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Spring

Spring

I Pray for Grace

to get it right now that I am old.
to give love and joy, never heartbreak.
to hold all lightly, free to let go.
to seek God’s hand when I suffer.
to forgive others and be forgiven.
to have faith there is some great purpose,
an after- life better than this one.
to while still in dark, believe in light.
and to go with hope into the night.

The Commandments: Humanity’s Keys for Survival/The Beatitudes: Our Handbook for Freedom to Love

I’m pretty sure that law and the concept of sin and consequences were created to try to help us live in the groups we need to survive and prosper. Society is a two edged sword. It keeps us from having to do everything for ourselves from fighting off wildlife, planting, harvesting, to creating clothes and shelter, thus giving us time to think, create, explore, and ask questions about the why, not just the how. But, since humanity is a work in progress…..the old adage, that there’s both a goody and a baddy to everything, holds true for society. Society helps us survive physically, but it also challenges us to learn to love.
The commandments were first of all, simply practical. The laws were aimed at keeping us alive, both as individuals and humanity, long enough to become loving. Whatever the Intelligence called God is, that created and nourishes life, it lives within each of us. It is a source of grace to become more loving, than competitive and combative. And we are like cells in a body. Each of us not only affects those closest to us, we affect the whole for better or worse, even the generations following us.
Self-honesty and understanding, rather than guilt, are the beginning of learning to love. And those take courage and grace. The divorce rate makes it obvious we haven’t become enough like Jesus to even love those closest to us, never-the-less those different from us or even “against” us. The commandments are the basic tools of survival for society. But, Jesus showed us the next level through teaching and living the spirituality of the Beatitudes. They call us beyond the fundamentals of the Commandments and just survival. They call us to freedom, the freedom to love others.
Caring is prayer. Prayer is in the intention, whether expressed in words, thoughts, feelings, candles, symbols, acts of kindness, or forgiveness. There is power in prayer. But both wisdom and love are needed to use the power for others, to understand that all creation, without exception, is one.
Jesus is a turning point in humanity’s journey. He fleshed out a love that sacrifices for not only the weakest physically, but the weakest spiritually. This is not survival of the fittest.
His resurrection also illustrated that this life span isn’t all there is. Jesus is the living example of the potential of God’s grace even within our own humanity.
His resurrection shows us death is simply a door to eternity. When we believe this, it gives us a very different value system than death as the finish line. And His openness and love for all show us the way to overcome the finality of death.

What Does Love Mean?

Some 4 to 8 year olds were asked:
‘What does love mean?’
Here are their answers. (Don’t know if this factual, but good anyway.)

‘When my grandmother got arthritis , she couldn’t bend over and paint her toenails anymore. So my grandfather does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis too. That’s love.’
Rebecca- age 8

‘When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. 
You just know that your name is safe in their mouth.’
Billy – age 4

‘Love is when a girl puts on perfume and a boy puts on shaving cologne
and they go out and smell each other.’
Karl – age 5

‘Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your French fries
without making them give you any of theirs.’
Chrissy – age 6

‘Love is what makes you smile when you’re tired.’
Terri – age 4

‘Love is when my mommy makes coffee for my daddy and she takes a sip
before giving it to him, to make sure the taste is OK.’
Danny – âge 8

‘Love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and just listen.’
Bobby – age 7
(Wow!)

‘If you want to learn to love better , you should start with a friend who you hate. ‘
Nikka – age 6
(we need a few million more Nikka’s on
this planet)

Love is when you tell a guy you like his shirt, then he wears it everyday.’
Noelle – age 7

‘Love is like a little old woman and a little old man who are still friends even after they know each other so well.’
Tommy – age 6

‘During my piano recital , I was on a stage and I was scared. I looked at all the people watching me and saw my daddy waving and smiling. He was the only one doing that. I wasn’t scared anymore.’
Cindy – age 8

‘My mommy loves me more than anybody. You don’t see anyone else kissing me to sleep at night.’
Clare – age 6

‘Love is when Mommy gives Daddy the best piece of chicken.’
Elaine-age 5

‘Love is when Mommy sees Daddy smelly and sweaty and still says he is handsomer than Robert Redford.’
Chris – age 7

