Monday, January 31, 2011

Poise

Last night I watched the Pro Bowl football game on Fox TV.


It's a showcase of pro football talent in Hawaii. The winners take home $40,000 and the 2nd place team receives $20,000. 


There were lots of antics and laughter and the players obviously enjoyed being together. It sorta reminded me of Pop Warner football for grown-ups.


Perhaps the funniest part of the game was the commentary by Terry Bradshaw and the sideline interviews by Tony Sirigusa and Jay Glazer

Here were the highlights...Jay Glazer as a TV commentator, after being turned down by one coach finally found another coach who allowed him to call an offensive play. Alex Mack, as an offensive center scored a touchdown in the final seconds. And finally, Terry Bradshaw told some hilarious stories as only he can.


Bradshaw interspersed his commentary with stories from his college days, stories from his early days as a pro and made a few predictions about what next week's Super Bowl will bring.


The man from Shreveport, Louisiana spun tales during the entire telecast. But perhaps the most profound thing he said was in response to a question from his broadcast partner in the booth. 


"What's the most important quality a quarterback can possess?"


There was a pause and Bradshaw answered, "Poise. Yeah, ya can have talent, ability and people tellin' ya that your great, but poise, that's the most important thing. Ya can't teach poise, either ya have it or ya don't."


Poise means being "calm under pressure." It means, "never let' em see ya sweat." It's being "cool when the heat is on." 

Poise is a trait in short supply in our culture. It seems like people say and do what they want. It seems like no one has the tenacity to be calm when life is pressure filled. 

I know a few people who are poised, and it's obvious when you are around them. I have never personally met Terry Bradshaw, but I watched him lead the Pittsburgh Steelers with poise and a powerful passing arm. He says, "Ya can't teach poise." 


I'm not so sure...if Terry Bradshaw can be poised, my guess is you can as well...

Do you know anybody who possesses poise? Who?

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Egypt

Thousands and thousands of protesters...
1000's injured...
100 or more have lost their lives...
Widespread looting...
Inmates escaped or released...
50,000 Americans wait to be evacuated...
All media coverage banned...

Cairo and its environs are in chaos. Egypt is in the throes of upheaval with an uncertain future.It is difficult to know what and who to believe.


The American government seems stymied in their ability to take a definitive stand on this critical matter. 


What is the answer?


In Obama's speech recently, he said, "When I was in Cairo, shortly after I was elected, I said that all governments must maintain power through consent not coercion. That is the single standard by which the people of Egypt will achieve the future they deserve."


Consent not coercion...


I am praying that whatever ultimately unfolds in Egypt as well as other parts of the world will take place as a result of consent and not coercion.


St. Ignatius of Loyola said it well, "Pray as if it all depends upon God, for it does. But work as if it all depends upon us, for it does."


I am praying, "let your kingdom come, let your will be done."



Saturday, January 29, 2011

Infophobia

Have you ever been in a conversation with someone and you hear those words, "Do you know...?" The moment that you hear that your heart begins to race and a sense of uneasiness comes over you. 


In a world that is out of control with information and its immediate availability we often try to "keep up." Yet there are moments when somebody says, "do you know?" and panic grips you.


Infophobia. That's your problem, and its in epidemic proportions in our culture. The symptoms are painfully obvious. There is the sense of being incompletely informed. There is the feeling of being completely uninformed. And there is the symptom of "knowing a little about everything and not a lot of anything."


All three are dangerous.


Here is the piece that no one wants to talk about. We will never catch up with the increasing glut of information exponentially increasing every day. It is interesting in a time when we can acquire more and more we are going to have to eventually resign ourselves to knowing less and less. 


That is not a bad thing. The question is, what are you doing with what you know?


Douglas Coupland, a Canadian author of postmodern stories, writes in J-Pod, "I think people in the year 2020 are going to be nostalgic for the sensation of feeling clueless." 


Hey, why wait to 2020, get a head start on it now. Stop trying to gain more and more information and start trying to master what you already know.  

I am not suggesting that you stop learning. But I am thinking what life would be like if I started using what I already know.

I know it sounds like I am clueless but try it. Hey, you never know what'll happen. And, by the way, its OK to not know everything. After all, nobody likes a "know it all."  Know what I mean?

Friday, January 28, 2011

Events

Where were you when you heard the news of the Challenger explosion?


Where were you when you heard the news of John F. Kennedy's assassination?


Where were you when you heard the news of the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan?

Where were you when you heard the OJ Simpson verdict?


Where were you when the events of 9/11 occur?


It is interesting that not only do we remember these events, we can remember where we were when we heard the news. Why is that?


The answer lies in the fact we often associate places with events. Receiving bad news freezes us in time for a moment. Where we hear the news is etched in our minds as well. It's a strange thing.


Challenger explosion...I was in a hotel lobby in Venezuela and the news was streaming in Spanish. The images told the story.


John F. Kennedy assassination....I was released from first grade and my mother picked me up and stopped  to do some shopping at K-Mart. In the television department every TV was telling the story.


Ronald Reagan assassination attempt...I was in front of Wimpy Burgers on Troost in Kansas City.


The OJ Verdict....I was in Pizzeria Uno in Manchester, Connecticut eating lunch with staff.


