Thursday, December 30, 2010

He Comes to the Chaos: A Final Christmas Meditation


 Our church had a Christmas Eve service, and I was looking forward to and hoping this would provide a sense of haven in the midst of hectic activity and obnoxious  shoppers and angry drivers en route to shopping.  I was already on edge because I was responsible for memorizing a significant portion of the second chapter of the gospel of Luke, which contains the birth narrative of Christ.  I was the narrator as various children re-enacted the nativity scene.  I was anxious about being able to recall my lines while the kids were acting  like shepherds slamming down Red Bull.  Well, I did lose my place and forgot several lines and attempted to re-insert them, and I doubt that many listening could tell, but I knew I screwed up and I had so badly wanted to nail it without flaw, and, ironically, found myself silently cursing before we all sang Silent Night.  

The kids were squirming and restless and fussing and ruined a Norman Rockwellian Christmas Eve service.  After the children's program our pastor shared a meditation and while he's talking people are hacking and coughing.   A pew over, Marge is wheezing.  Shortly into his meditation, a number of kids are by now whining.  An occasional "Mommy, she pinched me!"  It slowly is reaching a crescendo and one child begins and continues screaming his lungs out.   My first reaction was, "Merry freakin   Christmas!"  And then it hit me:  This--and much worse--is what Chrst enterd and still enters.  Chaos.  Christ was born in a setting wherein King Herod was slaughtering innocent children.   Christ enters the the chaos of a Christmas pageant, as trivial as that level of chaos may be.  Christ enters our chaos at our core level.  That's why he comes to us--to bring order to our chaos, to bestow forgiveness for our sin, to eradicate the darkness with light. 

I avoid the chaos; Christ enters my chaos.  I do not have to fear getting lost in the chaos and the seeming senselessness; Christ finds me in it.  He does not merely embrace my darkness by entering it, but he transcends the darkness and, in time, will dispense that darkness with his light.  The gospel of John, in reflecting on Christ's birth puts it this way:  "The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not (and will not) overcome it."  Even in the throes of my emotional chaos, even at the height of my angst, there is always hope because Christ was born and is born into all of this mess.  He enter our chaos.

Adrian Plass composed a poem that captures what I'm trying to say, and does so with more eloquence and poignancy than I will ever muster.  i invite you to reflect on these words.

And Christ Will Be Born 

On Christmas day the world will turn once more towards its end.
But Jesus will be born.
A woman who has tried once more in vain to re-create the morning
Will find her spirit crushed at last by failures and defeats
Her grief will trail like tattered ribbons
Through apocalyptic streets
And Jesus will be born
A little child who cannot waste his tiny reservoir of moisture
On a thing as purely pointless as a tear
Will puzzle at the burning skies
Blank and empty as his mother’s eyes
And wish beyond the point of fear
That darkness would descend
And Jesus will be born
And in some cold, sad cell a man will dream of blessed ordinariness
A walk, a meal, a smile, a book, the chance to feel
A trusting hand in his
Small and soft and folded like a flower in the night
Devastating innocence that promises redemption and has never lied
But will not save him from the morning and the hour
When heavy boots come marching down the corridor outside
And Jesus will be born
At the corner of the street the image of the living God
Will hug herself against the cold
And smoke a friendly cigarette
And be prepared to greet success with weary resignation
Feebly lit by one of yesterday’s recycled smiles
And struggle to forget what she was told
When someone was in charge and choices could be made
And there was hope
And Jesus will be born
Yes, Jesus will be born
Though the night enfolds like a black shroud
And the liar’s lies drive us from our peace
And take us from our beds
And bring us to our knees
On the cold stone tiles of the kitchen floor
Jesus will be born
Yes, though the skies crack
And the heavens sway
And the heat dies in the earth’s core
And the last stitch in the last ditch appears
When all is lost
A child’s hand will reach out from the manger
A wounded hand will catch our tears
For Jesus will be born on Christmas day.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

My Model of a Man

 I'm inviting you to watch the video that follows. I aspire to be possess the gentleness and the peacemaking spirit of this man (and his wife) while I still have my senses. I don't want to reach a point of old age and senility where I'm  harmless and incapacitated, reduced to a continual smile while I soil myself and salivate down my chin, and people remarking, "He' so happy and peaceful. . . and delusional."  I want to still have fire in my belly--I want to have my senses and all my passion-- yet be consumed by a gentle, peacemaking spirit toward others.  This man inspires me and gives me hope that maybe I, too, can become such a person.

Old Radicals

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Bill O'Reilly, Baby Jesus, and Jobless Joe

This week Bill O'Reilly took to task Dem. Jim McDermott  for his comment, "We talk about good Samaritans, the poor, the little baby Jesus in the cradle and all this stuff. And then we say to the unemployed we won't give you a check to feed your family. That's simply wrong."  O'Reilly asks, "What does a moral society owe to the have-nots?"  The implication being--not much.  The implication being that you got yourself into your mess; you get yourself out.  The implication being it's your own damn fault; if you weren't a slacker but were industrious like me you'd have a job. 

That sounds just like little baby Jesus, doesn't it?  I don't know about Bill's baby Jesus but the Bible's grownup Jesus is described in this manner:  "When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd."  (Matt. 9: 36) 

There is an instance recorded in the gospels where a massive group of people--about 5,000-- had assembled to hear Christ teach or experience his healing.  It's been a long day and people are tired and hungry and his apostles approach him and tell him, "Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding countryside and find food and lodging . . . "  Jesus replies, "You give them something."    That definitely does not sound like Bill O'Reilly's Jesus.

He (Bill, not Jesus) goes on to say, "There comes a time when compassion can cause disaster. If you open your home to scores of homeless folks, you will not have a home for long."  Maybe I'm missing something here.  Are we precariously perched on the brink of disaster because compassion is running rampant across America?  I'm going home tonight and tell the scores of homeless people I've taken into our home that I'm fed up and they have to leave.  And I want each of you to do the same.   Really, Bill?   I don't know anyone--myself included-- who currently has taken a  single solitary homeless person into their home, let alone scores of them.  Are we really at risk here? 

Mr. O'Reilly closes his editorial with two comments.  ". . . being a Christian,  I know that while Jesus promoted charity at the highest level, he was not self-destructive."   While giving himself up to die on a cross may not exactly be self-destructive by intent, dying on a cross certainly isn't the epitome of self-actualization, accumulation, acquisition and consumption.