‘Love is when your puppy licks your face even after you left him alone all day.’
Mary Ann – age 4

I know my older sister loves me because she gives me all her old clothes and  has to go out and buy new ones.’
Lauren – age 4

‘When you love somebody , your eyelashes go up and down and little stars come out of you.’
Karen – age 7

‘Love is when Mommy sees Daddy on the toilet and she doesn’t think it’s gross..’
Mark – age 6

‘You really shouldn’t say ‘I love you’ unless you mean it. But if you mean it, you should say it a lot.  People forget.’
Jessica – age 8

And the final one was a four year old child whose next door neighbor was an
elderly gentleman who had recently lost his wife.
Upon seeing the man cry , the little boy went into the old gentleman’s yard , climbed onto his lap , and just sat there. His Mother asked what he had said to the neighbor , the little boy said ,

‘Nothing , I just helped him cry’

************************

On Becoming A Spiritual Vegetarian

We didn’t end up with ten commandments in order to please God or win heaven. We need them because most of us are generally simply oblivious. We go for the pleasure right in front of us in that moment without stopping to think about the consequences for us and others down the road.

It’s not about being judged or labeled or punished, it’s about love. The basic ten are a gift from God because God loves us enough to try to help us not screw up our lives and others’ beyond repair. Even though God knows how blind we are and forgives us, when we make poor choices we eventually have to face and live with the crippling and often even heartbreaking consequences.

Life is not a test, a contest, or a game we play for prizes.

The rules are about relationships. The basic ten are about how to avoid killing relationships so they have a chance to grow. They are the minimum survival guidelines.

The goal is learning to love enough to have deep, lasting, nurturing, transforming joyous relationships.
The first relationship is with God for the simple reason that grace is unconditional love and God is pretty much the only place you can count on that no matter what stupid thing you do.

I’ve reached an age where I can look back and see the harm even mildly selfish choices have caused not only others, but myself. Because when we continue in a pattern of choosing immediate gratification as we become adults with responsibilities to and for others, it becomes an addiction with painful consequences for both ourselves and them.

Addiction to avoiding discomfort or pain plays out in extremely diverse ways, even in socially approved things that aren’t recognized as addictions. When our marriage relationship starts to take work or involves delayed gratification, some of us simply become workaholics. That way we avoid what makes us uncomfortable and feel virtuous while doing it. Most don’t recognize this as being an addiction, a pattern of escape with consequences similar to using alcohol, infidelity, or running away.

Take another look at the Big Ten. Take another look at your daily choices. Are they healthy for you and for your relationships?  Are they about learning to truly love, whatever it takes? Or are they about running from the challenge to do the not always pleasurable daily nitty-gritty it takes to grow up and learn to love.

What If It Only Takes Ten More People Becoming A Little More Loving to Change the World?

I have been reading and learning a lot about forgiveness. We all have different proclivities for how we handle anger and hurt. Recently a blog post about our responses to horrifying acts of terrorism against innocent children challenged me to explore the polarities of love and anger and forgiveness.
I’m not sure about this, but some scriptures and some experiences I have had myself make me suspect that forgiving someone has healing power not only for ourselves, but for the offending person. And here’s the freaky part: it can happen concretely simultaneously across great distances without being communicated. I can’t prove it. I have not read anything much about it, but I have had some minor, but thought provoking, experiences.

Also, years ago, I read a small book called “The Hundredth Monkey” which had some research statistics that claimed that monkeys on separate islands and continents can suddenly simultaneously learn new “human” kinds of skills. Their conclusion was that when a certain level of a population of a species acquire a new trait or ability, it somehow triggers a leap in the species across the world. And the author’s hope was that if we as individuals became peaceful, eventually the critical number of our species would bring about world wide peace.

I kind of liked the idea and shared it with friends, but my logical self was very dubious. And since statistical studies such as this can seldom control all the variables, I took this with a grain of salt.  Until recently when driving, I hesitated to start across an intersection when the light turned green because more and more people are running lights right after they turn red. And sure enough someone did. In the last four or five years I have observed a steady increase in this disturbing phenomena.

