When the rain falls and the floods rise

Into every life a little rain must fall.

These words paraphrased from a Longfellow poem have been ringing in my ears today. It isn’t raining here, actually it’s been kind of a dry week. But I feel the rain.

Many of my friends and family are also feeling the rain today; this week holds many shades of sorrow. Friends are literally still digging out from storms that blasted a month ago. Family are tending to grief and memories of loved ones lost long enough ago that others are forgetting and still so fresh as to prick tears from those close by. Other friends sit freshly wounded at the loss of life, too soon, too sad, too shocking to describe.

Grief is so common, it could provide the one universal human experience. Everyone who loves eventually feels the pain of loss. Longfellow says it is inevitable. Into every life a little rain MUST fall. But why must it?

I want to reject it. Wall it off, don’t let it in the gates. Ward off loss at every turn and with all my defenses, I’d turn myself into the loneliest woman in the world.

I don’t have the answer to the question of why.

I don’t know why it has to hurt so much to love.

I don’t know why life ends too soon.

I just don’t know.

There is little comfort in the knowledge that others hurt, too. Surely the answer to my pain is not the pain of another. Still, Jesus said we are blessed when we mourn because we shall be comforted. Perhaps the answer is not in avoiding our pain, but in seeking to comfort each other in what we all will come to experience in time.

Comfort each other with the same comfort you have received.

-St. Paul

Finding ways to empathize may connect us in ways that heal the other rifts that divide us. If I can see you as one who grieves, I can perhaps overlook ways in which we differ. I can find a way to love those I find unlovely.

Longfellow is awfully optimistic, promising the sun is still shining behind the clouds. Sometimes it hides for so long.

I have seen the sun after a storm, its brilliance brighter than before. It is not a guarantee that the rain won’t fall again, but perhaps enough to remind me to believe.

The Rainy Day
The day is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
The vine still clings to the mouldering wall,
But at every gust the dead leaves fall,
And the day is dark and dreary.

My life is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
My thoughts still cling to the mouldering Past,
But the hopes of youth fall thick in the blast,
And the days are dark and dreary.

Be still, sad heart! and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary

HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW

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The Team That Screams the Loudest

When I was in school, we would often have pep rallies where teams or grade levels would throw a cheer back and forth, getting louder every time until all the students in that section were screaming at the top of their lungs. There was only one rule, the team that screams the loudest wins.

As I think about all of those poor vocal folds getting cracked and torn (it was a badge of honor to lose your voice because of your intensity) I am also pondering the issues surrounding internet communications. These lines of text are called social media, but I really have a hard time referring to a field of battle as anything approaching social. I’m feeling ranty and today’s my day off, so of course I am blogging about it.

Yesterday in a Facebook group someone shared a screen-shot of an actual conversation between two people who live just over 90 miles from me. The interaction was the worst of the worst of trolling, name-calling, accusations, stereotyping, all that was missing was ALL CAPS! What made matters worse was that one of the people involved in this vicious behavior proudly displays on their public information that they attended a university loosely affiliated with my denomination.

To understand why that even matters, I have to tell you that there aren’t that many Quakers walking around the US these days. We have a good reputation with most people who learned about our involvement with abolition, women’s rights, and the peace movement. Social justice is a pretty big deal to those who cherish our history and look to influence the world today. When a person even tenuously associated with our name gets it wrong, it makes a big splash.

The person posting brought this up. At that point I had a choice to make. I could defend this person’s ridiculous behavior or I could disown them, or I could say that not all Quakers believe the way he does. I suppose the other choice would be to scroll by and say nothing…but we all know you can’t let someone be wrong on Facebook.

I can not even begin to count the number of interactions I have seen in internet communications that leave me shaking my head at the bruised fingertips and cracked nails that fall victim to the ideology planted in our formative years that the team that screams the loudest wins.

Does it? Does it really?

Some days I think so. Those days are depressing. Those are the days that I don’t want to get our of bed or interact with other humans. I can’t stand the thought that so much of our lives, our futures, our children’s futures are being determined by who is shouting the loudest, and often the vulgar-est, and often the hateful-est. It is mob rule at its worst.

There are other days when I have faith in the subversive forms of love and service that hide their glory behind the scenes bringing peace-filled moments into the darkest places. On those first days, I try to duck my head and involve myself in those second day kinds of activities. I’m determined to be part of the solution, and shouting louder is only going to cost me my voice, and maybe my heart, and possibly my soul.

What if we gave up shouting for our teams and starting serving one another in love?

