This blog is meant to be an encouragement to you as you journey through your day. If you have a question about the life of faith, please feel free to email me. I certainly don't have all the answers, but I welcome the conversation.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Remembering a Bad Time

On this week, 40 years ago, as a 22 year old, I traveled from my parents' home in the suburbs of Baltimore to Columbus, OH. A month earlier I graduated from college, and was now about to pursue my first graduate degree - a M.A. in Counseling at The Ohio State University.

It was the worst year of my life.

While I had experienced anxiety in the past, and had even tried - and failed - at talking to a therapist, everything just got worse once I arrived in Columbus. I had panic attacks, followed by anticipatory anxiety. then free-floating anxiety. For a number of reasons, I lost connection with my college friends, and failed to develop new relationships. I was fairly competent in my coursework, but pretty much failed at the normal logistics of everyday life. I was okay at work (cataloging and shelving books in the OSU law library and working with junior high kids of divorced parents), but otherwise could not figure out how to do life.

You would think that, as the year drew to a close, I would have been glad to finish up and get out of that place. However, the anxiety just got worse. I was afraid to be alone, yet did not know how to relate to others. On one occasion, out of desperation, I asked some people I knew if I could just sleep on their couch. I needed to know that I was not losing my mind. They saw my heightened state of anxiety and stayed up with me. We sat up, talked philosophy (even though I was the only one interested in the subject), and played cards. And we prayed. They saw I needed the human contact, even though I seemed to have forgotten how to respond to it. Their ministry of presence was a saving grace to me that night.

Looking back, remembering that year from the distance of the biblical definition of a generation, I am thankful for all I went through.

I learned that I experience life differently from other people. I learned that I know little about the normal human interaction that most folks take for granted, and is the core of their relational life. I learned that I may never be very good at the daily, normal activities of life. However, I also learned that I have an acute awareness of the existential pain that is just under the surface for many of my fellow humans, and I can often see it in their eyes, and hear it in their voice.

Mostly, I learned that there is such a thing as a ministry of presence, and it is often the most helpful way to offer grace in the world. I can let others know they are seen and heard, that they are not alone. I can let them know they are not being judged, categorized or critiqued. I can let them know that I was once where they are, and while there are moments when the pain reappears, I am not there now. But I remember.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Not Really Embracing the Cross

As we come down to the last few days before Resurrection Sunday, I come to my annual struggle with the violence of the cross. 

I embrace what Christ did for all of us. 

I embrace the empty tomb.
I embrace the victory over sin and death.

I struggle with the cross.

I know the cross really happened. I know that it mattered. 

I still struggle with the cross.

To me, the cross represents all that sin does. Sin dehumanizes. Sin injures. Sin kills. Sin destroys. Sin silences. And I do not celebrate that. I cry out in agony over that. 

I struggle with the cross.

Throughout human history, people have treated one another exactly the same way people treated Jesus on the cross. People who claim to be followers of Jesus do that - in the name of God. In the name of Jesus.

I truly believe the cross was never meant to be celebrated. It was meant to be a reminder - this is how bad we can treat one another when we forget the love of God. A horrible reminder.

On Palm/Passion Sunday, in our little church, we will take a wooden cross and place it front and center in the sanctuary. In front of the pulpit. It will be the center of attention. It will be a reminder of how bad sin can be, and how much we need Jesus. Because if we don't allow the holiness of God to transform us into people of love and grace, we will treat one another exactly the same way Jesus was treated on the cross.

These words from Bo Sanders help me to think about all this:

"When Jesus takes the bread and cup and forever changes their meaning he is saying 'what they will do to me – don’t you, as my followers, do to anyone else'. When Jesus says 'forgive them, they know not what they do', he is saying that they think they know what (and why) they are doing, but they are wrong. When Jesus says 'it is finished', he is proclaiming the end of this type of scapegoating and violence by those who think they are doing it on God’s behalf."

I recognize that my words here might make you a bit uncomfortable. I'm sorry about that. I just know that the cross is supposed to do just that - make us very, very uncomfortable

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Shake a Hand, Make a Friend

I've been thinking about our food and clothing ministry - The Bridge.

I'm not surprised by folks who don't understand why we spend so much time and effort making The Bridge work. I know there are people whose worldview does not have room for such things, or who think we should do it another way, or who have a problem with "those people." I get that. I even get how folks who put great effort into being followers of Jesus do not understand why we do what we do, even though I personally cannot be a follower of Jesus and not do what we do at The Bridge.

What surprises me is how many people who give to the ministry refuse to have any contact with the people who need the food and clothing we share at The Bridge. They bring clothes, they donate canned goods, but they never participate in the best part of what we do - build relationships.  I think it has something to do with keeping a distance, although I doubt if any of these good folks would recognize it as such. As long as I don't get to know needy people, I will never know how much alike we are. 

Most of us have an operational worldview, based upon our position of privilege, that suggests life is fair and everyone gets what they deserve (even if this idea directly contradicts our theology of grace). If I ever found out that the folks who need help feeding their kids are just as kind, just as nice, just as hard-working as I am - maybe even kinder, nicer and harder-working - I would have to face the reality that my worldview is really faulty. And I would also have to face the reality that I am not that much different from the folks who need some help making it every day. 

Like the wealthy Nicodemus in John 3 and the poor Samaritan woman at the well in John 4, unless I allow Jesus to change the way I view life and the world, and especially my place in it, the living water and eternal life Jesus offers will not only be just out of reach, but it also won't make much sense at all.

Grace and peace,

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Fifty Years Ago I Was 12

Fifty years ago, I was 12. It was 1968.

When I was 12 my grandparents talked about the Great Depression. To me it was ancient history. To our children, the 1960s are ancient history. And just like my grandparents tried to teach me the lessons of the Depression, I have tried to teach my children the lessons of our nation during my childhood - a time when hate and fear resulted in neighborhoods and cities burning, when even children cried out in venomous hate for those whom their parents identified as the despised “others,” and when defending “our way of life” was seen as a justification for acts of uncivilized evil.

I remember the April evening when we heard that Dr. King was assassinated. I remember watching some people cry inconsolably, and I remember watching my next door neighbors celebrate. I remember the morning two months later when we woke up to the news that Robert Kennedy had been killed. I remember watching the smoke rise above the city of Baltimore from the riots that summer. And I remember my parents telling us that the schools and streets of the city were no longer safe, and the next year we moved to the suburbs.

I remember seeing men like Bull Connor, George Wallace and Lester Maddox on television, spewing hate and venom and encouraging others to do the same. I remember scary pictures of people in white sheets, talking of hate in the name of the God of love. And I remember children mimicking their parents, doing the same. 

And that is when I began attempting to understand why people hate. 

I have spent my life studying theology, philosophy, and psychology, in order to understand. I have come to the conclusion that we hate because we are afraid, and we are afraid because we have not been completely transformed by the gospel. We hate because we are afraid, and we are afraid because we do not fully love. We do not accept the love that we have been given in Christ, and because we do not accept it for ourselves, we do not know how to share it with others. 

These days I am concerned about the language of hate that I hear, the words that describe our neighbor as our enemy, and the need to defend “our way of life.” I am concerned because I believe that, while our cities are not burning as they did in 1968, we have not learned all of the lessons. We still define people by how they look, and how they are different from us, and how they arouse our fears. And far too many of us live in fear, and practice hate. 

And we still need to allow God to not just save us, but change us.

Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him.” -MLK Jr.