God’s on the subway

Recently I went to New York with Tom, Lauren, and Eloise.  We went in celebration of Eloise’s 7th birthday.  Seemed only fitting that a seven year old named Eloise should have an “Eloise” tea party at the Plaza (remember the children’s book??).  We arrived in NYC late morning and, after checking in at our hotel, we made our way over for our reservation for afternoon tea.

Walking in, I was struck by the beauty of the surroundings, the soft fresh smell of flowers, and the jubilant energy.  It appeared to me that no one was there on a quick lunch hour from work. This was a time of pure indulgence, faces relaxed, and happy conversation. People leisurely enjoying their tea (or cocktails) and tasty treats.  It might have been just a few quick steps from the world outside, but this place felt like it’s own little universe of celebration.

When the attentive server brought our order, Eloise’s face was priceless with joy as she marveled at the pink bouquet of cotton candy sitting atop her tray.  She soon exclaimed, “I loooove New York!”  She was hooked.  This was a child’s delight and yet we were all pulled into the magic.

The whole weekend flowed with fun, sights, smells, and tastes.  It was a three day fantasy breaking through a long and lingering winter. We’ve recently had plumbing problems that are turning into a larger ordeal than we imagined, and we’re not even sure what we’re yet facing. More significantly, a life long friend of Tom’s received a devastating diagnosis that has us spinning in sadness even as we struggle to hope and discern ways we can help and support him and his family through this unexpected and unwelcome life threatening health crisis.  Others close to us are struggling with various life challenges as well. And, income taxes are due! This little miracle of an oasis weekend was a gift we enjoyed to the fullest extent.

It wasn’t all glamor and glitz though. There were some sobering and grounding moments as well.  Tom and I visited the 911 memorial museum and cried all over again at the heartbreak and unthinkable losses that occurred as a result of radical distortion and hatred.  It was a reminder of the fragility of life and the importance of holding our loved ones close while we can. And, of the need to continue to seek peace in every way possible within our realms of influence.

In the three days we were there we walked over twenty miles and rode as many, or more miles, in subways. I was reminded of the importance of a well fitting shoe, and the consequences of wearing those that don’t. Reminded that vanity is so very vain.

People on the subway are interesting, don’t you think?  All shapes and sizes.  All colors and ages.  All walks of life.  So many different languages, the least of which I heard was English.  All different people, different races, different ethnicities, different religions, different backgrounds, different styles and mannerisms, different world views, different values perhaps.

Different plans and places to go.  Some going to or from work. Looking tired both ways. I saw one lady coming home from the store with shopping bags and I marveled at the ordinary miracle of being able to buy the necessities of life without getting in the car “to run errands”. I would definitely have to be more organized than I am now to survive in the city for any length of time.

There were children with their parents, some sleeping, some fussy, others smiling. It didn’t seem to be a new experience for any of them as it was for us.  The sounds and smells and sights I found strange and slightly unsettling they didn’t even seem to notice.

One young man spent his ride continually rolling three dice.  Was he practicing for something, or just calming his nerves? I tried to be nonchalant but couldn’t help but watch him.  No one seemed the least bit interested in what I found very curious.

There we were.  All separate little bags of flesh and bones and thoughts and actions and plans and dreams.  All together heading somewhere, to do something.  We’d reach our destination and go our separate ways but for a few moments we were all bound together by steal and tracks, heading in the same direction. A moment of unity without the slightest pressure of uniformity.

The subway was a far cry in atmosphere from the Plaza Hotel, and the somberness of the 9/11 museum was unique from both, and yet there was a common thread that ran through it all.  A bunch of strangers in one place for a period of time, different, yet held in a momentary commonality.  In addition, we were each and all dependent on someone or something beyond our control or purpose to ensure that each individual experience was successful.

As I reflect on this now I am struck with how unaware I can daily be of the connectedness of humanity.  I so often ignore just how deeply we are all a part of a larger Whole.  And how dependent we are on the Whole to fully experience the “each”.  All of us, at once, going our separate ways, living our own individual lives. And yet, all of us depending on the same air to breathe. The same function of gravity to remain stable on this great big ball of a planet.  The same force of energy to remain our unique individual selves.

As a person of faith I believe that this Whole is God, and God is Love. Not just that God loves, but God is Love.  I believe that Jesus is the embodiment of the unifying force of this Whole. The power of this Whole comes through dying to the self, forgiveness, and a willingness to love unconditionally.  Dying, forgiving, loving even those who don’t believe and don’t love back.  That’s what makes it such a gift! And, what makes it so binding and eternal.

Sometimes the Christian message gets reduced to a set of beliefs that must be verbalized in a certain way in order to be acceptable. Sometimes the Christian message gets twisted and contorted into some sort of terrible child sacrifice bargain that results in a get out of hell free card for those who say the correct formulaic prayer. Sometimes the Christian message gets reduced to a set of restrictions that are used to include some and exclude others.  I’m actually hesitant to even use the word Jesus because of the ways in which it, and he, have been weaponized and politicized. Somehow we have found ways to polarize a message that was meant to re-member us to the Whole and to one another as part of that Whole!

The longer I live and the more I open myself to learning in places like subways, hotels, and museums, the more I see the love of this Whole in all places and people, and the more I believe this Wholeness is always present. Always pursuing us, encouraging us to wake up to Its power to heal, to unite, to restore.

For me, this is what Easter is about.  A Love that saw the image of God in all, sinners, tax collectors, prostitutes, and good ole church people. A love that saw the value in the moments; moments of drinking wine and eating food, moments of conversation that lead to healing, moments of prayer and reflection, moments of insight and teaching. Moments of simply holding the same space together, in unity not uniformity. Community, not conformity. A Love that refused to be violent even in the face of violence. A Love that would allow its own death rather than die.

A Love that rose and continues to rise always, not only in the churches, but, in the midst of all the subways and trains, places and people.  Maybe someday we’ll recognize the image of this Whole in one another. I hope. Then it really will be on earth as it is in heaven.

Something to chew on…

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becoming sight

From where I stand I can only see one side of the Christmas tree. To see it all I have to move around the tree, changing my perspective in order to take it all in. Only then can I see the beauty of the whole tree.
Spiritual growth also requires me to move beyond myself. From where I am, in my own finite mind, I cannot see the Whole, only a part. The only way to see further is to engage my heart and my imagination. And, the only way to begin to do this is by acknowledging that from, where I am, as I am, I cannot see it all. To let go of the notion that what I know is all there is to know.
Exercising this practice of humility breaks down the barriers of my mind and opens my heart and imagination to the possibility of seeing something different. Something new. Something more than I saw before. And seeing more clears the path to learning something new. Something I didn’t know before.
If I practice gratitude for this opportunity to learn, I may just grow. The more I grow, the more I see. And, thus, it begins again.
The point of this journey is not destination, or arrival. This is the journey of Becoming. This is Advent living, a journey of longing and openness to the possibilities of transformation through Christ’s love.
Jesus came that we might be re-membered to the Truth that always was and always will be. We are created in the image of God, who is Love, and our calling is a calling of Becoming.
As we approach Christmas and begin this new year, may we, together, be open to the new visions and possibilities that God is placing before us.

Something to chew on…IMG_0898

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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

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…

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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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