Something clicked for me today. Is this a negative example of the “hundredth monkey” theory?

Again, as David Hume taught, cause and effect are almost impossible to prove, which is why we measure statistical probability.  But even a remote possibility that our own small struggle to become more loving, forgiving, peaceable people might have a lot more significance for the larger scheme of things would be reason enough to expend more serious time and effort on that project!

Most of us reach a point in our lives where we recognize that we cannot change others, we may can facilitate their attempts to change, but we can’t make anyone want to change and we can’t magically change them even when they seek change. It’s a helpless feeling and tends to make us feel pretty hopeless about things like drug addiction, terrorism and war, and the gross inequality of resources and standard of living across our planet. And even when we are consciously on a Spiritual journey putting time and effort into becoming more loving, forgiving, and peaceful, there are times it hardly seems worth the struggle, if we are managing at least to avoid breaking the big “TEN” in case there really are a heaven and a hell.

What if it matters a lot more than we can imagine for us to clean up our only mildly toxic act: our cursing bad drivers, keeping people out of our lane when they have ignored the warning that theirs is closed further down the road, turning people against one another through gossip, holding grudges, spending a major part of the rest of our lives seeking vengeance under the name of justice for real harms done us or those we love, or even just blaming everyone else for our own failures?

I tried to teach my children to judge the effect of their actions by the age old excuse, “Everybody else is doing it.”  What will the world become like if everyone else does what you are doing? What will hotels have to charge if every person steals a towel or a pillow? What will driving anywhere be like if everyone drives like it’s a race to beat out all the others?

Or maybe even more pertinent, perhaps everyone not doing the same things you are not doing. Not offering help to someone that hurt our feelings, not reaching across differences, not sharing from our abundance because we assume the worst of others. Not picking up trash. Often we simply ignore our sins of omission.

The infamous butterfly fluttering on the other side of the world isn’t making a moral choice, but we do each make numerous moral choices as to what we do or neglect to do each day.

What if it only takes ten more truly loving people to change the world? Not by their accomplishments, but by their love, forgiveness, and peace? Will you and I be one of that ten?

The Trap of Depression

I need to start with a disclaimer. My struggle with depression and the things that have helped me may not help anyone else. And there may be things that would have helped me more. I also believe that we are born with different chemical balances and that stages of life like puberty, pregnancy, and change of life can cause balances to get more out of whack for some people.(How’s that for medical terminology.)
Also, when the chips are down, I do believe deeply that I am loved, just as I am, by the only One who actually makes much difference at my stage of life and that means I know I am not alone when down in the pit of despair.

Depression is the emotional equivalent of an abscessed tooth. Self-hatred is a judgement and judgment is like cement that sets emotion into stone.The one thing about emotions is they are normally changeable, but self-hatred for being depressed locks us into the depression.

Those of us who have high, possibly unrealistic, expectations of ourselves and of life are vulnerable not only to depression, but particularly to a sense of failure and inadequacy that triggers self-hatred.

Depression is painful. And pain of any kind both saps our energy and centers us in on ourselves. (Remember the abscessed tooth.)

My first step for getting out of the mire of depression is to accept it. That doesn’t mean wallowing or giving up hope. It means accepting the reality of it, like we would an excruciating toothache, and cutting ourselves some slack by prioritizing and minimizing our obligations to the world. When we first experience the darkness of despair, we may need to stop our everyday world and get off for a time, but as we learn coping skills
we can lower our expectations and at least continue functioning in areas of our strengths. Eventually, if we get smart enough, we quit trying to give 120 % in our up times, so in the down times we can just slow down the pace a little and cope.

I’m convinced some of the problem is cultural, patriarchal, in fact. In the old hunter/warrior society emotions were considered weakness. We have to shut out empathy to kill a deer or a person. When we have to do these things to keep our family, village or tribe alive, we learn to compartmentalize our feelings. I’ve noticed that generally men handle women’s anger much better than our tears. I’ve known husbands that told their wives to stay in the bathroom to cry. I knew a seasoned Army Staff Sergeant, a veteran of two wars, who asked to be transferred from a safe cushy posting to a dangerous no frills one, because all his officers were women and they cried at Staff meetings. I could understand his reaction, but couldn’t help but wonder if all the officers in the various armies sat around crying would it cut down on wars?

