Tuesday, December 22, 2015

I Wonder About Christmas

I wonder if I’ve so romanticized and sanitized that first Christmas that I’ve missed the truth.  If the Christ-child were around Lexington today, would I notice?  The reality of that first Christmas was less than pleasant.  Mary was an unwed mother.  She and Joseph were forced to travel for reasons of obligatory census which had to do with taxation.  Their travel was at a most difficult time as it was Mary’s late term pregnancy.  Their accommodations in Bethlehem were less than the best.  I even wonder why some of Joseph’s extended family didn’t provide them hospitality since it was his ancestor’s home.   Who helped Mary with the birth?  Was it Joseph?  Perhaps it was some of the Shepherds as they would have known something about birthing lambs.  A couple of years after the first Christmas, the family became refugees fleeing the violence of a ruler.  That first Christmas and those couple of years that followed were not pleasant times. 

Near our Counseling Center is a home for unwed mothers.  These young women and their infants often walk around our neighborhood.  I sometimes wonder if this is what Mary experienced with her new born infant.  Around the corner from the Center is a ministry helping to settle immigrants and refugees in the Lexington area.  Could there be a “Holy Family” among them?  When it is a rainy night, there is a man and woman who sleep on the Center’s porch because the local shelter for the homeless won’t let them stay the night together.  Did Joseph and Mary experience something similar?

Perhaps what I really need this Christmas is some nudging from the angels, who nudged the shepherds, so I can better recognize what God is doing on Christmas.  Whatever else Christmas may mean, the truth of Christmas or the incarnation is that “The Lord is near” (Philippians 4:5b).  If that is still true then the Lord is near even in my little corner of Lexington, Kentucky; and Christmas is still happening, only not necessarily as I think, expect, imagine or want it to happen.


Saturday, December 5, 2015

Could It Be?

In the 25th chapter of Matthew, verses 31 - 46, Jesus says that the final judgement will involve the "goats" failed, whereas those he called "sheep," passed.  The difference was the "sheep" cared for the hungry, thirsty, strangers, sick, naked and even imprisoned.  Jesus said, "When you did it to the least of these, my brethren, you did it to me."  Could it be that that Jesus is among us today--not just in spirit, but really incarnated.  The problem seems to be that we probably wouldn't recognize Jesus.  We wouldn't recognize him because we've become blinded by our expectations.  Jesus might not show up in the style, manner, dress, language, etc. we are expecting.  If there is some truth in Matthew 25, then Jesus must be among those who are not too healthy, poorly dressed, hungry, strangers to us and, perhaps, even incarcerated.  In the first century, according to the birth narratives in the gospels, Jesus showed up as an infant whose birth was suspect as illegitimate.  In his childhood, he and the family had to became immigrants and refugees because of violence in their home country.  Jesus, as a child or an adult, wasn't recognized because the religious folks who were eagerly waiting for Jesus, expected that he would be different.  So, it wouldn't be unusual for us if we didn't recognize him either.  He doesn't seem to respond to our expectations, which are selfish attempts to make Jesus to become the person we want him.  He just won't permit us to be the Creator.  I believe that Matthew 25 is true and, therefore, I often wonder if Jesus is actually standing among the homeless on the corner; sitting with those waiting at the city's soup kitchens or looking for a warm coat to protect himself from the Kentucky winter.  Could it even be possible that Jesus is even in jail because "we don't want 'those kind' roaming our streets and neighborhoods?" 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Piling On

When I was a child, we would play a game which we called "Piling On."  We would run around the neighborhood until someone was tackled and, then, everyone else would pile on.  When the pile was complete, we would un-pile and begin the running around again.  This wasn't a harmful game for us because there were only a few boys in the neighborhood to play and all of us were light-weights.  I've no idea where we got this game or if anyone else in the civilized world ever heard of or played it.  Sometimes life seems to pile on.  When some incident occurs, it seems that other situations come along to pile on top.  I assume that the good news is that after a period, the pile un-piles and regular life begins to run around again.  Our hope and prayer is that the pile doesn't become too heavy and it doesn't last too long.  When Jesus was  in the Garden of Gethsemane, I think his pile was getting heavy.  At least, Jesus knows what life is like when it begins to pile on.  He has been there and, therefore, is with us when life piles on.  The good news is not only that Jesus has experienced what we may be experiencing, but resurrection is coming and resurrection may be like getting out from under life's piles.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Old Truck