What if we stopped identifying by our ideology or our politics or our class and started living into the faith we profess? (I’m mostly talking to my Christian sisters and brothers, mothers and fathers, cousins and relations–those who claim as master the one who said the absolutely greatest thing is to love God and the second to love the person next to us.)

What if we did choose to scroll by those wrong people on the internet and whisper a prayer for them instead of shouting them down with the greatest insults?

I am all for standing against injustice. I think we ought to speak the truth. I also believe the best way to do so is in person with full accountability for the things we say and do.

If I post about homelessness and do not love the homeless, I am a noisy gong or clanging symbol.
If I post about racial reconciliation and do not love individuals and communities other than those like me & mine, I am accomplishing nothing.
If I post about a cause that matters and am not actually doing anything to make things better myself, personally, on my own time, I am nothing.

Where there are tweets, they will cease.
Where there are posts, they will pass away.
Where there are selfies, they will fade.

But these remain:

Faith

Hope

Love

And the greatest of these enduring forces is Love.

ReFreshing

Friendly Voices

While traveling recently I realized I had no bedtime reading material. No matter, I just pulled up my Kindle app on my phone and thumbed through my options where I came across a book of essays written by a friend of mine.

The words string together painting beautiful pictures of the place where we live. The geography, the various moods of the weather, the sky in all its brilliance. No one captures everyday life like this. She makes me feel at home, nestled in a quilt of memory and imagination.

More than her descriptions, because we have become friends over the past few years meeting each week to write with a community of authors, I know her voice. As I read the words with my eyes, I could hear her saying them in my mind so clearly she might have been beside me telling me bedtime stories of home.

Familiar scenes in a friendly voice.
ReFreshing

Confusion and Joy

My message for Easter Sunday Celebration at First Friends Church in Emporia, KS.

John 20:1-21

Confusion and Joy

These were the emotions that accompanied the experiences of Jesus’s closest friends and followers on the day of his resurrection. And why not? Any one of us would feel the same. For years they had followed him, listened to his teaching, witnessed his miracles and even the glory. They believed he was the Messiah, the one who would rescue God’s people Israel from their cruel oppressors. He would be their hero, arrayed in armor for battle, leading the charge.

Only he wasn’t. And he didn’t.

Instead he surrendered without a fight. He wouldn’t put up a defense in his trial. He let them bind him, whip him, beat him, spit on him, mock him, pull out his beard, and then he carried his cross to the place where they would crucify him.

Maybe they were wrong. Maybe he wasn’t the Messiah. Maybe they’d all been conned by a smooth talker who knew just the right things to say. Maybe they were wrong and he was just a good teacher intent on reminding Israel of God’s love and mercy. Maybe…the maybes were endless. What do you do when your dreams come crashing down?

The disciples holed up in an upper room, one with a good solid lock on the door.

The women gathered their spices and went to finish the job of burying the man they had followed who treated them like no man ever had before. Like persons of worth. Like bearers of the divine image. Like God’s children, not objects, not slaves, but companions for the journey. The women rolled up their sleeves and got to work as soon as the Sabbath had ended and they set out to anoint the body before it had another day to swelter in the tomb.

When they arrived, they were met with a puzzle. The stone was rolled away. The door open and unguarded. The tomb empty. What had happened? Who had been here, where was the body, how do they now carry out their final tribute to their friend without a body? The questions multiplied by the minute. Not once did they dare to hope that they would see him alive again.

Mary took charge, running to find Peter and John. She told them what they had seen, and they ran to the tomb to see for themselves. John stopped at the door, but Peter being Peter ran right on in and stood in the space that had just held the body of their friend. Empty. Just the cloth binding that had wrapped his corpse lying on the shelf to show that the space had been occupied.

They returned, more questions than before. No answers. No idea of what to do next.

Mary stayed behind. Overwhelmed with grief and frustration, unable to perform this last service for her teacher, she wept. Through her tears she gazed again into the tomb and there—where minutes before there was darkness and empty space—sat two angels. I don’t know if the day could have gotten any stranger for her at this point, but they speak to her of her tears. Why is she weeping when Jesus is not dead? Who is she looking for?

She turns as she answers, as if to search for him once again, she just wants to know where his body is. And then she sees him. Thinking he is the gardener, she asks him where they have taken him. She volunteers to go and carry him back to where he belongs. He speaks her name and she knows. It’s Jesus.

Her confusion turns to joy in a moment, so great that she throws herself at his feet. Fresh tears burst forth. There is no logic in this moment, she doesn’t try to figure it all out. He is alive and that is all that matters to her. She is consumed by a joy as overpowering as her grief had been moments ago.