I’m personally convinced that tears are a healthy release for tension and possibly one of the reasons women outlive men.

However, life goes on even when our every movement is like wading through quick sand and having to make even the smallest decision sets off panic. If we had an actual abscessed tooth, we would cut ourselves some slack and so would the world. But at this point in our culture, unless we are hospitalized, we and the world expect us to continue just as we usually do.

Some of us seem to be born with personalities that see possibilities, usually ideal scenarios, not necessarily based on life’s realities. We are not always easily identifiable, we may take on disguises such as Goth attire or metal appendages and flaunt the dark side to hide our fragile dreams of being heroes and our inner fear that there are no heroes.

Sometimes, we hide behind sarcasm or cynicism.

But, the truth is almost all humans are ordinary. We aren’t qualified to be extraordinary or called to save the world.

We are called to give a cup of water to the thirsty, a smile of welcome to the outcast, a hug to the discouraged, a piece of art to call attention to the beauty of the world, or a poem to remind us of others’ suffering, a song to soften hearts, laughter to lighten heavy hearts, even the gift of our honesty about our own failures to share our freedom to be a fallible human with others.

The list goes on and on and doesn’t require heroic measure or extraordinary talent.

I seem to have been born one of those with big dreams, high hopes, and many ideas. Unfortunately, I am lousy at detail and loathe the boredom of repetition, so my dreams and ideas remain just that, dreams and ideas. I’ve always hurt for others, worried about the whole world, and still sometimes have to work through the paralysis of depression when I can’t fix life for those I love who are in pain. It has taken me a long time to admit that it was hubris to think I could save the world or anyone in it. And that struggling with that delusion kept me from doing what I actually can do.

I used to not go to funerals because I couldn’t think of anything miraculously healing to say and feeling others’ sadness sent me into depression. Then, when my own father died, I realized that each person there represented someone that cared enough to come and that it truly helped me to know that his life mattered to others. They didn’t need to say anything.

My son, Tommy, when he was about three, taught me that you don’t have to say anything to help people feel loved. He would be doing his little boy thing and would suddenly stop and come over smiling to pat my hand or shoulder and then just go right back to what he was doing.
I called them “Tommy pats” and eventually when I saw a rainbow or caught all the green lights when running late, I called those, “God’s Tommy pats.” And even now, Julian and I will often stop and give each other a smile and a “Tommy pat.”

Once, when I was overwhelmed by fear of the lifelong consequences of a bad decision by one of my children, I poured out my heartbreak to my friend Paige. She simply wept with me. It’s hard to describe how much that helped me. Someone cared enough to feel my pain with me. I wasn’t alone inside it.

So, what I finally know now, is that when I am depressed because I am not extraordinary or heroic and even perhaps have lost it and made life darker for someone else, I can humbly do the ordinary. And if we all do these little things, no one will go thirsty, or be alone in their sorrow, or feel unloved. And we all, even the depressed, will experience the reality of the Psalm that says, “But then comes the morning, yesterdays sorrows behind.”

Life is Like Boot Camp for Living in Heaven

Life is hard, but it’s liberally sprinkled with times of joy, love, insight, courage, hope, faith, and a peace that really does totally pass understanding.

It’s kind of like a boot camp for living in heaven. The hard parts are tests, but not pass or fail or get a grade tests, but tests that stretch us, strengthen us, teach us, even giving us amazing “Ah Ha!” moments where we get a sneak peak at what comes later, what life is about.

Life is about becoming willing and able to love like Jesus did. And Jesus was God’s love for us fleshed out, expressed so we could know it first hand, up close and personal.

God’s love is a love with no illusions, but also no limits. It’s unconditional love, humbling in a way, because we don’t and can’t earn it. And it seems like God has terrible taste, because He loves everyone, even those tacky, awful people we can’t stand.

God loves us because of who God is, not because of who we are.

