antidote to failure

My seminary education began through an extension program Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary offered in Houston. I was serving as a pastoral care associate at the time and I would work during the day and take classes two nights a week. It was a way of following the path I felt called to follow, getting my feet wet, without completely uprooting my and my family’s life. Or so I thought.

The reality was it had been thirty years since I had been in school. A fact I didn’t fully appreciate until the first exam. It felt like running full speed, head on, into a brick wall. To say I failed the exam is putting it mildly. I bombed the exam! I didn’t understand the questions, much less have any idea what the answers might be. Even though the professor was kind and thorough in all explanations, it seemed to me he was speaking a foreign language about a book I only thought I had understood and now was certain I would never comprehend at all. It was above my mental capabilities, leaving me frustrated and discouraged.

After the first exam I thought seriously about quitting. I figured I must have misunderstood my sense of call and that I should just slither back to my office and be thankful I had a job in ministry at all. Thankfully, the professor would not let me indulge too long in my self given pity party. He was not only a great professor but he was a pastor to the core. He simply told me to keep going. That I would get the hang of it. He may have even said to get back on the horse.

The second exam came around and I was certain that I had failed it as miserably as the first. Without a doubt in my mind about it, I came to class ready to accept the humiliating truth that I was a failure at this seminary thing. When the professor began class that night he announced that he had mailed our graded exams to us and that we should have all received them by now. I and a few others raised our hands that we did not receive any graded exam in the mail. He spoke to each one of us separately, looking in his grade book and told us our grade. He informed me that I had made a B on the exam. When I questioned him incredulously he remained unruffled and told me his grade book was clear and that one could never depend on or explain the postal system.

I’ll never know what happened to that mysterious exam that I never received in the mail. All I do know is that something opened up in me upon hearing of my passing grade. Some little window of hope that allowed me to consider the possibility that I might be able to continue, at least for another day. And, continue I did.

Eventually this educational process would turn my world completely upside down and I matriculated to Austin for two and a half years, commuting back and forth on the weekends. Eventually I would receive a Masters of Divinity. Eventually I was ordained a Minister of Word and Sacrament in the PC(USA). Eventually I would end up fourteen years later where I am now, as the pastor of a First Presbyterian Church in Kingsville, Texas. All because someone saw something in me I couldn’t see in myself, until I could. All because someone wouldn’t allow my attitude of failure to get the last word.

Friends, this is the good news of the Gospel. In the midst of our brokenness there is this prevailing voice of Love that speaks hope into our failures and life into our death.There is Someone who sees something in you that you cannot always see yourself.

There are so many challenges in life. So many ways in which the system of our society and the distortions of our own minds can tear us down and keep us from fulfilling our true purposes in life. So many ways we can convince ourselves we will never be able to do “it” (whatever the “it” is). It could be something bold like changing your career or making a move. Or something terrifying like facing cancer treatment. Or something simple, yet difficult, like sticking to your budget. Or something that stretches your heart, like forgiving someone for hurting you.

And yet, there is available to us in ways far beyond what we could ever imagine or hope for, a divine Grace that prevails through all of our trials. One who comes along side us, sometimes in the form of a professor, or friend, or prayer to remind us we already have everything we need to be able to do what we are called to do. The question is, are we awake to the possibilities God is bringing us through our connectedness to that Grace and to one another?

Over and over again in the the Christian scriptures Jesus was constantly reaching across boundaries to tell and show people, people who had been told by the systems of the world that they were unacceptable, that they were not only acceptable but beloved. That their failures were not the end of their story. That they had a purpose. A place. Something to do. They they belonged. This is good news indeed for all of us!

You may be in need of encouragement this week. Or someone may be in need of your encouragement. My prayer for you, in either case, is that you are open to the movement of the Spirit of Hope made possible for us through the amazing love of God.

Something to chew on…typorama

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Posted in Christ, connection, Lessons Learned, life and death, life purpose, Relationships, Spirituality, Uncategorized, wholeness; | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

shhhh….

A few years ago I made a commitment to myself to become more informed about what was going on the world around me. I realized that I had insulated myself in a little bubble and felt convicted that it was time to pull my head out of the sand and take a look around. About the same time I also started watching my Twitter feed more. I thought it would be an interesting way to keep up with what people were saying about topics in the news.

