Free preview: When You Can’t Find Your Way Home

Free preview: When You Can’t Find Your Way Home

(Today I’m giving you a peek into my free Heart Callings group on Facebook. Each week I share a reflection. You can join us here.)

“God told Abram: ‘Leave your country, your family, and your father’s home for a land that I will show you.’” (Genesis 12:1, The Message)

Many years ago I was working in my home office when I noticed the dog trotting up the street. And then down the street. And then up the street. Looking from one side to the other. Always staying in my portion of the block.

I could almost hear him thinking, “I know it’s around here somewhere.”

I stepped outside and called to him. Without hesitation he came dashing over to me, tail wagging. Without a word, he curled up gratefully on my welcome mat.

It didn’t take me long to find his home. He was a rescue, newly adopted by my next door neighbor. He’d gotten out but didn’t yet recognize his new home.

Joan Chittester writes that in order to have creativity we must first have confusion. We must have the confusion of the old structures no longer standing, no longer serving their purpose. Like Abram, we must leave the home of all that is familiar in order to receive God’s promise of all that is being made new.

The structures and beliefs that once served us may have brought huge blessings to our lives. I grew up as a Southern Baptist. Although now I don’t claim them (and they sure wouldn’t claim me), I recognize that I received many blessings from that structure (not the least of which was a top notch seminary education that cost next to nothing.) Over time, however, they changed and my beliefs changed and we no longer fit together. I can bless what was without having to cling to it.

Lest our structures – and even our beliefs – become our idols we must be willing to let go of what was and what no longer serves.

Sometimes Christians get nervous when they hear someone talking about changing their beliefs. The person in question is branded as less than faithful and possibly heretical. But it is more heretical to make a god of our beliefs and to forget that we always know in part. This much that we know now – it may be exactly the faith we need at this time in our lives. But God always calls us forward. Sometimes that means traveling to a new place in our lives. Sometimes that means traveling to a new place in our hearts and souls… and minds.

We don’t embrace change for the sake of change. We (sometimes grudgingly) face change because God is not done with us. We have to endure the confusion of not being certain in order to allow the space for Spirit to do her creative work.

In the meantime, however, we can feel like my canine friend. The old home is no longer here. But we don’t recognize the new one yet. We dash from one end of the block to the other, hoping to hear Someone call our name.

The testimony of faith isn’t that we never leave one place for another. Just ask Abraham and Sarah about that. The testimony is that we never journey alone. God always goes ahead, preparing a place for us.

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Friends around the Table

We celebrated the Lord’s Supper this morning, something we do once a month. Today we did it around the table. A number of small tables were set in front of the sanctuary, a minister present at each one. We gathered around the table in groups of six or so, serving each other the gift of bread and (in my church) juice, the stuff of life and peace and hope.

I was so greatly moved as I looked around the table this morning and watched us serve each other. Eyes sparkled with genuine affection. We weren’t just serving another person. We were serving a friend.

I’m in the choir,so gathered together around the tables. As we shared the supper we shared the connections of long rehearsals and laughter and missed notes and the triumph that comes when we finally get that difficult section right.

I couldn’t help but think about my first experience of communion in this church. It was a strange and dislocated feeling. I’d come from a church I’d been a part of for decades. Coming forward for the Lord’s Supper always meant smiles and a hand on a shoulder and the recognition that comes when you spend twenty odd years in a community (some of them odder than others.).

But here in this new place I knew very few people. I felt like the cousin’s neighbor hauled off the to the family reunion with a pity invite.

What a difference a few years makes. I was now sharing the Supper with friends. The transformation didn’t just happen with time. I joined up. I showed up. I worked very hard to learn names, which can be intimidating in its own right. I invested myself in this community.

One of the things that I see people struggling with is a lack of community and connection. But community and connection don’t happen while you’re home binge watching Netflix. It takes the willingness to be inconvenienced. It takes the willingness to walk through the door of something new. It takes the willingness to  make a commitment and invest of yourself. When you drop in and drop out as they winds of your whims blow, you’re not going to find the community that your soul needs.

