Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Waiting on Joy

As a pastoral artist, and more importantly as a follower of Jesus, I often find unexpected and sometimes long forgotten promises tucked away in the pages of the great Book of Books.  I admit that I don't find them as often as I'd like, and mainly because I am not exposed to them as often as I should be.  These past months though I have been in a season of searching and being more than I have been in recent memory.  I will tell you that in these seasons that I have experienced from time to time, He is faithful to deliver.  I'd often like it to be sooner than later, but I am also reminded by Gandalf that " a wizard is never late...He arrives exactly when he means to".  In the dark night of the soul as some would term it, that commentary is often not very comforting.  But comforting or not, I do believe it to be true.  In reading through some wisdom in the book of Psalms I have run across one of these hidden promises.  Psalm 30:5 promises those in trying times that "Though sorrow may last through the night, His joy comes in the morning".  Now really, who among us has not experienced trying times of some nature.  Whether its loss of a relationship, loss of employment, loss of a loved one, or a loss of our senses, we've all encountered loss.  In those times, it has been my experience unfortunately, that those who claim the faith that I hold on to, and even those who claim my profession, have a tendency to use verses like this in a cliche form.  I think that turning them into cliches is one of the greatest disservices that we could ever render on the most sacred communication ever offered to us.  Does this mean that we should "buck up" tomorrow is another day or that we should sing and dance "the sun will come out tomorrow"?  I don't think that this even plumbs the depths of the wisdom found here.  Our idea of pain and loss is that it should be taken away immediately.  Our culture screams to us that we don't deserve it, get rid of it, medicate it, deny its existence.  The wisdom of God is the recognition that it in fact is real...pain and loss I mean.  It just is.  It just happens and it's probably, to some extent, going to keep on happening.  The promise of God though is that joy is coming.  It does't promise happiness.  It doesn't even promise healing.  It is His joy within His presence.  His joy is accompanied by His presence.  The reality of it though is that it may take some time...you may need to wait on it.  You and I may be living in the midst of the night, but eventually morning comes.  When you feel abandoned and alone within your pain, remember...morning is coming.  This too shall pass.  Wait a minute, that's another cliche.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Weakness

Ok so I'll be upfront for those who know that I'm in the midst of the H2O project...I am taking the morning off from the water only consumption.  I am enjoying a special drink made with love at my home away from home known as Hotwire.  It goes along with the double chocolate donut that also probably doesn't factor into many people's view of a Lenten fasting.  I know, I know...I'm sure it's not the best example for someone leading a community of faith in this season of sacrifice.  So get it all out ... "Don't do as I do....", " practice what you preach" , " you are a leader...you have a higher level of expectation".  Yes, yes, and yes.  I've heard it all, know it all, said it all.  My penance for this infraction will be to add the amount spent twice and offer it for the sake of clean water.  It's not that I don't believe in the cause.  It's not even that I couldn't probably push through for a few more days.  It's fundamentally that I'm human and in certain moments of weakness and insecurity, formy sanity's sake, I need a healthy leveling mechanism.  You may question my definition of healthy, but considering the many alternatives offered by this world, a latte and a double chocolate donut seem fairly mundane.
But here is what I'm wondering as it sit, trying to remember to think of all that is good and right and pure.  Considering that I am in a momentary "break of the fast" for a questionable version of breakfast, I can't help but wonder what people in those parts of the world, that I am fasting on behalf of, do to center themselves as I am attempting to do this morning?  I mean really, for a parent raising children in a village without clean water, what do they do in response to whatever their weakness may be?  I want it to be understood that I believe that "weakness" is a very relative term.  In my estimation, having had the privilege of meeting and spending time among parents for which this is a constant reality, I have seen their weaknesses, in some degree,as towering above most of my strengths.  In other words, I cannot fathom the level of strength that must accompany joy in the midst of this level of suffering.
It is at least a reality check.  I have a difficult morning/day/week/year and I retreat to the comfort of lattes. Where is their retreat?  To be sure, in these villages, there is desperation beyond measure.  I've also seen their joy and contentment beyond my ability to comprehend.  We often look to them and want to relieve the suffering in whatever way is within our means.  That part I can get my head around.  I can appreciate it and contribute to it...but I have to wonder, beyond the physical needs which I do not wish to dismiss or minimize, do they have access to something that I, in all my relative wealth, have no understanding of.  Could it be that suffering is the key?  Could it be that a certain depth of suffering brings to light an understanding and an incorporating of our weakness? Within my own faith I have the opportunity to teach on what Jesus has presented as a concept of suffering, the virtues of poverty, and the idea that, contrary to American culture, it will be the meek who prevail.  It comes from my mouth and sometimes some of the words may even stick and resonate, but I have never really grasped it apparently.  I spend all of my efforts to combat it, run from it, and hide the weaknesses that I teach can actually unleash Gods power to transform not only myself but all those I encounter. And today I wonder, why would one do that?  What drives us to cover it up?  In the end, I'm embarrassed to think that, for me, a simple walk from my backyard, across a courtyard, and into a coffee shop can help me recalibrate my day.  Maybe that is my real weakness.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Good news

