.) Can you say dysfunctional? I knew that you could. Basically, Richard III is disformed and disfigured both physically and emotionally. Evil has come to dwell in his heart and he seems to have no capacity for compassion or mercy, only for conniving and manipulation. He kills off family members, including two young boys, one by one in order to gain accession to the throne. Try as they might to change his progress, to stop him from gaining another foothold, they each find themselves submitting to his flattery and false confidences.

However, just as he gains the throne, things begin to go awry as the young man Richmond flees and returns with a militia prepared to fight him and give him his due. In a stunning final couple of scenes, we watched the parallel scenes as two very different leaders prepared themselves and their men for a fight to the death. On the one hand was Richard who went to bed restless, a bowl of wine in hand. As he slumbered fitfully he was visited by all the dead he had slain and they each cursed him in turn. At the same time, Richmond prepared for a healthy night's sleep by dropping to his knees and submitting to God in prayer. Once asleep, peacefully, he also was visited by each of the departed souls. But they in turn offered him blessings and prayed to God for his victory. Guess who won the battle?

So God triumphs over evil and the glimmer of hope and change begin to emerge with the death of the evil Richard. It was a fantastic production.

And then to top it all off, cast members came back on stage after removing their costumes to answer questions and have a conversation with the students. The kids from the various schools in the audience asked some wonderful questions and provoked some great comments from the actors and production staff. But there was one question hanging in my mind that I didn't get to ask. I wondered how portraying a character in a play like this one - literally living into the story of such proportions - changes the actors personally. I mean, how can you NOT be changed by personifying such vivid characters and experiencing their humiliation, sorrow, hope and despair?

You see, the goodness of human nature was truly challenged in this play and it was only able to triumph in the character who removed himself from this tilted world and returned fortified by prayer and submission to God. Talk about metanoia...(see the post below). Certainly the play carries the message that we can't save ourselves. That our best efforts will not always match up squarely against the advances of evil and that the only way to overcome such dastardly and dire circumstances is to get out, away from the darkness, away from the precipitous nature of evil that can insidiously draw us in and then dash all hope. We must move to a new place in our lives to be free of the bondage of evil and ill intent and to be able to reconnect with God.

What is the evil or darkness that you confront in your own life? What is the means by which you are insidiously taken in? Flattery? Promises of reward? Promises of power? How can you find a place apart? Where can you go to put some space between you and the darker side of things? Are you able to sleep peacefully or are you cursed by fitful sleep and visited by memories of the wrongs you have done? What are the words of prayer that you would utter?

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Sin - the Undead

If you think talking about sin is difficult, try doing something about it.

I mean, the reality is, that we all have a pretty great capacity and ability for having "done things which we ought not to have done" and for having "left undone those things which we ought to have done." But most of my Christian friends would much rather not think about that capacity. They'd rather focus on the image of God that we've all been stamped with and be thankful for the good that is within us. And we do have that good within us.

The problem is, oddly enough, when we prefer to focus on the good, somehow the bad that inevitably creeps through makes us feel more ashamed than ever. We sin - we miss the mark - and then we think, "I can't believe I just did that! I'm not THAT kind of person. How embarrassing." And then, because of our disbelief and embarrassment, we tend to try to hide that part of ourselves and only show the pretty parts. When we do that, we might think that we're burying our sin. But there's a real problem with that approach.

It's like in those old scary movies - when you try to bury something that ain't really dead and gone yet, you're just begging for trouble. Because, just when you've had enough time to forget about that thing you've buried, it reaches up from it's untimely grave right through the soft ground and grabs you by the ankle, tripping you up big time. Sin - the undead.

Or, another way of thinking about sin that we try to bury in order to avoid it is to think of it like a seed that falls to the ground. Rather than dying a slow quiet death in the darkness of the dirt, it tends to first put down roots then it germinates and sprouts.
Or, The sin becomes like a weed, that through the cold of winter dies back - not fully but just enought to nestle into the protective layer of soil. While you think it's dying, it's actually storing up energy so that at the first indication of warmer days, the sprouts begin to appear. They are small and almost imperceptible at first, but before you know it, you've got a whole patch of what you thought you had buried. Once it begins to establish itself in this way, it can be very hard to get rid of. You'll get annoyed at its appearance later, but when you try yanking it out you'll discover that only the top, tender part comes out and the roots remain and only produce new growth.

