Thursday, April 28, 2016

For Those Who Lose Heart

Don’t get distracted or impressed, beloved,
by the ways the world works –
ways of manipulative power
perfectly timed technique
measured in dollar signs and predictable results.

You will quickly feel small and insignificant in such a world
for it was not made for the likes of you;
shoved aside by bullies
and chewed up in the gears
of the glory-making machines.

Worse, you will quickly lose sight of me
and with me goes your courage
for I always reside with your deep heart.

When you’re slammed up against an immovable mountain,
when caught between a rock and a hard place,
the issue for you, dear one, is not if you have what it takes,
if you have the 
money, 
power 
and relational connections 
to make things happen;

The issue is never whether or not you can;
the issue, always, is – is this something I want done?
Do you know me well enough to answer that, beloved?

Every task of mine is an invitation to partner with me,
to know and be known
and I promise to take the lion’s share.

Yoke yourself with me and you will know rest
courage will once again fill your chest;
Walk with me and you will know peace,
where it’s safe to be least.

Peace can only come in when you are unafraid of outcomes;
when the need to control circumstances has died,
when the existence of the mountain no longer makes you afraid
or filled your mind with frenzied strategies,
Peace, My Peace.

I love you, right where you are, afraid and overwhelmed!
My love is the reality upholding all others, 
the atmosphere that makes you safe.
You can never create safety and security 
by arranging circumstances in your favor,
that project is ever changing and never ending.

Let not your heart be troubled; have confidence in me.
Let my peace guard your inner life.
Then my joy will flood your outer life.

Now pick up your gear, for we will make use of what you have brought.
Come, follow me!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Recovering Identity

After a weekend of being haunted by fits of sadness and anger, I entered Monday with little sense of identity or purpose. My heart was saying, “I’m not sure who I am anymore, and I’m not sure it matters.” Obviously this was a toxic mixture of sadness, confusion and a little anger.
As I got ready for work that day, I felt very “off.” I was easily irritated and overwhelmed. I was just trying to get out the door, and if I could manage that, I would try to put the pieces together later when I had time and space to do it. In the process of hurrying out the door, I forgot my wallet at home, which is something I’ve never done before. Realizing it as soon as I pulled in to work, I scrambled for a few seconds trying to figure out what to do. Frustrated and ashamed, I texted my wife to see if she could bring it to me sometime during the day before I had to drive again. I felt awful interrupting her day with this. Her homeschooling and housekeeping are more than full time jobs!
My delightfully gracious wife, Cheri, brought me my wallet a little later, without a hint of annoyance or frustration with me (which is what I expected, since I felt a great deal of annoyance with myself). Instead, she empathized with my frustration and validated me. As she left I felt very thankful that she loved me that much – to bring it to me without any hint of shame or annoyance, but simply because she loves me. At that moment my question had been answered, my ID returned – I am one who is loved and cared for.
My situation was symbolic of the inner realities I was experiencing. I left home without much sense of identity, and if a police officer would have happened to have stopped me, I would not have been able to legally prove who I was. I was “driven” by confusion and pain, no longer sure of who I was. An act of incredible God-like kindness woke me up and restored my sense of self, my sense of identity. Cheri didn’t just bring my wallet which happened to contain my I.D. - she brought me a much greater gift: she brought me radical grace which provided me the space to receive who I was again, in a humble receptive posture before the Lord Jesus.
In the Kingdom of God as a disciple of Jesus, I am one who is, and always will be, loved and cared for. This is something I continue to learn as each situation of my life filters through the loving and brilliant hands of my Jesus my Master.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

To Birds Gone Bye

[Last week I said goodbye to the hundreds of thousands of Robins and other birds that had migrated to the small forest behind our complex. For three months their sheer numbers and artistry in the sky have entranced me. Then all of a sudden, they were gone. I knew it was coming, but dreaded it. I had to mourn the loss of this unique display of beauty, one that we’ve never seen before. Every morning about thirty minutes before sunrise they would take off in massive rivers piercing the dawning sky, a process that would take ten minutes because of their sheer numbers. Every sunset they would return, flooding the trees with their song and stories. As soon as the sun was set, they had all nested in the trees further back, still making noise but no longer seen.

It’s amazing how I can hear the unique individual bird calls now that were drowned out by the Robins. I am learning to see God not just in the massive flocks but once again in the single bird; not just in the big and impressive but in the simple, quiet presence of one or two things. Every day this week the Lord has sent Rabbits to accompany me on my walks, a scampering reminder of the tenderness caring for our world.

Anyway, I decided to write a goodbye poem to the birds. Until next time, compadres.]