9/11...I was in staff meeting and my wife called and said that an airplane crashed into a building in NYC.


All of these events seem like they took place yesterday, yet they have taken place over the span of several decades.


My memories are fresh of each of these events. The emotions I felt are fresh as well. I am not pretending to understand why all of these events unfolded as they did. I am wondering though what lessons can be gleaned from them.


Where were you when these things happened and what have you learned?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Mystery

"We live in mystery...yet believe everything is known." 
--British Playwright, Christopher Fry

I have watched people for a long time. It is amazing how people wander through life and give the appearance they have everything figured out. Watching people also reminds me that there are times when we think we know more than at other times in our life.


I have a theory that high school students are probably at the apex of their intellectual life as they near graduation. Younger people often act like they know more than their elders. People who aren't parents know more about raising children than people who have kids. We often look at situations and have opinions even though we don't have all of the facts.

19th century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer said, "The first forty years of life gives us the text: the next thirty years supply the commentary."


I am now living in the "commentary" phase of my life.


The things that I used to "know" now seem to be more of a "mystery." 

And, by the way, I'm OK with that.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Distance

"The shortest distance between two people is a story."
- Anonymous


I have the privilege everyday of living in this "shortest distance."  Stories have ways of reminding us of what is important.  The best way to learn about people is to learn about their story. Everybody has one.

Mitch Albom, master storyteller, writing in The Five People You Meet in Heaven, says "The world is full of stories, but they are all one."

Many people are reluctant to tell their story for fear that others will judge them or fail to understand. Sadly, people walk through life without ever experiencing the joy of telling their story and being known deeply by others.

Maya Angelou, poet and storyteller says, "There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you."


Often times people are reluctant to share their story because they feel like others will ridicule them or make them feel like they are the only one who have a story like theirs.


Quid rides? Mutato nomine, de te fibula narrator. From the writings of Horace, translated:  Why do you laugh? Change the name, and the story is told of you.


When was the last time you told your story? What stories will future generations wish we had told? What holds you back from telling your story?


Stories connect us with others in ways that no other strategy can.


Today I am going to live in the "shortest distance." After all, that is where stories connect us to others.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Entitled

We are entitled to nothing!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Poverty

I can't remember the exact quote.

Flying back from a trip to New Orleans several years ago I was reading USA Today and the author was reflecting on the simple life. He described the incredible losses suffered by poor people in the wards of New Orleans. He described the simple ways people were living as a result of their losses.

Referring to the effects of Hurricane Katrina, the author said, "It's one thing to simplify on our terms, but it's another to simply on Mother Nature's terms."  

It made me think of the poverty often left in the wake of catastrophes.

Poverty. 

There are many other examples of people living a simple life as a result of poverty. Shane Claiborne,  families in Appalachia, forgotten people in Harlem, and countless other pockets of humanity throughout the US. 

Dorothy Day, an American journalist and social activist, wrote, "It (is) expensive to be poor, and it (is) especially expensive to practice voluntary poverty."

There are those who have resisted the heavy influences of capitalism and have resolved to live a life of simplicity, but it's costly. 

Consumption.

There are two definitions....The first is another name for the disease Tuberculosis. The second is another name for the disease afflicting Americans in epidemic proportions. Tuberculosis can be cured with a palette of medications that arrest the infection. Consumerism can be cured by addressing the patterns prompting out of control spending. 

So, today is another day to choose whether I am going to pursue things and suffer from consumption that leads to poverty, or whether I will resist the urge and break free.


Sunday, January 23, 2011

Listening

Dilbert appears in the comic section of nearly 2000 newspapers around the world.  It is the brainchild of Scott Adams who regularly points out the foibles of white collar offices and micro-managers.


I love reading it.


I always see other people I know in his comic strips. Often times I laugh out loud and then realize that I am the subject of his drawings.


Several weeks ago I saw this cartoon and laughed.

Adams highlights two very important aspects of contemporary culture. "Nothing I say in meetings actually means anything."  And, then in response to, "Why do you talk?" these words..."I tried listening once. It was awful."


More words are spoken everyday than in any other time in the history of the world, yet there is little "added value" in most cases. Meetings are held, summits are called and cohorts meet. The result?  Well, you judge for yourself.


The question is real. "Why do you talk?


The answer is even more frightening, "I tried listening once. It was awful."


Dilbert's cartoons are prophetic and pathetic assessments of where we are in our discourse as a community.


What if we are called to use quality words rather than quantity of words?  What if there is no honor in wearing people down with our words?  What if we believed that "words mean things?"


Today, I think I am going to be "slow to speak and quick to listen." If I am successful, I think I will have more time today than I did yesterday.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Grandpa

The phone rang last Thursday morning.  That day is reserved every week for writing, reflection and attention to my journey as a pilgrim. I was at my favorite writing haunt and my phone rang.

I recognized the voice.

It was my daughter. I knew that she had been to the doctor, but I was not prepared for her announcement. 

I was expecting one thing and she was expecting another. Me? I was expecting to hear that they were thinking about starting a family and were faced with some challenges. I was expecting to be an encouragement to her as Dads are supposed to be.

Her?  She is expecting...a baby. Yep, you got it she is "with child." A Miracle!

I had to sit down to absorb the news.