Where do you find community? Where are you investing yourself?

 

Houston, we have a problem

In the movie Apollo 13, after Tom Hanks has uttered those famous words the guys at Mission Control finally identify the source of the problem. They abort the moon landing and reroute the capsule to get them home. The problem is that they have to make sure they have enough breathable air and part of the spacecraft that kept the air breathable was damaged.

The director of the mission gathers some of NASA’s best and brightest in a room and dumps a box full of assorted stuff on the table. “This is all they’ve got to work with,” he says, “find a way.” They are going to have to duct tape a spacecraft back home.

Houston, we have a problem.

Shootings no longer make news unless the body count is high enough or the target population is new enough. Schoolchildren are gunned down and nothing happens. Moviegoers are gunned down and nothing changes. Kindergartners are murdered by the classroom weeks before Christmas and for the rest of the country life goes on as usual. And now patrons at a club are killed by the dozens. And for the rest of us, life goes on.

Life goes on of course, after the grief and outrage and vigils and prayers and declarations that something must be done.

But it never is.

Meanwhile, toddlers have become one of the most lethal groups in the country. Over and over again they find a gun in a parents’ bedroom or at a friend’s house and someone winds up dead. That child or adult is dead, and that toddler will have to live forever with that knowing.

Something must be done.

But it never is.

Houston, we have a problem.

What we’re doing – or not doing – isn’t working. In my business, we call that the everyday definition of insanity. Doing the same thing and hoping for a different result.

It’s time to do something different.

We have a lot of smart people in this country. I know we do. We have a lot of people who care deeply. I know we do. Can someone not gather in the best of them into a room and say, We have to fix this…

We need to get them in a room: People who know about guns (but not lobbyists.) Police officers who have to deal with such shootings. Experts on the constitution and our legal system, who know what can and cannot be done. Sociologists who understand culture and society. Lawmakers who are not in office and do not plan to run for office who nonetheless know how our legal system works at its best. Can we not round them up and say, “This is what we have to work with – this messy, freedom-loving, deeply divided, deeply hurting country. You have to find a way to bring us home safely.”

Perhaps – and I know I’m just dreaming here – we could study what other countries have done who have successfully reduced the amount of mass shootings. I know –we’re different. We have a different culture and history. But maybe, just maybe we could learn something from someone else in the world.

We need to clear away what we think we know. What we think we know only leads us to more rivers of blood. We need the courage to admit that it isn’t working and the resolve to do something different. Whenever a shooting happens we first cry out that something must be done but the answering echo is always all of the reasons why that something won’t work.

Can we not embrace the problem without assuming that we already know the answer and that answer being defeated before it’s begun?

Houston, we have a problem. And giving the same speech only louder isn’t going to fix it.

I’m tired of vigils.

I’m tired of prayers for survivors.

I’m tired of mass shootings having to be qualified as today’s mass shooting because you see, we have so many.

Houston, we have a problem.

 

 

What a toddler taught me

What a toddler taught me

She was camped out on one side of the waiting room, an obvious grandmother charged with wrangling kids while other family members were having an appointment.

A boy sat in the chair on the other side of the table, all arms and legs thrown over the chair, lost in the world of a game on the grandmother’s phone. She was grateful that he was breaking through the levels that had long frustrated her.

She herself  sat surrounded by the sure signs of toddlerdom – an open bag with toys that weren’t working their magic today. The little girl was fine with a set of keys until she started trying to eat them, at which point the grandmother demanded them back. The little girl roamed her half of the waiting room, seeking and destroying.

The grandmother appealed to the boy. “You have a choice. You can let her use the phone or listen to her scream.” The older brother was unmoved and kept playing. I aspect eh’d learned long ago how to tune out the screams.

