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Pull up, Level off!

I lay in bed this morning way too early to be awake, unable to go back to sleep, and taking a nosedive into a shit storm of shame and fear – to use Brene’Brown’s vernacular. Self-talk was descending, once again, into Why did you. . . why didn’t you. . . you should have known. . what’s the point?  During all that, I heard, “Pull up, level off!” We know the scene. The plane is going down and someone in the cockpit yells “pull up, level off.” Disaster is averted, and all ends well. Well, at least the plane lands and all appear physically intact.

Pull up, Level off!

The storm of shame and fear has been ongoing for several days alternating from tornadic intensity to relative calm. I’ve done the work — several years of it in fact many years ago — addressing the obvious anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts as well as the lurking, menacing feelings of shame, fear, anger, not good enough, etc. Yet, in some moments of conflict, personal fallibility, and disappointment, I find myself pommeled by the storm, again. I suspect all of us humans experience some levels of shame and fear from time to time, and I wonder if those of us with a long history of shame, fear, anger – all that stuff we don’t like to acknowledge or talk about – and subsequent mental health issues are more prone to the storms. That’s a hard reality for me.

At any rate, I do know the storm drill, and it does require pulling up and leveling off. Although, I had never thought of it in those terms. Pull up, resist and reverse the downward spiral of self-talk. Level off with some truths of my humanity such as I am human. I am both capable and fallible, I am enough and lacking at times. I am loved and loving. I am courageous and fearful.  I am a both/and. Fly out of the storm. 

For me, flying out is usually a bumpy, doable ride often made easier by sharing with someone I trust who will listen with empathy, compassion, and perhaps shared vulnerability. Heaven help us if we truly are alone in our experiences of the shame, fear, anger storms. Judgement and catastrophizing are not helpful – I’ve already done enough of that myself. Guidance for any next steps may be helpful.

As I said, I have done lots of work gaining insights into my shame, fear, anger, etc. Unfortunately, insights don’t necessarily eliminate the occasional storms. In this current storm I have been drawn to the image of a six-year-old little girl alone outside hiding, crying, trembling, and clinging to the corner of the school building. 

I say image because I experience this memory as if I am above it, watching it unfold. It was in the spring and our first-grade classes were dismissed at noon for Roundup Day – an afternoon for next year’s first graders to come register for school. I did not know what I was supposed to do to get home. The usual routine, walking home with my older sister or Mama picking us up, was not possible. My sister was still in class, and Mama was not there. I became a small speck on the yellow brick wall.

Someone found me and my teacher just hugged me. Surely, she said some things, but the scene I watch is silent. She took me back to the classroom, brought me a lunch tray, and let me show the rising first-graders around when they began to arrive. When Mama came to pick us up, my teacher told her what had happened. Again, from above I watch as Mama gives me a finger jabbing “tongue lashing” right there in the school breezeway in front of my sister, my teacher, and anyone else that was passing by. Mama grabbed my arm and walked-dragged me to the car continuing the scolding, finally with sound, “You should have known. . .” I still have no idea what I should have known.

As the current shame and fear storm has punched the “play” button on this memory, perhaps for the first time ever, I have connected viscerally, with the fear and shame felt as a child so long ago. Even though I lived in the shadows of those feelings for decades, it is painful to imagine the impact of these feelings on that little soul.

Now for the bumpy, but doable, ride flying out of the storm. I am human. I am enough. I make mistakes. I can and will own my mistakes. Mistakes do not define who I am. I am not a mistake.  

PORCH MUSINGS

It’s morning on the bayou. The porch is cool and pleasant even though the temperature is already 79 degrees at 8 A.M. I suspect the “cool” is attributed to the fans. Fans on the bayou in late Spring serve two purposes – cooling and mosquito repellant!