On many days I drive around town in an old, white pickup truck.  It surely has far too many miles on it to be very reliable.  It has several small leaks. I put  some cardboard underneath it in the garage so as not to mess up the floor.  I tell folks that when they're that old and have that many mile of them, they'll leak too.  It has some rust spots on it and the brown rust symptom has begun to run down the fender.  Not too long ago the spare wheel fell out from under the truck bed when I hit a bump in the road.  The mechanism that held the spare tire had finally rusted away.  I wouldn't trust the truck driving too far out of town.  It has a clutch and a shift stick on the floor, so not many folks have asked to borrow it because they don't know how to drive a vehicle that doesn't have an automatic gear shift.  My personal opinion is that most families need an old truck hauling stuff.  I'm certainly not thinking about getting rid of the old truck.  It was purchased new and driven by my father many years ago.  When he became ill and unable to drive, he gave the keys to my son.  Dad has now passed away.  When our son had a job requiring him to drive a lot of miles each week, we traded vehicles.  That's how I ended up with the truck.  I know that there are a lot of things around our house and garage that could be disposed of.  However, most of them have a story or memory that's attached.  So until I'm ready to diminish those reminders of memories and stories, I think I'll keep some of that stuff, including the old truck.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Keeping Secrets Can Be Toxic

Dr. Ronald Cohen, M.D, as well as a Family Therapist discusses secrets in  an on-line article entitled, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell-The Hidden Life of Family Secrets."  He writes, "Toxic secrets are often long-standing and damaging to relationships and personal well-being. They become harmful and destructive when they involve keeping information from others that they have a right to know. Over time, toxic secrets corrode relationships, destroy trust and create otherwise unexplained symptoms and increased anxiety. Abundant non-productive energy is expended on maintaining who’s in the know and who is outside the cone of silence."  I often witness the keeping of secrets which become toxic, not only to the individual, but also to the group with which he or she is involved. That group may be the family, a church, a business, organization, etc.  Certainly there are confidences to keep. I fear that too many Believers and Churches keep secrets under the guise of confidentially and grace when those secrets are really toxic.  Keeping secrets are toxic when the secret gives a few persons a lot of power or authority because they are the ones with the information.  Unfortunately too many become addicted to having the inside information because it does give them a sense of  power, authority, etc.  Even more toxic is when the group has a pattern of keeping secrets which may prevent the group or individual from dealing with the consequences of inappropriate behavior. It is my belief that keeping secrets permits evil to inhabit a place.  This isn't to say that the persons keeping the secrets are evil.  It is, however, to say that they have been hooked, seduced, influenced, maybe even addicted, to the Evil One who best operates in the darkness.  Jesus said, "This is the verdict: Light has come into the world but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil." (John 3:19, NIV.)  We must be very careful with darkness or secrets.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Sometimes Prayer Is Showing Up

This weekend our Spiritual Formation class from The Baptist Seminary of Kentucky made a visit to the Abbey of Gethsemani.  Brother Paul, a monk at the Abbey for 57 years, spoke with the students. He talked about the importance of daily prayer, the significant pattern or ritual of showing up with a prayerful attitude.  He also mentioned that often there was the feeling of being so busy that we had rather not make the prayer time.  In addition, he referenced times when it seemed nothing was happening with our prayers.  Nevertheless, there is great value in just showing up, he said.  Scripture says that God's Word will not return void, but it will accomplish its task (Isaiah 55:11.)  So, who among us can really know what God is doing with and through our prayers, even if all we can do for this day is to show up for prayer.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Pope Francis