I have seen dozens of sonograms. Most of them look like a weather map with a serious cool front system about to move into the area.  Not this one, I know exactly what I am looking at.

A baby!

Grandpas...I know a lot of them. 

Grandpa...I had two of them.  One I knew a little bit and one I can't remember.


Grandpa...my kids have two, both alive and known by them.


Grandpa...my brother is one.


Grandpa....I am about to become one.


Seriously! What does that mean?

It means that my heart capacity has grown exponentially since I first heard the news.
It means that I will hold in my arms what I have always desired in my heart.
It means that I will add one more name to the list of things that I talk to God about.
It means that what little money I have will have one more place to go.
It means that I will lay awake at night thinking about all of the stories I will tell.


It doesn't mean that I plan on purchasing a muscle shirt with the words..."Grandpas my name...spoiling's my game" emblazoned on it.


I may do some of that, but I am not buying a t-shirt to announce it.


Oh, by the way...I am planning on taking off August 27th this year...maybe even a few days before and after.


Friday, January 21, 2011

Mirror

Flannery O'Connor traced the contours of truth in her writings. With finesse she outlined both the beauty and ugliness of revealed truth through the development of characters in her stories.


One can hardly read a story and not be teased by her pursuit of truth in whatever form it manifests itself.


For a long time I thought when truth surfaced it would elicit a "Wow!" Sometimes it does, often it doesn't. The longer I live I find that truth often reveals the dark, sinister, underbelly side of life.


Open the newspaper, listen to webcasts, pay attention to radio and television and you will agree that when truth surfaces it often reveals tales of horror and grief. Whether it is a shooting or violence, when the truth is told it reveals darkness.


O'Connor said, "truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it emotionally...there are long periods in the lives of all of us, and of the saints, when the truth revealed by faith is hideous, emotionally disturbing, down right repulsive."


Now, isn't that encouraging?


Yet, this same truth can set us free from all of those things. 


Interesting.


Here is my prayer today. "Lord, help me to see myself as you see me, not like I want you to see me. Help me to face the truth of what you see in me." 

Today I will look in the mirror of his grace....



Thursday, January 20, 2011

Authentic

My reading pilgrimage has taken me across the pages of several writers who have profoundly shaped my understanding of what it means to be a serious pilgrim of the faith.


In my writing, I desire that my words have a ring of authenticity to them. I want to make sure that I never write words that overstate what I know and have experienced.


My writing and thoughts are no match for Thomas Merton who as a mystic was concerned that his teachings rang true to his experiences.


Like many of us, he found it easy to peddle cliches, traffic in religious jargon and recite pious words.


Paul Elie writing in The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage says, "He (Thomas Merton) worried that he was serving up "professional spirituality" instead of describing what the experience of God was like." p. 229


I am always cautious of religious people who thrive on knowing all the answers. A red light on the dashboard of my soul goes off when I meet a person who has all the answers, usually to questions no one is asking.


Merton often suggests that authentic Christ following pilgrims lived in uncertainty. He goes as far as to say they "thrive" on it.


For those of us raised in the throes of knowing all of the right answers, the shock comes when nobody asks the right questions. Mystery was often something to be shunned. It was often viewed as a sign of weakness if you couldn't explain everything.


One of my favorite phrases from Merton's writings is his treatment of the limits of mystery and the gap that exists between mystery and certainty. He suggests that theologians often "swim in the vague."


Before you panic, I am not walking through life in a fog, confused about the tenets of the faith. What I am suggesting is that there is a profound mystery observed "through a glass darkly." Knowing may begin in the shadow of doubt.


"Every believer is a prospective contemplative, called to taste God." - Merton.


Now that should leave a good taste in the mouth of any serious pilgrim.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Gethsemani

In 1941, Thomas Merton went to the Abbey of Gethsemani in the hills of Kentucky to retreat. He walked the hills of the abbey to allow God to trace the contours of his soul.


His purpose in going was to sort out his life, his call and his purpose. His journey/pilgrimage was not occasioned by a crisis of faith as much as it was a call to humility and holiness.


In his writings he tries to capture the spirit and feel of Gethsemani for future novices. He says, "It is not a shining city on a hill. It is not a fortress against the world outside."


Then in a stroke of descriptive genius Merton describes Gethesemani as a "kind of industrial plant for religious practice."


What an incredible description of the place of monastic lifestyles. Merton attempts to remind pilgrims that Gethesemani is not a place for "finished products" but is a place of forming, molding and shaping.


On one of his first visits he walked through an arched gate. Passing under the gate of entry Merton noticed a carved stone block with etched words that said....GOD ALONE.


In later years, the stone was relocated to a side wall. It no longer had a place of prominence welcoming seeking pilgrims.


Relegated to a side wall in the abbey, the carved words were now a monument rather than a command.


The sole reason Merton went to retreat was to ensure that the life shaping words continued to be commands rather than monuments.


In one of his most profound thoughts, Merton said, "God is a being to be known, not a problem to be solved, and we who live the contemplative life have learned by experience that one cannot know God as long as one seeks to solve 'the problem of God.'" His life was given to the single pursuit of God and GOD ALONE.

Though the stone in the gateway arch was moved to a side wall, those words were etched on the heart of Thomas Merton so that he carried them everywhere he went.