I'm downtown at the moment...at a Starbucks in the center of it all...Westlake Center, taking in the lunchtime flow of so many lives intersecting in one relatively small space.  I'm taking this opportunity to write before my latest observation of Lent begins tomorrow with the project known as H2O.  For the next 10 days the community of faith that I am privileged to lead has committed ourselves to not drink anything besides water and, at the end, dedicate the money saved to give clean water through our partnership with Living Water International.  Anyone wishing to join me in this can take the challenge and then donate as well through our clean water site or theirs.
We often, as a common humanity, can get behind something larger than ourselves for the greater good.  Unfortunately, it doesn't often happen naturally and we are indebted to those organizations who, by their very nature, have the greater good as their focus.  So as we begin this next challenge, I am painfully aware of the irony that a church and a pastor...and churches and pastors....need another organization or individual to remind us of our calling to the greater good of humanity.
I have been so greatly impacted during my graduate work to have heard it stated that in order to be a credible source of proclaiming what we, as people of faith, know as "the good news", we first need to address what is good news to those who we love and are concerned about.  Let me put it this way, how much good would it be to know that Jesus loves you as one of the millions suffering and dying without clean water, if no one was able to deliver to you the good news that clean water is being provided for you?  We think that they should be contented merely knowing that Jesus loves them as they die, when we have all the resources that are needed to keep them alive.
So I sit here in the midst of humanity shuffling by, mainly disconnected from each other and on their own mission, feeling like I need to get my one last taste of luxury in before beginning my "10 day sacrifice" that I didn't even think of in the first place.  It's a sobering thought.  How far off course have we drifted?  What could happen if, in the midst of the wandering souls here in the downtown rush, a greater good could be communicated to even a fraction of those with the means to be "good news".  God knows that there is plenty of need here already in the midst of homelessness and walking mental illnesses.  What if we took our headphones off long enough to hear someones story? What if we could do something more than throwing a dollar into an open guitar case to buy a burger or to blow wind into the fading sails of a wanna be rock star?  What would good news look like to those who you pass by?

Friday, February 08, 2013

Noise

I was watching a report this morning which was pointing out what may be obvious to most already; we are a culture that cannot escape noise...or will not.  It seems that even in places where there is no noise, we find creative ways to expose ourselves to it anyway.  I am old enough and private enough to not only remember the days, but to long for a return to the days when you could not be reached by phone unless you were in your own home next to a phone permanently attached to a wire.  You could not be reached in the car.  You could not be reached at the store.  You could not be reached during a quiet walk in the woods.  We are a culture of walking headphones.  I write this while Pandora is streaming through my own set.
In the community of faith that I lead, we recently had a discussion that centered around the profound effects of the ministry of Jesus, marked by both the proximity and presence that placed God himself directly into the neighborhood of humanity.  In theological terms we know this as the "Incarnation".  It is, in my opinion, the central defining difference between the faith that I hold, and all the others that humanity may hold to.  It is in reality, divine wisdom.  It changed humanity.  It changed and continues to change the trajectory of the world.   The advancement of our culture and the rising genius of the technological age is rapidly negating the ability for our humanity to experience presence any longer.  We desperately try to fill the void and the miles with cell coverage, twitter and Facebook .  We have anesthetized ourselves into believing that daycare and, better yet, nannies can fill a void in the lives of our children.  We create mobile movie theaters in our cars rather than interacting with the epic story passing us by at 60.  When we are old enough, we grab the headphones and the iPod and wander out, in proximity, without any desire or knowledge in how to engage presence.  Then as we get older, we rage against the machine which created "these kids nowadays", when, if we just took time to quiet ourselves, we would realize it was our doing...or at least our contribution.
The good news is this;  the one who created us for proximity and presence, who modeled it for us, still guides and speaks through it.  He never left, we just turned up the volume of everything else.  In the language of the oldest parts of the Book of Books, we know that the voice of God is only audible in the stillness.  It's known as the "still small voice" of God.  He's not all thunder and lightning.  He is whispers and prayers.  I know this to be true, not simply because the "bible tells me so" but also because I have experienced it, on more than one occasion.  I am embarrassed, as a pastoral artist, to admit that it doesn't happen more often, but too often I am the one doing the talking.  Too many opportunities for quiet are averted by headphones and pathetic karaoke in the car.
So after all this, here's the thing...I don't hear from God and people don't hear God in me simply because I tend to not be present...in either relationship.  If I can offer a prayer for you, today it would be this...take your headphones out.  Be still, be present.  Amen