Words Matter - Justice, Misquotes, and Tweets

I might as well weigh in on the whole Bin Laden thing. If you'd like to read the opinions of smarter people let me know and I'll send you some links. Of course, if you wanted to read the opinions of smart people, you probably wouldn't be here. I guess what I really want to write about is not the event, but the words that have generated since the event. 

During his press conference after OBL had been killed, President Obama claimed that justice had been served. My immediate reaction was "no it has not. Revenge has been taken, but justice has not been served." I said those things aloud, I posted them on facebook. A healthy discussion was had about "what is justice?" My tune has changed a bit. A degree of justice was served. Actions have consequences. That's one of my favorite lines to throw around. OBL was a mass murderer. There's no getting around it. He gleefully took credit for numerous heinous acts across the globe. He considered himself outside of the bounds of normal laws and, most importantly, he had designs of doing the same kinds of actions again. He had to be stopped. His crimes had consequences. A modicum of justice was achieved. 

And yet, I use a pretty simplistic definition of justice. Justice is when things that were wrong are made right. I still can't adequately answer the question of what was made right. But the problem here may be the limits of my perspective. For me, 9/11 was a scary thing I watched on TV. I don't say that callously. To the extent that I am effected by larger geo-political realities, it effected me, but I didn't lose anything, except for maybe a naive and false sense of security in the fact that things like that don't happen to the United States. My point is, I wasn't a victim. I was an observer. The question of whether justice was done shouldn't be answered by observers, but by victims. For some, something significantly wrong was made right on Sunday night. They can't recoup their losses, but they may be resting easier. 

As a theologian, I say justice wasn't done because I believe that God's great end is creating community. Justice would have been done if in someway we could have managed to restore OBL into the human community. That's a solution that was impossible on this side of eternity. So in world of brokenness, we make the most of imperfect solutions and with an understanding that God's grace can bring out good out of any situation and that human sin can bring evil out of any situation. Amen and yuck! 

"Justice" is fun because it's one of those million dollar words. God is a God of justice. We work for justice. We pray for justice. We talk about social justice. Some of us get criticized for talking about social justice too much. Words like that have great meaning. I'm constantly reminded of the power of words, even when it feels like my own words have little to no power at all. 

On Monday a quote was floating around the internet that was being attributed to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The funny thing was that half of the quote was an actual quote, the other was just someone else's thoughts that got blended with the quote. The quote got attacked as if it was invalidated by the source. The words themselves were powerful, powerful enough that we wanted to attribute them to a man that many of us consider a hero. That fact they were actually the words of a random anonymous make them less powerful? 

During Lent my church did a thought provoking Bible study on discipleship from The Thoughtful Christian. The author made some claims about which were the "authentic" letters of Paul. See, there's a dirty little secret that many of seminary grads keep to ourselves in order to keep our jobs: The Bible wasn't written by the people you think wrote it (gasp!!!!). He talked about the seven undisputed letters then showed how the unauthentic ones give a different version of discipleship. See, putting Paul's name on your letter back then was about the equivalent of attributing a quote to MLK. It added validity. The danger of that in biblical studies is that we attribute some things to Paul and the early Christians (such as hierarchical governance and male domination) that may not have been apart of the early church's life together. Words matter and who says those words matter. Apparently, who we think said words matters just as much as who said them. 

Words can get you into trouble. Interesting commentary on the OBL situation came from one of my beloved Steelers. Running back Rashard Mendenhall questioned people celebrating the death of another person, particularly a person they didn't know. Fair enough. Lots of people made that assessment. Then he went on. He talked about not being sure that OBL was behind 9/11 and doubting whether planes could really take down a building. It smacked of conspiracy theory. The Steelers president responded quickly, noting how proud the organization was of the President and our armed forces. Lets not forget that former Steeler president Dan Rooney is an ambassador for the White House. Let's also not forget that Mendenhall had come to the defense of Adrian Peterson (running back for the Minnesota Vikings) when he compared the NFL players to slaves and the NFL owners to slaveholders. Mendenhall claimed that anyone who knew the business would see parallels. So this may have been strike two for Rashard in a game that might only require two strikes. We'll see. In an age where any yahoo can put words out into the atmosphere for public consumption (as this yahoo is currently doing) what is the responsibility involved in how we use our words? Should we self censor? We have a right to free speech, but our employers have a right to relieve us of employment. 

Howard Thurman once said that there is no real freedom without discipline. As I understood it, he was saying we are only as free as we are disciplined. And yes, you should value that statement more because I paraphrased Howard Thurman. If that is true, then our freedom to use words is only a freedom if we are willing to use our words in a disciplined way. It's difficult to self discipline when we now have so many ways to get our words out there. Technology has developed more quickly than our etiquette on how to use it. 

