Inviting doesn’t mean you have to like it

I don’t understand it when perfectly good-hearted people say things like “Well we couldn’t invite this drunk homeless man in to our church on Sunday because we don’t know what he’s capable of.”  Really?

Don’t get me wrong, I understand that there are valid safety concerns and it certainly wouldn’t be one of those things where you let the person wander around un-escorted.  But why wouldn’t you invite the person in, let them get warm, offer them coffee or something warm to drink?

I guess for me it comes from having spent the last decade or so working in (and for some years, pastoring) a congregation that welcomed in people exactly like that to our Sunday morning services…still do.  It’s disruptive, it wasn’t what we planned on doing.  It hasn’t always been easy or comfortable.  We’ve had to call the police sometimes, but we keep doing it.  Because it’s Christ’s mission, it’s our mission.  To reach out to those most desperately in need of hope and reconciliation to the community.

When our congregation started, we spent time in groups determining what our mission, focus and name would be.  We thought we knew what we were doing and our name came from the neighborhood we lived in – Open Arms.  But living out the mission contained within that name has proven to be anything but comfortable or easy.

Living Open Arms, being a representative of the body of Christ means welcoming in those you would just as soon leave outside your doors.  It means welcoming the felon, the drunk, the homeless and more.  It means welcoming those who have never been to church before, who disrupt the service (either knowingly or unknowingly).  It means dealing with crisis, with people who have mental illness challenges.  It means not getting to sit in a pew, listening to the service for sometimes months on end as you visit and mentor and just sit with people for whom Christ is known more as a curse-word than a friend.   It means being around people who smell, who make you uncomfortable, that drive you nuts.  It’s draining and it hurts…and it asks a lot of you.

But if we are true to our calling, Christ didn’t call us to follow him to make it easy.  He didn’t say that come to church on Sunday, accept me and then you’re off the hook for doing anything else.  He lived an example that says we HAVE to do more than this.  We MUST do more than this.

Christ’s mission was to a world in need.  A world hungering for positive news of hope, renewal, a re-connecting.  That hasn’t changed.  We are still called to reach out, with Open Arms, to those who most need our love and support.  LGBT, bikers, homeless, addicts, abusers and abused, people in poverty, felons… people for whom whatever reason, society says are “less than,” these are our brothers and sisters.  These too are God’s sheep.

Dare to reach out.  Dare to invite in.  Dare to be vulnerable to Divine Grace and then let the Spirit breathe.

Mortality at the doctor’s office

Mortality is a funny thing.  Awareness of it comes in brief flashes, at random times throughout our lives.  It can often come at what may at first seem like such an inopportune time, but is more likely to be right when needed.  One such moment happened for me the other day when I had a preliminary sleep test done.  Turns out I am having an event about every 4 minutes while I sleep where my O2 levels drop and my average oxygen amount is on the low-end of what doctors want.  So it’s off for more tests to see about an official diagnosis this week.

Now, I have to follow this up by saying that I dislike doctors, I hate hospitals and clinics, and am just generally unhappy with the medical profession.  This is nothing personal against the number of heroic and wonderful people who willingly give care to millions of people each and every day.  And when I am in to see them I try to be the best behaved patient they meet for that day.  But in part because of having spent many…MANY days and nights dealing with chronic health issues for years and years, I am increasingly leery as I get older, of going in to see a doctor for anything.

But back to this test…

As I was reading up online (actual reputable places like WebMD, etc), I began to realize just how easy it would be for me to not wake up sometime and why my doctor was so insistent that I get this test done.  I called him back to set up the follow-up so here we are.  But it made me wonder about my life, will I be here for when Boo gets married, for when D gets hitched?  How many more years do I have and more importantly, what am I doing with them?  When Boo asks for my attention, did I really give it to her?  Did I play and focus on creating memories and stories that will last long past the time I’m gone?  When D calls or texts, have I done enough to show D how I feel and how proud I AM of the good things D has done in life?