On the other hand, though, I know that just focusing on the sin - wallowing in how we miss the mark again and again - is not the healthiest way to go through life either. When we do that we become so engrossed in the wrong that we do, that we can just barely see the possibility for the right anymore, if we can see it at all. Being myopic about our sin causes us to become short-sighted about everything. We begin to be so cautious with every step we take to the extent that we fear the future, rather than celebrate the possibilities that the future can bring.

So what are we to do? We can't ignore the sin, because it simply won't go away. But by the same token we need not focus on the sin. As with most things in life, there is a way to strike a balance here. It's called change. There's a word that gets used in the Bible, for change of this sort. That word is metanoia (met-ah-noy-ah). Metanoia means "turning." Not like standing in one spot and turning a circle over and over again. The word for that kind of turning is "dizzy." No, this kind of turning is like when you're walking along, heading out the front door, and down the sidewalk and suddenly you remember that you left the stove on. So you literally turn on your heels and begin walking back home again. Interestingly, the pace heading back in the direction of home is usually quickened a bit. There is an intentionality, an intensity that comes with that kind of turning, isn't there?

Just think on this: What is the thing done or left undone in your life right now that has the most capacity for harm? If you're having trouble thinking of something, then find a quiet place to sit and close your eyes, and ask God to open the eyes of your heart to whatever that may be. Listen. I bet you'll hear something, see something that needs to be set to rights. And when you do, an intensity and focus on getting change going will begin to emerge - enough so that you'll want to turn on your heels and start heading in a new direction.

Tomorrow: Got Change?

Monday, February 26, 2007

All Y'all

Earlier this week, one of our Bible group members, LM, sent me an email with this story:

"There was a group of women in a Bible study on the book of Malachi. As they were studying chapter three they came across verse three which says, "He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver." This verse puzzled the women and they wondered what this statement meant about the character and nature of God.

One of the women offered to find out about the process of refining silver and get back to the group at their next Bible study. That week the woman called up a silversmith and made an appointment to watch him at work. She didn't mention anything about the reason for her interest in silver beyond her curiosity about the process of refining silver. As she watched the silversmith, he held a piece of silver over the fire and let it heat up. He explained that, in refining silver, one needed to hold the silver in the middle of the fire where the flames were hottest so as to burn away all the impurities.

The woman thought about God holding us in such a hot spot - then she thought again about the verse, that He sits as a refiner and purifier of silver. She asked the silversmith if it was true that he had to sit there in front of the fire the whole time the silver was being refined. The man answered that yes, he not only had to sit there holding the silver, but he had to keep his eyes on the silver the entire time it was in the fire. For if the silver was left even a moment too long in the flames, it would be destroyed.

The woman was silent for a moment. Then she asked the silversmith, "How do you know when the silver is fully refined?" He smiled at her and answered, "Oh, that's the easy part -- when I see my image reflected in it."

I thought this was very cool, as I hold fast to a creation theology. In other words, the starting point for me in my understanding of God is to realize that God is the one who created us, male and female, in God's own image. And I believe that stamp of God that has been imprinted on each one of us is the maker's mark of generosity, love, and commitment. That said, I'm always skeptical about emailly stuff like this. So, I went websurfing to see if I could verify the process of silver purifying. Sure enough, I found a silversmith online who had obviously been asked this question before and confirmed the process.

Next step was to find the passage in my Bible to read it in context. Interestingly, I had circled it at some earlier point in time, probably in preparation for a paper I wrote a few years back in seminary. Next to the circle I had annotated the verses (Malachi 3:2b-4) with "judgment and accountability for priests." Yikes! Priests? I am one of them. Sure enough, there it was in the middle of this section, "he will purify the sons of Levi." The "sons of Levi" aka the "Levites" are the priestly clan of Israel. Clearly this is directed at priests. OK, and yes, certainly there is a particular responsibility that goes along with being a priest - a servant-leader in a religious community. But was this really aimed just at the priests? I was beginning to get a little paranoid. I mean, was LM trying to tell me something? I scanned her initial message in the email - no, didn't sound accusatory, she simply said said she thought I'd appreciate it. And I know that's all she meant - it's a great story after all, and she's a good friend. So what am I to make of this?

Clearly this is aimed at the priests. But... (as PeeWee Herman said, "everybody has a big but") ...there's one very important point to remember here, that I was overlooking in my initial surprise and haste: in the Christian understanding all the followers of Jesus, the Christ, are priests. "What?" you say. Yes, dearies, you see, we are all part of the "priesthood of all believers." (see 1 Peter, chapter 2). So, you are a priest, too.