He closes by saying, " The Lord helps those who help themselves."  That's not a quote from the Bible, by the way, about God.  However,  here is a quote from the Bible about the Lord whom Mr. O'Reilly references.  "When we were still powerless (helpless) Christ died. . . " for us.  God does not wait for us to initiate; God always makes the first move.  God is the Initiator; I am the Responder.  God doesn't help only those who help themselves; God helps the helpless and the jobless Joe's.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

I'm Ch-ch-ch-chokin' on Ch-ch-ch-changes

Maybe David Bowie was stuttering after all when he sang about ch-ch-ch-changes.  My wife and I have just made the most monumental decision in recent decades and I certainly find myself stammering and stuttering as I come to grips with it all. 

We are both quitting our respective jobs/careers as of Feb. 1 and  we're going to work with and serve the poor in Honduras for 3 months, beginning in March.  Mercy International in Yamaranguila, Honduras has invited us to do so and we have accepted.  And a significant part of me says,  "You did WHAT?!?"    The bolder, trusting side says, "YES!!!!"  At this point it an ongoing internal dialogue hundreds of times a day.

Ch-ch-ch-changes.  Some of us thrive on change; some of us dive from it.   I personally thrive on diving from change.  Gimme my predictable comfort zone within which to operate and then a comfy haven to come home to at night.  I want the American Dream--without the divorce, the rehab, the ulcer, the mid-life crisis, the sense of pleasure but no purpose, the spoiled adult children.  But then it wouldn't be the American Dream--now would it.  I want my comfort zone but I find myself getting complacent in it.  I find myself becoming soft 'n pudgy-- the Pillsbury Dough boy with a remote.  

I believe there is something innate within us that needs adventure; we need a cause, a purpose greater than our own ego.  I need more than my acquisitions and accumulations.  I don't buy into the idea that he who dies with the most toys wins.  He still dies.  By the way, have you heard some variations of that 80's mantra?

Judaism - He who buys toys at the lowest price, wins.
Catholicism - He who denies himself the most toys, wins.
Atheism - There is no toy maker.
Anglican - They were our toys first.
Branch Davidians - He who dies playing with the biggest toys, wins.
Hare Krishna - He who plays with the most toys, wins.
Polytheism - There are many toy makers.
Evolution - The toys made themselves.
Church of Christ, Scientist - We are the toys.
Communism - Everyone gets the same number of toys.
Baha'i - ALL toys are just fine with us.
Amish - Powered toys are a sin.
Taoism - The doll is as important as the dump truck.
Mormonism - Every boy may have as many toys as he wants.
Voodoo - Let me borrow that doll for a second....
Jehovah's Witnesses - He who sells the most toys door-to-door, wins.

If there is someone I have not offended, please let me know.   I have been known to digress and I believe this might be one of those instances.  I will get back on-course.

As inviting and alluring as it may be at times, I don't want to settle for the status quo.   I don't want to observe life like I'm some Audubon bird-watcher.   I want to fly; I don't want to watch birds do it.   There is a stone plaque that sits eye-level on my computer desk.  I'm looking at it right now.  It reads,

 Remember this; when you're through changing. . . you're through.

Now THAT makes me stutter. That jolts me out of my false sense of security and possibly settling for less than what God intends for me.  How about YOU?  Are you embracing ch-ch-ch-changes?  Are you resisting the life of consumption?  You and I will make an impact--either on the couch cushion or on others.   I'm far from it but I want to embody that axiom, If you're not living on the edge you're taking up too much space.

My hope for not only me but you is that we will discard our pipe dreams and embrace our God-given dreams.  That we will summon the courage--the faith?--to go for it in spite of the obstacles.  Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did.  So throw off the bowlines.  Sail away from the safe harbor.  Catch the tradewinds in your sails.  Explore.  Dream.  Discover.   (Thank you, Mark Twain)

The Foo Fighters in "My Hero"  pose this question in a lyric about heroes, people who discard their apathy and give all they've got to make an impact on this pummeled planet.  "Don't the best of them bleed it out while the rest of  them peter out?"  

 May God give us grace not to settle for being one of "the rest of them."  May we bleed it out because we are fueled by a heart for others, a restlessness with the status quo, a compassion for those who are suffering.



Friday, December 10, 2010

Merry Christmas and I Hope You Don't Freeze to Death Tonight

The shelters in town turn out the homeless very early in the morning and don't allow them back in til evening.  One, I'm told, does not allow them back in until 9 p.m.  Our church provides a hot breakfast for the homeless early each Sunday morning. Last Sunday, we didn't have a shuttle van and had informed everyone that they would  have to walk.  A 30 minute walk in the cold for a healthy person.  My wife and I were the first to arrive; it was still dark.  In the darkness I noticed a figure huddling in the cold. A homeless man was already there, waiting.  I thought it was strange anyone should show up an hour early, particularly due to the walk.  Puzzled, I asked him what he was doing here so early.  He had on a  light denim jacket.  I don't recall any gloves.  Shivering, he told me he had slept outside all night in an open parking deck.  He told me he was "cold to my core."

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and God, it's cold out there.  The Christmas season has become primarily an opportunity for further consuming, rather than caring.  I know what's on MY list and am hoping to get--and it's not a place to sleep.  This is supposed to be a season of giving, not getting.  Isn't our entire life, if properly ordered, to reflect our compassion, not our acquisitions?  Our culture is all about accumulation; on the other hand, Christmas--"Christ's Mass"-is all about giving, not getting.

So, let's enjoy our friends and families.  Enjoy what you get from those whom love you.  Give to those you love and with whom you share life.

But, please don't forget--it's cold out there.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Life is Like the Ocean; It Comes in Waves

I don't believe that life is a crap-shoot but it certainly consists of both billboards, doesn't it. There is a book in the Bible, Ecclesiastes, and the writer attests to the fact that "for everything there is a season. . . a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build. . . "  Pete Seeger took this text from Ecclesiastes and put it to music in 1959.  "Turn!  Turn!  Turn!" became a world-wide hit in 1965 when The Byrds made it their cover song.   It isn't merely a good song; it's a picture of life itself.  