It also made me think about my father, who also has breathing problems (he’s got a CPAP, although it’s not helping as much as we’d like) and the fact that he turns 72 in just a few months.  I honestly am not sure what to do without him in my life and I don’t even like thinking about it.  My mother is 68, so it’s not like either one of them is a spring chicken anymore.  But there is something terrifying I think when you think about losing your parents.  Even more so than when considering losing your grandparents, which I have done years ago.  It’s that lack of a buffer between you and the end.  That creeping sense of the grains of sand leeching through the hour-glass.  Am I ready to deal with the world without their guidance and sure hand helping me?  Have I told them everything I want them to know?  What about the questions I still haven’t found the answers to (most notably, at what point do you finally figure out this whole “growing-up” thing?)?

This is not to say that I am suddenly in a panic, desperately trying to flee from whatever happens.  I’m not.  My faith helps me feel secure in what comes after, and I am trying to improve the quality of the time AS WELL AS the quantity of time I spend with people, but it’s just been weighing on me more lately, as I reconsider my words, my actions and the priorities of my time.  I want everyone I come in contact with to feel the love of the creator, to understand that they are precious and that this gift we call life is fragile and fleeting…but also that it is vibrant and strong.

I needed this.  My father used to tell a story when he was preaching (yeah, he was a minister too), about a mule that would do anything you asked…but first you had to hit it with a 2×4 to get its attention.  It was a metaphor he used to talk about our relationship to God, the world and each other.  And Lord knows I have spent plenty of days wandering around without purpose or focus or otherwise knowing what I was doing and not appreciating what was around me.  I have had many 2×4 moments in my life.  This was another one.

I hope the time I am given is being well-spent.

I hope you know that whether we have been friends for years, are casual acquaintances or strangers new met, that I look forward to knowing more about you and hope nothing but the best for you.

I hope the Creator blesses you to be a blessing upon creation, in whatever form or fashion that takes.

I hope you know that you are loved.

Superman vs Man of Steel

I realize I’m a little late to the bandwagon on this one, but as anyone with a toddler knows seeing a movie in the actual theatre is an almost-unheard-of luxury.  So I had to wait until the newest Superman: Man of Steel film came to our friendly neighborhood library before I could hopefully, finally get the awful vision of Superman Returns out of my head.  Turns out, Superman Returns wasn’t as bad as I thought.

Don’t get me wrong, Man of Steel (henceforth reduced to MoS because I’m lazy) does a lot of things right.  It shows us a more compelling General Zod and gives us a lot more time to investigate the backstory of the most famous alien ever.  It shows more of the childhood of what it might be like to be the most powerful being on earth and yet still having to deal with normal teenage issues.  The fight scenes are awesome and everything that you want in a super-powered film.

Man of Steel

Except…

[And this is your SPOILER alert…if you have not yet seen the movie and don’t want to know how it ends, STOP reading here]

[I mean it… STOP reading if you don’t know how it ends…]

The new movie lost something profound in its attempt to make a more realistic and conflicted superhero.  I don’t know if it was the studio or the screen-writer or what, but they forgot why it is that Superman is great.  And it’s that he will always find a way to do the right thing.

And killing General Zod was not the right thing to do…even to save the lives of those innocents.

I am struck by how, over a week after seeing the movie, it still troubles me about watching this part of the film.  Here is the “greatest” superhero of them all, the granddaddy if you will of all modern superhero comics.  And he kills someone right in front of us.  It hit like being betrayed by your best friend.

As a fan of comics, Sci-Fi, Fantasy and the like, I am not adverse to so-called “heroes” killing people.  There are many interesting stories that deal with this sort of conflict – Watchmen, Punisher, etc.  The issue I have is that this is not Superman’s conflict.  The one thing that both Superman and Batman agreed upon was a “no-kill” policy.  Sure, they’d rough them up, sometimes even paralyze or severely injure the villain.  But never kill.  It was a line that separated the good guys from the bad guys.  A line that even in the much darker and grittier Dark Knight series of films (and much better movie in my opinion), they did not cross – although they discussed it.