Which means this parable is for you, too...or as we said in the deep south where I grew up, "It's for all y'all." And, that's really good news, don't you think? The implication of this story is that God judges us and holds us accountable out his love and commitment to us and to us becoming the best versions of ourselves that we can possibly be.
God sits patiently enduring the heat right along with each and every one of us, handling us carefully, always intently watching the progress of being refined, of getting closer and closer to the point where, eventually, in looking at us, God clearly sees the reflection of God's own image in us.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Invitation to Next Bible Group - Journey to Jerusalem

We’ve completed the Bible 101 Group that we started back in January as a New Year’s Resolution. It was a great deal of fun for me and several of you attended (15!) or contacted me saying you really wanted to attend (another 12!). We learned a lot together and had some very provocative and spirited conversations. All of us agreed that spending this kind of time together with our neighbors and friends was refreshingly fun and meaningful. And, best of all, there are several who want to continue getting together.

That group has decided to forge ahead and do an exploration during this Christian series of Lent on the four Gospel narratives of the last week of Jesus’ life, known today as Holy Week. This is a great time to jump in for the next five weeks to do a concentrated study comprising the Jewish roots of Christianity as well as the story at the heart of the Christian faith.

Starting tomorrow the Monday group will begin that study from 12 noon until 1:30. We meet at my house and there is plenty of room around the table for more to join us. This is an open group and it’s not too late for you to get involved!! See above "Journey to Jerusalem" for weekly lesson plan. (You can also see the lesson plans for the Bible 101 group that we completed as well as a timeline for this new session.)

If the Monday time slot doesn’t work for you, please email me and let me know. Last time a couple of folks did that, and as a result we formed an additional Thursday evening group. That second time slot is up in the air, depending on who would like to attend and available times, so please email me ASAP if you would like to attend, but can’t come Mondays, and would like to work out an alternative day/time.

Also, if you’re still interested in Bible 101 as a primer before doing anything different, let me know that. I would be open to leading that again for a new group that would form.

I'm open to your ideas about what, if anything, you would be interested in exploring in the context of community. And, as always, feel free to bring a friend or pass this blog address along – I know I don’t have contact info for everyone I’d like to invite!

Peace and Blessings,

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Things Done and Left Undone - Part II

During this Season of Lent, the idea is to focus a bit on ourselves - not in isolation, though. We are to be thinking about ourselves in the context of our relationships, with others and with God. And, more important, we are not just to be thinking about those relationships, but coming to some ideas and conclusions and also putting into practice what we might do to right the wrongs.

In the Episcopal Church's Book of Common Prayer, we have a prayer of confession - a general prayer that we pray together to remind us that we are all in this state, both as individuals and as the corporate body that we call the church. The prayer goes like this:

Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we may delight in your will,
and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your Name. Amen.

Today, I want to take a moment to think aloud about the Things Left Undone part of this.

Sometimes, we leave things undone because we are purely avoiding doing what we just don't feel like doing. When that happens, we have a couple of choices, the way I see it. We can will our selves to do the left-undone thing, because we know it is the right thing to do. That's the just do it approach. Or we can make a further examination of ourselves, maybe with a listening ear of a friend or professional, to help us get at the root of why we don't want to do this thing.

Other times though, we move forward, attempting to do the Thing Left Undone. We take tiny steps to prepare, we prepare to prepare. Really, what we're doing is procrastinating - lying to ourselves about our real intentions and progress. For a very real and very funny take on this check out this video link. Don't delay - do this now!

Then take a moment to think on the Things Left Undone in your life. Pray about them. Ask what's behind the things getting left undone? Is it a matter of avoidance? Procrastination? Shame? Fear? Ask God to guide you in sorting out the priorities. Then, doggone it, take some action. The first step? I suggest some quiet time alone with the prayer above.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Things Done and Left Undone - Part I

Two days ago, Ash Wednesday ushered in the Christian season of Lent. Lent is a period of 40 days (not including Sundays) when the church turns its focus inward just a bit. The point of turning inward is to be introspective. Not to navel gaze, marveling at how wonderful we are, but actually to do just the opposite. We are to spend time looking inward to "take stock." To notice that we're doing things we shouldn't be doing and that we're not doing the things we should be doing. In the lexicon of my tribe, that's called, "things done and left undone."

Basically, folks, what we're talking about here is good old fashioned SIN.

Let's face it - it's something we all do.

