Labels

 I watched an interview this morning online. It was an okay thing until the end when the interviewee said something like, "behind every condition is a person". The interviewee then told the story of his wife who had MS, and in her final years it was a struggle for her to communicate. He looked into her eyes and said, "Your brain is still so very active". To which she managed to say, "Yes it is". It made me think that-- behind every label is a person.

Labels warn us that a product is poisonous, labels tell us what ingredients are in a product - if we have food allergies. Labels used to describe people can also help us to learn about differences, a person is gay, or Muslim, or a recovering "fill in the blank". But my observation is that we assign a label, and then accurately or not, we make a lot of assumptions, but we forget that, behind every label is a person.
"There's someone in a wheelchair!" Yes, there is a person who is worthy of respect and compassion, deserving of love and our time, who is created in the image of God....and they are in a wheel chair. "There's a gay person, an obese person, there's a Muslim, there's a Conservative, there's a business person." and behind all of those labels is a person who laughs and hurts, who cries and who wonders, a person who loves as badly as they want to be loved,"
I wonder if the beauty of Jesus is that he saw past labels. He didn't stop at the label, a woman caught in adultery, he looked deeper. He didn't stop at the label, a man possessed by a demon, he went deeper. He didn't even stop when a girl was labeled dead, he touched her.
Then again, maybe Jesus read the label: created by God, loved by God, forgiven by God, saved by God, a child of God.
How do we use labels?

Health

Since November, I've dealt with one minor health issue after another. I'm not used to that. I'm used to my body doing what it's supposed to do and allowing me to live the life I want to live. But there were allergy issues, then stomach issues, and now kidney stones. And not only the health issues but the medication prescribed to help deal with these issues have made me much more aware of how I have taken my body, my eating & sleeping habits for granted for too many years. I guess it has taken a string of issues to get my attention; and I wonder if it's a similar thing with our relationship to God.

How many days, months, or years do we take our relationship with God for granted? Not paying much attention to it, not nourishing it, and then one day our world starts to change- a broken relationship (divorce, break-up, losing a job, possibly a death), an illness (our own or someone significant to us), things we need to make sense out of life are shattered, and we find ourselves (like I did) curled up on the couch, covered with a blanket, cold and hurting, wondering- "what is going on?"

As I said, these are minor health issues that are being dealt with and in a couple of weeks things should be much better, but have I learned anything? Yes, and I'll make some lifestyle adjustments. I'll make the adjustments because I don't want things to get worse and repeat what I just went through.

How bad do things need to get before we make adjustments in our relationship to God? How many sleepless nights or painful days do we need to spend curled up on some metaphorical couch somewhere? I don't know that God has the answers (because I'm not sure we know what the questions are) but I do think that God helps to put things in perspective and I think that God can give us a peace of mind that allows God's Spirit to offer us rest and some clarity of thought.

Physically, mentally, spiritually--sometimes we ignore things, or we're going to be a little carefree about life, and there are those times in which life just catches up with us- and we find ourselves "out of sorts". Times such as these are times to reflect and renew and in a sense, these times can become times of blessings.

I hope you're well.

In the Mood to be the real St. Nicholas?

For those of you who,for whatever reason, will not be going to a Christmas Eve or Christmas Day worship service, here's something to read. If the weather permits, go buy a hot meal and take it to someone holding a sign at an intersection or someone bedding down for the night under a bridge. It might just be the best Christmas present you've ever given and possibly the best they've ever received because you just told them, "You matter to me." Which, coincidentally enough, is what God says to us everyday. You'll need to cut and paste in your browser.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2015/12/24/biblical-birth-narratives-are-troubling-weird-and-incredible-we-can-stop-sanitizing-them-now/

Mary did you know?

I tried to make a link to Youtube and "Mary Did You Know" and it's not working so...go to Youtube, type in, Mary Did You Know, there are many renditions- listen to the words.

This is a great tune, the tune is haunting and the words make one think- Mary did you know?

Much of what we read about Mary are her reflections as an adult but it makes you wonder- what did she see in him? He must have "seen" the world differently than others, asked different questions, pursued different interests. I wonder how many times the local Rabbi just shook is head in frustration and how many times his father felt like a a failure as a father- "This kid is no carpenter"? What was Jesus childhood like? Maybe Mary was oblivious to the whole thing and didn't put it together until later in life.

From a Christian perspective, the same question can be asked, Did you know? Did you know that in Jesus of Nazareth the presence of God can be experienced? Did you know that in Jesus the Christ the true peace of God can be experienced? Did you know that in Christ a person can find meaning and purpose to life? Sometimes we don't put things like this together until later in life. Fortunately God is a patient God, he is gracious and merciful- abounding in love. I hope you have a very Merry Christmas.