This afternoon I misread a website and tweeted that today was Miles Davis' birthday. That seemed wrong, so I fact checked myself AFTER the fact and realized that Miles' birthday isn't for a couple of weeks. You would have thought I was in CIA the way I backtracked on that tweet. Not saying that CIA covers things up. (Paging, Mr. Mendenhall). I didn't want wrong information to be associated with me. I speak publicly at least once a week. That has made me want to be very careful with the words I use. I want people to hear from me the best approximation of truth that I have. I want to communicate love and grace in my words. And ultimately, I want my words to help bring about justice, real justice where relationships are restored and wrongs are righted. 

10 things I loved about 2010

I started out this post as a rant about things I hated about this last year. Then I thought I would include both things I loved and things I hated. Now I'm just sticking with things I loved. Here's to positivity in 2011!

Now some things I've loved about 2010:

fatherhood: I'm a big fan. I don't just love my son. I love what having a son has done to me. It's making more responsible. It's making me have more of routine. I think it's making me more loving. I honestly don't know that I really knew how to love before I met my boy. I think I'm just now starting to figure it out.

scripted, non-Glee tv: mostly as a result of the aforementioned fatherhood, I've watched a lot of tv this year. There are some great scripted shows on: Mad Men, The Walking Dead, 30 Rock, The Daily Show and Colbert Report, The BIg Bang Theory, How I Met Your Mother, Modern Family... there's a few more, but the point is there are some good scripted shows out there with very clever writing. Though I hope to be a bit more active in the new year, this was a great one to be firmly planted on the couch.

The Roots: At first, I was kinda annoyed that they were going to be Jimmy Fallon's house band, but I think it has given them some exposure that they wouldn't have had otherwise. Which is good because they're latest album might be their best. "How I got over" was easily my favorite album of the year. Also in my top 10 would be "Wake Up" which they made with Springfield's own John Legend. A great, politically charged, well made album. Also, following Questlove on Twitter is pretty fun! I've gone back and picked up a couple of their early albums that I didn't have (or didn't have in their entirety) and while they have certainly matured and improved as artists, they have been putting out great music for a long time now. It was a good year for the Roots and thus a good year to be one of their fans.

The Winter Olympics: What? Yeah, I know. I don't think I've ever really watched the winter olympics before this year, but I have to say I really loved them. Granted this was in the midst of pretty heavy sleep deprivation. I may not find them intersting at all now. I will say that the Winter Olympics are generally black-guy free. That's kinda sad. But black guys tend to not want to hurl themselves down icy hills at high rates of speed. Go figure. Still the fact that most of the events are taking place on a potentially face-breaking surface added to the stupidity/thrillingness of the events. Though I will probably never care about him ever again, for a couple of weeks, I was the biggest fan of Apollo Anton Ohno. Good times.

The Relevant Podcast: Relevant Magazine is interesting to me. On one hand they do a lot of cool pieces on social justice, music, and film. On the other hand, they tend to just be mainstream evangelicalism dressed up in hipster clothes. They're also about as white as the Winter Olympics. So I've had a love/hate relationship with the magazine. The podcast on the other hand is nothing but love. Maybe it's just a more engaging medium for their brands of conversations, but I totally love the snarkiness. These are folks around my age who have probably been as scarred by the evangelical culture as I have, but are sticking to it and trying to ask some thoughtful questions. I admire that. Plus the slices are routinely hysterical. but the main reason that the relevant podcast is on this list is:

Gungor: I first heard Gungor's song "Dry Bones" from their "Beautiful Things" album on aforementioned podcast. I loved it immediately. The rest of the album is also amazing. Great music mixed with pretty solid theology. I really wasn't sure that such a thing existed. Later in the year I picked up "Ancient Skies" the band's release when they were called "The Michael Gungor Band". Also a great album. I honestly can say that I haven't been moved by Christian music in a very long time the way this group moves me. After my grandmother died, I listened to the title track of "Ancient Skies" on repeat for about an hour one day while I was driving and tears just streamed down my face uncontrollably. It was the most cathartic part of my grieving process. "Dry Bones" has kinda been my anthem for the year. It's musically powerful and a great reminder that on the Spirit can revive those places of deadness that I experience in my life.I could go on but Thanks for great music, Gungor!