Not a bad way to live....GOD ALONE.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Sign

The French Quarter is one of the most beautiful parts of New Orleans. It is a place of incredible architecture and outstanding culinary creations.


It is also the sight of three historic buildings.


There is the Cabildo, the old city hall which has been transformed into a museum. There is the Presbytere', home to the Roman Catholic priests and other officials, and now a museum as well. But the centerpiece is The St. Louis Cathedral.

The building has the reputation of being the oldest continually operating cathedral in the United States. It's beauty is unparalleled and its reputation is as well. Saints and sinners have graced its sanctuary since its first building was constructed in 1718.


I have seen it several times in my excursions to New Orleans. It is a tourist site that attracts visitors from around the world who come to see its beauty while visiting the French Quarter.


Walker Percy, an incredible southern author, describing the area around St. Louis Cathedral wrote, "...(there is an) everyday atmosphere here, where the real and the phony, the beautiful and the tacky, the antique and the ephemeral mingle as nowhere else in America." He is describing the parish of St. Louis Cathedral.


When I read his words I thought, that should be said about the area in front of every church.


Even more interesting is a sign inside the doors of St. Louis Cathedral.


CATHEDRAL VISITORS ARE NOT TO GO ABOUT THE CHURCH WITHOUT A GUIDE

I know this sign is intended for visitors & tourists interested in seeing the Cathedral, but what if  it means something more?

I wonder how many times I wonder around the church without a guide? I'm not talking about buildings. I'm referring to The Church. The answer? Probably more often than I am willing to admit. 


The older I get, the less I should "go about the church without a guide." When I finally admit that, I begin to find my way in The Church.

The Head of the Church says, "But when he, the spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all truth."

My response, "Are we there yet?"







Monday, January 17, 2011

Atheists

Atheists by definition are people who "lack belief in the existence of a god or gods."  They are people who believe that no gods or deities exists.


Doug McLeod is an atheist who says,"I still say that a lightning rod on top of a steeple shows a lack of confidence."


Emo Philips, a stand up comedian says, "When I was a kid I used to pray every night for a new bicycle. Then I realized that the Lord doesn't work that way so I stole one and asked Him to forgive me."


It is interesting to see the influence that atheists are having on contemporary culture.


In a Pew Survey on religious knowledge released in September of 2010, it was reported that atheists and agnostics knew more about the Christian faith than Christians themselves. Even more disturbing is the fact that Mormons and Jews were more familiar with the Christian faith than people who called themselves Christ followers.


It's all very interesting.


Steve Martin appearing on Austin City Limits recently introduced a funny song, entitled "Atheists Don't Have No Songs."

What a way to start a Monday morning.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Chicamacomico

This past summer we were traveling down Highway 12 along the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Seven villages make up this part of the Outer Banks known as Hatteras Island. The scenery is breathtaking and the breeze off of the Atlantic Ocean is refreshing.


We were just coming into the community of Rodanthe, home of the Chicamacomico Life  Saving Station when I spied the small painted sign pointing to the station.


I had heard of this community although I had never been there. Nights in Rodanthe, starring Richard Gere, tells a love story set in this beautiful community. Set along the sandy shoals of this small shoreline community  the viewer is introduced to the raw beauty of the Atlantic Ocean and its turbulent waters.


More than a movie, Chicamacomico is more famously known for an international rescue when 42 men were saved from the English tanker Mirlo after it was torpedoes by the Germans.


The year was 1918.


On that day, the station keeper of Chicamacomico Life Saving Station rallied his men and  and ordered them to launch the surfboat into the roiling waters in an effort to save the seamen. The mates were accustomed to following their leader whenever and wherever he ordered them to go.


However, one of the rescuers above the roaring wind shouted, "Cap'n we can't do this..we all be kilt!"


The captain  shouted above their objections and the howling winds with words that  are now considered to be the secondary motto of the United States Coast Guard.


"Boys, the book says we gotta go out...book don't say nothin' 'bout comin' back!"


Talk about risk...talk about laying it all on the line...talk about going for broke, this phrase says it all.


There is no regard for a safe return. The only concern is search, save and rescue.


I am heading off to worship with my friends and family in a few minutes. I want to be a part of a worshiping community that is more concerned with search and rescue than safety and security.


"Boys, the book says we gotta go out...

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Surprise

Imagine my surprise when I opened my email and found this...

Dearly Beloved,

I am Mrs. Wand Smith an aging widow suffering from a long time illness. I have some funds inherited from my late husband, Mr. Smith Lee the sum of $12,400,000 and I needed a very honest and God-fearing person that will use this fund for God's work. I discovered your email from the internet and decided to contact you. Please if you would be able to fulfill my desire for the Lord's work, kindly reply back immediately.

Yours in the Lord,
Wand Smith

Simple messages like this have been appearing in my email   In the last few days I have been notified that I am the beneficiary of a total of nearly $32,000,000 from three other email messages. Looks like I'm about to come into money!

Imagine my surprise when I realized that I was going to be wealthy...kind of a Jed Clampett wealth.

Here's what caught my attention.

Wand Smith is looking for a "very honest and a God fearing person."  Check!
Wand Smith wants the money used for "God's Work."  Check!