Pope Francis has left a wonderful influence in the USA as a result of his visit.  He spoke from his role as a Pastor to the significant issues of our time, such as immigration, right to life, climate issues, capital punishment.  He spoke, not as a individual trying to win friends, power, funds, etc., but as one with moral authority.  He spoke from scripture, such as the Golden Rule.  He spoke without ego and a self-promoting agenda.  He was a breath of fresh air.  His words were powerful not only because they were truth, but also because he lives these values and principles.  For example, he had lunch with the homeless rather than the power-brokers in Washington D.C.  I wish I could hear his gentle voice and manner which carries such powerful messages about significant issues of our time. Pope Francis is a prophet.  He spoke truth.  There are not many prophets in our world at present.  For our benefit, may the Pope have a long life.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Don't Lose Your Voice

It seems that lately I've been saying to many folks, "Don't lose your voice."  We can lose our voice when we are so concerned about how the other person might hear and respond to what we say.  We calculate what, how and when we say based on our assumptions of how the other person will respond.  We certainly need to be aware of how we speak.  Communication folks tells us that our tone of voice, facial expression and body language often conveys a strong message, perhaps even stronger than the words we use.  Also when we speak is crucial.  The speaker certainly has some significant responsibilities in what, how and when we speak. We need to be respectful of our listener(s).  Nevertheless, it is easy to lose our voice and never share our thoughts or feelings because we are too cautious about another's response.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

I'm aging

Yesterday I was driving and in the corner of my vision I saw a billboard that read, "Screens repaired."  I wondered how they would be able to make a living repairing screens for windows and doors.  As I got closer and pay more attention, I realized that it was an advertisement for computer and phone screens.  I laughed at myself all the way home.  I'm aging.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Slamming Doors & Meditation

I've a friend who is always in a hurry.  He arrives at meetings in a hurry, barely on time or a few minutes late.  He must catch his breath.  He seems to always have another engagement at the end of the meeting and has allowed barely sufficient time.  He is a minister and he seems to always be in a hurry. When I've asked about his prayers, he tells me how he has told God all that is on his schedule as well as mind and how he asks for God's help.  I've often wondered if he ever thinks that God may have something on God's mind which God would like to share with him.  I wonder how would he have time to stop the hurry and listen.  In 1966 Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist Monk, visited Thomas Merton at the Abbey of Gethsemani.  When asked about teaching meditation, Thich Nhat Hanh replied, "We don't teach meditation to the young monks.  They are not ready for it until they stop slamming doors." (Richard Rohr, What The Mystics Know, pg 35.)

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The gas line was ruptured

Yesterday workmen were using a backhoe to dig a trench for a new sewer line in the house across the street which is being remodeled.  Unfortunately, the backhoe hit the gas line and ruptured it.  Natural gas spewed into the neighborhood.  The police, fire department and gas company personnel arrived very quickly.  The neighborhood was evacuated.  It took about two hours before everyone was permitted to return to their homes.  Either a fireman or gas company individual went into every home checking to re-light water heaters, furnaces, etc.  The gas company personnel worked all day long and into the evening to repair the broken gas line.  As Judy sat at the end of the street during the evacuation (I was at the Church with Bobby), a neighbor remarked to Judy that a simple call to 811 would have enabled someone from the gas company to come and tell them where the gas line was located so they could avoid it.  Such a call would have been so simple and saved the neighbors a lot of trouble, probably the construction company a lot of headache and money.  Why is it that we so often think we don't need to ask for help?

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Duck and The Bottle

A friend told me a version of this story.  I checked it out via an Internet google, found another version and then edited it.  So, here is my edited version of someone's wonderful story.
                                                            The Duck and the Bottle        
Frank went to a wise person in search of wisdom. The wise person sent him on a journey, “Climb to the top of that mountain in the distance. At the peak, you will find a cabin, and in that cabin you will find a bottle, and in that bottle you will find a duck. Get the duck out of the bottle without harming the duck or the bottle, and in that process you will find wisdom. I will come to visit you in a week!”
Frank set off on his search. Indeed, he made it to the top of the mountain and found a cabin.  Inside the cabin was a bottle, with a duck inside. But how to get the duck out of the bottle without harming either was puzzling to say the least.  Days of worry and confusion begin turning into frustration and anger. By the end of one week, Frank was stressful and anxious.
The wise person stopped by and noticed the duck was still in the bottle. “I will give you another week. Then I will come to check on you,” he informed Frank.
But a week later poor Frank was full of his worry, anxiety, stress and anger. He had even begun to doubt his abilities.  A seemingly impossible puzzle was sitting beside him, quacking at him and no answer remotely in sight. The duck was still in the bottle.  The wise person stopped by, saw Frank`s situation, asked about wisdom.  Frank said he still hadn’t figured out what to do about the duck and the bottle.  The wise person realized that Frank needed more time to figure out the puzzle.
When the wise person returned the end of the third week, Frank was sitting outside, humming and enjoying the view from the mountain top.  He was peaceful and content as he could be.
The wise person noticed the duck was sitting by his side and still inside the bottle, so he asked Frank what he had learned.  Frank looked him in the eye and replied, “I’ve learned that wisdom knows that this is not my duck, not my bottle, not my problem!”