Maybe, though, you don't like the word sin. Maybe it conjurs up too many fire and brimstone sermons, too many televangelists with really bad hair, too many...I dunno, syllables when it's said with vim and know, siiii-iiiiiyyyyy-uuuunnnnn-nnn!

If that's your problem then I have a helpful other way of understanding SIN:

In the Greek of the New Testament the word that gets translated in English as "sin" is hamartia (ha-mar-tee-ah). That Greek word comes from the sport of archery and it means "to miss the mark" or "to miss the target." In other words, we might be trying to succeed (after all, we're standing there with a bow and arrow in our hands, facing a target) but, our aim isn't true. And we have to face the fact that there is a danger in missing the mark. Arrows have sharp barbs at their end. They are intended to stick when they hit a target. So when we're off our mark, that sharp end can inflict damage when it lands where it shouldn't.

I'm reminded of the first poem that ever made me cry. It was in a Child's Garden of Verse (I think) or at least a Children's book of fables and poetry that I learned to read as a child. This is how the poem goes:

The Arrow And The Song
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I shot an arrow into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For, so swiftly it flew, the sight
Could not follow it in its flight.

I breathed a song into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For who has sight so keen and strong,
That it can follow the flight of song?

Long, long afterward, in an oak
I found the arrow, still unbroke;
And the song, from beginning to end,
I found again in the heart of a friend.

The funny thing is that when I remember that poem, I'm always confusing it a bit. I always forget the part about the song and I wrongly remember that the arrow landed "in the heart of a friend." The reason is because when I first cried over this poem as a very young child, I misunderstood it and thought that's what the poem was about - an arrow flying off willy nilly into the air and landing in his friend's heart. And so now that image is ingrained in my brain, and it's the first thing that comes to mind when I think of this poem. I still get teary-eyed reading this little sappy poem! I hate that. But I think there's a lesson in there for me: Even though I had missed the mark on the poem, the lesson didn't miss making an impression on me. How awful that would be, to injure someone right in the heart! And yet, how often do I do that very thing?

So, you see, that's what sin is basically about. We set out, often to do the right thing, but our aim is off. Somehow we haven't quite got our sight lined up properly, or we wobble as we let the arrow fly, or we don't give it all we've got - and the result is that we "miss the mark." If we're lucky, it will just go flying off and land harmlessly in a tree trunk. But that's not always the case. There's almost always someone else standing very near that target who's likely to get at least nicked, if not hit directly. And then there's the collateral damage.

Think about it. Pray about it. I bet if you spend some time in quiet and ask God to reveal to you the "things done and left undone" by you, then you'll see just where your arrows have landed - no matter how swifly they seemed to have flown out of sight at the time. And then, when you go out to sort out those arrows that have missed the mark, ask for permission to remove them because the removal can sometimes hurt as much as the initial hit did. This necessary task must be handled gingerly. You should also offer to help with the binding up of the wound; but be prepared for the unintended target to say, "No thanks - you've done enough - I'll deal with this one myself."

And, if I may, I'd like to make one more suggestion: Either way, as you walk away after this ordeal, try softly breathing a song...

Thursday, February 22, 2007

I'm a Christ Follower (Mac vs. PC Parody) Part 03

Here's the video as promised. Pretty funny parody on what it "looks like" to be a Christian. This one pokes fun at the whole "Christian Music" thing. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Ash Wednesday - by TS Eliot

Maybe you're going to church today - Ash Wednesday - to have ashes smeared on your forehead as a sign and reminder that "you are dust and to dust you shall return." Maybe you won't be going to church for that moment and that reminder. Either way, here are the closing lines from Eliot's poem "Ash Wednesday" so that you can take at least a moment and reflect quietly on your humanity.

Blessed sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit of the garden,

Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood

Teach us to care and not to care

Teach us to sit still

Even among these rocks,

Our peace in His will

And even among these rocks

Sister, mother

And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,

Suffer me not to be separated

And let my cry come unto Thee.

For the text of the entire poem, follow this link.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Mardi Gras

Today is Mardi Gras - Fat Tuesday - and a day of final feasting and celebration before the penitential season of Lent begins. Twelve years ago on this day my twin sons were born. The blessed event didn't fall on this exact date that year - back in 1995 it fell on February 28th. Nevertheless, we got a good chuckle out of the fact that this big mama was delivered of 12 pounds of baby on Fat Tuesday! Talk about giving something up for Lent...