Three years later I’m exhausted. It seems like there is breaking news every fifteen minutes and what would have been the central focus in the news for a week or two, sometimes even longer, now lasts about a nano second. I have allowed myself to be consumed by the immediate public crisis.

It’s not that I don’t think the things going on in the world are important. There are some course altering things going on in our country right this very minute. Things that I find outrageous. Things that break my heart. Things that worry me. So, being informed and alert seems vital if I want to be able to navigate through it all.

I fear we are turning into the reality shows we’ve been watching. I never have liked Survivor and I find myself wandering where the hell is the rescue boat. At the same time, I’m certain that staying stirred up about it is robbing me of needed energy. Adrenaline mode is unsustainable for the long haul. So, today I’m considering ways to maintain some semblance of peace.

Sometimes I wonder how Jesus, in the fullness of his humanity, would have handled Twitter. What would his comments have been about the latest oppressive action from the Roman Empire? Would he have complained about the hypocrisy of the religious institution? Would he have ranted at his disciples continued misunderstanding of the mission at hand? Would he have boasted about his latest healing? I think not.

Wouldn’t it be interesting to hear the stream of consciousness of his thoughts?

Somehow I think that Jesus would have taken the news and his Twitter feed with a grain of salt. Not that he wouldn’t have felt outrage at the injustice he saw but, I don’t think he would have allowed himself to be taken captive in the way I have with the latest sensationalized headline or tweet.

I think one of the reasons for this is that Jesus knew how to maintain the long view. The bigger picture. The God picture. The picture of God’s activity and plan in the world. The plan to bring about the Kingdom of Heaven, which Jesus declared was at hand. When the chaos became loud he knew how to step out of it into the sacred space of solitude and silence.

Time and time again in scripture we see that Jesus, after having healed or taught or been involved in a significant encounter, would get away from the crowd. From the chaos. From the chatter of the day. He would go to a quiet place and pray. He would take time to listen for the renewal of God’s call. He was consistent in this practice and from what I can tell he didn’t let the urgent distract him from the important.

I so need to remember this lesson today. And I wonder if, perhaps, you could use a word of encouragement in this too. While things in the world today are polarized and tense and full of hateful rhetoric and division, it is important to remember that God, who is Love, is still sovereign and still has the last Word (and the first as well). Embodied in the flesh in Jesus, that Word lives on today.

Truth. Mercy. Forgiveness. Justice that redeems, heals, and restores. Generosity. Hospitality are all syllables of God’s Word calling the world today as it always has. Sometimes it’s just hard to hear it in the midst of all of the yelling.

If you too have been a bit worn out by the constant public chaos that swirls around us, take heart and be encouraged. The small voice that is heard in the sacred space of quiet is within you and me today and every day. It’s there inviting us and waiting to soothe, calm, strengthen, and encourage us. I pray you will take some time to step outside of the noise so you can hear the sweet whisper of Love.
Something to chew on…

 

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Posted in current events, Lessons Learned, Life, news events, peace, Spirituality, Uncategorized, wholeness; | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

the struggle to relax

Recently I had the pure joy of spending a whole day with my granddaughters. Just the three of us. No schedule. No plans. Just hanging out. There’s nothing better than keeping company with these two bundles of giggles and energy.

After a leisurely morning we went swimming. They are both little fishes, I mean mermaids. The 4 year old, Avery, is so excited this year because she can now swim in the deep end like her big sis. Anything to be as big as Sissy!

When we arrived at the pool there was hardly anyone there. It was nice. Felt relaxing like the morning had been.

Eloise went off the diving board and little sis Avery climbed up to go right after her. Only, when she was about two feet from the end of the board she froze. All that relaxation turned tense in a flash.

There she stood frozen, fists clinched, jaw set. As the life guard looked on Eloise did our best cheers of encouragement. “Come on Aves, you can do it!” “I’m right here, jump and swim to me!” The more encouraging we became the more rigid she became.

After a while I changed tactics. ” Avery, no one’s pressuring you to jump. You don’t have to do it right now. No big deal. Give yourself a break and come on down.”

“Urrgh, but I want to jump!!”

It was clear she was so frustrated with herself. This was something she really wanted to do. But her fear had immobilized her and she felt stuck.