As a father I am saddened about what it says about our culture that even our heroes have to resort to lethal violence to solve problems.  I LOVE Superman.  Always have and probably always will.  I shared the movies I grew up with starring Christopher Reeve, with D and probably will with Boo too.  They show a Superman who is goofy and struggles at times to understand humanity.  But they also show a Superman who is honest and believes in the best of people, even when they don’t deserve it.  And who never kills.  That’s a hero I could tell my children to look up to.  Not because violence isn’t necessary.  I understand and even agree in limited ways that sometimes it’s the only way to solve problems.  But because I feel like we should be called to be better than that and to try to create a world where violence doesn’t have to exist.  That to me is a future worth working towards.

Superman

The article that prompted this particular rant is here “Superman in the movies” if you want to read it.  It’s well worth it and the author makes several good points.  That Superman’s story is and always has been, more about us than the alien.  Which perhaps is why MoS feels so wrong.  I want my story…and D’s and Boo’s stories… to end in a better place.

Advent 2012

God has done great things….

Why is this so hard for me to find the words to say?  I know God has done great things in my life.  Me standing here is a great thing God has done.  He did not give up on me even when I did.

Advent… is about anticipation.  We celebrate the birth of Jesus.  We celebrate the gift of the one who came to show us the way and to give us ever lasting life.  But He did that through the cross.  This is also the beginning of the journey to the crucifixion.  Think about that a minute.  All the mania and crazy shopping lines, the funny/silly tv specials, food, parties and waaaay too much of our extended families….  All to celebrate the death and resurrection of the baby born tonight.

It’s often so easy to take for granted the blessings we receive the rest of the year.  I saw a tag line part of me wants to put up in my office to remind me; it said “Christmas, the time of year Christians act like they’re supposed to.”  And it made me laugh and take a minute to reflect upon this year.  The thought sobered me.  Have there been times when I have looked upon my brothers and sisters who needed help and turned away?  I’m sorry to say there have been.  Have I heard people who claim Christ as their savior talk about how certain people should be excluded from His love or turned away?  Yes.  Just turn on the tv.

But this time of year is about celebrating the absolute leveling of the playing field.  “Life’s not fair~!”  How often do we hear that?  Anybody who’s ever been a kid has heard it at least once, coming from their own lips if no other time.  But Jesus came to show us that life is absolutely fair.  Good things happen to bad people, bad things happen to good people, good things happen to good people, and bad things happen to bad people.  God loves everybody, the nice, the mean, the laughing ones, the crying ones.  And He loves us equally.  To prove it He sent His son to live, breath, die and live again for us.  The great equalizing fact of this season is that no one is alone or unloved.  We may feel that way.  The weight of the world may feel like it’s crashing down on us but the truth is, there is still hope for the future, peace is still available to everyone who searches, joy is present in every moment and love is coming.  Despite our best efforts to prove otherwise at times God continues to move in our lives and provides countless blessings we often are not even aware of.

This does not mean life is easy or that things won’t get rough.  We are not promised that.  The scripture today talks about how God has done great things for us.  But that’s only part of it.  It also speaks of those who go out weeping carrying seeds to sow.  One of the interpretations I read of this indicated that it meant the people were taking out the last of their seeds, the last of their food, to plant.  It was being given as an offering with the hope that they would be able to last until the harvest and have more than enough to eat.  The next verse reflects this hope with the response that those who weeped will return with songs of joy.  We are not offered a safe sure road.  God requests that we give our all, just as He has.  We are not called to be part-time workers for Him.  The joy comes in living full-time in God’s love.

But what is this thing called joy?  Too often in our society joy equals happiness and I’d like to set the record straight.  While they are definitely related, in that after someone has experienced one they want more of it, happiness is a fleeting thing, requiring satisfaction of some sort, having a need met.  Joy is more nuanced and complicated and is deeper.  Joy is about finding the good in any situation.  And there is good in any situation, I honestly believe that.  When my nephew died, there was nothing I wanted more than to have him back.  I don’t feel like he died for a cause or that there was some deeper plan behind it… but there have been joyful moments remembering our life together and in those times when what has happened has opened doors for me to talk to people I otherwise would not have been able to bring a ministry to.  Do I still miss him?  Absolutely.  Do I still grieve?  Yes.  But neither of those things can take away the joy of his life, even if they can take some of the happiness away for a while.