Jesus gave her a message and she carried it faithfully to tell the disciples that he was alive, risen from the dead.

Other Gospels tell us that they did not believe her. It was news too good to be true, the delusion of a woman lost in despair.

That night he stands among them and blesses them. “Peace” he says, imparting to them divine wholeness, healing, restoration, forgiveness for their faithlessness, all in one breath. And then he begins to speak to them of the mission he has for them. Just as the father had sent him, he now is sending them to carry his message of the kingdom, to bring hope and healing and light where darkness, brokenness, and resignation have reigned for so long.

If this were a fairytale, at this point we would say that they all lived happily ever after. But we know that is not true in this case. They did not immediately lose their questions, their doubt, their need. They did not immediately receive the peace he offered. They did not immediately understand their mission. Like us, they were human beings living real lives with real hardship. But on that day, resurrection day, their confusion was overcome by their joy.

Jesus is alive.

They walked with him, and listened to him again for a time before he ascended into heaven. And he promised them that they would not be left alone. That promise is ours as well. We have been given the Holy Spirit to guide us in our real lives with real hardship, real questions, real doubts.

Today we celebrate the day that their confusion turned to joy, and we can join our joy with theirs because in rising from the dead, he defeated the last fear, the last stronghold. Jesus has conquered death and hell and the grave, and no matter what we experience in our earthly lives we know we do not walk alone and the victory he won is ours as well.

Jesus lives and so do we, free to live in this bodily life, free to look forward to a life that does not end, free to know that our lives can have eternal significance as we follow him.

Christ has risen, Alleluia!

 

Just Breathe

Life is full of demands. It seems like something or someone always wants our time, our energy, our focus. Work. Family. Kids. Health. Friends. Interests. Causes. My list of things to do, people to see, books to read, miles to run, events to attend is never-ending.

I can’t place all of the blame on culture, society, or even on my list. I am the master of my list, nothing is on it unless I put it there. Saying “no” may not be comfortable, but it is a necessary skill if I am to keep my sanity. So from time to time, I decline. I make space. I push back against the tide of demands.

And just breathe.

There are ads everywhere telling you all of the things you cannot live without, and needs surrounding on every side screaming that they cannot live without you. In the end, though, the one and only thing that is absolutely necessary every minute of the day is to fill your lungs with air and blow it back out again.

Just breathe.

Do you know that breathing not only takes vital oxygen to your cells, but it massages your internal organs and sends chemical signals that affect your adrenaline production? Short and fast breaths are part of your fight or flight emergency system. Slow, deep, full breaths can bring calmness and a sense of well-being even in the middle of a stress-filled moment.

Breathe.

Fill your lungs with air that presses to the bottom of your capacity, that stretches the space between your ribs both front and back, that causes your spine to align and your posture to straighten. You can’t take a deep, full breath when you are hunched over. Breathing supports life and health in so many ways.

So breathe in with your body in a neutral position, feet shoulder width apart whether you are sitting or standing. Let the breath carry your heart high, let your belly melt down and out. Press your breath into your rib space and find more room under your shoulder blades.

And exhale. Breathe in deep, and blow out the air like a balloon. Pull your belly button in toward your spine and use your diaphragm to squeeze all the air out of your lungs, then relax and let them fill again.

Close your eyes and let yourself just breathe for a minute or two and you will find your mind clearer, your body more invigorated, your posture straighter, your mood improved.

Just Breathe.

ReFreshing

Spokesperson

Last week I attended the birthday party of a newly 24-year-old gay man in a bar. I know that may come as a shock to some of you, and you might even hit “unsubscribe” because of it. Before you do, though, I hope you will hear me out one last time.
I was at a queer birthday bash in a bar because that is precisely where I believe Jesus would be. He didn’t get the reputation of being a “friend of sinners” by keeping his distance from the gritty side of life. And he didn’t get called a glutton and a drunkard by abstaining.

That can be tough to hear, I know, especially if you have spent a good portion of your life in places that teach an image of a porcelain Jesus. You know the ones, alabaster skin, waif-like beauty, clean, manicured nails.

I can’t tell you whether Jesus was man-gorgeous, but I can tell you that he got his hands dirty. Jesus was a tekton, a builder working alongside his father. He hung out with fishermen. He called himself a shepherd. None of these occupations are known for their similarities to the fragrant allure of the perfume counter.

Some of the rest of you are going to be angry because I insinuated that being at a gay man’s birthday party is gritty. You would be correct. It was one of the most low-key gatherings I have attended in a while, and I am a pastor so do not underestimate just how tame things get when I am around.