This went on for awhile until a group of older kids came and were heading toward the board. I suggested we take a chips and queso break and, since chips and queso are a favorite, she snapped out of her trance of terror and made her way off the board.

It took her a while to recover. She was frustrated with herself. Broke my heart to see her being so hard on herself. I sensed though that this was a big growing moment for her.

The chips and cheese concoction slowly worked their magic and when she’d had her fill she was open to playing in the mermaid pool, aka kiddie pool. She and her sister splashed in the fountains and played until the squeals and giggles returned. I loved seeing her smile again.

After a while she was ready to go again.

Eloise went first. Perfect canon ball. Then came Avery. This time there was no hesitation. Just sheer resolve. Once she got on the board she never even paused. One, two, three and off the board she went. Yay! As she surfaced to our cheers of glee for her, she grinned the biggest grin possible.

And, just like that, the fear was gone. Before we left the pool that day Avery jumped off the board a good seven or eight times more. Even perfected her own canon ball!

I marvel as I think about her transformation from terror to triumph. From frustration to joy. It was a process of both struggle and release. It was clear she had to wrestle with her fears and doubts and fears. And just as clear that it wasn’t until she let herself relax that she opened up to the possibilities of success.

Such, is the great journey of life. Full of challenges with which we are called to struggle. Challenges that can only be truly conquered when we allow ourselves to relax and open up to the possibilities of success. It’s in the sweet release we find the necessary strength to carry through.

I think this is what Jesus meant when he encouraged his followers to abide in him. To lay our struggles aside and rest in the truth that all will be well. Regardless.

Sometimes we are reminded of this through our participation in communion. Sometimes it comes through chili con queso and chips. And, a splash in the mermaid pool.

Something to chew on…

Posted in fear, grandchildren, Lessons Learned, Life, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

a few little things, a very big deal

This past week we had one of those Sundays when the unexpected became the theme of morning worship. I’m sure we’ve all had those days when, despite well laid plans, things simply go…well, by another plan. Or perhaps, Another’s plan.

I had gotten to church a little later than I planned, so that sort of threw me off from the beginning. I felt a little rattled and distracted. Then, when I went to put on my wireless microphone I remembered the wire around the ear piece was broken. No big deal. I simply taped it to my face and off I went to pray with the choir right before the service was to begin.

Everything was smoothing out quite nicely as we walked in and I flipped the mic on to say good morning to everyone. Only there was no sound. I shuffled around and realized when the ear piece broke the week before the connection must have been severed so I wasn’t going to be able to move around and speak as usual.

No big deal. I would just discipline myself to stay at the pulpit (I usually roam around the chancel when I preach because I feel disconnected from everyone if I stand in the pulpit) this morning. Only the pulpit mic seemed to be out of commission as well. A few of us shuffled around trying unsuccessfully to fix it until, finally I awkwardly laughed it off saying I would just speak out of the lectern (on the opposite side from the pulpit) microphone. And, although it felt like we’d gotten off to an awkard start, it was really no big deal. This church family is always so grace-filled and good humored. And, I was going to be preaching on Job, and, after all, Job had a lot more to deal with than a few measely technical difficulties. (Ever heard the expression, “the patience of Job”?)

The service preceded smoothly from that point (I think!), right up until we were getting ready to begin the congregational prayer time. There was a knock at the side door. It persisted until someone got up to open it and see who was there. There was a man in a wheel chair who I had seen several times recently. He had come by the church asking for assistance and food and we had helped him as much as we could.

He was now at the church asking to see me. An unplanned interruption but, no big deal. That’s what I’m here for, right?! So, I walked to the door to see what he wanted to see me about. I invited him in to join us for prayer time. He came in and when I took prayer requests he suggested we pray for the church. And that we did.

After the service I noticed several people visiting with him and some even giving him money. No one made a big deal about it. In fact, everyone seemed intentional on making him feel welcomed and comfortable. He left and I was left pondering how disjointed the service had felt to me and how thankful I was that this man felt comfortable enough to interrupt the service. I was glad that when he had knocked, the door had been opened to him.

I didn’t think much more about it until after his visit the next day. He came by the office and I assumed he would be asking for something and I was once again prepared to tell him that the church could give him food but we didn’t have the resources to give him money. I’m ashamed to admit this but I was hoping he wasn’t planning on coming by every day. I hoped this wouldn’t become a big deal.