The same was true when my grandfather died.  We spent the day visiting with my grandmother and other extended family members.  Telling stories about him, sharing memories.  It was one of the most wonderful times of my life.  I got to hear things about this man I had never heard before, hilarious episodes from his past before I was born.  I got to spend time sharing with family I rarely got to see.  But he was dying.  And it was in the dying that my grandfather taught me the greatest lesson about joy, because I will stand here and tell you again today that the day he died, his life brought more joy to my heart that it ever had before, or will again.  I finally got it, in my gut, what he meant, when he told me as a young man that man is that he might have joy.

Nothing is for certain, other than the love God bears each one of us.  That love was on full display that day and it was that love that lifted the joy from the bottom of my heart to the top.  And it’s that joy that we celebrate here today.  God’s joy in this moment and season of advent is bittersweet.  On the one hand He is giving us the greatest gift of all, the life of His son.  On the other He is going to have to watch Jesus grow, suffer and die, before the resurrection.  This moment is still going on.  It is still being lived out.  Only we who are finite beings experience it as being in the past.  God loves us.  God’s greatest act is one of selfless love.  It’s to bring us up out of the darkness of the places we find ourselves, for whatever reason.  Maybe not in our time or in the way we want, the primary definition of “fair,” but in God’s time.  I have struggled with God my whole life.  Not in believing that He existed but that He could love someone like me or that if He did, what did all this bad stuff seem to keep happening to me.  I have stood the brink, trying to die and because of the gift offered here today, His love and the love His son showed to us, I was brought back.  I would run and run again throughout my life, still do sometimes.  But God continues to pursue and Jesus continues to open His arms to me.  To bring me home, to offer me the joy of His presence.  Tears, warts, mistakes, anger and all.  Jesus is our companion on the journey, not our magic wand.  But that’s the greatness of it, in something as small as a little baby.  God’s joy is alive in every moment of every day.  WE are blessed because He lives.  He lives~!

Staring it in the face

So it’s been a while since I put anything up…hmm… Not as long as I thought though. Maybe I am getting better at getting back to writing stuff more regularly?  Riiiiight.  I wouldn’t hold my breath either.

I came up against this reality not long ago.  But first I want to share something with you.  As I was praying in my room this morning, just sitting on my floor talkin’ to God, my eyes wandered around and across to an orange page on the floor not far from me.  After reading it the story on the page really hit my gut as being in direct answer to my prayer.  God truly can act in the most amazing ways in our lives…so, here it is —

The Cracked Pot

A water bearer in India had two large pots, each hung on each end of a pole which he carried across his neck.  One of the pots had a crack in it, and while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water at the end of the long walk from the stream to the master’s house, the cracked pot arrived only half full.

For a full two years this went on daily, with the bearer delivering only one and a half pots full of water in his master’s house.  Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments.

But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do.  After two years of what it perceived to be a bitter failure, it spoke to the water bearer one day by the stream.

“I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you.”

“Why?” asked the bearer.  “What are you ashamed of?”

“I have been able, for these past two years, to deliver only half my load because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your master’s house.  Because of my flaws, you have to do all of this work, and you don’t get full value from your efforts,” the pot said.

The water bearer felt sorry for the old cracked pot, and in his compassion he said, “As we return to the master’s house, I want you to notice the beautiful flowers along the path.”

Indeed, as they went up the hill, the old cracked pot took notice of the sun warming the beautiful wild flowers on the side of the path, and this cheered it some.  But at the end of the trail, it still felt bad because it had leaked out half its load, and so again the pot apologized to the bearer for its failure.

The bearer said to the pot, “Did you notice that there were flowers only on your side of the path, but not on the other pot’s side?  That’s because I have always known about your flaw and I took advantage of it.  I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back from the stream, you’ve watered them.  For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate my master’s table.  Without you being just the way you are, he would not have this beauty to grace his house.”

This story really hit me today as I was thinking about how I felt my own efforts in my ministry, my work, my relationship were not up to where I’d like them to be.  But then there’s the moral too, just to add icing to the cake…

Each of us has our own unique flaws.  We’re all cracked pots.  But if we will allow it, the Lord will use our flaws to grace His Father’s table.  In God’s great economy, nothing goes to waste.  Don’t be afraid of your flaws.  Acknowledge them, and you too can be the cause of beauty.  Know that in our weakness [God can] find our strength.