The grandmother appealed to the toddler, “Have some more biscuit.” The little girl obediently toddled over, even though her cheeks were bulging with uneaten biscuit.

I caught the girl’s eye and years of babysitting, children’s ministry and aunt-dom kicked in. I started playing peep-eye with the magazine I was reading. She stopped, giving me the side eye. I raised the magazine to cover my face and lowered it again. She stared, considering whether to join in this game until the grandmother offered biscuit again.

Let me be clear. I don’t stand in judgment over this overwhelmed grandmother. Sometimes we do what we can do and with small children, survival is always a noble goal.

But the encounter also made me sad. The only avenues of connection for this grandmother were food and electronics. Peep-eye. Itsy bits spider. So many ways to capture the attention of a toddler.

It made me think of the ways in which we interact with each other as adults. I’m not advocating for games of Itsy Bitsy Spider, although if you’ll start I’ll join in. I’m thinking about all the times that we miss the  simple ways of connecting with each other.  We distract each other with shiny objects when what we really want is just to be present with each other.

Some days I think it’s the most powerful thing that I offer in my therapy office: a space in which one human being is present with another human being.

This week today I dare you to connect with one other person. It doesn’t have to take more than a minute. Forgo the shiny objects. Set the electronics aside. If you and they are the hugging sort, give them a hug and allow yourself to feel how it feels to connect. Look them in the eyes and ask how they’re doing… and make a space for them to answer.

Sometimes we just want the simple things.

 

The problem with toys for boys

The problem with toys for boys

I was searching online for a Christmas present for a boy who is developing a passion for things scientific. I was horrified to see on one website for science toys a listing of toys for boys… but no corresponding listing of toys for girls. My old friend Scholastic did a little better – on the toys for girls site they had toys for budding engineers. But the boys site had no toys for boys who might like kitchens or dolls.

Maybe only a very few boys will be like my friend who, as a boy, was ecstatic to get a much wanted Barbie doll. But when we designate engineering toys as the norm for boys and dolls as toys for girls, well then, they become the norm.

So what? you might ask. The problem is that if you are a girl wanting a toy from the “boy section” or heaven forbid, vice versa, you are then by definition abnormal.

football BAs you can see by my picture, I have some experience in being abnormal. While my mom wanted a girly girl who’d take ballet, I  wanted to be playing ball with my brothers. While my mother faithfully came to my basketball and softball games in high school, we both knew it was her second choice. (She also used to tell me that I shouldn’t yell so loudly at college games because it wasn’t “ladylike,” but that’s another story.”)

One web site whom I’d contacted about the issue said that they had the listing because people typed the phrase “toys for boys” into search engines. What a wonderful world it would be if typing “toys for boys” and “toys for girls” brought up the same page.

Then no one would have to be abnormal. We could just be ourselves.

 

 


 

  • Ever wonder why you keep sabotaging yourself when it comes to your goals?
  • Ever get tired of biting your tongue and not saying what you really think?
  • Is your heart heavy with what you couldn’t tell them before they died  – or wish you could tell them now? (Even if them is a beloved pet.)
  • Do you wish you had help in making an important decision?

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Stupid Stuff Jesus Says

When a young man in our church was killed in Iraq while serving as a Marine I had the honor of participating in his memorial service. The pastor called to give me my assignment.

“I’d like for you to lead in the prayer for our enemies,” he said.

“Can’t I do something easier?” I asked, “Like raise Andrew from the dead?”

It’s one of the most difficult prayers I’ve ever had to pray in public or private, not made easier by the rows of blue uniformed Marines at the service. In the prayer I confessed to praying though clenched teeth.

When a Marine angrily challenged the pastor for having such a prayer in the service for a fallen comrade, the pastor replied, “But we are Christian. This is what we are commanded to do.”

(Recently as a part of my own spiritual journey I started praying for my enemies. Very quickly I realized my prayers were not so much for their well being but for them to be more like me. I don’t think that’s what Jesus meant.)