Michael Steele puppet: The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and the Colbert Report were consistently hilarious this year. The Rally to Restore sanity and/or fear was brilliant. The TDS episode where Jon did Glenn Beck's blackboard routine was classic. Colbert's training for the winter olymics was priceless. BUt of all the things they did this year, my absolute favorite was the recurring use of a blue muppet in the role of Republican National Committee Chairmen Michael Steele. As a lover of muppets and a lover of political humor, this was pretty much the jackpot.I can't do them justice. Links to the three clips are below:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Michael Steele Plays the Race Card
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog</a> The Daily Show on Facebook

 Here's clip 1

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Steele Crazy After All These Years
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog</a> The Daily Show on Facebook


Here's clip 2

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c
The Great Gaffesby
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog</a> The Daily Show on Facebook


Here's clip 3


Cooking: I'm growing a love for food beyond consumption. I probably did more "big event" cooking this year than I ever have. I made my wife a nice dinner both for Valentine's Day and her birthday. I made lamb chos (that were too salty) for Easter. My goat chesse scalloped potatoes are becoming the stuff of legend, especially once I added bacon to the recipe. So much of my work has no final product, I guess that's why cooking is so satisfying.

Gardening/Composting: I had attempted a garden back in 2003. This was the first year I came back to it. Again, it's part of a growing appreciation for food. Growing things takes patience, so I'm not naturally inclined towards it, but it is rewarding to nurture something to the lace where it literally bears fruit (tomatoes to be precise).

On the other side of it, we started a compost bin. I love that it means that we throw less away and that the things that we don't need now will contribute to producing things next year. It's almost like someone designed things to work that way.

Last but not least, my wife: Obviously, I've loved my wife for awhile now, but I have so many new things to appreciate about her after this year. I watched a baby get yanked out of her at the beginning of the year. Every woman who goes through that deserves some love. I've also watched her care for and nurture our son, balance our family with her career, and generally keep things from flying apart. She's still my favorite person to talk to about just about everything and she has been an amazing soundingboard and rock for me in what has been a frustrating and pretty difficult year. I am blessed to be married to my best friend.

It has been a hard year. In the midst of it, I have been surrounded by good things. I am rich in all the things that matter. May 2011 continue to shower us with the things that really matter.






from son to father, part 3

The third part of my seemingly endless series will be the first entry that will not be poop-related. You're welcome. 

I started the year with the hope that I would blog at least once a week this year. It was to be an act of spiritual discipline and prayer. Looking over my entries for the year I did... ok. There are pretty big gaps where I didn't write much at all. This, of course, points to one of my biggest weaknesses (if not THE biggest) which is my lack of discipline. Its nothing new. When I look back even to my junior and senior high days, I remember that I was smart but lazy and that sometimes you can get by on smart. Getting by often means being happy with a "B" when a little work could have earned an "A". It meant being happy to be on the team instead of doing the extra work to be a real athlete. It meant being happy to be in the band without doing the work to be a real musician. It also meant walking away from a thing or two when things got harder than I wanted to deal with. 

One thing that has changed since the high school years is that I've discovered the joy of finishing things. There is certainly something about the feeling of accomplishment. Still, there's a difference between crossing the finish line and staggering across it. I tend to do the latter. It's the difference between a job well done and a job that's, well, done. 

So what does that have to do with the boy? The week before Thanksgiving, the whole house was sick. Thomas' sickness seemed to have thrown off his sleeping schedule because he was back to waking up every couple of hours in the middle of the night. It was like he had regressed a few months and it was truly frustrating not to mention exhausting. Last week a book was recommended to us. The author suggested a couple of important things: one that we let him cry it out in the middle of the night. This had been suggested to us before and we had hoped that had avoided this. The second was that we create a routine for his naps throughout the day. So, we resolved that we had to endure a few rough nights to get things back to where we were sleeping through the night. 

The first night was brutal. It was nearly three hours (from almost midnight to almost 3am) of pretty regular crying. And not just crying. Screaming, howling, "why do my evil parents hate me so much?" kind of crying. We resisted the urge to run in and save him, which would have been more for our comfort than his, and after a pretty agonizing couple of hours he passed out. The next day we informed the babysitter of the new sleep schedule. We began a new routine. Earlier bed time. More low key night time activities (he had been getting pretty hyper at night. We discovered that this is a result of fatigue. Who knew? Smartypants pediatrician, that's who.) The second night was bad, but not as bad. The third night was amazing. And he's been going down for his naps. He's started going down for bed with no fuss. He railed against all of this at first, but now he's sleeping better and more often, he's happier when he wakes, and he's dealing with well-rested parents in the morning.

Interesting that I can create a routine for someone else and not for myself. Despite all the testimonials I had heard, I have to say that even I am a little surprised by how the simple act of having a routine, and parents who at least for a week have been disciplined enough to keep to a the routine, has changed the boy's mood and behavior. He's cute when he's tired and hyper, but I'll take that loss to make sure that he's well rested and that he doesn't have sleep problems throughout his life like his dad does.  