As you read this, I don't know what season of life you are going through. For some of you this has been and continues to be a season of drought and despondency.  A relationship has  dissolved.  Savings are being exhausted.  Health issues.  Broken trust and discarded vows.  Demons who had been dormant now have sprung to create a living hell.     I would never--never--choose such a season, but I can see value  in it.  A season like this can serve the purpose of a crucible, wherein the "fluff", that which lacks substance, or possibly the inauthentic in me gets grounded out.  Granted, the grounding, the grinding can feel as though I am being hammered to death, rather than the "impurities" being ground and filtered out.   I hope you endure the billboard.

There are several perspectives which serve to sustain during one of these seasons.  I believe there is Order underlying the seeming chaos of the season.  I believe there is One who possesses  a good heart overseeing a very bad time.  "Why?" questions abound, but I do not allow this season to define me.  It certainly influences me; it does not have to define me.  There is something in the very nature of a season that also motivates me to endure.  A season, by definition, is temporary.  This season of the dark will yield, eventually, to rays of light.  This season will change.  I will not always feel like I do today.  As a Christ-follower, I do not hold to the position that God brings such a season into my life to punish me, to spew his wrath upon me.  What serves to sustain my hope is that God desires to turn that which could serve to destroy me into something that will, instead, deepen and strength me.  

For some of you who are reading this, it's a season of hope.  A season of joy and gratitude.  A new baby.  You've fallen in love.  A new job has opened up.  A relationship has grown to a deeper level.  You've lost the weight.  Things aren't heating up; they're looking up.  I encourage you to savor the season.  Enjoy and "be in the moment" of every moment.  Give voice to those matters of the heart that, in a different season, may be much more difficult to utter then.  Hold each other close.  Dance with delight.  Enjoy the billboard.

For me, though I have very much for which I am thankful, this has been a very long and persistent season of drought.  To use Ecclesiastes terminology, "a time to tear down. . . a time to weep. . . a time to search. . . a time to be silent. . . "  For many, many months I have found myself withdrawing.  It's been a time of brokenness, a desperate time of wrestling with God and questioning my faith.  Toss in some self-loathing and Abracadabra!  I haven't been exactly charming. 

But I keep pressing on.  I speak beyond what I feel.  I trust beyond what my senses may tell me.  And though I don't know why this darkness has descended on me I know why I trust the One who does know why.

(I want to give credit where it is due;  the billboard picutre was posted by Abraham piper, a blogger, twentytwo words.)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Death of a Well-Intentioned Marriage

They were young and naive and so in love.  He had lived a sheltered life of insecurity and couldn't believe someone with such grace and sophistication would glance at him, much less love him.  She was raised under the harsh authority of a  cold, bigoted father.  Neither had any idea or insight into the impact of their past upon their present nor the impact each of them would have on the one they loved.  They would soon find out.

They were devout in their faith.  Their faith context was deceptive--not by intent, but in the outcome.  They married in bible college, preparing for the ministry.  The axiom--and myth--was "Bible college marriages are made in heaven."  Unfortunately, they're lived out on earth.  

It wasn't long at all before their differences and dysfunction--nesting dormant under the surface--became triggered in the crucible of intimacy.  Within a year the frustration, the misunderstanding, the incompatibility reached intolerable proportions.  They were embarrassed to seek help. A person preparing for the ministry was supposed to have it together; a Christian couple was assumed to be exponentially intact.  What would others in their subculture think?  So the secrecy slowly destroyed them.  Three years later, they finally sought help, but the cumulative damage was lethal--like a cancer discovered in the final stages, having wrapped its tentacles around all vital organs.  The therapist's role. at that point, was not to attempt restoration, but to acknowledge the death and proceed with the burial of the relationship.   

The saddest day and, ironically, the most tender day of their marriage was the day of  their parting.  They sat on their apartment steps and sobbing as they embraced, they each said they were so sorry,  they regretted the hurt they had caused each other, and they said good-bye.  They never saw each other again.

There are times when good intentions, blind faith, and being "in love" amount to nothing.  Being in love may have nothing to do with knowing how to love.  

If they had only known.  

Life can be cruel like that.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Where Are You, God?

". . . how faint the whisper we hear of him."    

Sometimes beauty is cloaked in sadness, poignancy often evoking a  melancholy sigh.  These words move me.  There is beauty in the meaning and flow of these words.  There is also sadness in the truth of these words.

I have been a Bible reader most of  my life and came across these words this week for the very first time.   They were penned by Job, the man of lament.  They were spoken of God.  In his suffering Job describes God as being nearly imperceptible.   So many of us have asked, Where are you, God?, and  we've been met with absolute silence. The invisible God so often remains just that--unavailable to our senses.   It saddens me that God's whisper so often is so faint.  I need and desire more than the faint whisper.  I want to know, not merely trust.  Be clear, God.  It's terribly difficult to see God in the circumstances.  Sure, when I've sailed in the Caribbean and taken in a beautiful sunset or been staggered by the magnitude of the body of water I "hear" or "see" God pretty clearly.  But it is so hard to see God, to hear God in the hatred, the senseless killings, the perversion, the abuse of daily life.  God, where are you? 

The loud clamor of the chaos in life often drowns out the faint whisper of God.   At times, the clamor has come perilously close to shipwrecking my faith.  There have been several devastating hammerings of life wherein the clamor was so loud that it drowned out God's faint whisper.  The suffering seemed to outweigh the assurance of God's presence.  The whisper was, indeed, faint.  There are times when the severity of life can nearly extinguish the faint whisper of God.

Yet there is also beauty accompanying the sadness of Job's lament.  God whispers; there is a gentleness about God. Often our childhood authority figures form our adult picture of God.  God is not the yelling, shaming father. God is not the loud, belittling teacher.  Nor is God the red-faced, pulpit-pounding preacher who constituted my childhood view of God.  There is a gentleness in God's strong voice. There is a tenderness about the creator of the cosmos.  God is not sheer brute force.  God is not  an omnipotent dictator wielding power unmercifully.  God whispers.  There is a strange-to-our senses story in the Old Testament  about a devout man, Elijah.  He is in a decimating season of his life and cries out, "I have had enough, Lord.  Take my life. . . "  (I Kings 19:4)  Life has unfolded and unraveled in such a manner that he, too, wonders, Where are you, God?    He treks up a mountain hoping to have some encounter, some frayed strand of hope upon which to cling.  The text reads, "Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks. . . but the Lord was not in the wind.  After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.  After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire.  And after the fire came a gentle whisper."  God was in the whisper.  There is a gentleness in God's strong voice.  He does not boss his children; he beckons.  God is  not the divine drill instructor who orders; he invites.

