Asking you, asking me . . .

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Does your faith-life even require Jesus?

Got the maxims memorized.

Got the rules down.

Is religion more your bulwark than relationship—

behavior and image more important than face-falling service,

open-hearted devotion to His worthiness?

Has purpose surpassed person?

Maybe it’s time to re-evaluate this substance-hoped-for idea.

Are we a scattered and lost flock, devoted to a text but without a message?

I think I would rather falter on a rough road than walk resolutely down a worn and wrong path,

stuck in a form of obedience . . . but without a desperate, clinging trust.

My will is contrary to my dedication;

my rituals supplant my connection, offering a form without reality.

Am I so right-on religious that as a Christian I can do this thing without Jesus?

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Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. ~Psalm 51:10

I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.

~Romans 7:19

 

Dead Trees, Thorns, Elections, and Me

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There is an abbey up in the hills where I like to go to think, to photograph, and to seek moments of peace. A few weeks ago, I happened to go on a Sunday morning, and since there were masses scheduled, parking was limited; and I had to park quite a distance away from the reflecting pond. I did notice, however, as I was leaving there was an old, funky, dead tree across the field near where I had parked the car, and I determined the next time I came I would get closer and photograph it.

That next time was this week. After communing with the ducks and turtles and photographing the fall leaves and reflections in the water, I drove down to the edge of the field, grabbed my camera and headed across. The field was mostly sandy with tufts of weeds, but what kept me wary were the many holes I saw. I assumed they were gopher holes, but one can never tell. Up in the hills, we have Mojave green rattlesnakes, so I scanned the ground carefully as I walked so as not to be surprised by a very deadly snake.

I was barefoot in my Crocs, which was probably not the best choice for protective footwear, but I live in them because it is the next best thing to going totally barefoot! I started feeling little pinches and assumed some stickers were coming in through the holes as I walked, though I really didn’t see any thistles or thorns on the ground. I stopped by a small, flat rock and took one foot out and set it down there to rid my Croc of whatever had invaded. When I lifted my shoe up, I was horrified to see the whole bottom surface carpeted in goathead thorns. These are nasty, piercing, painful things! At my age, balance is not as sure a thing as when I was young; and realizing that I could not risk stepping down on the ground barefoot, I carefully emptied the shoe of the 2 bits of thorn and cautiously put my foot back inside.

My dilemma then was not whether or not to keep going, but whether to forget the picture and head back to the car. Of course, I took the picture. I would have liked to go closer and get shots from different angles, but I am not entirely crazy!

As I turned to make the careful trek back, I was aware—painfully aware—that the hundred or so steps back were to be done with utmost care. Part of me wanted to panic and run, but the sensible part gingerly took one step at a time. I pressed my feet hard against the plastic, scrunching my toes tight together, trying to ignore the bits of thorns that progressively invaded as I tried not to scuff.

When I finally made it to the car, I sat in the driver’s seat with my feet out and removed the shoes. Both soles were completely covered with thorns. There was no way I was going to be able to dislodge them, so I carefully put my Crocs on the floor mat of the passenger side and drove home barefoot.

My husband tried to clean them up for me, but very quickly came to the realization that he was not going to be able to get every part of the thorns out; so, they are destined for the trash bin!

I kept thinking that there had to be some kind of allegory or moral in all of this. So here it is.

Even though we head toward what we think is a worthy goal, and even though we think we know what dangers exist and are on the lookout, there are myriad little things we don’t see that become just as great a threat to our health and safety. In this election cycle, people have had different goals, different candidates, different passions and causes, different behaviors or evidence they were willing to overlook for a greater cause, and they have pushed full steam ahead in their desired directions. I had hoped that once the election was settled and a winner declared, tempers would cool and folks would go back to their respective corners to continue on with a semblance of orderly life. However, the thorns that were picked up on the way were not the big and obvious obstacles that all factions were maneuvering through. What has attached itself to our underbellies are all the cruel words, the bitternesess, the ideological divides that make it impossible to agree to disagree.