There is, however, a bit of a breeze this morning. I hear it and see it as the leaves rustle, and the otherwise glassy bayou surface occasionally convulses and shutters. The bayou is up, filled with murky water from the recent rains and runoff, and flowing at a good clip. The spring rains came late and lasted longer this year – through May and into June. I spent several hours yesterday mowing. I have enjoyed mowing since I was a kid. For me, repeatedly making the square, focusing on the line between mown and not-mown grass is calming – almost sedating. I must say it is a bit easier now with the riding lawn tractor than it was back then with the simple, little 22-inch push mower. I see images of myself bent at the hip, focused, and determined to move the mower forward. 

On the Porch!

The receding water level has left areas, usually dust dry, soggy and squishy – ideal for getting stuck. I am extra cautious remembering last year when I got “too close,” and the lawn tractor slipped leaving me stranded on the muddy bayou bank. The 4Runner and a long, heavy chain saved the day.

When I first came out this morning the birds were in full flight and voice darting here and there to a cacophony of birdsong – tweets, warbles, chirps, screeches, and caws. Not so much now! Perhaps the wind has stilled their flight and voices – yielding to a higher power. Yielding to a higher power – that seems to be easier here on the bayou while immersed in silence, solitude, and the ordained simple, exhausting tasks of “chopping wood and carrying water,” which is according to Brother Lawrence in Practicing the Presence of God, finding God, the Holy, in the ordinary tasks of our days.

I am often drawn to the “monkish” life feeling immense contentment, peace, and joy in silence, solitude, and simple work while observing the awe and wonder of the beauty, complexity, simplicity, and horror of our natural world. I have sometimes felt the “monkish” life” to be a calling. Yet I question – calling or escape? I suppose there is a balance to be had.

Being here on the bayou, this “monkish” life, feels like a return to all that is true and real in life – me, the presence of God, work, and rest. Wow!  Where did that come from? Though drawn to the silence and solitude, I know that even as an introvert I am a social being. I enjoy personal interaction with others just not a whole lot of folks at one time and not all the time. 

In the natural setting of the bayou, it is not difficult to discern, feel, and commune with God – to practice His presence. But out there in the world, it is not as easy. I get caught up in the activity, the business, the people. In practicing the presence of God in the world I seek to experience a greater awareness of God’s presence in people, all people – created in His image – as I live, work, and rest with and among them.

That’s me, and perhaps humankind as well – a paradox, a jumble of contradictory qualities and traits. I suppose living with and within my contradictions while seeking a sustainable, functional balance that allows me to grow and mature into all I am and was created to be is the stuff of life and the spiritual journey. Whether on the bayou or in the world may I live in the realm of all that is true and real for me: me, the presence of God, work, and rest.

These words from Thomas Merton”s Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, some of my reading on the porch, seem to be germane to my musings:

Solitude has its own special work: a deepening of awareness that the world needs. A struggle against alienation. True solitude is deeply aware of the world’s needs. It does not hold the world at arm’s length.

—-Thomas Merton

Something Heavy on the Line! A Fish Tale — Maybe?

When I was growing up our family vacations were spent in the Sabine River Bottom in Panola County near Beckville, Texas. Daddy did a lot of hunting and fishing primarily to put food on the table; however, undoubtedly, he enjoyed the sport as he continued to fish and hunt long after the catch or the kill was needed to feed the family. 

Fishing trips were large extended family affairs with Daddy, Papa Sammie (his dad, my grandfather), and uncles fishing, Mama and the other women mostly cooking, and us kids playing. We built forts with pine straw walls in the woods, ran our cars and trucks over roads bulldozed in the sand with sturdy sticks, and built sandcastles and dug wells in white sandbars just feet from the river’s edge. It was a race to see who would hit water first.

Dad’s trotline hooks

Daddy took his fishing seriously. For something that was supposed to be fun, it appeared to me he was working awfully hard at it. He kept his fishing gear in meticulous order with neat balls of twine filling several five-gallon buckets. Hundreds of hooks of various sizes, some as large as three inches, with their tails of fishing line dangling were arranged by size and hooked over the lip of the buckets. As a kid, I did not actually go fishing with Daddy. My adventures in the boat were limited to the obligatory boat ride which usually came after Mama’s admonishment, “Bubba, you take those kids for a ride before you take the boat out of the water!” It was the rare occasion, and usually after much pleading and whining, that Daddy let me go in the boat with them to “run the lines.” 