We don't scream our intimate affections.  We don't yell our deep love for someone.  We often will kindly whisper our heart's love.  We learned that from God.  God the creator implanted his DNA in us.  God is tender toward you and me.  Life assaults and somewhere in the darkness God quietly assures.

I understand Elijah.  I have undergone seasons where, I, too, "have had enough."  And like Elijah, I await the faint whisper.  I depend on it.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Difficult Desire to Love

(As Advent  (the Christmas season) approaches our church is going to focus on four themes--worship fully, spend less, give more, love all.  I was asked to write down my reflections on what it means to love all.  I invite you to read my thoughts on what it means for a Christ-follower  to love all.)

I confess that I'm about as close to loving all as I am to spontaneously generating hair.   My neighbor with the outdoor, perpetually barking dog would agree.   I wish I could say to you what the apostle Paul said to his readers,  "Follow my example."  Unfortunately, there are days when I don't love my wife well, much less love my enemy.  However, I can encourage you to follow Jesus' example.  As the apostle John says of Jesus,  "He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world."  (I  John 1:2).  He loved and loves all. 

As Christ-followers we, in turn, are to do the same.  "This is the message you have heard from the beginning:  We should love one another. . . we know we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers.  Anyone who does not love remains in death." (I John 3:11,14)    So, what might that look like if we were to "love all?"  A few suggestions.

Here's what it does NOT mean.  It's not a mushy, sentimentality that is blind to the harsh realities of life.  It's not sloppy agape'.  Neither is it an attitude of "we're just going to love everybody, accept everything, and approve of all."  It is not some limp-wristed, non-assertive blind acceptance and approval of everyone and their accompanying depraved actions.  It is not values-free and void of convictions.    Jesus was characterized by the noblest of values  and the deepest of convictions (see the sermon on the mount.)  Loving without strong values and moral scruples may not indicate a loving person so much as a spineless person.

Some thoughts on what it means to "love all."  I referred to what it's not; here's what I see it as being.   It is humanly  impossible.  I know--not exactly good news.  My own will-power will not turn me into a person who loves all.  (This much I know:  my own experience has shown that 61 years of exerting will-power has not changed me into a man who loves his neighbor with the outdoor, perpetually barking dog.)  On the other hand, my will-power has, indeed, devised  devious schemes for silencing the previously mentioned dog.  It requires transcendence to love all.  It requires God in me--a holy Other to inhabit and indwell me and thereby slowly transform me into a man who loves all.  Most certainly, my will-power needs to be in alignment with my desire to love all; however, my will-power is inadequate to create that depth and width of love.  That requires God himself, or it won't happen. 

To love all means to indiscriminately love all others while not necessarily approving of or sanctioning their actions or behavior.  Jesus, in referring to Jerusalem, pleads with the city, " O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks. . . " (Matt. 23:36)  Notice the city's behavior--they killed, they stoned to death God's very own messengers.  Notice, also, Christ's heart--he longed to gather them.  He wasn't about revenge; he was all about reconciliation.

To love all means that my love transcends cultural, gender, socio-economic, ethnic differences.  We don't ignore those differences; to do so may be very unloving.  It's just that we don't allow those differences to define who we love and who we don't.   Jesus was once invited to dinner by one of the Pharisees, the respectable religious decision-makers of the day.  The text states that "when a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee's house she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind Jesus at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears.  Then she wiped his feet with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them."  (Lk. 7:36-8)  Luke, the gospel writer, is very polite when he describes her as "a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town."  She was the town slut-- a whore.  Jesus knew that, but he didn't allow those gender and moral and cultural differences to define this woman nor determine his response to her.  Ultimately, he forgives her and affirms her for her loving heart toward him. 

How do we move toward becoming Christ followers and, collectively, a church that loves all?  Several considerations.  A disciplined life of yielding to Christ will be essential.  Daily I must yield my own ego-centered self to Christ and ask him to, instead, reside in me fully.  Daily, something in me has to die in order that something in Christ can live in me and form a heart that loves all.  Surely, in time, the presence of Christ will remedy the absence of love. Secondly, it helps me in my regard for others if I practice what the apostle Paul did.  It's an issue of how I am identifying or defining the other individual.  I find myself too frequently impulsively identifying others as "idiots" or "jerks" or worse.  A guy cuts me off in traffic and I impulsively label him a !!#?*!!  Look at how the apostle Paul identifies others.  In Romans 14:15, he cautions the church to be careful that they don't destroy "your brother for whom Christ died."    It is so much easier to flip off and harbor resentment toward the guy who cuts me off in traffic if I identify him as "an idiot."  On the other hand, it is much harder to entertain hateful thoughts toward that same individual if I consciously regard him as "my brother for whom Christ died."  I am much more likely to have a loathsome, rather than a loving, regard for a woman whom I identify as "trailerpark trash."  In contrast, if I consciously attribute value to her and view her as "my sister for whom Christ died" I posture myself in a way that makes loving her much more likely.  Third, I will not progress toward becoming one who loves all by doing so in isolation.  I need to be accountable to several others who are on the same journey of faith.  I can rationalize, minimize, excuse my lack of love all too easily if I am only accountable to my conscience.  I need others who will most certainly encourage and support me in my holy intentions, but who will also correct me and re-calibrate my direction if I'm drifting.

At times, I feel like I will never become one who loves all.  If I have difficulty loving the above mentioned neighbor with the outdoor perpetually barking dog--which on the grand scale of moral/ethical dilemmas is inconsequential--how will I ever love the man who sexually abused one of our daughters?  I imagine that, you, too, wrestle with the everyday irritants and sometimes stumble over your own trivial nemeses, much less find yourself loving those who have deeply wounded or offended you.    Take heart.  The One who loved and loves all is committed to "transforming you into the image of His own Son"--His Son who loves all.  Know this:  God promises you and me that "he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion. . . " (Phil. 1:6)

The Lover of all has begun a good work of love within you.  He always finishes what he starts. 

Monday, November 22, 2010

Honduras: Reflections and Update

What follows is a letter/email I sent last week to our support-base regarding the mission trip to Honduras we led the first week of November.  Some of you who follow my blog also Honduras know us and we want to thank you for your support and encouragement; some of you don't know us and I hope this will be informational  and maybe also inspire you to reach out to the marginalized. 