Which brings me to that whole concept. Many of you folks have gotten the wrong-headed, but right-hearted notion when it comes to the tradition of giving something up for Lent. The "giving something up" deal is supposed to be about introspection and reflection. There is no other time like the season of Lent that offers you an opportunity to be truly intentional about navel gazing with a purpose. The purpose of giving something up is so that you can do a little bit of clearing the cobwebs to make room for something new. The something new should be a disicipline - something that will be instructive for you, that will help to shape and form you into being more of who God has created you to be. So, forget giving up chocolate or beer if the only reason is because you think you are supposed to deprive yourself of some pleasure during this 40-day (not counting Sundays) season of preparation for Easter. It's not about deprivation but about inclination. In other words, figure out what would be helpful to give up so you can make room for what you need to take on so that your heart, mind, body and soul will be more inclined toward God and hearing what God would have you know and do. Some folks at the Ship of Fools site offer some great daily ideas for how to try on some new good habits. Check it out here. You can try their idea of something different each day, or you can peruse their list and find one thing that suits you and stick with it for the season.

In the mean time....this might be a good time to really take on a spiritual practice for the season. Maybe praying regularly, or picking a passage of scripture to meditate on. Maybe finding a book about the Christian life to read. Or, here one to think about: Try going to church to mark each of the Holy Days of this ancient season...beginning with tomorrow, Ash Wednesday. This is the day that marks the beginning - maybe it could mark a new beginning for you. I'll keep you posted on the other days in addition to Sundays as they come along.
So how are you going to keep a "Holy Lent?" Add a comment and let me know - sometimes a little public accountability can make all the difference! After all, that's so much of what being the church is all about - recognizing that we're in this together.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

It Ain't Over 'til It's Over


Bible 101 went swimmingly - so swimmingly in fact that we're going to keep churning the waters. Now that we've got the basic crawl stroke down, we're going to dive into some slightly deeper waters with more focus in a more difficult heat. OK, enough of the swimming metaphor....

Several of the group members have decided to delve into the Holy Week and Easter stories in the four gospels. We'll read one per week and spend some time looking into them, doing a meditation on them, and pondering what they might have meant for Jesus and his followers, and what they might mean for us. I'll provide some background, including some helpful terminology, each week as preparatory reading. Bring your Bibles and we'll read, mark, learn and inwardly digest these narratives that are so central to the Christian faith. Oh, and don't forget to bring an open mind, an open heart, and your wonderful preponderance for great questions!!!

See the notice at the top of the blog for the breakdown on the schedule.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Forgiveness Part I: Not Ready to Make Nice?

For the first time in years I watched the Grammy Awards. Although I hadn't planned to watch until my adolescent son asked me to join him in front of the TV, I found myself rooting for the Dixie Chicks over and over again, and being overjoyed for them each time they won another award - five in all. (I also found myself wondering "what the heck is that about?" when Gnarles Barkley performed in airline pilot get-ups...)

Anyhoo...What I realized along the way was that I was rooting not so much for the music per se as I was for the catharsis and steps toward healing that the music provided. I have the Chicks' CD, Taking the Long Way, that they were being lauded for and had been very moved by the song that won big for them: Not Ready to Make Nice. If you've missed the press on this one, basically the story is that while they were performing in London in 2003, lead singer, Natalie Maines told the audience, "Just so you know, we're ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas" (as is Maines). Shortly after that show they appeared in an interview by Diane Sawyer where Maines offered an olive branch saying that she felt bad that she had characterized her opposition to the war in a way that came across as disrespectful. Even still, as a result of Maines' earlier comments, the Chicks began to receive death threats and loads of hate mail. "Not Ready to Make Nice" was the response to those threats. It's about First Amendment Rights and about the disbelief that a comment made by someone searching for answers to what they considered an unjust war would engender such vitriolic response. The lyrics to this song, written with collaborator Dan Wilson follows:

Forgive, sounds good
Forget, I’m not sure I could
They say time heals everything
But I’m still waiting

I’m through with doubt
There’s nothing left for me to figure out
I’ve paid a price
And I’ll keep paying

I’m not ready to make nice
I’m not ready to back down
I’m still mad as hell and
I don’t have time to go round and round and round
It’s too late to make it right
I probably wouldn’t if I could
‘Cause I’m mad as hell
Can’t bring myself to do what it is you think I should

I know you said
Can’t you just get over it
It turned my whole world around
And I kind of like it

I made my bed and I sleep like a baby
With no regrets and I don’t mind sayin’
It’s a sad sad story when a mother will teach her
Daughter that she ought to hate a perfect stranger
And how in the world can the words that I said
Send somebody so over the edge
That they’d write me a letter
Sayin’ that I better shut up and sing
Or my life will be over