The sky seems
so empty
so quiet
vacant

I’ve grown
accustomed
to the sounds
to the sights
of thousands upon thousands
suffusion
overflowing artistry
weaving skillfully
slicing through
God’s atmosphere

Suddenly,
gone.
silence.
loss.

But this is the migratory way,
the turning of the seasons
from emptiness to fullness
and back again
and again
and again.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Reasons to Drag Myself to Church Today, part 2: Church Stalker

I never know which of my blog posts will resonate with readers, but my “Reasons to Drag Myself to Church Today” (July 2012) post has always been among my most visited (It’s actually my second highest post ever). Here’s a continuation of it on a slightly different, more humorous, theme.

[This story is too funny not to share, though I doubt I can capture the utter absurdity of it.]

We are in the process of looking for a church closer to home, and visited a local Southern Baptist church (maybe 250-300 members). We talked to the youth leader about what’s available for our kids and she said she would mail out some info on upcoming events if we filled out a connect card. I don’t usually fill out those things on the first visit, not until we’ve had more than one visit and are seriously considering it, but I thought, “Sure, why not. What could happen?”

Well, the DAY AFTER we visited, right before we sat down to dinner, an older couple showed up at our door from this church. It’s about 25 degrees outside and they’re asking questions like, “so you’ve been to church before?” - questions that can never be adequately answered quickly or with any justice. Um, yes; I’ve got some experience with church. No, I’m not about to invite you in.

Sigh.

I was polite, but ended the conversation pretty quickly, mildly annoyed. I was willing to overlook this as we considered the church for a “fit” for our family. In the meantime, we visited several other churches in the area. This became a benchmark for me though - the churches that were not likely to visit us uninvited received higher “ratings.” I was on the lookout for “pressure levels.” How much pressure do they put on people to show up and make things happen?

Cue this past Monday night; two weeks have passed since that initial home visit and we haven’t been back. Not one, but TWO separate visits at our door over the course of an hour or so, one before dinner and one after. These were higher caliber visitors this time, leaders involved in the youth ministry. You see, they had already taken our kids’ information and put them into classes! Holy Frick! Monday must be psycho-church visit night.

Sigh.

I started laughing even before I closed the door on the last visit, though I tried to hide it with a cough. I just couldn’t believe it! I went a bit loopy for about 30-45 minutes (to which my family can attest), laughing wildly and occasionally cornering random family members and aggressively saying, “Hi! I’m from _______ Church! Will you be my friend?!” I started to wonder, how many visits would it take before I consider filing a restraining order?

These were nice people, I’m sure, but what kind of church requires their members to do stuff like this? I felt sorry for these people, the pressure they must be under to “bring people in.” Surely we have a better vision for church than this? Though most churches wouldn’t practice this kind of “visitation” anymore, at least this one was consistent with the “A” part of the ABC’s of church growth – Attendance (the others being Buildings & Cash). They were determined and committed to a vision of church life that required us to be a part of it. Wow, that feels cult-like.

Thus, I continue to be gun-shy about connect cards, and churches in general. I hold out hope though, because Jesus lives and he loves his people so I’m going to try and love them too. Most Christians are better than this, but once in a while, BAM!  - Church Stalkers. Time to install turrets or at least start breaking out my “Baptist Beatin’ Stick.”

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Let Me Ash You Something - Some Thoughts on Lent

Tomorrow (Wednesday, February 10) is Ash Wednesday which means the liturgical season of Epiphany is ending and Lent is beginning. Ruth Haley Barton writes
"Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Church’s observance of the Lenten season—six weeks that are set apart for the purpose of drawing closer to God and seeking him with greater intensity. Unfortunately, the Lenten season often gets reduced to the question, “What are you giving up for Lent?” This is a fine question, but it can only take us so far. The real question of the Lenten season is, “How will I repent and return to God with all my heart?”
This begs an even deeper question: “Where in my life have I gotten away from God, and what are the disciplines that will enable me to find my way back?” 
. . . As God gives us wisdom and insight about our true condition, we can choose spiritual practices that are uniquely suited to help us return to God in the places where we have strayed or to renew our passion where our hearts have grown cold."
Are there places where you have gone cold? When you're alone and quiet, do you sense places where you have strayed from trusting in God's love? Where are you still living as an orphan and not as God's beloved? I can think of two or three such places in my own life, places where God's reign has little traction, places where I still rely on my own strategies for living. Lent helps us remember that we are in need not only of learning to say "yes" to God in surrender, but "no" to things that keep us from that surrender. This is what grace is and does.
For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. (Titus 2:11-14 NIV)
Dallas Willard wisely observed two objectives for any disciple seeking to live as Jesus did. These correspond to the "yes" of surrender and the "no" to the things that get in the way of that surrender.
"The first objective is to bring apprentices to the point where they dearly love and constantly delight in that “heavenly Father” made real to earth in Jesus and are quite certain that there is no “catch,” no limit, to the goodness of his intentions or to his power to carry them out.
. . . The second primary objective of a curriculum for Christlikeness is to remove our automatic responses against the kingdom of God, to free the apprentices of domination, of “enslavement” (John 8:34; Rom. 6:6), to their old habitual patterns of thought, feeling, and action. These are the “automatic” patterns of response that were ground into the embodied social self during its long life outside The Kingdom Among Us. They make up “the sin that is in my members” which, as Paul so brilliantly understood, brings it about that “wishing to do the good is mine, but the doing of it is not” (Rom. 7:18)." (Divine Conspiracy, 321-22).
 As we think of these two objectives, Lent clearly focuses on the second - the removal of "automatic responses against the kingdom of God." These are the orphan practices we learned while living "without hope and without God in the world" (Eph. 2:12). Think of what you rely on to get by when you're afraid and alone. Do these things bring life or death?