Good Grief?

I don't know that we know how to grieve. When someone dies we put flowers around them to cover the smell of the body doing what the body does, we put make up on them and hope the smile turns out okay because we don't want to see what death looks like, at the cemetery there's green carpet so that we don't see what graves look like, and if the pain gets to be to much we medicate ourselves- sometimes under a doctor's care or without a doctor's assistance. Some of us grieve openly and others of us grieve in private---but I don;'t know that we're very good at it.

When my father died, I grieved for 30 years, not a good thing and because I didn't have a good grief his death in 1974 still has lingering affects.

I think grieving means coming to grips that things have changed, for the better or for the worse- things have changed. The follow up question could be, So now what? But I think we might ruch into that question. Maybe the first step is to come to grips with, things have changed.

Perhaps another step would be to find our place in this new time in our life. We knew who we were and we had some idea of our place before but know we're in a new place and, "I wonder where I fit or do I even fit?"

Change is the stuff of life. Maybe somewhere in the grief process we can come to grips with the fact of life: things change; things have to change, they always have and always will.

Anger is okay, it can be destructive--I guess it's how we choose to let it control our lives.

In today's world, i think that we are grieving as a society but that's another post for another time. If you're not going through a time of grief, wonderful- embrace it because things usually change when we least expect it. If you find you are in a time of grief, I hope God gives you the grace, and friends, to help work through it- or you can contact me and we can talk.

Poetry

I was never good at poetry, all that fancy language with hidden meanings; racking my brain getting a headache trying to figure out why the poet just couldn't say what they had to say. As I've gotten older I grown to appreciate language and imagery, implied meanings and hints of the possibilities of words.

The world of religion is best expressed in the language of poetry. With the language of poetry, the beauty of God, the vastness of time and space, and the intricacies and intimacies of life can be expressed in words that take us to a higher place, a newer understanding, maybe even change us a little.

The rationalists, the concrete thinkers will find our language foolish; the non-religious will find our images laughable, the newly or marginally religious will simply scratch their heads. But to those who want to explore the depths of meaning, the possibilities of existence, religion encourages you to let go.

What drew me to write post this was a hymn we sung in worship a couple of weeks back. Taken literally it sounds somewhat ludicrous and the jokes can begin, but jokes only belie the point. The hymn is an appreciation of the magnificence of God and the contentedness of creation, and was written many years ago. If you take the time to read it slowly, I hope it brings you just a moment of peace.

 

All creatures, worship God most high! Sound ev'ry voice in earth and sky: Alleluia! Alleluia!

Sing, brother sun, in splendor bright; sing, sister moon and stars of night:

Alleluia! (Alleluia means, Praise God)

Sing, brother wind; with clouds and rain you grow the gifts of fruit and grain: Alleluia! Alleluia!

Dear sister water, useful, clear, make music for your Lord to hear:

Alleluia!

Sing, brother fire, so mirthful, strong, drive far the shadows, join the throng: Alleluia! Alleluia!

Dear mother earth, so rich in care, praise God in colors bright and rare:

Alleluia!

All who for love of God forgive, all who in pain and sorrow grieve: Alleluia! Alleluia!

Christ bears your burdens and your fears; still make your song amid the tears:

Alleluia!

And you, most gentle sister death, waiting to hush our final breath: Alleluia! Alleluia!

Since Christ our light has pierced your gloom, fair is the night that leads us home.

Alleluia!

O sisters, brothers, take your part, and worship God with humble heart: Alleluia! Alleluia!

All creatures, bless the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Three in One:

Alleluia!

 

Anger

There seems to be a lot of it going around, almost like a virus and everyone seems to be getting a touch of it. I've noticed lately that I've been getting angry a little easier about some things. Anger is a feeling or emotional that can be as innocent as an irritation or it can be expressed as, "rage". Is it okay for a religious person to get angry?

The Bible says that God got angry but St. Paul warns us not to let the sun go down on our anger. It has also been said that anger is a two edged sword, and the person holding the anger is getting hurt the most.

I think it's appropriate to be angry when there is a moral or social wrong, it's appropriate to have feelings of anger when we have been attacked. In the Bible, social injustice and our inhumanity towards each other usually made God angry. But the other side of the sword is that these feelings of anger can damage us and those closest to us. This happiness when the anger becomes more about us than the issue.

The process seems to be: we get angry about something, but then we get angry because people disagree with us or we can't get more people to agree with us. The focus of our anger is more on ourselves than than the issue- and we're the ones left wounded.

I think there is a time to be angry and a time to let the anger go. Sometimes our anger will be joined by the anger of others but sometimes we stand alone- and then there's a time to let it go.

