January 20, 2012

The Best Laid Plans

If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans."
- Anonymous Wisdom-at-Large

I had a new plan.  Naturally, I implemented it on January 1.  I am not above the cliche.  Among other things, I was going to write, on this blog, every day of 2012.

Life has a tendency to interfere with my well-laid plans.  The phone rings.  A child asks for help with homework.  A husband wants to talk.  Someone wants a meal.  Or clean clothes.  And those are the predictable interruptions.

What is being interrupted?  My plans.  My plans.

"For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope."  - Jeremiah 29:11

My plans are not always the plans that the Lord has for me.  I think my plans are for my welfare.  I don't think they will bring harm to me or to others.  Most of the time.  I want a future and hope.  But I don't really know how to plan for the future with hope.

Problem is, I like to think I know.  Don't I know by now?

I all too often plan for a future not with hope but with fear.  I prepare because I'm afraid.  My plans are made to avoid what I'm afraid of:  Risks.  New things.  Unpredictable things.  Things I can't control.

Problem is, what I can control is very, very small.  Maybe so very small that it doesn't even exist.

So when I plan, I'm forced to make my world smaller and smaller, hoping that I can find that tiny piece (Can you see it?) that I can manage by my own power, by the force of my will.

Problem is, I start thinking that maybe, if I can control that tiny piece, I can learn to control more.  And more.

And then I can play god.

It never takes God long to scuttle my plans.  He reminds me, interruption by interruption, who's who, God and me.

January 15, 2012

Civil Discourse

I have strong opinions, yet I hate to get embroiled in controversy.  If I speak, I risk making you a target.  I risk becoming a target.  When I center your views in my crosshairs, I create a very real threat to our living in love.

But then there are the demands of truth.  Love cannot be lived apart from the lens of truth. 

That is what the other guy says too.

Just the day before yesterday my intention was to come down firmly on the side of the Jesus whose outstretched arms on the cross embrace all of creation in loving mercy.

Today, the first thing I saw as I entered the vestibule of the church was a sign inviting me to "protect tradional marriage" by voting "no on civil unions."  Pre-printed for me was a dual copy notice on which I could fill in the blanks with my name and address.  We'll fill in the names of your state senator and representative for you.  Here's a pen.

No thank you.

To be honest, this gets my hackles up in so many ways.  But it is not about my hackles.  Not one single hackle.

It's about Jesus.  It always has to be about Jesus.  That's what it means that he is Lord.  He's the boss.

Here's what he says:

"And Jesus came and said to them, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.'" - Matthew 28:18-20a

And what does he command?

“'This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.'" - John 15:12-13

How shall I love?  As I have loved you.  Broken.  Humbled.  Poured out.  Dying.

I am a member of the body of Christ. As he is, so must I be.

Here's what I need to ask myself:  What does it look like for me to be broken for the sake of the broken world?  Humbled for the sake of the humiliated?  To be poured out on behalf of the wounded?  To die so that my friend might live?

What I know is that, when I saw that sign, those postcards, I had to ask myself who it was who was broken, humiliated, wounded, dying.  How do I stand with him, with her?

I cannot, will not, must not sign your postcard.

January 13, 2012

Tim Tebow OR Whose God?

AP Photo/Julie Jacobson
One prominent professional athlete.  One Christian who confesses his faith on a wide public screen.  Dueling apologists for and against.  To wit:

"I solemnly urge you:proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching." - 2 Timothy 2:1c-2


"And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others." - Matthew 6:5

Questions, both sincere and cynical, abound:

"If the Broncos win, does that mean God is on Tim Tebow's side?"

"If the Broncos lose, is God testing or punishing Tim Tebow?"

Et cetera.

Need it be said that this has nothing whatsoever to do with Mr. Tebow?  With whether he falls on his knees on the field.  With whether he gives to charity.  With whether his team loses or wins.

It is cliche to suggest that Americans' primary religion is professional sports, football being the most successful denomination of late.  I have nothing to say about whether people are in church or tailgating on Sunday morning.