I’m not ready to make nice
I’m not ready to back down
I’m still mad as hell and
I don’t have time to go round and round and round
It’s too late to make it right
I probably wouldn’t if I could
‘Cause I’m mad as hell
Can’t bring myself to do what it is you think I should

Forgive, sounds good
Forget, I’m not sure I could
They say time heals everything
But I’m still waiting

As I said, I think the lyrics are powerful. But the impassioned singing and the haunting guitar chords behind the lyrics are just as powerful and make this song the winner that it is. When put together, the total package is heartfelt, brave and bold... and raises major questions for me about how we handle forgiveness and by extension, reconciliation.

In my experience, its often not the initial "breach" that causes the biggest upset, but the way that breach is responded to. Maines made comments that arguably were offensive. However, when confronted with that information, she was penitent and said that she did, in fact, regret the offense that she had cause and apologized for being "disrespectful." She added, with a great deal of integrity though, the fact that she still had questions and didn't understand President Bush's decision to lead the US into war in Iraq. And yet, somehow for some folks that just wasn't enough. Why?

Did her apology fall on deaf ears? Were there people who were so angry that they never heard about the apology? Or were they simply folks who weren't going to let the issue drop out of self-righteous indignation? Somehow, somewhere along the way, some hearts were hardened. The result is that the threatening response to the original comments were a much greater breach of trust than the original comments ever were. The fact that the country music industry, according to an article in today's Washington Times, "still isn't ready to make nice" is indicative of the level of anger and arrogance that lies just under the surface of our culture. And it's indicative of how, when we aren't willing to offer forgiveness to a penitent, we can end up creating a worse situation for everyone. And that situation can become a script for our lives. What a shame. Thankfully, the Chicks found a creative, healthy, and cathartic way to deal with the new breach: a new song.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Forgiveness Part II: Ready to Back Down?

Ironically, when the Chicks were about to perform "Not Ready to Make Nice" on the Grammy's, the scripted introduction made by Joan Baez went something like this: "They're still not ready to make nice, and they're not about to back down."

The problem with these scripts is that they can override reality and end up carrying the day. How many times have any of us begun to believe the story that is being told about us because we've heard it so many times? How many times have any of us begun to live into the story that has been scripted for us because we just don't have the energy to refute it? Or maybe we're getting a lot of mileage out of that script even though it's contrary to the reality of the current situation. Overcoming a script, especially one that we've initiated is a very difficult thing to do. But healing is possible. Overcoming the script requires a willingness on our part to go through the process of apologizing, dealing with our deeper feelings that lead to the incident, and dealing with the backlash we get from that initial breach. But that's just the first part. That's just the forgiveness part. The "making nice" part is a separate step. Reconciliation takes a response by the one we are apologizing to.

Thankfully, by the time the Dixie Chicks stood up to receive their third award of the evening, Maines said something to the effect of, "OK, OK, we're ready to make nice. We feel like we've been heard - folks understand where we were coming from and that we're talking about a basic right to speak out." To know that you've been heard - as indicated by a concession from the other side - allows for and, in fact enables "making nice and backing down."

As the season of Lent fast approaches thinking of ways to engage in healing past hurts and reconciling broken relationships is called for. That way, we can begin to overcome the misguided script and learn to sing a new song. The new song that Jesus penned was one of turning the other cheek - of offering correction not condemnation. Of offering mercy and love, not self-righteous anger. Of offering forgiveness not fury. What is it that you need to back down from? With whom in your life do you need to make nice? Have you conisdered asking for forgiveness? Better yet, have you considered confronting someone who has offended you with the possibility of reconciliation? They say time heals everything...but how you spend that time - penning a new song, writing a new script - will make all the difference. Are you still waiting? What for?

Thursday, February 8, 2007

What to Do?

As of tonight, we'll be 4/5 of the way through our inaugural Bible 101 group! I have thoroughly enjoyed every minute of this little endeavor: calling a group together, sharing in learning through teaching, lively discussions, gracious community. All that. And more. I've been privileged to have some wonderful follow-up discussions, heard and responded to prayer requests, and enjoyed expanded friendships. Thank you all for giving me those gifts.