What has attached itself to our souls is the tension of otherness—an otherness that is supported by the studies and anecdotes and inflammatory rhetoric that each group trusts. People are virtuous in their own narratives, supported by their selective documentation and cited diatribes. Folks are indeed going to their respective corners, but not to cool off and gain perspective of the greater goals—the greater good. Folks are in their corners throwing rocks and gearing up for full scale attack.

People have stopped listening to each other.

People have stopped caring about what is best for their neighbor, more intent on winning a political and/or an ideological battle. If it means undermining the Constitution or throwing communities into disarray or pitting person against person, it becomes more about winning than about what is good for the country. These are the nasty, piercing, painful things, and I wonder if the nation will survive them.

As for me, I am not a citizen and cannot vote; but character counts for me, so I would not have voted for either candidate. My ultimate kingdom is a spiritual one, so whether America goes Republican, Democrat, or Libertarian in the long run does not matter to me. Well, maybe a little.

And yet, I live here, and the stress and at times near panic has been unsettling.

But the thorns in my life that keep my eyes off forever things,

the thorns in my life that pinch and keep me from loving as Christ loves,

are the ones that can do damage to my soul, and those I am endeavoring to throw in the trash.

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My Book of Uncommon Prayers: Phantom

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I was a pebble, small but strong.

From where I sat, I clearly saw my place, and

those around me knew me, as I did them—

as light as song and as sure as breath.

It was community,

communion,

a fixed place in a wide world of opportunities.

But time went on, moment after day after year, and the view widened ever more.

It became harder to see the edges as light blurred.

Waves beat and wind blew.

Some pebbles shifted right and left, front and back, up and down, and soon

familiar was a memory and

distance seemed farther away.

Did I get smaller and smaller, or did context get bigger and bigger?

The bigger has swallowed me up—my pebble self is a grain, unimportant and invisible in this big, wide world. And I thought all along I mattered.

Maybe I was never important.

Maybe there never was a mission, because for now I have become a mere placeholder that no one sees anymore.

I am but a breath—a grain of shifting sand, a whisper on the wind, a phantom in the land. Show me, oh my Lord . . .

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Psalm 39:4-7 (NIV)

“Show me, Lord, my life’s end
    and the number of my days;
    let me know how fleeting my life is.

You have made my days a mere handbreadth;
    the span of my years is as nothing before you.
Everyone is but a breath,
    even those who seem secure.

“Surely everyone goes around like a mere phantom;
    in vain they rush about, heaping up wealth
    without knowing whose it will finally be.

“But now, Lord, what do I look for?
    My hope is in you.

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Psalm 90:12

12 Teach us to number our days,
    that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

 

 

I Wonder

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Do you ever wonder about all those people you have crossed paths with, crossed wills with,

and do you ever wonder what it will be like to spend eternity with them—those who pressed all your wrong buttons and abused your good nature?

They believe the same as you—except for all the details of doctrine where you are right and they are wrong.

But that should not keep them out of heaven, right?

It’s easy to segregate from the unfaithful, of course; that us-them thing works much more efficiently there. But it’s the faulty faithful I have trouble seeing alongside me as I walk on blissful shores. It is much more comfortable to see them in my mind’s eye punished for all the insensitivities, the lies, and . . . I think they were lies.

But then again . . .

Do you ever wonder when you accidentally meet up in a shop or accidentally stalk their Facebook page whether or not they have changed—whether they are sorry for the wrongs and whether they are properly chagrined at how they refused to value your wisdom and gentle spirit?

Do you wonder how God could love them the same as He loves you when their diminished character kind of makes you ashamed to call them brother and sister?

I wonder as I blunder.

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“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” Ephesians 4:2

“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8

 

My Book of Uncommon Prayers: Power Under

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When spin is more important than truth and

winning is more important than loving,

when circling the wagons is more important  than loving the enemy, then

we have failed to be Christ followers—

Christ,

who did not consider his reputation something to defend,

who did not fight back against mockery and misinformation,

who did not power-over his political foes, but rather

submitted, came under,

to the point of death. If I am a Christ-follower, that is the path I should choose.