That’s one of the stupid things Jesus said. Love Your enemies. Pray for them that persecute you. (And I don’t think he was talking about plain red coffee cups, but if you feel the need to pray for Starbucks have at it.)

Praying for people who hate us? Praying for the candidates that you feel would be absolute disasters for our country? Praying for people of other countries and other faiths who may even want to kill us? Who does that?

Evidently we who are followers of Jesus are supposed to do just that.

There’s more stupid stuff Jesus said. There’s the one I can’t get out of my head this week: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” So as a Christian I am supposed to care about refugees not because it’s a nice thing to do but because that’s where I’ll find Jesus. Who can live like that?

Apparently we who are followers of Jesus are supposed to live just that way.

Fear is our common currency these days. And yet we’re supposed to buck the trend and live not out of fear but out of faith and love?

“You don’t have to be so scared,” Jesus said in the Cotton Patch Version of the scripture, and he meant it for any language. But who does that?

Actually, I think he’s looking at us.

I am reminded this morning that being a Christian is hard stuff. Oh, I’m not persecuted in this country. I can worship where I will or not worship at all. It’s hard because Jesus said stupid stuff like this, and what’s more, expects me to follow him anyway.

I am continually called to go beyond what is easy or cheap or self serving. I am called to consider the world beyond the sound bite or campaign slogan. I am commanded to take into account the welfare of those who have no money, no resources and no standing, because Jesus stands among them.

Who does something so stupid?

God willing, we will.

 

Why Do We Need Churches?

Why Do We Need Churches?

This morning I saw the story of a 91 year old man who came home from his cancer treatment at the hospital to an empty kitchen. He had no food and no way of getting food. Out of desperation he called 911. The operator and her supervisor agreed to let her take him some groceries, then help get him signed up with support services.

You see, this is why we need church. We need communities to support us when we are frail or sick or disabled. We need communities to step in and do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.

Of course, there are other nonprofits. Out of necessity, however, their mission has to be focused and limited. Used to be you could count on your neighbors or extended family to step in. These days most families are smaller and many are spread out across the country and around the world. Some people have neighbors they can call on. Many others wouldn’t know a neighbor’s name to make a call.

There is no shortage of things the church gets wrong these days. There is no shortage of sins for which we need to make heartfelt confession. There is no shortage of challenges of which we’re still trying to figure out the answers.

But for once, can we talk about what church – what local churches – get right?

I’ve not been a member of a ton of churches. I tend to go and stay put in a place. But here’s what I’ve seen. Older folks get their lawns mowed, even when they’re crotchety about the mowing. Kids have adult friends who are not related to them but who care about them and care for them. Tired new parents have two dozen other arms to hold (and love on) their baby for an hour or two a week. Someone who never had a family before experiences what it feels like to be connected.

My present church is in a partnership with a local school, a partnership that continues to grow. Through it kids are tutored and have new buddies. Through a partnership with Bookmarks, every child was given a book of his or her own. Every child who needed a warm winter coat received one. Think about it. Not one child at that school went cold last winter for the want of a winter coat.

When I was in a wheelchair for two months my church, located thirty miles away, brought me meals every week. When my parents were dying, my church held me up with love and care and just checking in not just on them, but on me. When I was a kid and faced with circumstances that told me that I was worthless the people of my church told me that I was priceless and treated me as if it was true.

By its nature, a lot of the caring that goes on in a church has to be kept confidential. Some needs don’t need to be trumpeted. And by our nature a lot of us don’t like calling attention to such things because it runs counter to the whole spirit of why we do it and Who we’re serving by doing it.

Civic clubs adopt schools as well. And the tennis team can rally around a fallen member. But the church not only does these things but also reaches out to those who would otherwise fall through the cracks, like a 91 year old cancer patient coming home.

Maybe we don’t talk about it much because we really do it out of a kind of self interest. We do it because Jesus said that’s where we’d find him.