Likewise, I have nothing to say about whether an NFL quarterback prays before, during, or after the game to his god or gods.  Or God.

It's all missing the point.

Here's the truth:  God loves Tim Tebow.  Not because he falls on his knees in worship.  Not because he made some confession of faith.  Not because he's baptized.  Not because he wins football games. 

Since we're talking football, allow me to put it this way:  God loves Jerry Sandusky.  Remember him?  He's the Penn State football coach who allegedly committed endless, heinous sexual crimes against children.

There are Christians who love Tim Tebow's God, because they love Tim Tebow.  Not that they shouldn't.

So how do we feel about the God who loves Jerry Sandusky?

Sometimes we're not so sure about Him.  We want Him to love who we love.  But we'd also prefer that He hate who we hate.  Child molesters.  Middle Eastern dictators.  Reality show stars.  Homosexuals.  Rush Limbaugh.  Or Michael Moore.  Muslims.  Or Jews.  The opposing team.

Whoever that god is, He is not the Father of Jesus.  In speaking for his God (John 5:30), Jesus says: 

"But I say to you, 'Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.'" - Matthew 5:44-45

He makes the sun to rise and sends the rain on the Broncos and the Patriots.  On Tim Tebow and Jerry Sandusky.  On Rush Limbaugh and Michael Moore.  On the Palestinians and the Israelis.  On you.  On me.  On our enemies.

What are we to make of that?  It's easier to pick a team.  Makes for better football watching.

But Jesus on the cross touches heaven and earth, reaches out his arms to embrace east and west.  He doesn't take sides.

January 12, 2012

Good Fences

"He only says, 'Good fences make good neighbors'.
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
'Why do they make good neighbors? Isn't it
Where there are cows?
But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down.'" 
- Robert Frost's "The Mending Wall"

I find boundaries difficult.  Here there are no cows.  What am I walling in or walling out?

I want to be close to people.  I long to connect.  I used to think that the only way to do that was not to build a wall.

Maybe you wanted a wall between us, cows or no.  I could not imagine what your reason could possibly be. 

As far as I was concerned, there was no good reason.  So I was like to give offence.  I'd get too close.  In your space.

If you had a wall, I'd try to tear it down, stone by stone, board by board, so I could get in.  Even if you didn't want me in.  Something there is that doesn't love a wall,/That wants it down.  I wanted it down, no matter the cost.

And cost it did.  Never mind your feelings.  Never mind mine.  What's the difference?

Isaiah chapter five begins:

"Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill.He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard.What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it? When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will make it a waste..." (vv 1-6a)

"I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down."  The Lord surrounded his beloved vineyard with a wall.  To protect it.  Without the wall, the vineyard was defenseless.  It became a waste.

That's what happens to me -- and to you -- when we don't have walls.  One of us gets trampled.  My feelings or yours.  Your needs or mine.  My body or yours.

January 10, 2012

Lost and Found

A friend told me a story yesterday about a bracelet she'd lost.  Its value was sentimental, it's loss heartbreaking.  She looked everywhere and even prayed, as we do in a pinch.  When all else fails, maybe St. Anthony will come to the rescue.  All to no avail.

Then she lost an earring.  Nothing special, but another disappointment all the same.  Disappointment on top of disappointment.  She carefully searched, but in vain.  Then she took the remaining earring and placed it in a zippered pouch that she had at hand.  What else could she do?
Later that night, she came upon the lost earring in an unexpected place, and went immediately to reunite it with its mate.  She reached into the zippered pouch to retrieve it.

I don't have to tell you the end of the story.  You already know how it ends.  You know that when she reached in she found not just the earring, but the treasured bracelet.

She had to lose the earring to find the bracelet.  So simple, so obvious, once it's found.

But not when it's lost.

Jesus talks about lost things:  Sheep.  Coins.  Sons.  We expect them to get found by the end of the story.  But first they had to get lost.  No fatted calf without scraping the bottom of the pig trough.