There's something kind of old fashioned about discipline. There's something that is seemingly very boring in the idea of routine. And yet anyone who achieves anything on a high level has these old fashioned, boring elements as a part of their lives. Athletes run drills, musicians play scales, actors rehearse. We tend to romanticize the ability to improvise in life. We like it when things come down to the wire. But a jazz musician knows their scales. I read a biography of John Coltrane last year and one of the things that foolishly caught me off guard was what a student of music theory he was. He was able to improvise the way he did because he had disciplined himself to do the seemingly little things well. 

My life lacks discipline. It lacks routine. In the past, that has been one of the things that I have enjoyed about my life. I like the freedom of a flexible schedule and limited accountability. I pride myself on my ability to get by without structure or a plan. And yet there is always a nagging inside of me that says "this isn't nearly as good as it could have been if you would have just worked harder beforehand". I hate that voice. 

So what could more routine look like in my life? Well, first and foremost it could mean my being a better husband and father. I have a routine about when I take out the garbage (right after "How I Met Your Mother, if you were wondering) but what about a dishes routine or a laundry routine. I'm sure my wife would love that. (See, I'm counting on the fact she's stopped reading my blog.) I have something of a routine about how I manage our finances. I know that could be tightened up. I certainly could be more disciplined about my health. I've secretly been patting myself on the back about the fact that I've lost weight this year with little (to no) exercise, but the truth of the matter is that I do the opposite of stress eating. When I'm stressed, I forget about food. That's probably not healthy either. Having an eating and exercise routine wouldn't be the worst thing. Professionally, I could certainly be more disciplined about my sermon prep. My office could use a little more structure. (That might be a bit of an understatement). I could always be more organized on the administrative end, but even on the relational end of my job, there could certainly be more routine. When do I visit shut ins? When do I check up on members who haven't been to worship in awhile? When I spend time with officers and staff? How do I balance denominational activities, community activities, and congregational activities? 

And then personally... am I writing as often as I'd like? Am I praying as often as I should? Am I studying scripture for my own edification? Am I reading for pleasure as much as I read for work? Am I dating my wife enough? (again, counting on her not reading this!) All of these things are things that need to be scheduled. They need to become a part of a routine. 

If having a routine can turn a hyperactive, sleep deprived, moody gremlin (no exaggeration) into a mild mannered, 12 hour sleeping, cuddly little angel (slight exaggeration), then imagine what it can do for a well meaning, but lazy slacker who's tired of getting by on doing the bare minimum. Time to add some pieces of flare. ("Office Space" anyone?) 

from son to father, part 2

Part one is here

My son has developed a new habit that only be described as utterly annoying. When he's on the changing table, he now rolls while he's being changed. This, of course, usually results in the contents of his dirty diapers being spread far more than is necessary. He gets in a position like he's about to crawl off the changing table. This would be a bad thing considering the table's height. Today, I needed my wife to hold him down while I changed him. He thinks it's hysterical. I disagree. I got so frustrated with him this morning that I kinda yelled at him, " I can't help you if you keep moving!"

Being the expert theologian that I am, I immediately thought of Psalm 46:10 "‘Be still, and know that I am God!". Psalm 37:7 came to me later, "Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him"

I like the idea of being more of a contemplative. I really do. I'm not wired for it though. I thrive off of being busy. I'm always distracted, always moving. Sometimes not stopping long enough to realize that I'm a mess. Sometimes moving so quickly that I spread my mess to others, who then have my mess on their hands. (sorry if this is getting too graphic. it was a rough morning.) 

Anyway, I've just ben thinking about what it would look like for me to sit still long enough for God to take care of my mess. Not the messes that I need to take care of, which usually involve my saying "I'm sorry" (or "I forgive you"). The messes that can only be handled by taking a look at my own broken-ness, my own fallibility, my own short-comings and being honest about who I am. The messes that are created by my own insecurity and selfishness. The mess that is my still grieving heart. When I sit still for too long, I'm reminded of these things. They wash over me. Sometimes the hurt comes out in a deep sigh. Sometimes in actual tears....

... and that's when my mess gets cleaned. Not in the hurried busyness, but in the solitude and silence. In those times when I acknowledge that the mess is there. When I slow down long enough to realize that the one who deals with my mess loves me deeply and just wants me to get out of it. When I realize that my mess does not define who I am, that's where the fresh start begins. 