We often have to remind ourselves that while we care for other people, some of their problems are not ours no matter how much they want to give them to us.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

What screws us up most

Google reports that it was Socrates who said, "What screws us up most in life is the picture in our head of how it's supposed to be."  We carry in our minds pictures of how things in life are supposed to be.  We can recognize those mental pictures of things by all of the "shoulds" of which we speak.  It is that perfectionist part in us that has a long list of shoulds and gives strong voice to them.  It is difficult to accept that many things in life aren't as we think they should be.  In the face of how we think things are supposed to be, a healthy response is to discern a way to adjust, which implies an acceptance of how it really is. Another option is that we may choose to leave the situation.  Adjusting with acceptance or leaving, either is more healthy than constant complaining, criticizing and whining. Complaining, criticizing and whining usually won't change the situation but, those attitudes will change me.  They will create in me a bitter spirit and that's not healthy either for me or others.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Pentecost and Memorial Weekend

I don't recall seeing these two special day falling on the same weekend although I suspect they have previously.  However, that's what is happening this year.  I wondered which emphasis Churches would celebrate, especially in my evangelical tradition.  I hoped the Churches would celebrate both. The one Church where I take my brother to Sunday School emphasised Memorial Day with remembrances and recognitions of service men and women.  Another Church to which I regularly listen via the radio prayed for our men and women in service but, no other mention was made. Neither made mention of Pentecost but, I'm not greatly surprised as neither are liturgical Churches. Memorial Day and Pentecost are both important.  It seems to me that both have to do with freedom. One is freedom for our Country via the military while the other is freedom from religious law via the Holy Spirit.  I'm grateful for my freedoms, both national and religious.  Thank you service men and women and thank you Holy Spirit.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Happy Birthday, Bobby

Today we celebrate Bobby's 70th birthday.  In spite of his mental disabilities, he was taught to crochet by our grandmother.  How she did that I'll never know since Bobby is left handed and Grandma was right handed.  Nevertheless, he may do three to five coasters a day.  This week a gentleman from the County Health Department brought him five balls of yarn to use crocheting coasters.  They had asked him, and he agreed, to make coasters for them.  The Health Department plans to use them as gifts to stores in central Kentucky who agree to sell locally grown products.  He'll make a bunch of coasters for their project.  The Christian Appalachian Project has used his coasters as gifts and rewards to some client families as a part of a parenting behavior modification program.  This past Christmas our Church gave boxes of food and gifts to several hundred families.  As  families picked up their boxes, they were able to go to the Church's Christmas tree and takes several of Bobby's colorful coasters which were being used as Christmas tree ornaments.  Since Bobby has little concept of money's value, he isn't motivated by getting paid for his time, energy, skill, yarn, etc.  He just loves to make coasters and have people use them.  No one ever called a meeting, got him organized or developed a "plan" for Bobby.  It just began to happen because folks saw the coasters, heard Bobby's story and asked if he would make some for them.  I think Bobby, and many other disabled folks like him, are wonderful role models of how to do ministry.  Ministry can be simple and effective, especially when motives are pure.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Mother's Day, 2015

I was blessed to be given a mother who not only loved me without restraint, but, also, taught me to be generous and caring of others.  Mother would give away all that she had if she thought you needed it. I was given two grandmothers who lived a simple life and worked hard until they could no longer go. I suspect I've inherited both of their traits.  I'm grateful for my mother and grandmothers.  My mother-in-law lives with all the complications of Alzheimer's in a nursing home.  She may not recognize us but, nevertheless, we will visit because that's what family does.  Today I'm keenly aware of those women who are who not mothers. For whatever reason they do not have children.  Today can be a difficult day for them, especially around churches. I've suggested to several friends that this day may be a good day to "sleep in" rather than go to church where there will be so much attention given to Mothers.  The measure of a women is more than just having children.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Getting unwrapped