And how did Wand Smith find me?  On the internet..

$12.400,000...now that is a lot of money.

What would I do with that kind of money? The possibilities are endless!
I wonder if Wand Smith found anybody else on the internet? Hope not!
When will the $12,400,000 get here? Hopefully soon!

What? It's not real?

The next thing you will tell me is that there is no tooth fairy, Easter bunny or Santa Clause.


I promise to let you know when the $12,400,000 hits my mailbox.

Until then...

I am sorry Wand Smith, I'm keeping my day job!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Fascination

I wasn't ready for what I read.

I had to put the article down and catch my breath.


"To all my non-believing,sort-of-believing, and used-to-be-believing friends: I feel like I should begin with a confession. I am sorry that so often the biggest obstacle to God has been Christians. Christians who have had so much to say with our mouths and so little to show with our lives. I am sorry that so often we have forgotten the Christ of Christianity.."

Shane Claiborne, writing in Esquire wrote those powerful words.


This powerful apology is necessitated by the scandalous ways many live out their Christian faith. Necessary because many Christians aren't living out their faith under the terms of the Gospel. Necessary because of the spiritual anemia so prevalent in the Body of Christ.

He goes on to say, "The more I read and studied the life of Jesus, the more I have become convinced that Christianity spreads best not through force but fascination."

Fascination...now there's a novel approach to propagating the faith. It smacks of  the necessity of being close enough to someone that they will be fascinated by what they see. Not fascination from afar, but fascination up close.

Are you living close enough to others that they will be "fascinated" by the presence of Christ in your life? Do you have relationships with others who are searching?  What do they see in your life that would convince them of the viability of being a serious Christ-follower?

I'm not talking about having a superior knowledge of Scripture. I am not talking about a degree in theology. I am not even talking about being a "super-Christian." I'm just asking if your are in a relationship with others, a relationship that "fosters fascination?"

"Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you'll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven."  Matthew 5:16 (The Message)

Oh, I forgot to mention the name Claiborne's article in Esquire, "What if Jesus Meant All That Stuff?"

Fascinating!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Cemetery Leadership

Bill Clinton reportedly said, "Being President is like running a cemetery; you've got a lot of people under you, and nobody is listening." 


Leadership books are replete with metaphors descriptive of the task of modern day leadership. Some are understandable and some are difficult to comprehend, but I think I understand what Bill is saying.


Recently I was talking to a group of leaders who were lamenting the fact that their followers weren't holding up their end of the bargain. I listened and tried to discern whether it was a leadership or a follower-ship issue. Sometimes it's tough to tell. Looking back on our conversation, I am still not sure.


Here is what I have observed both as a leader and a follower. I have seen it in churches, businesses, politics and non-profit organizations. It doesn't seem that any organizational structure is immune. Here are my random thoughts, my two cents, if you will.


Leaders are often reluctant to be led and are some of the toughest people to guide...another way of saying it is, "they don't play well together in the sandbox." (You Type A people know what I'm talking about.)


Leaders are often the most critical of other leaders..."this is where jealousy and cynicism most often shows itself".


Leaders sometimes think they are and they really aren't..."just because you have an opinion on everything doesn't make you a leader."


Followers are looking for someone who leads authentically with the heart of a servant.


One thing about "Cemetery Leadership" is that there is never any resistance to your ideas. Not a bad gig if that's what you are looking for.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Tuscon

I am not sure what to say to the atrocities that occurred in Tuscon over the weekend.

Political pundits have weighed in. Westboro Baptist Church has their plans. The Pima County Sheriff's department has a perspective. The "talking heads" on television and radio have opined for four days.

I am not sure what to say to all of these things.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor who was executed for his opposition to the Nazi party wrote these words from his cell in a concentration camp...

"Nothing that we despise in the other man is entirely absent from ourselves. We must learn to regard people less in light of what they do or don't do, and more in light of what they suffer."

It is easy to have opinions about others. It is easy to be critical, from a distance, about what has been said or should have been said.

Often I have seen people make sweeping generalizations about a person or  group of people only to discover that the thing they were most critical of in others is the challenge they face in their own lives. 

It's the sort of thing Jesus talked about when He said, "let he who is without sin, hurl the first rock." 

What would happen if we "regarded" people more in light of what they suffer rather that by what they say or do? I am not sure what that looks like completely, but I am willing to give it a shot. 

To do so, frees me from being judgmental. It sets me free to see people as He sees them. It causes me to realize that I have no business picking up rocks much less throwing them even if those rocks come in the form of words or deeds.

Many words have been spoken about the mayhem in Tuscon. I wonder how many of them have been redemptive and how many have been destructive? 

So, today I pray this prayer when I see the suffering around me, "let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight..." Amen

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Fully Present

Yesterday I went to Barnes & Noble.

Around the perimeter of the store interior are large book cover advertisements for many of the classics from literature.To Kill A Mockingbird was in the far corner over the anime and graphic novel aisle.

Written by Harper Lee in 1960, Mockingbird has been assigned reading in many high schools and colleges since its publication. 

Writing in a southern style Harper Lee tells the story of  a sleepy town caught in the throes of racial prejudice and the poverty of the Great Depression. She keenly captures the hypocrisy of the backwater town of Maycomb, Alabama in her only published novel.