I've learned a lot from my son over the last nine months. I seem to only write down the lessons that are diaper related. There's no pretense when changing a diaper. No denial. There's nothing fake about it. I'm sure one day he will hate me for writing this stuff. Hopefully when he's done hating me, he'll realize that his daddy loved him and was so grateful for all that he learned. 

from grief to comfort (eventually)

It's been awhile since I have written anything here. Some of that is because I've been busy. Some is that I have so many thoughts in my head that I haven't been able to organize them into words. Now seemed like as good a time as any to actually purge some thoughts from my brain. 

My grandmother passed away just a few days ago. I am profoundly sad. I'm fairly certain that this is the most significant experience of death that I have had. Definitely the most significant since my grandfather died 16 years ago. I actually feel a heaviness in my chest. In some ways, I'm glad that sadness is all I feel. I'm not angry. I've had flashes of guilt, but I don't feel guilty about anything. I'm just sad. 

Of course, part of the challenge in dealing with a death in the family is balancing the sadness you feel with the sadness of others in the family. There's a selfish part of me that just wants to hoard all of the grief for myself, but that's not realistic. I guess there's enough sad to go around. Still, there's a tug of war going on between the little boy who just lost his Granny and the pastor who helps people through their grief. It's kind of a messy tug of war. Both sides are fairly stubborn. I feel compelled to keep my pastor hat on, but honestly don't think I can keep that up. In fact, I'm probably not doing nearly as good of a job of being a pastoral presence as I imagine that I am. 

Theology is really important to me right now. I've realized that one's true theology becomes very apparent at times of crisis. I very much believe in an "afterlife". I believe that my grandparents are reunited right now and that makes me happy. I believe that the lives they lead were purposeful and not simply to keep the species going. I believe that I will see them again.

I also believe that God is sad too. God is able to take a long view of things and realize that things all work out, but God is also able to enter into time and realize that right now I am hurting. If I am capable of being empathetic with hurting people then God is even more so. Many have reminded me that God is with me in the midst of my suffering and I have been grateful for that reminder. 

I realize that to an atheist or an agnostic (and even some Christians) that much of what I wrote above seems naive, like a weak-minded crutch. I hope that you will forgive me for needing a crutch. Grief makes you feel incredibly vulnerable. It reminds you of certain inevitabilities. It reminds me that though this may be my most significant experience of death to date, it won't be my last significant one. There will most likely be my parents, possibly siblings, good friends, maybe my wife, God forbid my children. There will be my own personal encounter with death to deal with. While I don't dwell on those things, they are real. Each will be accompanied with a significant feeling of loss. 

All of that said, I am very grateful. I am grateful that my grandmother was as much a part of my life as she was. I am grateful that she showered me with unearned, unconditional love. I am grateful that she taught me to strive for excellent things. I am grateful for her finicky voice echoing in my head. I am grateful for her E.T. like ability to resurrect dying plants, which I think I may have inherited in some small quantity. I am grateful for her Steelers fanaticism which I inherited almost in its fullness. I am grateful for her wunderlust, which I think I have more of than I let on. I am grateful that she expressed her love through physical gifts that let you know that I was never far from her thoughts. I am grateful for her love expressed in gleeful hugs that communicated how glad she was to see me. I always felt like she was glad to see me...

At some point in the next couple of weeks, things will go back to "normal". I will be busy at work. My son will continue to grow and laugh and learn new things and I will be totally captivated by it. I will continue to share my life with a beautiful, funny, intelligent woman who makes me feel like life couldn't be any better. There will be continue to be good food, and good drinks, and good movies, and good music and all of things will fill me with joy. I look forward to that time, but I shouldn't rush through this time even though I'd like to. It's hard to feel sad, which is why we have so many ways to numb ourselves from sadness. Difficult as it is, I am grateful for the full range of emotions. This moment of sadness will form me if I let it. It will help me to be more available to others in the midst of their sadness. All of that will happen in time. 

Right now, I'm sad. 

from tolerance to love

Recently, I have come across several folks who have grown weary with our culture of tolerance. We have to be tolerant of others' beliefs. We have to be tolerant of others' lifestyles. We have to be tolerant of others. Enough already! Can't we just move past all of this tolerance stuff. 

My response to that is "sure, if where you're going is from tolerance to love and not from tolerance to intolerance". 

Rabbi Irwin Kula, during one of the lectures that I heard during my time at the Chautauqua Institution made the comment (and I'm paraphrasing) that we see so much intolerance of the beliefs of others because of the uncertainty that we feel in our own beliefs. I see this particularly in the realm of Christian apologetics. Why do we need so many "proofs" for the greatest of all mysteries. A God I can comprehend is no god for me. I understand where Rabbi Kula was coming from. We watch news programs that reinforce our own views, primarily because we don't want to stumble upon some bit of truth coming from someone we disagree with. We immerse ourselves in study of our own faith out of fear of discovering that other faiths might have inklings of truth as well. 