I'm reading a fascinating book by James Martin, S.J.  It is titled Jesus, A Pilgrimage.  I recommend it.  Martin and a friend made a pilgrimage to Israel. This book is written as a travel journal but with interesting comments about scripture interpretations as well as gentle, personal applications related to their various site visits.  Having traveled to Israel it is easy to see again the sites which he describes.  He writes very well so it is an engaging read.  I like the way he enters into the scriptures and wonders about the various differences of an event as well as interpretations.  I also like his scripture applications as they seem so real.  For example, he muses about Lazarus being "raised from the dead" and wonders how we, like Lazarus, can get so wrapped up with the things of this world that we are dead to our true-self and, therefore, Jesus calls us out of the "tomb of our false-self," helps us to get unwrapped so we can be free to be our true-self.  The "true-self" being the person God would have us to be rather than who others want us to be.  Don't know about you, but my reality is that there are a whole host of folks around, ex. media, Church, supervisors, peers, clients, etc. telling me who they think I should be.  It is so easy to get wrapped up in their expectations that it is difficult to hear Jesus helping me get unwrapped.  

Monday, February 9, 2015

Vain Glory

The news is carrying the story of Brian Williams and his exaggeration of an incident in the 2003 Iraqi war. That news report is now jeopardizing his news anchor position.  Also, my friend Paul Prather wrote an article in our Sunday paper about "The Sniper."  Paul read the book and has seen the movie.  In his book, the Sniper exaggerated some parts of his story.  I suspect that all of us have exaggerated parts of our stories at times.  We've described situations either better or worse than they were in reality.  We exaggerate in order to make ourselves look good so others will be impressed with us.  Exaggeration is a form of vain glory.  Vain glory is one of the eight deadly obsession described by the 4th century Church "father," Evagarius.  Vain glory is being focused on how I'm appearing to others.  We are being infected with vain glory when we begin to wonder if the other person or persons are impressed with our wisdom, skill, looks, etc.  Vain glory is a subtle, yet dangerous, attitude.  The scripture says that the truth will set us free.  If Brian Williams and the Sniper had simply told the truth, we would have probably still been impressed with their work and they would be free of all these questions their accuracy and integrity.  Indeed, it is the truth that will set us free.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Things Are Not Always As I'd Like

Frequently things don't turn out like I want them to, prayed, hoped and believed they would.  Sometimes it is because of my attitude, behavior, health, etc. and sometimes it is because of others attitude, behavior, health, etc.  Whatever may be the cause, it is beyond my control as hard as I may want and try to control my situation.  I've friends who work for a company or organization that have policies and procedures that they don't like because those things make their work more difficult.  Other friends are in unwanted situations because of the choices and behavior of someone else, such as a spouse, parent child, etc.  I've a neighbor whose health situation is such that he has to ask others to help him with the simplest of chores. Often the health of someone in our family creates unwanted and difficult circumstances for the entire family.  I don't think I know anyone who has everything about their life exactly as they wanted and for which they hoped and prayed.  When faced with life's difficult situations, we must accept and adjust if we are to have any sense of contentment or peace.  By contentment and peace, I refer to that which the word and concept of Shalom describes.  It is a peace in the midst of difficult situations.  It is a gracious gift of God, not of our own works or doing.  It isn't always a matter of hanging on or trying harder both of which assume my control of things.  I find myself frequently in situations when praying the serenity prayer is the best thing I can do.  The serenity prayer was written by Reinhold Niebuhr in the 1930's and prayed in a small New England church he would attend while vacationing.  As best that has been determined, in its original form the prayer was, "God give us the grace to accept with serenity things that cannot be changed; courage to change the things that should be changed; and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other. Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardships as the pathway to peace.  Taking as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it.  Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His will.  That I may be reasonable happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever in the next.  Amen."