As the story unfolds Miss Maudie speaks to Scout..."There are some kind of men who-who're so busy worrying about the next world they've never learned to live in this one, and you can look down the streets and see the results." 

There are a myriad of other quotable statements in Mockingbird, but this one is a fresh reminder that we are to be "fully present in this moment."  We are to be focused on this time and to give ourselves completely to it.

Today, I commit to being fully present in this moment. Oh, it may cross my mind that there is another world  coming, but I don't want to be so "heavenly minded that I'm no earthly good."

In Harper Lee's words, "you can look down the street and see the results." What are the observable results of your focus?  What do you need to change today to be prepared to be fully present in this moment?

Gotta run...the moment is calling!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Flannery

Flannery O'Connor is my favorite storyteller. She writes with passion and clarity enabling the reader to see what she sees.

In Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor, her biographer Brad Gooch relates the story of a talk that she gave at Eastern Lansing High School. She was asked to talk about the role of stories to grab the attention of a world that has been desensitized to feeling.

She says that "modern writers must often tell 'perverse' stories to 'shock' a morally blind world."

"It requires considerable courage," she concluded "not to turn away from the storyteller."

Telling provocative stories are difficult. Listening to provocative stories require incredible courage and tenacity. In a world that has succumbed to simplistic answers to complex questions, O'Connor has the audacity to suggest that storytellers ought to be more graphic and compelling in the presentation of their stories and The Story.

O'Connor tells a startling story of Betty, a friend with a "history of horror." With breathtaking detail she gives the details of Betty's sordid life. Flannery invited Betty to visit and she objected because she did not want to defame the reputation of the great writer by visiting with her. It is an incredible story. (pages 281ff)

The best part of the story is Flannery's final line.

"Where you are wrong is in saying that you are a history of your horror. The meaning of the Redemption is precisely that we do not have to be our history."  She then invited Betty to Thanksgiving dinner.

I want to end all of the stories that I tell with that simple line....The meaning of the Redemption is precisely that we do not have to be our history. Now that, my friend is Good News!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Doubt

"Those who believe they believe in God but without passion in the heart, without anguish of mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, and even at times without despair, believe only in the idea of God, and not in God himself." --Madeleine L'Engle

Living in a culture of cynicism and shallow thinking, doubt can easily crowd its way into the hearts and minds of serious pilgrims.

Recently I was reading the personal writings of a senior saint who has been rock solid in his faith for nearly sixty years. From an outward perspective you would think that he had "figured out the faith" and was simply enjoying the journey as he neared the gates of heaven.

To my surprise he posed questions and mused about many things in the Bible. He pondered matters of faith and yet he maintained a solid commitment to God. He even expressed doubt in some areas.

It makes me wonder if doubt is an integral part of shaping our faith. It makes me wonder if we really believe that the God we serve is able to withstand our questions and doubts or if we fear He will wither under our inquiry?

My friend, the man of faith for sixty years, would say, "the God I serve is big enough to stand up to my any questions or doubts that I have."

It is possible to have doubts and questions and yet  have a vibrant faith. It is possible that our doubts and questions are what shapes our faith in all of its expressions.

You may say, "I doubt it." but don't rule it out until you have taken the time to consider it.

Max DePree said it this way, "We do not grow by knowing all of the answers, but rather by living with the questions."

The writer of the book of Jude in the New Testament makes a startling statement, "keep yourselves in God's love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life." And then he writes these words, "be merciful to those who doubt." 1:22-23.

That's my plan for today...I am going to be merciful to those who doubt. My guess is that I will have plenty of opportunities for mercy. 

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Statistics

When I see that word, I think about its variety of meaning.

I think about an academic course sending panic into students required to take it for academic credit. I think about the barrage of numbers that seem to find their way into any newspaper article or television story. I think about how people are able to bend numbers and figures to support any issue or cause.

Imagine my surprise when I opened an article last week in my local newspaper. The headline caught my attention.

"Running Out of People"

The article was a brief statistical assessment of the community where I live.

Flint, Michigan has been famous over the years for many things...inventions, ingenuity, automation, automobiles, desirable standard of living and the list goes on and on.

The article went on to say, "since the American auto industry began its decline in the 1980's, Flint has consistently lost at least 10% of its population each decade. Massive layoffs and plant closings have devastated the city, and unemployment rates remain well into the double digits."

Flint is ranked #2 on a list of 7 American cities, "running out of people."

#1?  New Orleans...now that makes sense, but Flint?  How sad to read that we are "running out of people."

I have lived in Flint for 10 years and here are my brief observations.

The check out lines are always long at Wal-Mart, Target and Krogers. The two interstates intersecting in Flint are always jammed with people. Restaurants are usually packed. There doesn't seem to be a shortage of people where I eat, shop and visit.


"Running out of people."  At face value, it seems like there is a mass exodus. Matter of fact, you better watch out because you could easily be overrun by the mass exodus of people heading out of town.

To be sure, Flint continues to experience an exodus of young people searching for employment elsewhere. Certainly, the population is shifting and aging in Flint, but we are not "running out of people."

The last time I looked, people are still making people.

Cleveland, Buffalo, Dayton, Pittsburgh and Rochester are also, "running out of people."