Take time and space to search your hearts this week. As you listen, ask your loving Heavenly Father what hindrances might exist that prevent you from freely, naturally and easily delighting in His love for you. In his presence, talk to him about these things. Receive his forgiveness and his vision for what your life could look like with him.

Don't lose heart - this process takes a lifetime! God is in no hurry. As Teilhard de Chardin reminds us, "Above all, trust in the slow work of God." He is not impatient or frustrated with you or your lack of progress. He is delighted with every movement you make in his direction! Soak in his lenten love, and let that transform whatever "no" you need to engage in as an act of a lover responding to the summons of a jealously tender God.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

We Are God's Beloved (book excerpt)

This is an excerpt from Henri Nouwen's book, Life of the Beloved. Please consider these truths for yourself; they deeply resonate with me and my age-long battle against self-hatred. - Scott

“Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection. Success, popularity, and power can indeed present a great temptation. When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unlovable, then success, popularity, and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions. The real trap, however, is self-rejection. As soon as someone accuses me or criticizes me, as soon as I am rejected, left alone, or abandoned, I find myself thinking, “Well, that proves once again that I am a nobody.” … [My dark side says,] I am no good… I deserve to be pushed aside, forgotten, rejected, and abandoned.  
Maybe you think that you are more tempted by arrogance than by self-rejection. But isn't arrogance, in fact, the other side of self-rejection? Isn't arrogance putting yourself on a pedestal to avoid being seen as you see yourself? I know too well that beneath my arrogance there lies much self-doubt, just as there is a great amount of pride hidden in my self-rejection. Whether I am inflated or deflated, I lose touch with my truth and distort my vision of reality. Not seldom, self-rejection is simply seen as the neurotic expression of an insecure person. But neurosis is often the psychic manifestation of a much deeper human darkness: the darkness of not feeling truly welcome in human existence. Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the "Beloved." Being the Beloved expresses the core truth of our existence.

We are intimately loved long before our parents, teachers, spouses, children, and friends loved or wounded us. That's the truth of our lives. That's the truth I want you to claim for yourself. That's the truth spoken by the voice that says, "You are my Beloved." Listening to that voice with great inner attentiveness, I hear at my center words that say:
I have called you by name, from the very beginning. You are mine and I am yours. You are my Beloved, on you my favor rests. I have molded you in the depths of the earth and knitted you together in your mother's womb. I have carved you in the palms of my hands and hidden you in the shadow of my embrace. I look at you with infinite tenderness and care for you with a care more intimate than that of a mother for her child. I have counted every hair on your  head and guided you at every step. Wherever you go, I go with you, and wherever you rest, I keep watch. I will give you food that will satisfy all your hunger and drink that will quench all your thirst. I will not hide my face from you. You know me as your own as I know you as my own. You belong to me. I am your father, your mother, your brother, your sister, your lover, and your spouse ... yes, even your child ... wherever you are I will be. Nothing will ever separate us. We are one.
From Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World, (New York: The Crossroads Publishing Co., 1992), 31-37

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Loneliness Amidst Enveloping Goodness: Some Reflections on 2015

For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
(Isaiah 9:6-7 NRSV)

This text has been gripping me for several weeks now as Advent has come to a close and ushered in the season of Christmas. As I have learned about and experienced more of the Kingdom of God I have different eyes for texts like these, eyes that are on the lookout for evidence of God's loving rule from the heavens.

I am reminded of the gospel Jesus came to preach. To Him, the gospel was all about the Kingdom of God. Jesus came to bring the Kingdom of God into our neighborhood, to make it immediately accessible and readily available to everyone who wants it.
After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:14-15 NIV)
His death removes every obstacle, and his life and teachings show us how it looks to live, through all the seasons of life, in that Kingdom with a God of infinite goodness as our Father.The amazing thing to me is that Jesus brings God’s good rule, with all the presence and activity of Trinitarian sufficiency, right down to the ground where I live and work, sleep and wake, despair and hope.