I truly am starting to understand that intolerance is a defense mechanism. But why do we need to work so hard to defend our own rightness? Why are we so insecure? 

Before I drift off into relativism (which is such a bad thing!) let me say point blank that I have found my foundational meta-narrative in Judeo-Christianity. I believe in one God. I believe, as Paul says in Colossians 1 that Jesus was the image of that God. I believe in justice. I believe in love. My worldview is shaped by those things. But that's just it. It's my worldview. I don't know that I feel the need to argue its rightness. I feel the need to offer it as a help where it's helpful. I guess I'm also open to being critical of my worldview, and slowly, I'm becoming open to others' critiques of my worldview. That's hard, but I think I'm moving away from the fear of my uncertainty, recognizing that I'll never be completely certain of my own rightness. 

No, I'm not okay with tolerance. I don't believe we're ever called to tolerate people and I personally don't want to be tolerated. I do believe we're called to love. I want to be loved and so do you. Love sometimes means offering a critique of someone else's worldview, but I don't believe that is love's primary stance. Love moves people away from those things which are harmful to those things which are fulfilling and life-giving. The problem is, oftentimes people believe they are being loving by imposing their worldview. I don't know love to be coercive, so that doesn't work for me. I do know love to be persuasive. I also know love to be protective. Those things keep love from being an "anything goes" sort of force. Love will always protect loved ones from hurting themselves. But love walks hand in hand with wisdom and love can distinguish between when someone is hurting themselves and when they are just doing something we don't understand or that challenges our worldview. Love is patient enough to hear the loved ones side of the story and to seek understanding. 

Do I have a point to all of this? God, I hope so. I think my point is that this thing called "tolerance" isn't getting us where we need to be. I can't just live and let live and be okay with that. I have to live and be in community with others who are living as well. Being in community means co-existing worldviews. It always does because no two people see the world the same way. That's the great lie of assimilation, that we all think the same way on things. (thanks to Andrew Marin for that word when I needed it!) Tolerance doesn't ask us to hear others' stories. It doesn't ask us to break bread with those who are different. It doesn't ask us to hear their fears and anxieties. Love does all of those things and more. 

The challenge for all of us is to not be so certain of our own rightness (and righteousness) that we close the doors to hearing, understanding, and being in community with others. 


from hurried to stillness

Those who are in a hurry delay the things of God.

Source: Unknown

For the past decade of my life, busy has picked up during the summer months. Whether it was summer camps or internships, the sumer was when ministry kicked into high gear for me. Not so this summer. Part of the ebb and flow of many congregations is the reality that the church runs on the school year's schedule for the most part. My new church is no different. Things have crept to an almost halt. Giving and attendance are down. Committees are taking the summer off, or forgetting scheduled meetings. Though I had several big events on the calendar for study leave, I had nothing significant in terms of events to deal with this summer. I had the summer ahead of me to plan, pray and prepare....

... and I hated it! I came into this summer determined to keep myself busy. I was ready to pound the pavement, introduce the neighbors to the church, and make as many connections in my new city as possible. 

Some of that has happened, but a funny thing happened on the way to my first "create your own agenda" summer. Actually, a funny combination of things. My wife went back to work and our child care provider has had health issues, first with her son and then with her own health. Ok, I guess the health issues aren't funny "ha ha", but my point is that this summer so far has been filled with a busyness that I didn't expect. That busyness has come from the combination of trying to get a handful of things accomplished in my lightened summer schedule while balancing care for my son. Funny how when those things come into direct opposition, the winner is pretty clear. My church has yet to cry for my attention. 

So, I've been slowed down. I've been forced to prioritize in a way that offers no real alternatives. I haven't been as "productive" as I had hoped to be over the last few weeks. 

... and it's been great. It's been great for the obvious reason that my son is remarkably fun to be around (he gets that from his mother), but it's also been great in that I've been forced to acknowledge a few things about myself.

 1) I'm tired. I went from last summer at the Project to job hunting with a pregnant wife, to moving with a pregnant wife, to starting a new job to having a new child to balancing a new job and a new baby. My week of vacation after Easter was filled with family members flooding into the hospital. My most "restful" week in months was my study leave and that was with a schedule that was packed to the gills with activity. I've probably been sick a half dozen times in last few months, but I haven't given myself the luxury of time to tend to myself. Having my pace dictated to me by my little one has thrown my exhaustion back into my face. 