I sat at a table of people with diverse lives, histories, and backgrounds. Some had boozy drinks, others savored a craft beer, some mostly sipped water. Not one of them expected that the late-30’s mom type who just sat at their empty space was a pastor, except the person who invited me to sit beside them. That person knew my secret identity, but no one else did. So they were honest. Honest about their lives. Honest about their dreams. Honest about their frustrations.

One person spoke about their interactions with the post-worship crowds on Sunday at a local deli counter. One nicely dressed Christian physically assaulted her co-worker because they were out of his favorite chicken. Here was the moment that would out me.

I had a choice. I could have remained incognito, the one person at the table who knew me would not have revealed my secret. Honestly, though, there was no way I could not say what came next. “I’m so sorry that happened. As a pastor, that ticks me off and breaks my heart.” Then I added just for flair, “Next time he comes in, you should tell him you are praying for him.” I couldn’t help it. She would not strike the average church goer in middle-America as being the praying type.

I’m not always a good spokesperson for Jesus. I would guess that all of us fall short from time to time, and I can’t say I’ve never been the guy so mad about chicken that I blew it. (Ok, maybe not about chicken, but other things for sure.)

My point in writing this is really to call my Christ-following friends out of the closet, out of the church doors, out of our enclaves and onto a chair at a table, in a bar, celebrating the life of someone God loves with people whose only interaction with Christians is post-worship hangry-ness. If we want people to have a different view of Christ, a different impression of Christians, we have got to spend more time with them.

I can hear the objections, “But, go to a bar?” Yes! GO to the bar. “Sit with people who are drinking?” Yes! SIT with people. (Ok, sit where you are invited to sit, and maybe don’t start at a biker bar, and make good choices, and be safe, and take a friend.) But the only way you are going to look like Jesus–friend of sinner, glutton, drunkard–is to go where Jesus went and hang with those society has labeled as not enough.

Spending time with people does not mean we agree with all their choices or that we share all of their opinions. What it does in us is to demonstrate the value of those around us, and what it does for them is offer an alternative view of Christ and his church. Those open doors are worth everything.

We have done an awfully good job of dividing the world into “us” and “them.” We hang out with people who are like us, and sometimes in a very literal sense we say, to hell with “them.” I believe that breaks the heart of the One who came to tear down the dividing walls of hostility. It is uncomfortable and challenging to spend time with people who are not just like us. Growth is uncomfortable, but necessary if we are to love “them.” If our personal righteousness and reputation are more important to us than bringing light and life into the lives of others, we aren’t heeding our master’s call.

Our presence with them, hearing their stories, seeing the light in their eyes, will change our hearts. Which is great, because Jesus already loves them. If we truly believe what we say with our mouths, that Jesus Christ died to save sinners, with us at the top of the list, then Jesus Christ died to save those we have too often labeled as defective. And it’s time to peel off the sticker we’ve plastered over Christ’s stamp declaring their worth as priceless.

My friend, whose birthday was being celebrated, pulled me aside and asked, “Is it wrong or selfish of me that I am glad that all these people are here for me?” Three tables, about 12-15 people total. “No, my friend. It’s your birthday, and you are worth celebrating.”

Joining God in loving those around us,
ReFreshing

A beautiful dress

This was at the top of my soon to be 9-year-old daughter’s birthday list.
“A buetaful dress” to be more precise.

My rough and tumble tom boy.
My sweet and sometimes spastic child who can’t always find herself in space.
My awkward, lovely, frustrating, cherished girl.

She wants a beautiful dress.

It makes me misty-eyed because it reminds me that at the center of herself she just wants to be loved. She longs to be appreciated and celebrated.

It is hard to remember this when she won’t brush her long red curly hair.
It is hard to remember when I have to ask her six times to stay out of her brother’s personal space.
It is hard to remember when everything about her is and always has been loud and sharp and on the move.

But she is almost always in a skirt and tights, and she loves to make bracelets.
Why wouldn’t she want a beautiful dress?

Why is it so hard for me, as her mother, to see this tender heart longing to be seen?

Am I too busy?
Have I fallen into the rut of seeing only her challenges?
Whatever the cause, I am awake and aware of her today.

Because she wants a beautiful dress.

God, open my eyes to see the heart in each of my children that cries out to be loved, cherished, seen and understood. Give me awareness of my own tendency to walk through life so busy that I miss the quieter call to love these precious gifts.
Amen

Awareness, beauty, gratitude–
Ingredients for a ReFreshing Life

**I wrote this post over a year ago and set it aside. It jumped out at me today, tugging again at my heart.