Lord, help.

People Don’t See You

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People don’t see you; they see

your cane,

your chair,

your walker.

They see your tremor and your white hair, and

the you you used to be and

the you you are

are supplanted by images and stereotypes and judgments.

You were young once.

You had dreams once. You have dreams now.

And momentary kindnesses feel patronizing, just putting a round peg in a round hole

because

they think they know all there is to know about you.

This weakness snuck up with little warning, and there you were full speed ahead—and your life blended in with all the other capable doers, even though you were ever trying to stand out—

be different.

And now you are.

But you don’t want to be this different—so different as to not be seen

or listened to

or valued.

Because people don’t see you; they see

your cane,

your chair,

your walker.

And they judge you as you pull into the handicap spot; but

when you peel yourself out and start to hobble, there’s the momentary tut-tut of support before you become invisible once again, and all that is left is

the cane.

——————

I have been hobbling around lately because of a knee injury, and it got me thinking as I relied so heavily on a cane (resisted the walker). Often when we view those with health aids, we see the disability as the person. Somehow it is hard to look past the device. The personhood of the individual becomes invisible to the predominance of the device. The handicapped become a category; and unless you push in and get close, it is easy for their personalities to disappear in the disability.

I felt this somewhat a few years back when I used a motorized cart in a store when I was first getting out again after breaking a rib. It was an odd experience to feel some people were looking down on you literally and in other ways, too–judging your need, assessing your worth, pitying you. And in those moments, I felt a lesser version of me to these strangers than I would have before.

When we meet people out and about, when they roll or hobble in to our churches and our places of employment, do we go out of our way not just to perhaps help or make a broad path; but do we see them as people worthy of getting to know–people with personalities and worth who stand apart from their weakness?

I am going to try harder.

A Feeble Fable (Or a Fable for the Feeble)

I laid out my blocks so carefully, meticulously fitted for function and form. And I sat back, pleased with my plan and product. But then,

the wind blew, and the lightest fixtures fell and broke in the falling. And big, hurried feet stomped by, almost unaware that I had even been building. And the sight left

was a crumpled mess, and

I wept

that all the work was in vain. It seemed so useless. Why did I even spend my time thinking and building when nothing lasted of my effort and imagination?

In my pain, I fingered my trampled treasures. Did I have the will to try again? I wasn’t sure.

But one by one, I pulled blocks and pieces from the mess and tried to make order from the brokenness. This time, I thought, I will not take so much time.

I’ll not think so much—maybe just bump color to color, form to form, as I feel it at the moment.

And it didn’t turn out too badly, actually. It was not as ordered as the first, but it had a certain “something,” and I was happy with the result. But

then the earth shook, and the blocks tumbled, and a red ball from an innocent child’s game came careening through my works, and

pieces lay scattered and crushed before my feet and my open hands, and

I wept

that all the work was in vain. It seemed so useless. And I really had no will to try again.

It was not surrender as much as a giving up.

Broken, despairing, I sat in the rubble, not knowing what to do next with my time and these pitiful talents. And then,

the voice came.

I’m not sure if it was outside or inside, but it felt like cool, blue liquid, running in and around on a melody.

“Where did you get your blocks? Was it not from me?”

My yes was swallowed up before it hit the air. “But was I not to build something useful with all these wonderful things?

“The blocks were indeed for building, but not your own work. I gave them to you to give away, and in that giving, build something greater, wider, and indestructible. By keeping them to yourself, you made a fragile work that could not stand up to the testing times. It may seem like a contradiction, but when you give your blocks away, what you build becomes intermingled with the many. The blocks and the people intertwined become the building, and you will find that it is a much more efficient way to build—strong enough to resist the shaking. And strong enough to last.”

I fingered a block in my hand as the melody faded: “Perhaps, it is time to begin again.”

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Ecclesiastes 4:12 (Living)

“And one standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer; three is even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.”

Matthew 25:44-45 (ESV)

“Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’”