2) I can't control much. Sure. Intellectually, I know that all the time, but I tend to act as if what I am doing will hold off the apocalypse just a bit. Truth be told, ministry happens when I am drained and not available. It happens when people are ignoring my sermons to tend to the needs of ailing people in the pews around them. It happens when people have epiphanies based off what they thought they heard me say and not what I actually said. Life is changed when I realize that my plans were too small and that I was expecting too little of myself and others. I control so very little. 

3) Being a father is higher vocation than being a pastor. Again, maybe I've always known that. 

and finally...

4) I'm impatient. Even now I'm wishing I would finish this damn post already. God's timing is truly not mine. God slows down when I want to rush and then speeds to the point that I can barely hang on. I'll always want things to happen more quickly than they do, but when I'm aware of that particular weakness, sometimes I'm conscious enough to slow down and take in the beauty around me and not focus so much on the future. My son forces me to do that. 

I've developed a practice recently of beginning worship by reading a Psalm. I caught myself this week. Psalm 46:10 "Be still and know that I am God". I heard myself reading it this past Sunday. As I was reading I also heard the implied "Be still and know that you are not God, Dumbass!" 

Those who are in a hurry delay the things of God. We delay them because we waste time being God. First we have to come to the realization, then the work of not being God can begin. 

Here's to a summer of being busy with not being God. 

from quarrelsome to peacemaking

2 Timothy 2:23-25: Don't have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.

When I was back in Pittsburgh after Easter, I spent some time in silence for prayer, writing, and scripture reading. It was a needed time for reflection. In the midst of my reading I came upon this passage from II Timothy. It struck me that day and has stuck with me since. Now I'll say, I've extricated myself from a good amount of "foolish and stupid arguments" over the past few years, but I've participated in many more and even instigated a few. I've been involved in "quarrels" that masqueraded as "debate". It's often hard to tell the difference. Debate is something i"m fairly skilled in, so why not jump in when a point needs decided, even if that point is of a trivial nature? But it is difficult to keep a debate from turning into a quarrel. Few people are disciplined enough to toe that line. 

The alternative to being quarrelsome provided by this passage is to be a teacher, a gentle instructor. The objective of the teacher is far different from that of the debater. The object of debate is victory. The object of instruction is edification. One tears down, one builds up. To be in the place where I can be a teacher would be far superior to being in a place where I am the better debater. 

Of course, that's assuming that I have something to teach. The unspoken alternative in this passage, seeing as how quarrels have two sides, is to be a teachable student. There's the real conflict! This requires humility and the ability to acknowledge that you may, in fact, be wrong. If this passage is any indication, it would then require that you have to repent. Ugh! 

I'm writing this in very general terms because I don't think this notion can be limited to any one sphere of life. Sure, I'd love to see this line of thought followed through in politics and in church life, but I don't think that's why this passage was written. I think it was about the interpersonal relationships, the crucible for our highest ideals. The pastoral letters of Paul introduce us to the idea that the ways we comport ourselves in the public sphere are virtually irrelevant if we don't literally and figuratively have our own house in order. I can be humble and teachable in the my work and public dealings and then be unteachable and quarrelsome in my home or with my friends. It's one thing to stay out of the foolish debates that poison the public discourse, but another thing to avoid the stupid arguments that destroy a friendship or a marriage. 

To engage in quarrels is to engage in a system of winners and losers. I think that is the opposite of what the Kingdom of God is about. Winner/loser dynamics hinder the ability to build and maintain relationship. I can't see someone who I always beat down as an equal nor can I be at peace with someone who constantly deflates me. 2 party systems are bound for infinite conflict. 

If these things are true (and I'm open to being proven wrong. That whole teachability thing) then what does it look like to make peace? Does it mean jettisoning your highest ideals and values for the sake of making nice? Does it mean choosing to be the victim of violence (in any form) over being the aggressor? Maybe to both, but I think it means valuing relationship over victory, and that includes relationship with your opposition. I think it means seeing your opponent as a child of God instead of as... well... an opponent. It means having the internal knowledge of when I am trying to build up and when I am trying to vanquish a foe. A peacemaker values the conflict required to maintain a relationship over the conflicts that inevitably lead to broken communion. When Jesus says "blessed are the peacemakers" he's not speaking of those who would use violence to stop violence. That would go against all the other kinds of struggle that we find in the beatitudes. I think he's saying blessed are those who will turn the other cheek for the sake of relationship. 

"... in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth" 

That phrase says more than anything else about the life of faith. We resist the urge to do our sister or brother violence in hopes that God's effort, not ours, will lead those who have gone astray back to where they need to be. The hope is always that God will use us in that process, but I think that is simply so we have something about which to brag. Our willingness to step back from conflict happens in light of the fact that we can't change people's hearts and minds, but God can and that often times the most courageous and faithful thing we can do is to not engage in battle. 