Why is that?  I don't want to be lost. But that's my flesh talking.  The upside-down Kindgdom of God is where things have to be lost in order to be found.  Forty years of aimless desert wandering is the path to the promised land.

Loss of heaven.  Rejection.  Betrayal.  Denial.  Abasement.  Condemnation.  Crucifixion.  Death.

Zipped into the tomb.

And when the hand of God reaches into the sealed tomb, he raises up not just the dry bones of the one man, but the lost treasure of eternal life.

I don't have to tell you the end of the story.  You already know how it ends. 

January 8, 2012

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas

"Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh." - Matthew 2:11b

Invariably my children, at a certain age, have asked, "Why do we give presents for Christmas?"  One answer is this text, which enshrines the gifts given by the "magi" to the baby Jesus. 

One of our favorite Christmas traditions is the annual reading of Barbara Robinson's The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.  In the story, the juvenille deliquent Herdman siblings who have taken over the church Christmas play (just read it -- trust me), decide that their charity Christmas ham makes a better gift than the traditional bottles of bath salts.

My daughter -- 15 years old and no slouch when it comes to understanding Biblical theology -- said she'd have made the baby Jesus a blanket.

We could talk about the deep symbolism of gold for kings, frankincense for priests, and myrrh for burying the dead, but that's not really what my kids -- or the Herdmans -- care about.  They know there is a baby and a mommy. 

We follow the star to the stable (if you want to get technical, in Matthew, where the magi turn up, there is no stable), and we expect to see a newborn baby and a young mother, and our hearts fill, and we want to give them something.  Not something symbolic.  Something that feels real.  Practical.

Maybe it's the world in which I mostly live, the world of women and children, that inspires canned hams and crocheted throws.  But that is the world of Mary and the infant Jesus, isn't it?  Whatever we might believe to be historically true of the birth of this child, he once was a baby just like the babies we know.  He needed a blanket.  His mother needed a warm meal.

Isn't the point of the infancy narratives in part that the birth of a seemingly ordinary baby is the kick-off of God's decisive move to reconcile creation?  Think of the babies you have known -- tiny, squalling, sleeping, nursing, wetting, pooping, helpless little creatures.  Lovable, but also trying, needy, oh-so needy.  Nothing much kingly or priestly.  Hold the gold and the frankincense.

But every last one is born to die.  It's a terrible thought.  We have to protect that baby.  Wrap him!  Cradle him!  His mother too!  Bring blankets.  And hams.

I don't want myrrh.  Not for my children or your children.

God doesn't want it either.  Not for my children or your children.  Not for you or for me. 

God the Son eats the bread of suffering, so we can eat the bread of life.  He hangs naked, exposed on the cross, so we can be wrapped in the white robes of salvation. 

He receives the gold and frankincense and myrrh, even when he might prefer a cozy blanket and a ham.

January 7, 2012


I'm sick and that is all I want to do.  So, enjoy this:

The Virtual Choir singing Eric Whitacre's Sleep

January 6, 2012

Flying Lessons

"...but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. "- Isaiah 40:31

I heard someone teach on this text once in a way that surprised me.  I had heard the three metaphors as the same.  Flying, running, walking, the Lord' sustains me.

But they're different.  If I'm running, I'm not flying.  If I'm walking, I'm not even running.

I often believe that I've got to fly.  If I could fly, I'd really be doing something.  I'd accomplish things.  I'd be somebody.

If only I knew how to get off the ground.

Maybe I can at least run.  Keep up.  Seems like everyone else is at least running.  I really ought to run.


I can walk.  Anybody can walk, right?  One foot in front of the other.  At least I'd get somewhere. 

But I tend to get lost.

"...but those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength..."

I want to be strong.  I am strong.  It's my gift, part of my mission.  I'm strong.  When I wait on the Lord.

Waiting is not my strongest suit.  I'm a product of my culture and time and, let's be honest, my impatient ego.  Instead of waiting on the Lord, can't the Lord step it up?  Send a note.  Better yet, an e-mail.  Better still, a text.  Now.