One of the things that has struck me in this Isaiah passage is talk of the “government” (NIV) and “authority” (NRSV) that will be on this Child’s (v.6) shoulders and will go forth in ever widening circles of design, power and peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. (Isaiah 9:7 NIV)
As 2015 winds down, I wanted to connect this Isaiah passage to what Jesus is doing right here, right now and throughout the year. Simply put, he will take charge of whatever we let him take charge of. This is what it means to call Jesus “Lord” as well as “Savior.” He shows us how it works and why it’s the best thing we have ever imagined; indeed, it’s what we were created for.

Speaking for myself, I desperately need this reminder as 2015 ends. It has been for us a year of risk and trust; trusting God enough to put myself out there with resumes and cover letters for a job that doesn't yet exist. Deepening exposure to the Kingdom that Jesus brings has yielded experiences of deep healing. It also has been one of the most lonely years I can remember. Our longing for a church to call “home” has remained unfulfilled and throbbing. Further, my attempts to “dream” again and seek to respond to a pastoral call (see here and here) has met with silence, opposition, skepticism and increasing marginalization and obscurity. As the year winds down I feel weary, with little hope that anything good is coming. I don't know if I can handle another year like 2015.

Thankfully, my story doesn’t end there! I remember that I don’t need to make my story turn out “right” or force resolution on stubborn plotlines that resist closure and peace. I can simply be present to the people and range of choices before me and not worry about where it’s all headed or what’s in store for me and my family. Either the outcomes of my life are on my shoulders or they are on his, and my body stress, levels of shame, fear and anxiety will always tell whose shoulders are bearing the load. If I let the Christ-child bear the arranging of my affairs (my "government"), the promise is that I will experience his peace. His peace – the peace he had and still has and that he still gives to those who are disciples of his, those learning from him how to live.

"Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts" (Col 3:15 NIV)

"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." (John 14:27 NIV)

One of the biggest shame triggers at this time of year is having to tell your story to someone who doesn’t get it. Social gatherings and family get-togethers can be especially painful as we seek to answer questions about “what’s going on” in the best possible way so that we don't end up looking like fools. We feel ashamed about what remains unfinished in our lives, so we either hide our stories or embellish them to make them sound better than they are. Plotlines that remain unresolved and messy cause us deep shame in the presence of many (seemingly) strong successful personalities that have it all together. Everybody seems richer and more successful than I am! I wish I had his clarity, her purpose, their network of relationships, their opportunities!

I remember and return to the humble king of obscurity born in a cave with a feeding trough for a throne. No need to impress here, only experience his presence and pour out my heart. I say I'm sorry for how little I accomplished for him this year, how I was unable to better my family's situation or find much clarity in calling or purpose. As I pour out my heart, I sense his heart lean into mine and remind me that he doesn't measure the years the way I do, in terms of how much I got done or who I came to know or what resources I have gained. The way he measures my year is by how many shared experiences we have had, how we have grown in conversation and participation as I have learned to trust him with more and more of my actual day to day life. Intimacy is shared experience, and all he cares about is growing deeper with me in increasing levels of trust and shared experience, year by year. I felt his joy over me, with the enveloping promise that any year spent growing in shared experience with Jesus is a fruitful year and one to be celebrated!

May you, dear readers, find him to be more than you ever dared hope. May 2016 be for us and all ragamuffins out there a year that we find satisfaction in Emmanuel - such satisfaction that we can lay down our costumes and masks and grow into a little bit more of who we were made to be - the person God had in mind when he spoke us into existence and weaved us into substance. That person, living life with-God, is our truest and best self, our freest and happiest self. May God grant us renewed vision to venture out on his word and Kingdom, trusting him in and for everything.

Hope of all hopes, dream of our dreams,
a child is born, sweet-breathed; a son is given to us: a living gift.
And even now, with tiny features and dewy hair, He is great.
The power of leadership, and the weight of authority, will rest on His shoulders.
His name? His name we’ll know in many ways—
He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Dear Father everlasting, ever-present never-failing,
Master of Wholeness, Prince of Peace.
His leadership will bring such prosperity as you’ve never seen before—
sustainable peace for all time.
This child: God’s promise to David—a throne forever, among us,
to restore sound leadership that cannot be perverted or shaken.
He will ensure justice without fail and absolute equity. Always.
The intense passion of the Eternal, Commander of heavenly armies,
will carry this to completion.
(Isaiah 9:6-7, The Voice)