I must admit I’ve been feeling a little like a fifth wheel some lately.  As I’ve mention previously I was recently ordained a minister and not only that but as of the first of this year, am also a co-pastor in my congregation.  I’m still busy at work and my son and I are starting a joint family therapy bi-weekly session to start working on how we relate to each other.  Things there are much much better than they have been, but at times it’s still a struggle.  And to top it all off, and this is really one of the most important things for me (and one of the most wonderful), I’m engaged to be married and the wedding is in about 4 months….  So… it’s not like I don’t have a bit on my plate I suppose.  But like the pot, I was feeling more and more aware of my flaws, rather than the beauty God had been (and continues to) using my flaws to create.  It was a good reminder and comes at a good time for me.

I am not perfect.  I screw up, make mistakes, don’t take advantage of the opportunities afforded me, ignore people I shouldn’t… but like the pot, if I listen to the water bearer, the bearer of the Word, acknowledge the flaws in my life and make room for His word… well, then… grace and beauty are only a part of what He can do with my life, and with yours.

Long overdue on silence…

It was recommended to me that I blog about my experiences several weeks ago at a silent retreat before they escaped into the recesses of memory.  Admittedly part of the reason I have not yet felt overly compelled to do so was because some of the experience of change was still flowing so powerfully through me.  The rest though… part of that was just plain laziness I think.  Or me being passive aggressive again.

So…

I don’t know that I’ll detail everything yet, some things I still feel like I’m processing, but one thing I definitely wanted to share was my time as a fisherman.  Or rather, what it meant/means to follow in the footsteps of a fisherman of God.

I started off the weekend with a strong sense of expectancy and for those who have never attended a silent retreat, you go the entire time without speaking, for however long the session is, in this case a little over 36 hours.  It starts on a Friday night, all day Saturday and then Sunday till early afternoon.  It’s at a campground far removed from road noise, cell phone signals and the like.  I leave my music, internet, tv, etc behind and bring just me, my bible (and this time St. Augustine as well, although we didn’t get to rekindle our conversation, he had to move aside for Peter) and stuff to wear.

I didn’t think I had an agenda in coming, other than to get away from all that is my life for a bit and re-connect, re-fresh with the source of all my joy and peace.  I thought I didn’t have an agenda…but I did.

I may not have wanted to recognize it, but it was there… and it made it difficult for the beginning of the weekend to get myself into the mood.  I don’t know that I have good words to describe what my agenda was, but what happened to me was I was reminded of and directed to consider two very important words – Forgiveness and Trust.

FORGIVENESS –noun

1.

act of forgiving; state of being forgiven.
2.

disposition or willingness to forgive.

TRUST –noun

1.

reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc., of a person or thing; confidence.
2.

confident expectation of something; hope.
3.

confidence in the certainty of future payment for property or goods received; credit: to sell merchandise on trust.
4.