Viva Las Vegas

Last week my wife and I were in Las Vegas. We saw the wonders of Egypt at the Luxor, we dined in a French cafe at the Paris, we bought cookies from a shop on a Canal in the Venetian, but we really didn't.

Those weren't Egyptian wonders, they were replicates in a hotel-casino. Our French bistro was in the shadow of slot machines and our conversation was being drowned out by the ringing of slot machines bells; and our cookies were from a shop next to a concrete canal with gondolas being powered by people with a Jersey accent. It seems to me that Las Vegas "works" because it sells illusion, and that appeals to us.

Many live with the illusion that money will buy happiness but it's amazing how many people, who have won millions of dollars through the various states' lotteries, end up in abject poverty and misery.We admire celebrities and seek celebrity status for ourselves yet many celebrities long for true friendships, some going incognito (hiding their celebriti-ness) just to connect with people.

I think a lot of life is an illusion, pursuing the things that we think will bring us happiness or purpose for living. In my life's wonderings and wanderings and various pursuits, the thing that is real to me is God.

God is not something that I can see with my eyes, I see God in my soul; God is not something I can explain but I seem to understand. The illusion of power, celebrity, and millions are replaced with trying to understand others, accepting others for they are, appreciating who they are- forgiving others and myself.

The skeptics might reply that I have simply replaced one set of illusions with another, and maybe so and if so, it's a wonderful illusion. It's an illusion that celebrates life, celebrates people for who they have been created to be, celebrates hope in the midst of chaos- celebrates compassion in the midst carnage.

Questioning God

This coming Sunday in worship we will hear the story about the raising of Lazarus by Jesus. For those unfamiliar with this story, Lazarus, and his sisters Mary & Martha, are close friends of Jesus. Jesus is told that Lazarus is dying and Jesus takes his time getting to Lazarus, and in the mean time Lazarus dies. 
There's a lot to this story that I may think through some other time but what caught my attention is Mary's response to Jesus when he finally shows up. Mary comes to Jesus and says, "If you would have been here my brother would not have died." When this passage is read in various churches this Sunday, I think the pain, the anger in Mary's voice will be missing. 
I remember calling my sister and telling her that our father had died. Forty plus years later I can still hear her cry, "Willy, oh no", and I can still feel the emotions. Do we have the right to get mad at God? Do we have the right to ask God the hard questions? 
Some well meaning Christians night say, It's God's will or they may ask- Who are we to question God?
I'm not sure about the word, "right" but I think we do have permission to hurt and grieve, and to question. Life, all too often, is unfair and I don't have answers for the unfairness. Why one child lives but another dies is beyond my understanding. Why one person survives cancer but another succumbs, I have no clue. Some things I don't understand and I can't rationalize. What I do know is that sometimes life hurts, and sometimes life isn't fair.
It's in moments of pain and grief that I have a decision to make- what will I do now?
I think we are allowed to hurt and grieve and get angry and ask a ton of questions, but then I choose to have faith that God will get me through this and on the other side, perhaps I'll have a better understanding or appreciation of life, death, and myself. As a Christian, I believe that on the other side is resurrection.
Wherever you might be in life, whatever stage of joy or grief- there's always resurrection- and getting there can hurt, but getting there is hope.

"It's in the cracks that the light gets in."- Leonard Cohen

It was a gray-ish morning in San Antonio. It's been dry and warm and there's a promise of rain, so it's windy and weird outside.
I had a hospital visitation to make and then I drove across to visit an exceptional young woman; and the weather just put me in a different place, emotionally. For whatever reason I begin to think back and reflect. Whenever I do that I can often see my life as a series of mistakes; one glitch after another. If I'm not careful I can get stuck there. But it's an odd thing, as I think back about the people who have shared life with me, I remember nothing but good things about them. 
As my mind was chronicling every misstep in my life I remembered words from the mystic, Rumi which said, "The wound is where the light enters". Similar words are also expressed by the poet, singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, "It's in the cracks that the light gets in."
Those mistakes I remember sometimes act like wounds, and some wounds are slow to heal- others never do. But I remembered the words of Rumi, "The wound is where the light enters"; its from his poem, Childhood Friends. Rumi was a Muslim, my perspective on life is Christian, but there is wisdom in his words. 
From my perspective, it is in our brokenness that God's light can shine into our lives. Wounds are exposed to daylight to heal, perhaps the cracks in our lives allow light in for healing. Cracks also show where healing has taken place. 
I'm wondering if those people with more cracks have more compassion- because they realize the fragile-ness of us all. Cracks show pain, mistakes made, poor judgments...repaired cracks show how life has been put back together again. 
If you look at your life and find it in pieces, the Potter will gladly piece things back. If you look at your life and see a life full of cracks that have been glued (somehow) back together, I hope you also see the hand of God who put things together again.