Dear Friends and Family,                                                                                          

It has taken some time to re-enter normal life here and re-adjust.  It's a strange phenomenon engaging in a mission trip.  For weeks and months and months life goes on as usual.  That abruptly stops and within hours you are cast into a completely different culture, different lifestyle, different climate, different language, completely different socio-economic level of poverty.  You no sooner begin to acclimate and it's time to leave, and within hours you are dropped back into life as you have always known it. It is quite a jolt  in both going and returning.  Les and I love serving in this manner but it has taken a while longer than usual to re-adjust.  Thanks for your patience.

We led an incredible team from our church, Imago Dei.  11 of us flew into San Pedro Sula, Honduras.  The director of Mercy International, Henry Lowman, met us there and then it was a 3-4 hour drive to get to the mission base.  It is located in a rural area, the nearest little town being Yamaranguila (for those of you who have geographical interests.) 

We accomplished a lot in a short period of time.  We were able to finish a house in the local area that a prior team from the states had begun.  This family was living in a shack with a dirt floor.  Their new house, 20x24, has a concrete floor.  The concrete block walls were up; our team built the trusses and put a roof on, and finished the two doors and windows.  This family now has a safe and solid shelter that will last them for generations.

One of Mercy International's goals is to provide shelter for the poorest of the poor who reside up in the mountains.  The poor in the local area where we finished the house are unbelievably poor compared to U.S. standards.  The Lenca Indians who reside in the mountains suffer an even worse plight.  They are removed from access to resources and medical attention.  They depend on and survive upon what they can grow for themselves; they are presently undergoing, in Henry's words, a famine.  He has committed to slowly build shelter for one family after another.  Here's one of the difficulties:  to get there you drive for over 2 hours and a mountain road that constantly shakes your own skeleton and the chassis of the van unmercifully.  At that point the road becomes impassable.  We embark on a rugged four hour hike further up into the mountains just to get to this village, Santa Maria.    It's a hike, not a walk.   An entire day is spent just getting there. Mules are utilized to haul up materials and supplies. 

Once there, we bedded down for the night on a concrete floor,  and the next day we began a house for a family of 6.  This house will be 14x18.  We graded and poured for them a concrete pad for their floor.  The husband, months earlier had, by hand, made large adobe blocks to form the new walls.  All these blocks were stacked in his shack to dry out.  I saw a single bed in the space remaining; I assume most of the family is sleeping on the cold earth that has served as their floor.  Our pre-determined goal was to provide them a floor for their new "house."  Mission accomplished, but it was difficult leaving  them with so much more to be done.  We had to get back to the mission base, particularly  in light of a storm front moving in.  if we were to get caught in a storm--and on a previous trip  that happened--the dirt quickly turns into a slippery clay and hiking becomes brutal.  so, we packed up our gear and bid them farewell.  Sadly, it might be January before another team makes it up there to resume where we left off.

It's frustrating.  It's so labor and time-intensive and, seemingly, so little to show for so much time and energy spent.  Are we to ignore them?  To my knowledge, no one else is working up there to provide shelter and to establish a church.  These families are destitute and not because they're lazy; it's an extreme environment.  Somehow, those families need to know that there are others standing with them--people like you and me.

A lot of the team also spent significant time establishing friendships with the children and their families.  These kids are like sponges and soak up hugs and attention.  We engaged the kids in games and memorizing bible verses, providing them some soft, cuddly Beanie Babies to cling to after our departure and prayed with some of the moms and families.

We are grateful for your support.  Some of you provided financial assistance.  Others prayed for us while we were there.  Many of you have provided words of encouragement that served to bolster our spirits.  It is your support, in what ever way it is shown, that makes it possible for us to do what we do.  We are in this together.  Some are Goers, like Les and me.  Some are Senders.  Others are Mobilizers.  You Senders and Mobilizers make it possible for us Goers to make a difference.  I want you to know that YOU have made a difference.  Several families now will not have to wonder about the fundamental need of shelter.  Generations of their family will be protected for a lifetime. 

Thank you for your own heart for the poor.  We go as representatives of the church, as mirrors of God's love, serving as reminders to them that in the midst of their destitution God has not abandoned them nor will he ever forget them.  We are grateful for the privilege to serve in this capacity.  If you could see the expression on the face of one of these parents or their children, you would know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they, too, are deeply thankful for someone caring.

A previous team had poured a concrete floor for an elderly lady up in this same mountain area.  She was overwhelmed with not only gratitude, but overwhelming relief.  As she put it, "I was born in the mud--and I was afraid I would die in the mud."  She is no longer afraid.   We thank you and, if possible, this dear lady would wrap her frail arms around you and thank you, too.

Grace and Peace, Steve and Leslie Harris

Friday, November 19, 2010

Salt Adds Flavor; Lemons Make me Pucker

Jesus called and still calls his followers "the salt of the earth." Salt adds flavor. That which was bland becomes bodacious when salt is added. Christ-followers are to season society. So many people live a bland existence--tasteless and boring. Sometimes the mundane routine wears thin. Life is so daily. Christ launches his followers into daily life to add zest and flavor. At least, that apparently was his intention.

Some Christ followers and much of established fundamentalism and evangelicalism seems to have mistaken him to have said, "You are the lemons of the land" not the salt of the earth. So much of the religious establishment and so many pious rule-keepers seem so intent on souring, rather than flavoring, other people's lives. They seem intent on ruining a good time; after all, the reasoning goes, if it's fun it must be sinful. So much of established religion assigns ourselves as the moral police and we go around looking for something wrong we can condemn. We scope the horizon ready to pounce on the next hell-bound hedonist. The lemons of the land sour people's lives, assuming the slacker they've shamed will now repent. Repentance isn't normally what has been my response if I've been on the receiving end. I and many others respond to these lemons with an involuntary gag reflex: pucker and puke.

Wouldn't it be a beautiful thing if we were to take Jesus seriously and determine to serve as salt in society? This video portrays a group serving as salt. What flavor they added that day! Notice the wonder-full excitement and joy in the smiles of the unsuspecting shoppers. You can bet that at the end of the day if a family member asked, "How was your day/" The response wasn't the usual perfunctory, "fine." The shopper would be telling their loved one all about the melodious joyful interruption to a harried day. Their day, their routine was interrupted--not by someone in their face, but beautiful music resounding in their ears and settling in their heart.