a person on whom or thing on which one relies: God is my trust.
Both these words resound in my mind and won’t leave me alone.  As I’ve stated before the first declaration I need to learn, to feel the truth of in my bones is the fact that I can be forgiven, that I can forgive myself, and that I can forgive those who have hurt me most.  I was reminded that in some cases the act of forgiveness is a matter of acknowledging to God that I can’t do it on my own, but to express a willing desire to allow God to move into that part of my life and begin to make it whole.  Forgiveness is a process, not an end product and it doesn’t mean all is forgotten, nor that the slate is wiped clean.  What it means, to me, is that the weight of the pain and anger et al is no longer chains binding me down, holding me back.  I don’t have to go be best friends with the people who have hurt me, but I can let go of my own responses and give them over to God who is big enough to handle it all and fill the space in my heart with God’s peace and love.  And if I’m going to keep moving forward on this desert journey, that’s one thing I have to do… let go and ask for God’s assistance, cause some things I am too human to forgive on my own.  But I am willing to allow God to work in my life to bring healing, and that’s a step forward.
Trust is something else altogether…
I suppose were I being completely upfront I’m not sure it’s something entirely different, but it too has been something I have really struggled with.  Trusting myself, trusting others…or not as the case may be.  Putting limits on the amount of trust I was willing to hand out, capped the amount of trust I was willing to receive back.  It made it hard to trust the one in whom I should have had the most trust.  To truly believe in where I was heading and the things I have been called to do.  See also me asking forgiveness for this…
Making the realization that these two watchwords need to be special attention in my mind I started doing a lot of praying and continued reading in my daily Bible.  I’m working on making all the way through the whole book in a year… so far I’m only a week behind… not bad all things considered.
During this time however, at the retreat, my father brought to my attention a book on St. Peter and the trials he faced and the struggles he failed to overcome and the ones with God’s assistance he triumphed over.  I started reading it and as if scales dropped from my eyes (and it’s the first time I’ve ever understood that phrase) the devotional prayers and the story of this man from Galilee hit me like a ton of bricks.  One of my earlier posts referenced Jesus’ call to Peter that first day when he called to him from the shore to toss his nets on the other side of the boat.  Upon reaching the shore I imagine Peter and I know me, struggled with taking  that first step off the boat to follow this Messiah.  I’ve written some more I’ll share on here later, but for now I wanted to share this.
After that weekend I’ve stepped off the boat…
My shore legs are still wobbly and I’m not sure how this all will turn out.  But I’m finally following the footsteps of one who wants to dance along the shore with me and bring me into the joy of a true fellowship with my fellow human beings.
The path begins here…

Life is crazy…

Just about the time I think I get something figured out, I get turned on my head and have to find a whole new equalibrium.  Take my church involvement for example:  I agreed to start coordinating Young Adult activities mostly because I’m a bit of a social hound and really enjoy getting together, hanging out and meeting new people, so I thought I’d try to harness my talents in that direction.  I’m now in my fourth/fifth month of this and next month I’m jumping from one event a month to four (although I only have to be in charge of three of them).  I’m adding this on top of my son’s soccer practice, a weekly bible study, a monthly gathering of several of my close friends, bi-weekly game sessions and I’m not entirely sure what all else.  This is on top of taking over more responsibilities at work in dealing with the VA.

And of course, the whole point of all this… trying to raise my son to be a productive and positive human being.

I won’t say I’m feeling a little overwhelmed…or even a LOT overwhelmed for that matter… but it is a bit much to take in all at once.  Top that off with some happy, but surprising family news and as my father likes to say “Hang on to the roller coaster.!”

And whoa boy… I’m starting to feel it.  I can’t decide if I’m happy or not, or just hanging on for the ride.

My son and I have started talking, along with my father, about getting a family blessing for he and I to really ask for some joint healing.  It means as my son so pointedly put it “we’ll have to spend more time together?”  Hopefully we won’t kill each other.

He’s getting mouthier and flouting the boundaries a bit more, but that’s healthy and normal…even if I do want to strangle him when he cusses at the bus stop.  Fortunately threatening to wash his mouth out with soap still forstalls too much arguing and garners an apology.  Just the other day he tucked me into bed, got me a glass of water, and helped out around the house while I was down with a migraine.  All without asking.  I am so grateful for the kind and wonderful examples of people in my life.  He’s learning so much from all of them.

I’m feeling lead and have been granted some answers to questions my heart has been asking repeatedly and despite some effort on my part to not ask quite so often.  I would say I don’t like all of them, but that’s not entirely true.  I’m just not as patient as I’d like to be, but I’m learning.

I miss those friends I don’t get to see as often as I’d like to anymore.  My focus is shifting again and I’m only hoping it’s for the better.  I’m being challenged in subtle and obvious ways and trying to keep my eyes on the path.  There’s a reason they call it the straight “and narrow” one.  It’s so easy to get knocked off or pulled off.  Part of the reason I think I’m so looking forward to this weekend.  It’s going to be a silent retreat.  Away from the city and the noise therein, away from tv, phone, internet and all the distractions that come between us and God.  I need to take some time to visit with the Big G.  The next step is coming and  I need to make sure that I’m listening to where I need to be.  I can feel it coming…

“Hang on for the roller coaster…”