I am reminded of the words of St. Yogi Berra..."hey, nobody eats at that restaurant anymore, it's to crowded."

Say what?

My friend posted a note on Twitter this week that sums it up well..."47% of all statistics are made up."

I wonder if anybody in Flint reads Twitter?  Of course not, after all, "we are running out of people."

Friday, January 7, 2011

Antiques

It's an old story...and a long one at that...It's not original to me, but every time I hear it, I find it amusing. I have abridged it to make it more readable and enjoyable.

Jerry is the main character in the story. His profession is antique shop owner. His travels take him across the countryside looking for valuable antiques to purchase for a pittance and sell for a profit.

Here is where we pick up the story.

One afternoon he drove into a small town in rural Kentucky.  After checking into the local flea bag hotel, Jerry went out to look over the town. It wasn't long before he hit pay dirt. Ahead was a small country store with a crowded front porch, an obvious indicator of hidden treasurers inside.

Entering through the front door, his eyes caught an attractive bowl on the floor in the corner. Quietly he wandered over for a closer look only to discover it was a rare antique Chinese carved coconut bowl dating back to the 18th or 19th century. He knew its value was inestimable.

The thought crossed his mind that the value of that one bowl was worth more than the complete contents of the country store. Jerry was certain that the owner of the store had no idea of its value.

The owner had it filled with milk and a beautiful Persian cat was drinking out of it.

Trying not to show his hidden delight, Jerry wanted that bowl. He devised a simple plan to purchase the bowl, however his early church upbringing kicked in reminding him that he should "treat others as he would like to be treated."

Gathering his courage he walked nonchalantly over to the owner of the country store and said, "That's a beautiful cat you have there. How much would you take for her?"

"Oh, the cat's not for sale," said the owner. "She keeps the store free of mice."

"I gotta have her, she is the most beautiful cat I have seen in a long time. And on top of that my daughter loves cats and I know she would love this one." Jerry countered.

"Tell you what, I'll give you $100 for her."

The owner laughed, "She's not really worth it," laughed the owner, "but if you want her that badly, she's yours."

Jerry picked up the cat and started walking out.

Quickly, he turned around and said to the store owner, "Hey listen, I'm stayin' at the motel down the road apiece."

"I need something to feed this cat from," continued Jerry, "let me throw in another $10 for the bowl she's drinking out of."

The store owner replied, "Oh, I could never do that. It is my prized possession. Somebody told me it came from China. Funny thing, though! Since I've had it, I've sold 17 cats."

What's the moral of the story?  Sometimes things are what they seem.

Keep your eyes open today to see the possibilities for what they are.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Freshmen

That is the word used to describe new legislators taking office this month in Washington D.C.  Already there are accusations and rancor among the newly elected and the established power brokers in the halls of government.

It will be interesting to see what happens.

Yesterday John McCain was interviewed on the Today Show. Matt Lauer, Today Show host, asked him about his tenure and about the newly elected politicos arriving to take their new responsibilities.

McCain said, "The first six months the freshmen ask themselves, 'How did I get here?' The next six months they ask themselves, 'How did they get here?'"

Two very interesting questions.

There have been times when I have asked the question, "How did I get here?"  There have been moments when I have felt like calling home or my office and asking, "Can you trace this call and tell me where I'm at?"

There are times I have looked around in moments of frustration and have asked, "How did they get here?"

These questions are not bad questions to ask ourselves. How we answer them can determine the way each day unfolds.

We are where we are for a reason and people are where they are for a reason. That's a long way of saying, "it is what it is."

I hope all those freshmen legislators figure out how they got where they are. It makes me wonder how effective they will be if they can't figure out something that simple.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Huh?

Growing up I loved to read the comics in the daily newspaper.

Every afternoon the paper boy would ride by the house and hurl the rubber banded paper on or near the front porch. You never quite knew where the paper would land.Wherever it landed, I would retrieve it.

Back to the comic strips.

One of my favorites was an old character named Andy Capp.

He had an argumentative contemptuous relationship with his wife who was constantly nagging him about his laziness and lack of energy.

Following a heated argument Andy retired to the sofa.

Exasperated his wife muttered, "What's the point of me being on speaking terms with you when you're not on listening terms?" 

Huh?

It has been a long time since I have thought about that comic strip and the feel of the newspaper.  I won't forget the black ink smudges on my hands and fingers after reading the comic strips.

It would be easy to be distracted by all of that and miss the point.

I wonder how much "speaking" I miss because I am not on "listening terms?"

Do I miss important words from those around me because I am not listening?

More importantly, do I fail to hear God's voice because I am not paying attention to His activity in my life?

All of these questions cause me to think about my need to improve my "listening terms." It is not easy in a world which constantly assaults and deafens pilgrims on the journey.

One of the reasons why I am not always on "listening terms" is because  my voice is the one that is often the one "speaking." So my prayer in these days is that I would be "slow to speak and quick to listen."

Say what?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

True Stories

Bertolt Brecht was a German poet, storyteller and playwright.

He told provocative stories that piqued the interest of both listeners and theater goers. He wrote plays and produced them in some of Germany's finest venues. He saw the theater as more than an arena for entertainment.

Brecht saw it as a platform for communicating ideologies and thoughts which would initiate societal change.