Before I could remind him what we could do for him and what we couldn’t, he said that he hadn’t come to ask for anything but to give. He said he remembered hearing we are going to have a rummage sale at the church soon and he had a few things he would like to donate to the cause. (If you feel ashamed at me for what I had been thinking before you are not alone. I do too. )

For the next few minutes he pulled a number of things out of his back pack. Two pairs of shoes. A stuffed Snow White doll. A rubber ball. He held up a pair of jeans and said he would bring them back if they didn’t fit his granddaughter but, he wanted her to try them on first.

He told us that he had gotten these things out of the dumpsters around town. And he thought they might bring a few dollars for the church if sold in the rummage sale. The only thing he asked for was some water. Some cool water for the hot day. No big deal.

I couldn’t quit thinking of him last night. What was the deal with this man of the streets?

I saw him again earlier today sitting on the street corner downtown, a few blocks from the church. We smiled and waived at each other. My heart is full, and my tear ducts too, as I think of his generosity. This man, who by all society standards, really has nothing to give. And yet, he had listened, perceived, and given what he could gather, to help others. That’s a really big deal.

Beloved ones, I think this is what Jesus was getting at when he taught his disciples to pray for it to be on earth, right here in our daily lives, as it is in heaven. This man is quietly and tenderly doing his part to bring that prayer into reality.

May you know the love of God for you today. In the little things. And the big deals.

Something to chew on…

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Posted in Christ, Christianity, community, connection, generosity, Lessons Learned, Spirituality, Uncategorized, unconditional love, witness | Tagged , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Come on! We can do better!

As I have gotten older I have learned, sometimes in painful ways, that the structure should support the mission, not the other way around. And, as I understand it, the laws of our country are there to benefit and support the people. Not the other way around. Whenever the laws (or policies, or “practices”, or presidential privilege) are used to justify demeaning people, young or old, citizen or alien, we have made an idol of the structure and lost the mission. We are humans and our mission is to respect the human dignity of our neighbor, near and far. Especially if we are going to use Christianity as the motivation for our decisions. A lot of things are nuanced in scripture but, not the way we are to treat children. Jesus was clear. Children are our future. All children. We owe them more than this. I don’t have the answers but I know what I see and hear is wrong. 💔 #stopthismadness

Something to chew, and act on…

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freedom’s respect, respect’s freedom

Today is national Flag Day, a day for celebrating the flag and the country it represents. The country of the United States of America. Our country. I, along with many thankful Americans, hung my flag out on the front porch this morning. It’s out there beautifully waving in the breeze.

The flag is a controversial lightening rod these days. Maybe it has always been and I’m just noticing it now. But, it definitely is now. There is so much divisiveness over how we are to treat the flag and what that treatment means.

If someone burns a flag it is easy to see that as a sign of disrepsect, even hatred perhaps for what the flag represents. But there are other ways of approaching the red, white, and blue that are harder to interpret.

I realize even writing this post I am opening myself up for criticism. I’ve not written nearly as often since the last presidential election, partially because I fear how my offerings might be received and interpreted and I don’t want to offend or alienate anyone. And, also, because I just haven’t been able to wade through the grief in my heart at what is going on in our country today to get the words down in an intelligent manner.

I’m giving expression to my feelings today, giving it a shot anyway. From what I can tell, at its best, the flag is meant to be an icon, a representative to point us to the larger picture of the country’s values, over which the flag flies. Values like freedom, equality, strength, generosity, hospitality, and humility. A country that celebrates, respects, and protects the inherent value and dignitiy of each human being regardless of race, class, gender, orientation, religion, or anything else that might threaten to separate rather than unite. At least those are the values I’ve always thought and still hope it represents.

I respect the brave men and women who serve our country, both near and far, at great risk and with great courage to protect our freedoms and the values the flag represents. We owe them our gratitude and respect, and whatever else they may need in recovering from the traumas of war and conflict. We ask much of them, too much. Too often they are expected to be ready and willing to do inhuman things in order to protect our human freedoms. Theirs is a burden no one should have to carry.