God, give us who claim to be Christ- followers the grace to creatively enhance others' lives with random acts of flavor.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Bumper Sticker Faith

Call me weird.  Tell me I need to get a life.  Regardless, bumper stickers fascinate me.  I search bumpers for a catchy phrase.  Here are some that make me chuckle, some that generate a grimace.

Hokey Pokey Anonymous                                       
A Place to Turn Yourself Around

Jesus is Coming.  Look Busy.                                   

Make it Idiot-proof  and Someone Will Make a Better Idiot                                                                                         
It’s Been Lovely But I Have to Scream Now         
Jesus Loves You;
Everybody Else Thinks You're a Jerk

She’s Always Late                                                  
Her Ancestors arrived on the June Flower                
Honk if You Love Jesus.                                          
Text While Driving if You'd Like to Meet Him.

Honk All You Want.  I'm Deaf

When the Chips are Down the Buffalo is Empty

I Married Mr. Right.
I Just Didn't Know His First Name was Always

Thank you, Baby Jesus, for a Smokin' Hot Wife

 Bumper stickers often make a statement.  In 1974 (think Watergate) I had a beat-up Chevy van (Peace, dude) and I slapped a bumper sticker on it which read, Honk if You Think He’s Guilty.  KnowhutImean?  In recent years I’ve seen a bumper sticker that a number of Christians display and it, too, makes a statement.  Real Men Love Jesus.  I don’t know what underlies the motives of flaunting that bumper sticker but, I have to tell ya, I hate that statement.  Bear with me and if at the end of this post you think it was a waste of time, feel free to copy and paste this comment-- Real Men Don’t Give a Rip About Bumper Stickers.

I am offended by Real Men Love Jesus. Here’s why—it’s misguided.   It calls into question the manhood of anyone who is not a born again, evangelical, Promise Keepers attending Christian.  The reasoning seems to be, “I love Jesus; therefore, I’m a real man. You, on the other hand, don’t know or love Jesus; therefore, you are a limp-wristed, effeminate, testosterone-deprived excuse for a man.”  That kind of thinking assumes that only Christian men have integrity, only Christian men are faithful, only Christian men are men of courage and honor. It assumes that men who don’t know or love Jesus surely are not “real,” i.e. authentic, caring human beings.

I am offended by Real Men Love Jesus because that sentiment comes off as terribly arrogant as well as judgmental.  It’s arrogant in that it assumes a position of superiority on the part of Mr. Bumper Sticker.  “I’m real and you are not—after all, I, of all people, should know.”  It’s judgmental in that it assumes an inferior position about someone you don’t even know.  It categorically assumes, without even getting to know a man, that he is not a “real” man if he does not know Jesus.  Such a position is both arrogant (prideful) and judgmental—two qualities which Jesus loathes about the religious.  Jesus exercised the harshest judgment upon the religious, the “Christians” of his day, who were consumed with pride or harbored a judgmental spirit.

In Luke 18:9-14, Jesus tells a pointed story “to some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else. . . “   I imagine these were guys who had their chariots decked out with Real men Love Jesus parchment stickers. Jesus contrasts two men—one, a very religious and devout individual who thought to himself, “God, I thank you I’m not like other men,” and a despised social outcast who in his humility “would not even look up to heaven” but simply pleaded, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  And Jesus declares that it was “this man, rather than the other” who received God’s mercy.  The other man, full of judgment, received God’s judgment.

I see myself and much of the evangelical church as often mirrored by the man who was confident of his own righteousness and looked down on others.  We tend to pride ourselves on possessing the truth (as if it were our ingenuity or determination that discovered it)—and doctrine is important—but the ultimate deal maker or breaker will be whether or not we have loved our neighbor and our enemy.  And I don’t think those with whom we disagree are “feeling the love.”  As an example, Brennan Manning, in The Ragamuffin Gospel, comments specifically on the pro-life stance of many Christians and his thoughts sober me up: 

“How I treat a brother or sister from day to day, how I react to the sin-scarred wino on the street, how I respond to the interruptions from people I dislike, how I deal with normal people in their normal confusion on a normal day may be a better indication of my reverence for life than the anti-abortion sticker on the bumper of my car.
We are not pro-life simply because we are warding off death.  We are pro-life to the extent that we are men and women for others, all others; to the extent that no human flesh is a stranger to us; to the extent that we can touch the hand of another in love; to the extent that for us there are no ‘others.’”

I fear we may echo the words of Christ, but sometimes fail to embrace the spirit of Christ in our words and actions.  Isn’t it time we embraced a Christian civility?  Civility is defined as “the act of showing regard for others; a courteous expression of esteem; politeness or courtesy in behavior and speech.”  You won’t find that word in the Bible, but you certainly find the quality as one to be embraced by Christ-followers.  The  Scriptures encourage us to act in this manner, “ Do not repay anyone evil for evil. . . if it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”  Again, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”  We are to be gentle towards other, esteeming them in spite of our differences.  There’s an old axiom by which I think everyone has a right to “judge” us:  “Don’t TELL me what a friend I have in JESUS until you SHOW me what a friend I have in YOU.”

I’m afraid many of our Christian bumper stickers and much of our “attitude” turns off and puts down those around us. Instead, I’m convicted to pursue an attitude of humility which sees and affirms the value in others in spite of our differences.

In the meantime, I’m having this put on my truck:  Real Men Don’t Have to Flaunt the Fact on a Bumper Sticker. 

Let’s forsake flaunting anything! Flaunting is so “in their face.”  May God give us grace to be in their hearts, their homes, and their lives as we love and serve others.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Juxtaposition of Heaven and Hell in Honduras

We're back.   Got back midnight Monday, having spent 18 hours in airports, jets and vans and up at 6 a.m. to return to work.  Not smart.  Being born in the USA (thank you, Bruce) it's always difficult adjusting to life in the USA again.  Not to mention I'm still dragging four days later.  Ok--I'm done whining.

It's a strange experience.  You spend weeks, months, maybe years in your routine.  That abruptly ends and within hours you're in a totally different culture, radically different socio-economic status, foreign language, lempiras not dollars, filth, squalor, majestic beauty of mountains, poverty unparalleled here in the states, the serenity of rain forests, dirt-clad kids joyful over your attention, destitution that breaks your heart.  And then you abruptly resume middle-upper class life back home. Typically, predictable and cushy. I think my mind, body and spirit require a longer transition. My body's back but my mind keeps lingering in Honduras.  I crawl under my covers but my spirit remembers the poor in a fetal position sleeping on a cold dirt floor.  I hope I never completely adjust; there needs to be an uncomfortable edge that does not allow me to forget my brothers and sisters in Honduras.