My impatience to know saps my strength.  Leaves me on the ground, exhaused, lost. 

I'm learning to walk.  Someday I will run.  And fly.

January 5, 2012


I was with a friend today, and I got to see the house where she grew up.  Not just the house where she grew up, but the house more or less as she had grown up in it.  Almost nothing was changed -- furniture, appliances, paint on the walls, toys in the basement.  It was like stepping back in time.

I've wondered what that would be like, to be able to step back to a place where I was as a girl.  What if I could have recreated for me the exact geography of my memories?  The place.  The things.  The people.

My friend's parents were there.  People can't be re-upholstered like furniture.  They can't be preserved like photos or antiques.  They age.  My friends parents are aged.

Even if my place and things could be regathered, my grandparents, my mother, would still be dead.  My father has grown older.  So have I.  The little girl I was is gone. 

My memories are flawed.

The way I remember -- the way I want it to have been -- is not the way that it was.  I want to look back on the past through my child eyes, like looking through a magic mirror.

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul says,

"When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known." (chapter 13, verses 11 and 12)

The price of living with what I want to have been rather than what was and is is that I cannot know fully.

I avert my eyes, because I am afraid I won't like what I will see:  My failures.  My weakness.  The ways I hurt the people I love.  The ways the people I have loved hurt me.

But when I see face to face, my eyes looking into His, I can know fully.  As I have been fully known, then and now.

January 4, 2012

Loneliness, Part II

"What if I'm lonely?" Daniel, age 5 (March 2009)

He didn't ask today.  He knows he won't be lonely!  There'll be 20 other kids in his class, all 8 year olds like him.  There'll be a teacher too, and who-knows-how-many other little bodies in the lunchroom, on the playground.

It's not for me to ask.  I'm the mommy.  My job is to do what I can, when I can, to give him the world he needs to grow into the fullness of the self he is and is becoming.  And today that means school.

But I very much want to ask it of someone:  "What if I'm lonely?"

It's progress, actually.  Asking, that is.  There was a time when I would not ask.  Under any circumstances.  Because I didn't want to hear the answer.

"What if I'm lonely?"  I'm not a five year old whose mommy can fill the emptiness.  I'm not an eight year old who can move along to the next kid on the playground.

If I'm lonely, it's going to hurt.  My heart just might feel like it's going to break. 

Sure, I could call a friend.  Watch T.V.  Go for a drive.  But I'm not going to.

If I'm lonely, I'm going to feel the hurt.

Honestly, I don't want another answer right now.  I want the world to say, Hurt if you hurt. 

To God, the psalmist says:

"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me." -Psalm 23:4 (KJV)

I no longer believe that I can avoid the valley of the shadow of death.  It's a little death, seeing my youngest child in school, sitting in this empty house.  There will be other little deaths.  And bigger deaths.  And I am ready to walk through the valley of their shadow.

January 3, 2012

Timing Is Everything

"For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away;a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace." - Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

I'll be honest -- I hate it when people say things to me about being in the moment.  I know they're right, of course.  Life can only be lived where I am -- or you are -- right now.  Which only means that when they say it and it makes me mad, I have an inkling that there are too many moments I would prefer to avoid. 

Maybe the moment is one in which it is time to laugh, but I'd rather cry.  Maybe it's time to throw stones away, and I'd rather gather them.  Tear when it's time to sew.  Hate when it's time to love. 

I am in the moment, because, where else can I be?  But I'm out of sync.  I'm like a time traveller, or one of those science fiction heros stuck in another dimension.  The world seems to be moving too fast.  Or maybe I'm too slow.  Anyway, there's a mismatch.  And I would prefer that the world would accommodate me.  In an either/or world, the world serves me up either, and I find myself preferring or.

Then this brings me up short:

"But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day."  - 2 Peter 3:8

A lot can happen in a thousand years:  Planting and harvesting.  Breaking down and building up.  Mourning and dancing. 

It can happen in one day. 