Next week (Monday 2/12, Thursday 2/15) will be our final session. (sniff, sniff) But it doesn't have to be. Anyone else interested in keeping a good thing going? (Actually, I know there are 'cause some of you have already told me so!) The questions isn't "whether to do" but "what to do?" Since the Christian season of Lent is fast approaching, beginning with Ash Wednesday and culminating with Holy Week and the beginning of the Easter Season some possible topics are:

  • Gospel Comparison on the Holy Week/Easter Stories (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John)

  • A focus on one Gospel (Mark?) during the Season

  • A book study on who Jesus is (Marcus Borg and NT Wright coming from slightly different perspectives wrote one together that we could try)

  • Your ideas????

Please log in a comment to let me know what you think!

Monday, February 5, 2007

Gathering Steam

This morning I was up early to help get one kid off to school. He has a bit of a commute to get there and his dad was going to drive him, so they wanted to be out the door early with everything all packed and ready to go - so, I helped. Not so unusual. I had been up really way too late the night before. Again, not too unusual. The house was quiet; not even the dog was stirring. Pretty unusual. So I decided to take a nice hot bath with no one up to call out to me, badger, pester or otherwise harrass me. Extremely unusual. Ahhhhhhh....

Since it was so early, the sun hadn't quite fully come up yet, but there was enough light coming in that I could see what I needed to do without turning on a glaring bulb to help me out. Did I mention I am so totally NOT a morning person? Anyway, sinking into the hot, steamy tub of water I submerged as much of my body as possible up to the top of my shoulders. After a few minutes of total relaxation - in which I surprisingly did not fall back to sleep - I raised my hand up out of the water to reach for the soap. What I saw next was really cool. There was steam rising up off of my hand.

I sat there amused at first, thinking 'this is pretty cool.' And then I just kinda kept playing, seeing how long I could make steam. Not surprisingly, the longer I held my hand immersed in the hot water, the longer I could "make steam." Of course, I wasn't really making the steam. And even being able to see that steam rising as if it were really emitting from my pores had a lot to do with the way the light was coming in. Bet you know where I'm going with this...

..that was definitely one of those "understanding God better" moments. Observing the way the steam was working made me think about how God's Holy Spirit works similarly:

  • I wasn't creating the steam. The steam was there because of the hot water. This is like how the Holy Spirit doesn't come from me, but from the source who is the Ground of All Being. The Spirit in me is God's Spirit not mine.

  • The steam was doing my body good as my pores were soaking up the hot water and as I breathed it in and at the same time, the steam was being released from me. God's Spirit is simultaneously at work on me, in me, and through me. I can't "trap" God's Spirit, but I can soak that Spirit in and immediately that same Spirit will begin to emit.

  • The longer I submerged my hand in the hot water, the longer I could "give off" steam. The longer I immerse myself in God through prayer, worship, study, and meditation, the longer I can "give off" Godliness - and the longer it is before I "run out of steam."

  • The steam was visible because of the stillness of the moment and the light. It is when I slow down and take some time that I can really see God's Spirit at work. Slowing down and spending time in the light of Christ is what enables me to witness that Spirit in motion - at work on me and my environment.

  • I saw that my body had the capacity to do something that in my 40+ years I've never known before that it could do. I've known for years that I could make steam with my breath, but even so, I never imagined that I could make steam with my skin! God has created us to do things that are beyond what our past experience tells us we can. God has creaetd us with a capacity that goes beyond our imaginations. We are made in God's image and therefore, we have the ability to bear that creative, spirit-giving character of God.
  • I had to make a decision to set apart the time. I did it out of my need, but there was a surprise in store that I was not aiming for, wasn't expecting, didn't conjure up on my own. All the same, that hot water was right there in the plumbing lines and that empty tub was just waiting to be filled. All I had to do was make use of the resources that I had been given - flip the drain latch and turn on the faucet...and step in. Likewise - God is always there waiting to be tapped into, beckoning us to take the time. And God provides us with a multitude of resources: Christian communities (i.e., churches), the Bible, the sacraments (e.g., baptism and communion), devotional classics (by the likes of Thomas Merton, Evelyn Underhill, CS Lewis, Annie Dillard, and many others.) We just have to make the decision to enter in and make use of what's already there waiting for us.

What connections do you make with this story? Do tell...