Juxtaposition:  the act of positioning close together to show similarities or differences.  Eye level, all I see is filth, garbage, feces, shacks made of anything the resident could scavenge to throw together, malnutritioned dogs with their bones nearly protruding through the skin, shoeless children begging for attention.  I raise my head and within a few hundred yards are beautiful mountain ranges lush with foliage, the forest greens glistening in the sun.  The glorious and the gory inhabit the same place; the exquisite and the excruciating hand-in-hand.

Our team resumed where a previous team left off and we were able to finish a house for a poor family living in the dirt.  A 20x24 concrete block house.  The husband and wife were smiling in anticipation of the completion and in hope for their children.  Shelter--a fundamental survival need that doesn't even register on my scale of concerns for my life.  Shelter--a fundamental survival need that many hope and pray for daily.

We hiked up into the mountains to serve the poorest of the poor who have little if any access to care and resources.  The four hour hike was preceded by a two hour and fifteen minute very bumpy drive (who's counting and hoping it ends soon?) to where the road becomes impassable.  Therefore, the hike.  I've hiked it before, but this was the most difficult one for me, at 61.  It was comforting to hear from several twentysomethings that they had never engaged in such a physically taxing endeavor.  We had several mules carrying our supplies, materials, and food up the climb. The Lenca Indians live up  in the Opalacha Mountains. They are an impoverished people.  We poured a concrete floor for a family as the begining of a solid shelter for them.  The husband had spent the previous two months making adobe blocks, one by one, to create the walls that will rest upon this floor.  It's so labor intensive.  Minimal tools and resources.  We needed a board trimmed; a Honduran took his machete and carefully whittled the board down to the desired width.
We had to leave.  It will not be until January that another team heads up there.  Hopefully, soon this family will have shelter for which they have been hoping and praying.  An elderly lady told a previous team, "I was born in the mud and thought I was going to die in the mud."    Out of the mud and into a 14x18 mansion.

We hiked back down (down is not always preferable to up) and 7 or 8 hours later we were back at the mission base.  I was on one of these outreaches into the mountains several years ago.  Our team leader, Vinnie, was Rambo-like and highly motivated.  He would lead us in a team cheer:

Vinnie:  What are we gonna do?!!?
 Team:   Leave it all!!!
Vinnie:  Where we gonna leave it?
 Team:  On the Mountain!!!!

It was exhilarating and exhausting.  I am so proud of our team.  I can honestly say, "We left it all."

If you would like information about this organization and mission base I've been going to through the years, Mercy International, go to:
Henry Lowman and his wife, Cindy, direct this organization.   They are a couple wh possess unparralled integrity and compassion.

Let's not forget the easily forgotten.


Sunday, October 31, 2010

To Hell and Back

I will be away from my computer for at least a week and a half.  I'm going to Hell.  A team of us will be working with a poverty-stricken settlement close to La Esperanza, Honduras, and building a house in order to extricate at least one family from their current ruins.  

Then we will be drive up into the mountains until the road is no longer navigable by van and we'll hike 4-5 hours further up in elevation to get to an area that is even more destitute.  We will pour a cement floor for a family of seven, after which another team will arrive after we depart and they will continue the project.  The director of the mission base emailed me just last night and told us to anticipate inclement weather in light of the recent hurricane.  Sadly, he also informed me that there is currently, in his words, "a famine in the Opalacha Mountains" which is where we will be hiking.  He will be attempting to haul corn and beans for families up there.  I've been there and on a normal day it's Hell; I can't imagine what it's like presently. 

We leave tonight and will return in a week.  So much to do and so little time to do it.   99.9%  of Honduras won't even know we're there.  But one family will be changed for generations to come by what we'll be privileged to do over the course of just one week.  One family may very well dance for joy because they will have a floor, rather than dirt, for their babies to crawl on.  One family will have a house to live in, no longer a shack to survive in. 

One team spending one week making a difference for one family for one  generation after another.  I can't wait.

I'll fill you in upon our return.  Thanks for reading my blog; I am grateful.  

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Variations and Vulgarities of Christianity

There's a lot out there that passes as authentic Christianity.  And they are all warning about false teachers, as though they alone possess the truth.  In my channel surfing I, at times, go to  local religious channel 20.  It's a sad commentary on the state of religion in the Midwest  that I go there for entertainment rather than inspiration.  There are individuals uttering off-the-wall platitudes that have no ring of truth about it but if  they clothe it with a Bible verse I guess the audience believes it to be true.

Last night my good friend and colleague, Howard, called me and was chuckling as he said, "Check out Channel 20."   I flipped over and a woman was holding the Bible in her left hand and her right hand was extended --not with open palm but with the index finger pointed at me.  And she was yelling and threatening and condemning.  My thought bubble read, Just like Jesus?

This did not evoke laughter; it  brought back disturbing memories of my childhood fundamentalism.  Angry, yelling preachers.  Invariably shaming us for not being and doing better.  Ironically, hell was probably referenced more than heaven.  My faith was fear-based; I obeyed because of the damning consequences.  I  obeyed or followed Jesus  not because I was drawn to him, I did so because I dreaded him. That preacher gritting his teeth and spitting exhortations was, in my boyish eyes, Jesus--and he scared the hell out of me.  For a long time, what should have been a time of innocent childlike joy was, instead, a harrowing nightmare from which I feared I would never awaken.  This angry screaming Jesus made me very anxious on a good day--terrified on bad days.  Living like this was terrible and the thought of living forever, i.e. going to heaven, was intolerable.  Isn't that sick?  Most people think of heaven or "eternal life" as an unending experience of peace and beauty and restored relationships and healing and the list goes on.  I couldn't stand the thought of being in the presence of this angry Jesus forever.  I thought heaven would be pure hell.  "Dear God, please don't make me live forever. When I die just let me become nothing and have no brain and no heart and not live at all."  That was my thinking as I would lay down at night and dread going to sleep because what if I were to die in my sleep and fall into the hands of this angry God!?!

Last night channel 20 activated some stuff that had been lying dormant.  (Ya think?)

I am grateful that the 18 years I was confined in that religious milieu didn't define me.  It definitely influenced me, but the ensuing years have defined me. Since those early years, I have seen through those vulgar caricatures of Jesus and God has shown me Jesus of the gospels.  My life no longer consists of  merely following rules, but following Christ.  It's about relationship, not rules.  That has been liberating!  The caricature no longer damns me; the Christ now draws me.