Sometimes God’s love fills our heart with joy until we feel like we may burst.
But, God’s love also opens our hearts to suffer with those we love until the stretching makes our hearts feels like they are literally going to tear in two.
The joy of love and the suffering of love are two sides of the same coin. You do not get one without the other.

“There are faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of these is love.

In fact, that’s the goal of the first two.

Words of Life or Words of Death?

(Notes from the September 29th sermon at Cross Point Churches in Nashville, Franklin, and Dickson, Tennessee, USA)
Whatever is in our heart comes out of our mouth. Just avoiding sin by keeping quiet is not God’s goal for us. God’s goal is that we will have and share joy, peace, hope, faith, and love.
Everyone needs healing, no matter how fortunate or together they may seem.
Today in our relationships have our words been healing or damaging? For most of us it will have been a mix of both. Some of us did not experience being built up verbally when we were growing up, so we may be uncomfortable loving in this way. But choosing comfort over building others up is a tragic choice.
The scriptures urge us to build others up according to their needs. This assumes we care enough about others to spend the time and effort to learn their needs.
The challenge for today is to list our top 5 closest relationships and become aware of whether we use words to build those loved ones up, or damage them, or just speak about the weather and safe impersonal things, assuming they know they are loved and admired and appreciated., or do we even speak to them on a regular basis at all?
As parents, our grown children, no matter how old, will still be like drought stricken flowers soaking in our life-giving words of affirmation and love. As grown children, our parents, no matter how old or even forgetful, will also soak up words of love and affirmation that will touch and heal their weary hearts. As spouses are the words exchanged in the frantic mornings or the exhausted evenings only reminders like pick up the laundry or questions as to whether we did? Are our longest conversations “nag lists” or worries about the children or money?
Today, tomorrow, the rest of the week, listen not only to your words, but listen to what’s missing. Are our words, words of life, or words of death, or even just silent deserts?
I do not attend this multi-congregational, non-denominational church, but I do listen to the sermons that are streamed online at 6pm on Sunday nights. This is the 3rd in a series of 6 on relationships. This church balances its words with action. The Dickson congregation meets in the high school auditorium. They pay rent, but also do things like paint the walls and this week they are cleaning up the stadium after the football game. They have adopted a stretch of a local road which they keep clean, they are chopping wood for people who need it for winter, and both adults and children visit nursing homes taking food and crafts they have made. They have outreach to Appalachia and third world countries where their members provide much needed services and supplies. They are beginning a new ministry to victims of slavery.
Their sermons can be heard online at Cross Point Church Nashville, Tennessee at 6pm each Sunday by clicking on Messages.

Singing in the Spirit: Perfect Harmony

When the world seems to be a giant simmering pot of hatred and violence, I am able to cling to the hope for peace, because of an amazing experience I had many years ago.

I was at my first Charismatic Conference at Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana. Though ostensibly Catholic, there were Charismatics (Pentecostals) from many mainline protestant denominations. This particular year there were 20,000 of us gathered for Worship in the football stadium. At one point during the sermon the worshippers responded by singing in the Spirit. Singing in the Spirit is when each person sings whatever the Spirit gives them. For some it may just be terms of praise in the believer’s own language, but to an unknown melody given them by the Spirit, for many the words are in a language unknown to the singer and at the same time to an unknown melody. The words, languages, and melodies are all different
For a few moments, I hesitated, since I had never experienced this and I found myself distracted by the differences I heard close to me. But suddenly my own song came bubbling up from deep inside and as more and more voices joined together singing completely different words and melodies, the awesome harmony brought tears of joy.
I cannot normally sing anything without following the lead of a strong voice next to me. But when singing in the Spirit, my own surprisingly high notes stay true to me, yet blend with the whole. That many people singing different melodies in different languages simultaneously in beautiful harmony simply lifts you out of yourself. Somehow, the God within each of us, that is the God of the Universe, bring us together as one body.
I may seriously doubt that any person could teach the world to sing in perfect harmony, but I know first hand that the Spirit can.
And that keeps me praying and seeking and listening and learning to love, even when no country and no person, not even children, are safe from violence.