It is not hard to see from history that we, as a people, have not always done well by these values the flag represents. We, as a country, have struggled with the practice of equality, and in many cases even in determining the scope of its definition. But, for as long as I can remember we, as a country, have tried. And, when we’ve gone through rough patches, thankfully, there have been voices. Prophetic voices who have called us back to the ideal of freedom and equality for all.

Prophets are rarely welcomed. I mean no one wants to have their weaknesses pointed out. No one wants to be challenged to change. And yet, growth and transformation only happen through reflection, repentence, and a willingness to change. I’m thankful there have been those voices. And, appreciative of their ability and willigness to speak up even when it costs them. In ways I’ve been too coward to do.

So, today I’m thinking of a young man. A young professional athlete I really know nothing about. His name is Colin Kaepernick. I’m thinking of what he did, and the storm of chaos and hateful rhetoric that resulted from it. I’m thinking of the young man who, apparently, decided kneeling during the national anthem was the best way he could express his desire for the awareness and accountability of areas where our nation is not reflecting the best of values that we, as a nation, say we hold dear. I’m thinking of this young man who has used his privilege and voice to advocate for others whose voices are not being heard.

I’m thinking of the storm of hateful rhetoric that has resulted in painful divisions. I’m thinking of the “sides” that have been declared and the words I have read and heard to debase and dismiss this man, our fellow citizen. And, I’m wondering if those voices who have spent so much energy condemning him have ever taken the time to actually hear and consider his point of view. His perspective. And, what is their perspective? What did his actions stir in them that caused such backlash? I’m trying to understand. And, I’m thinking of the opportunities to build bridges that have been missed by the divisive rhetoric. Is there a way we can make room for different expressions of protest? Different expressions of respect?

Honestly, I personally can’t think of a more respectful way than kneeling to express the call for awareness and accountability in the quest for equal justice for all. Kneeling is usually seen as an act of humility. An act of humility that invites and encourages the growth of our better selves. And, as for this action taking place in a crowded football stadium. Well, where else would be better? Throughout history the words and actions of the prophets were heard and seen in public.

The notion that citizens and residents of a country would be forced by government or a corporation to stand for an anthem or a flag is terrifying to me. The day we are all “commanded” and forced to stand for the national anthem is the day we have made an idol for ourselves. Idols are lifeless voids. The day we make an idol out of the flag or the anthem, well that would be a day of disrespect for the country, for the military, for the flag, and for the ideals it represents. And that would be a sad day of disrespecting the value of freedom and basic human dignity. There is a difference between patriatism and nationalism. The former makes room for unity not uniformity. The other demands conformity. Essential distinctions to be made, necessary in determining the health of our future.

Like I said. I don’t know this man, Coln Kaepernick, his heart or his motives, other than what I’ve heard him say on TV and read in the news. And, I don’t know the people or hearts behind the hateful condemnation and negation of his actions. Only the content of their words and tone of the voices in which they have been spoken. I just wonder…if such a quiet action can be met with such loud and angry negativity, is there the possibility that he hit a nerve that needs to be tended to instead of denied? Is there an opportunity to grow in the ideals and values we say we hold so dear? The ones the flag and anthem represent? Is it possible that kneeling for justice might be considered equally as valid of a way to show respect for what the flag and anthem represent as standing is? Is there room for both expressions?

May we not grow weary in growing in our ability as a nation, as a people of connection, to be self reflective, repentent, and willing to be transformed. May we not rest until all are afforded the same opportunities, the same respect, the same freedoms, and the same protections. May we not grow weary until it truly is on earth as it is in heaven.

Something to chew on…

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seeing jesus

This is still what I think of when I think of the woman anointing Jesus. #palmsunday

Chewing the Cud

I arrived early in the morning to begin my day as chaplain on duty. After checking in I made my way to the pediatric chronic care unit to check on Martin. Martin was thirteen years old and, due to many birth complications, had spent his entire life in and out of the hospital. He had fought fiercely and bravely in the midst of countless obstacles, but it was clear his strength for battle was waning. And so, on a midwinter’s Sunday morning, the vigil began.

As the day wore on he would struggle increasingly for each breath. His mother sat loyally at his bedside, full of pain, full of love. Throughout the day other visitors would come and go, but there she remained. In between other calls I spent as much time as possible with Martin and his mom. For the first time in my life, I got an inkling…

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