I love this picture of Christ that is contained in the gospel of Matthew (12:19-20):

"He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out."

Jesus does not yell at us; he beckons to us.  I was a bruised reed boy and the preachers of my subculture nearly broke me.  There was scarcely a flickering flame of life in me and they nearly snuffed it out.  But Jesus intersected my life through people who mirror him and they imparted to me acceptance and affirmation and grace.  And I am a blessed man.

Now when I am bruised  I don't hide my hurt in fear of being condemned; I reach out to him for healing.  When the wick is barely smoldering I run to him for fire. 

And the idea of living forever wherein I will be in the very presence of God (and all the ramifications of what that may mean) is a vision that compels me and completes me.

I have to avoid channel 20 in the meantime.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Mission Trip to Honduras: We're Not In Kansas, Anymore

16 more days. That's all. On Nov. 1 my wife and I will lead a team of eight others to Honduras. Over the last 10 years I've gone on 7, maybe 8, short-term mission trips down there. It's brutal work. Everything is labor-intensive. Shoveling sand and cement all day. Carrying 5 gallon buckets of heavy wet cement. Hot Honduras sun and no shade. No running water nor electricity on the job site. After a few days on this site we'll then hike up into the mountains to work up there. Minimum of 3 hour drive on rough roads just to get to the beginning point of the hike. This hike is nothing like a walk up an Illinois incline. It's steep and, if rainy, the clay is slippery if you don't sink into it first. The altitude makes it hard to catch your breath. Mules will pack our gear and supplies because it's too difficult a hike and vehicles can't make it over the terrain. By mid-afternoon I'm beat and stiff and sore and tired and hungry.

And I can't wait! I love it! There's something about helping someone who has nothing. There's something about shedding blood, sweat and tears for a week on behalf of some people who shed their blood, sweat and tears their entire life. There's something about seeing a family that for six years has lived in a shack of sticks, rough-hewn boards, and scraps of sheet metal patched together to be able to move into a concrete block home that actually has a floor in it. There's something about breaking out of my comfort zone and interrupting my life of consumption with meaningful service.

There's something about busting your butt for a week and making a difference that will last for generations.

There's something about being utilized in a way that mirrors and mediates God's love to broken people. The Psalmist describes God in this manner: "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and delivers those who are crushed in spirit." (Ps. 34:18) It's a beautiful thing to be able to confirm by our presence that, indeed, God has not forgotten them.

I hope you haven't construed this as me bragging. I'm not trying to tell you all about the many wonderful things we middle-upper class white Christians will be accomplishing. My intent is to communicate to you that I feel so privileged to be able to do this. My intent is to convey the honor it is to do this.

And I can't wait to do it!

If you're a praying person, please pray for us as we embark on this trip. If you're not a praying person, your good wishes on our behalf will be appreciated.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Civility: Am I In your Face--Or--In Your Corner?

Whether it's a ballgame, a political speech, a hockey mom, a PTA meeting, a church board meeting, civility has become a four syllable as well as a four letter word. Abrasiveness is in; diplomacy is out. Speech that is incendiary is chosen over talk that might calm the atmosphere. Light the fire, fan it, stoke it--add gas not water. Words are intended to incite and provoke, rather than promote understanding. When is the last time you saw a political ad that was about issues rather than character assassination? (I can't recall, either.)

Sojourners, an organization whose mission "is to articulate the biblical call to social justice. . . ," has formulated a "covenant of civility" in an effort to counter the prevailing cultural tide. Here are the guiding principles of this covenant. I invite you to consider these Biblically-based determinations.

  1. We commit that our dialogue with each other will reflect the spirit of the scriptures, where our posture toward each other is to be "quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry" (James 1:19).
  2. We believe that each of us, and our fellow human beings, are created in the image of God. The respect we owe to God should be reflected in the honor and respect we show to each other in our common humanity, particularly in how we speak to each other. "With the tongue we bless the Lord and [God], and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God ... this ought not to be so" (James 3:9-10).
  3. We pledge that when we disagree, we will do so respectfully, without falsely impugning the other's motives, attacking the other's character, or questioning the other's faith, and recognizing in humility that in our limited, human opinions, "we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror" (1 Corinthians 13:12). We will therefore "be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love" (Ephesians 4:2).
  4. We will ever be mindful of the language we use in expressing our disagreements, being neither arrogant nor boastful in our beliefs: "Before destruction one's heart is haughty, but humility goes before honor" (Proverbs 18:12).
  5. We recognize that we cannot function together as citizens of the same community, whether local or national, unless we are mindful of how we treat each other in pursuit of the common good, in the common life we share together. Each of us must therefore "put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body" (Ephesians 4:25).
  6. We commit to pray for our political leaders -- those with whom we may agree, as well as those with whom we may disagree. "I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made -- for kings and all who are in high positions" (1 Timothy 2:1-2).
  7. We believe that it is more difficult to hate others, even our adversaries and our enemies, when we are praying for them. We commit to pray for each other, those with whom we agree and those with whom we may disagree, so that together we may strive to be faithful witnesses to our Lord, who prayed "that they may be one" (John 17:22).

Can you imagine the next PTA meeting or hockey game or church board meeting if those attending were taking these "steps?"

I wonder what I would be like if I were practicing these steps.

Self-Help Helps Me Only So Much

Being a Christ-follower who is a therapist I believe that a person has incalculable worth and value. I believe we have unbelievable potential and capabilities. Unbelievable, but not limitless. I don't believe the popular mantra "You can do anything!" It sounds good on Oprah but doesn't seem to play out too well back home in every day life. Check out this video a friend included in his blog.

I can accomplish a number of phenomenal tasks. I can overcome daunting obstacles. But I need intervention from outside myself if the core of who I am is going to transform from being selfish to compassionate. Will power is not going to morph me from being judgmental to becoming a man characterized by mercy. Self-talk of "I can do it! I can do it! I can do it!" is not going to uproot hatred and transplant it with love.

I need Someone outside myself to intervene. I need an Other who is infinite to do what my finite capabilities cannot. I also need forgiveness--not only bestowed by myself but by the One against whom I have transgressed.

If our efforts at mere board-smashing are often futile, what or who do I rely on for that which truly matters?