He built a reputation as a provocateur throughout his short life.

At the conclusion of a breathtaking story Brecht was asked by an adoring fan, "Herr Brecht, what a wonderful story you have just told us! Is it true?"

Pausing the playwright, storyteller and poet responded, "Of course not. If it were true, it would not have been a good story."

Stories have powerful ways to reveal blind spots on our journey. Narratives told well have ways of removing the obscurities of our life. Some stories raise more questions than they answer.

The story is often told of people who seek the advice of their rabbis. Expecting an insightful answer to their probing questions, they heard words like, "let me tell you a story."

A story is very different than an answer, although answers can be found in the best told stories.

I have told a lot of stories in my life. I have often been asked, "Is that true?"

Admittedly, there have been times when I have embellished stories to create an effect. There have been times when I couldn't find the right story and I have crafted a story that brings a punch to the point. There are also times when I have told the story without any "extras" or "explanations."

I would love to have had the opportunity to meet Bertolt Brecht. It wouldn't really matter whether the stories he told were true or not.

Why? Because I love a good story.

In the words of Maya Angelou, "There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you."

Tell someone a great story today!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Candles or Chandeliers


This little light of mine
I'm going to let it shine
This little light of mine
I'm going to let it shine

I remember clearly singing that song when I was a child.

I am not completely sure what that song is about when I consider the immensity of God's grace and that He is the Light of the world. It seems paltry that I would sing a song about a "little light" even if it is mine.

All of this got me thinking...

Several weeks ago I ran across a quote on Twitter that said, "I would rather light a candle in the darkness than hang another chandelier in the fellowship hall."

Now that is something I can understand.

It has made me wonder if the church I attend is more interested in "lighting candles in the darkness" or "hanging another chandelier in the fellowship hall?"

Churches that "light candles in the darkness" recognize darkness must be dispelled and are intentional about doing so. They do it in a variety of ways. They take risks. They break the rules of conventional wisdom.

The result? Light is brought into dark places and hope is celebrated.

Churches who are adept at "hanging another chandelier in the fellowship hall" are inwardly focused and are more concerned about adding light to existing light.

The result? Light is introduced again and again into places and nothing changes, there's just more light.

I suspect that we don't need more lights, we just need to take The Light to dark places. Today I will punch holes in the darkness and celebrate hope.

What would happen if we sold the chandelier in the fellowship hall to finance taking the Light into the world?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

He's Wright

He's Wright. N.T. Wright that is. I love his writing content and style. Recently I ran across a provocative and insightful thought that Wright wrote.


He says..."We honor and celebrate our complexity and simplicity by continually doing five things. We tell stories...we act our rituals...we create beauty...we work in communities...we think about beliefs." Simply Christian, p.48




His words made me think.


Am I doing any of those, all of those or some of those?


I love to tell stories...I lead people acting out rituals...sometimes I create beauty...I work in community...and I think about beliefs often.


But when I inventory my life, it makes me wonder about how effective I am in each of these areas.


It makes me wonder if there are some areas where I excel and others where I don't.


The key to this whole process is Wright's words, "we honor and celebrate our complexity and simplicity by continually doing five things."


"Complexity" and "simplicity"...I get those things. The other five? I'm not always sure.


Here's the bottom line, Complexity and simplicity are best expressed in the rhythms of grace which allow us to tell stories, act out our rituals, create beauty, work in communities, and think about beliefs.


So, today I am going to tell a few stories...that'll be a start.


When I think about what I want to do with my life, I want to do what's Wright, NT Wright that is.


So, today I'm committing to working on the big 5 more intentionally. That's not a resolution, that's a necessity.




Saturday, January 1, 2011

Say What?

There the words were.

"It's tough to predict the future, but it takes real guts to predict the past."

Say what?

Joel Stein writing in Time Magazine penned those words in his most recent editorial in the magazine.

I read them late last night and it made me wonder about the past. Standing on the doorstep of 2011, people are already predicting what the future will look like and are anxious to put the past behind them. Little attention seems to be given to reflecting on the past and what it might mean going forward.

Are lessons learned from past experiences formative for future moments?

Is history any reference point for determining what our unfolding future looks like?

To often I find myself trying to avoid history, tradition and forging ahead with life. The writer of the book of Ecclesiastes said, "there is nothing new under the sun."

Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruiz de Santayana y Borrás aka as George Santayana was a philosopher and writer in the first half of the twentieth century. Perhaps his most famous remark is one that is oft repeated at this time of year, especially by those who look forward to new starts.

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."-George Santayana

Some have said the definition of insanity is "doing the same things over and over again and expecting a different result." I have seen and felt the results of that.

How do we make sure that our New Year's Resolutions are more than a "to do" for the first two weeks of January?

One way is to "remember the past" and that is far different from "dwelling on the past."

"Every day I review the ways he works, I try not to miss a trick. I feel put back together, and I'm watching my step. God rewrote the text of my life when I opened the book of my heart to his eyes." II Samuel 22:21 The Message

So, I choose to review the ways He works. I choose the allow the Master Writer to re-write the text of my life. I choose the open the book of my heart to His eyes.

Call'em New Year's Resolutions if you want, but that's my story (er' His Story) and I'm stickin' to it.