All of this sounds too passive for the activist in me, but peacemaking is no spectator sport. It requires that we stick to our convictions without feeling the need to inflict them upon others. It requires that we do that work that proves that non-violent means can achieve great ends. It requires the discipline to disengage from quarrelsome conversation. And it requires that we sacrifice the right to be right for the sake of relationships and reconciliation. 

from your lips to God's ears - some thoughts on prayer

Our church is in the middle of our second week of a bible study on prayer. So far, it has been really great! We've been looking at some models of prayer from the Bible. It's made me think about some things in my own prayer life. 

In her book An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith, Barbara Brown Taylor discusses the fact that she is "a failure at prayer". That's a relief! Not that I wish my own weaknesses on anyone, but if someone as thoughtful and well esteemed as she can see herself in that light than at the very least I'm in very good company. I have done as much as I can think of to build a disciplined routine of prayer into my life. All those efforts have been miserable failures, mostly because my life has little disciplined routine to begin with. I've tried devotionals, praying the hours, online tools... all of which end up becoming an after thought after about a couple of weeks at best. I tend to embrace the chaos and spontaneity of my life, which makes strict discipline a bit of a challenge. 

I'm convicted when I read the story in Daniel 6. A routine f praying three times a day would feel like a lot to me without the external persecution. I suppose if I were in Daniel's shoes there wouldn't have been much of a story. There definitely seems to be a place in our lives for this kind of routine. It can give our lives order. It can refocus us on that which really matters in life. As I age, I find "routine" to be less and less of a scary word and more of a helpful tool, though one that often seems to be misplaced in my life. This is definitely one of my blind spots. However...

If Daniel 6 was the only model of prayer in the Old Testament, which is as far as we've gotten in our study thus far, then I would feel pretty awful about myself. But more often than not, prayer is situational in the Hebrew scripture. The example I gave in our study was Genesis 24. Issac's servant, desperately trying to please his master, stops at a well a prays this mind-bogglingly specific prayer for help in finding Isaac's wife. It works. This isn't a prayer he prays all the time. He most likely never prayed that prayer before nor did he need to again once it was answered. I'm pretty good at that kind of prayer. I think most of us are. It's easy to talk to God when the needs are pressing and the desired outcome is well defined. Then we don't waste words. We don't choose our words carefully. We just articulate our hearts' longings. We also looked at I Samuel 1. Hannah gets so desperate and honest before God that she bargains with Him. I've certainly been there! From a certain vantage point, it looks pretty pathetic, but she gets what she asks for. And she keeps her end of the bargain. 

I don't know that any of the examples I used are model prayers. But they speak to a truth about prayer that I think gets lost. They speak to an honestly and an intensity that my own prayers sometimes seem to lack. My prayers tend to be of the generic, "God bless everybody" variety. It's only when my back is against the wall that I start getting real. I sometimes think that that's the only reason God allows me to get to the place where my back is against the wall, so that we can have honest communication. 

A friend of mine told me recently that she was praying something very specific for me. I cried when I read her message because I know I don't pray that way for people. I also cried because I have been seeing the beginning of her prayer being answered in my life. It shook me because when I'm really honest with myself, I don't expect God to answer my own prayers let alone the prayers that others pray for me. Despite the fact that I have seen so much answered prayer in my life, I always assume that the well has run dry by the time that I get around to asking God something for myself. I feel awful saying that. But it's nothing compared to the utterly humbling phenomenon of God putting my life and my needs on the heart of someone else, particularly someone with whom I do not have regular contact. 

I'm sure I'll have more to say on prayer as we continue through the study, but as I've gone through these past couple of weeks, I've begun to see that when I get honest with God, God gets honest with me. And the truth is that I am loved. Undisciplined and routineless though I may be, I am loved. Thanks be to God!


From nature...

So in light of Earth Day coming this week and my last sermon on creation care, I thought I would blog about creation in the only suitable way: through pictures. These are some things that I have been blessed to see and catch with my own camera. There's an obvious theme here, that being water. When I am near water I feel closest to God and to creation. Water is amazing in that it can both sustain and take life. It is harsh enough to drown from it, but gentle enough to clean with it. Few things reveal the nature of God (to me) like water. Happy Earth Day! 


IMG_0812 Niagara falls summer '07

IMG_0856 Schoon Lake, NY fall '07
 IMG_1137 Newport, Rhode Island summer '08
IMG_0954 whale watching, Monterey, CA summer '07IMG_1150 Gull watching, Newport, Rhode Island, 'summer '08
IMG_0062 winter '10, Springfield, OH

Sunrise, Virginia Beach, Summer '09

Monterey, Summer '08 IMG_0098
Monterey, January '07