Maybe it can happen in one moment.  Maybe in this moment. 

Can the time to be born hold within it it too the time to die?  Does the time for killing encompass the time for healing? 

Within the silence, is there someone speaking?

January 2, 2012


Not that kind.  Not the kind you're thinking of.  Not the kind that we list and vow and test and break at this time of year. 

When something is resolved, it's finished, done.  Happy new year or no, I'm far from resolved.

No, I mean this kind:

"[T]he process or capability of making distinguishable the individual parts of an object, closely adjacent optical images, or sources of light." (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/resolution)

Like your camera or your computer screen when the picture is clear.  I want a clearer image. Less blurred.  Better resolution.

I have trouble with boundaries. Somewhere along the way I failed to learn how to distinguish individual, closely adjacent sources of light.  Too much overlap.  You or me?  I'm not altogether sure.

Even on the inside the closely adjacent sources of light get muddled.  You or me?  Wisdom or ego?  Spirit or flesh?

Back to Romans 8:

"To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace." (verse 6)

So it matters.  Death isn't life and peace.  If I can't distinguish, maybe my mind is set on the wrong thing -- "wrong" because it's killing me and keeping me from life and peace, which are my inheritance.  And yours too.  That's the picture I want to be able to see.

Sometimes my life goes by in a blur of activity, people, things.  I'm upgrading to a higher resolution.  I want to see more clearly.  I want to be more clearly seen.

January 1, 2012

Big Bang

"When God began to create heaven and earth, and the earth then was welter and waste and darkness over the deep and God's breath hovering over the waters, God said, 'Let there be light.'  And there was light.  And God saw the light, that it was good, and God divided the light from the darkness." - Genesis 1:1-3 (Robert Alter, trans.)

Science tells us that once upon a time the entire universe was one.  Then something happened, a massive explosion of the one, which then became the many.  My small mind cannot begin to conceive of the vastness of the many.  Planets, stars, dark matter, oak trees, earthworms, mushrooms, and me -- all that is, once, says the science, was one.

Unremarkable, then, that the first creation story in Genesis, the very first story in the the whole of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures describes the same phenomenon.

In the beginning (as we're more accustomed to hearing), there was nothing but, in Robert Alter's expression "welter and waste."  He says in his note that the Hebrew for the first word tohu "by itself means 'emptiness' or 'futility.'"  The second word in the Hebrew (wabohu, if you're interested), appears to have been "coined to rhyme with the first and to reinforce it."  Emptiness and futility:  Nothing, and, anyway, what's the point?  From this pointless nothingness comes everything.

God's breath (in Hebrew, ruah, also wind or spirit -- or Spirit) breathes upon nothing and makes it something -- first light, then a "vault in the midst of the waters" to "divide water from water," then dry land, grass, seed-bearing plants, sun, moon, stars, fish, birds, beasts, humans.  In the story, God divides and divides and divides -- light from darkness; sky from seas; day from night; trees from grass; fish from birds; beasts from humans.

That is the story of creation, from science and scripture both, the story of division, separation.  What was one, now is many.  And God called it good.

In his message for New Year's Day for 2012, Fr. Richard Rohr (if you don't know who he is, make sure to find out; check out the link in the sidebar) says, "Differentiation seems to precede union and communion, for some strange reason."  Indeed, the "emptiness and futility" with which we started puts me immediately in mind of this bit of Romans 8:

"...for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God." - Romans 8:20-21 (NRSV)

Although God calls the big bang of creation, all that division, "good," it does not bring an end to the futility.  God delivers us from the futility of that original nothingness to the futility of a subjected creation.  What's the difference?

Before there was separation, division, creation, there was no "us," only God.

Romans 8 ends with these words (vv 38-39):

"For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."

No thing can perpetuate the separation of us, me, from the love of God in Christ.  All this dividing has had, as its ultimate object, the union of creation in all its uniqueness and diversity, with the love of God, revealed and brought to fruition in Christ.

To new beginnings -- welcome, 2012.