Thursday, February 1, 2007

The (Cabinet) Door to the Soul

So, for many moons now, we've had this lllloooonnnngggg drawn out remodeling stuff happening in our house. We got mostly done with THE BIG PROJECT and now are going back and doing some little thingy things here and there to try to spruce up some of the areas that we can't quite afford to do the full monty on yet. Like the kitchen. We really wanted to take down a wall, move another wall, strip out the old cabinets, buy some new ones, get all new appliances, yadda, yadda, yadda, blah, blah, blah. But for now, right now, all that ain't gonna happen. So we settled for installing some new lights, moving a switch, and having a carpenter build a base of open shelves along a new empty wall so that we could extend the counter top and have some space to work on. We started with the base/countertop thing, and decided to add one more spiffy task to the list. Since Mr. DJ was going to have to paint the new wood base anyway, we went ahead and got new knobs and hinges and bought some paint to repaint the existing wood cabinets. This was only going to take a couple of days to complete. Riiiight.

Well, the first phase of base and countertop were finished and so knobs and paint were bought. Mr. DJ came over to get started on the painting o' the cabinets and we decided that first he should move that switch - and as long as he was doing that, he might as well go on and put in all new outlets and switches in that bright white new looking color to replace the dull beige stuff - and by the way could he please install a new outlet upstairs in the new master bath while he was doing all that electrical stuff. Because, after all, once the outlet had been moved we'd need to patch and paint the wall, too, so might as well do all the painting at once keeping the sensory experience of "fresh paint" minimized to a couple of days. In anticipation of the painting - having just finished the initial electrical work - Mr. DJ decided to go ahead and take the doors off of the upper cabinets so when he came back the next day he could start right up on them. Then to finish out that first phase to prepare to paint he set about spackling the holes left from moving the one switch. The prioritizing of tasks seemed to make perfectly good sense at the time. Tomorrow, he'd paint the cabinet doors that he had disassembled. But, then Mr. DJ got sick. Chills, light-headed, nausea - the "I think I'd better go home right now" kind of sick. The "Hello Mrs. M - I'm still feeling pretty sick, so short of a miracle I don't think I'll be there tomorrow " phone call kind of sick.

I'm standing in my kitchen for the third day now with no upper doors and I've got folks coming over tomorrow night. I feel sick.

At first, it didn't bother me. I amused myself with cute antics of doing the silly thing where you forget that there are no doors and so you just kinda absentmindedly reach up to close the door that is no longer there. Awww, duhhh! (dope slap and laughter) Then, I noticed that I had begun to walk into the kitchen for no apparent reason except to just stand there contemplating the cabinets - admiring how much stuff I had managed to cram into these few cabinets and thinking how well I had managed to organize plates and glasses and spices, and tea accoutrements. But then the inevitable next phase came where when I looked at the cabinets, all I could see now was the messiness, the disorganization, the accumulation of unneeded stuff in those less-oft used cabinets - the ones where cabinet doors had been successfully hiding the junk for lo these many years.

Unexpectedly, I discovered that having the doors off of your kitchen cabinets for an extended period of time can become a major exercise in soul-searching. Noticing which areas are carefully ordered (the ones I use the most - plates, glasses, spices) and which areas show definite signs of neglect and disarray (the ones where the leftover storage containers, baking dishes/muffin tins, and kiddie cups and plates are stored). It prompted me to wonder what areas of my inner life, normally hidden and seldom dealt with, could use a little opening up and airing out - a little bit of contemplating. This is what confession is like. First you have to notice that something (usually concealed from public view) is out of order. This take time - it's a gradual awakening to a problem. There are steps for getting to the "I have a problem" place that have to come before we can begin to expose the mess, clean up the salvagable and dispose of the clutter. Getting to that place takes time. Time is a gift that we don't give ourselves often enough. Maybe once in a blue moon we'll stumble on such time, but better to make the effort every so often and just decide to set some time aside to deal with the dark side.

So what have I learned about the dark corners and clutter in my soul? Don't know. Haven't gotten that far yet. Just know that taking those cabinets doors off by the hinges has got me thinking about my soul. While I'm contemplating all that, I'm thinking that maybe the reverse contemplation procedure would work here, too. In very practical terms, those cabinets need help. Maybe I could practice on them before I set to work on the really important-but-harder stuff. I'm imagining a twelve-step program for cluttered cabinets:

  1. We admitted we were powerless over clutter—that our cabinets had become unmanageable.

  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

  3. Made a decision to turn our clutter and our cabinets over to the care of God as we understood Her.

  4. Made a searching and fearless clutter inventory of cabinets.

  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongheaded decisions about kitchen cabinet organization.

  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of cabinet.
    Humbly asked Her to remove our clutter.

I'm still waiting....and I've got six more steps to go! Come on God - hurry up before the doors go back up! What's that you say? I'll have to take some action myself? Oh.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Amen