When that happened, I was positioned on the middle seat of the fourteen-foot Jon boat. Papa Sammie was in the back running the motor, and Daddy in the front handling the trotlines. My orders, “Be still, be quiet, and don’t touch anything.” Which I did, only occasionally succumbing to the temptation to extend my hand and let the water ripple over my fingers as the boat sped down the river. Well, at least as fast as the little three-horsepower Johnson outboard motor could manage.

I continued to “whine” my way into the boat.  I learned to run the motor literally under Papa Sammie’s hand. He moved me to the back seat with him, put my hand on the throttle, and covered it with his hand. My hand made every twist and turn of the throttle as we maneuvered the curves and bends of the river and made sure Daddy was in the correct position to run the trotlines. I learned to watch Daddy’s head and hands as he nodded or pointed to indicate the location of a trotline, a turn in the river, or a hazard – sunken tree trunk or submerged rock – to avoid. I had to watch him closely as I could not see the front of the boat around him. 

Sometimes when Daddy picked up the trotline to check it, he might say, “Something heavy on the line.”  This was a signal that we might have a big fish somewhere on one of the deeper hooks.  These words were often echoed by the line itself. I could see the line trembling in Daddy’s hand and flickering in the water from the pull and weight of whatever might be on it. “Something heavy on the line,” was spoken with a broad grin. Daddy’s playful bantering would continue as he pulled the line across the bow of the boat checking and rebaiting every hook. “Something heavy on the line! What do you think we’ve got? Bet it’s an old turtle.” Or “This might be the big one! May just be that old blind eel” Blind eel, aka a big stick snagged on the hook. Daddy took his fishing seriously, and he was having fun. I was having fun, and we were enjoying it together.

 Over the years, the “something heavy on the line” varied from an old, water-logged boot, turtles not nearly as big or fierce as the fight they gave the line, and blind eels too numerous to count. And, yes, there were the big fish as well. Mostly Blue and Channel Catfish with the occasional flathead –Appaloosa Catfish – one weighing in at 48 pounds and as long as I was tall. 

Big Cypress Bayou at Dad’s property

I will always remember the last time I went fishing with Dad.  I was visiting him at the River House in the Spring of 2010, his 79th year, and the first anniversary of Mom’s death. Dad had taken an early medical retirement, and in 1986 they acquired property on Big Cypress Bayou just outside of Jefferson, Texas. In 1991 it became their permanent home. Dad had put some trotlines in the Bayou during the spring rains, an annual ritual as he always claimed, and often proved, the fish were biting when the water was rising or falling. The water was now falling. He asked, “You want to go with me? I need to take up some lines before the water gets too low.” My quick response,”Sure!” Even as an adult, I never missed a chance for a boat ride with Dad.”

He fired up the motor — a 25 horsepower Evinrude – and we headed east down the bayou.  The river raced under us. We rounded a couple of natural bends in the river before Dad turned the boat slightly to the right and entered the “government ditch.” To the left I could see the narrow, less navigated path of the old bayou. The “ditch” was dredged in the late 1800’s. It allowed quicker and easier passage for steamboats paddling from Shreveport to Jefferson and back on their trek to and from New Orleans. Just before the ditch merged back into the river, Dad cut the throttle to a near stop and made a sharp right turn into what most folks would think was a brush thicket. We maneuvered our way through a bit of narrow shallows and came out in a small lake area filled with ancient bald cypress trees some with aprons six to eight feet across and moss hanging from branch to water. We were now on the Little Cypress Bayou.

Dad knew the rivers like the back of his hand. He motored through the cypress trees and into the much narrower channel of the bayou. He could find the most remote locations, often far into the flood waters of the river, for his trotlines.  The only problem being that when the water level began to fall those locations were more difficult to reach.  Such was the case today as our passage was hampered by submerged tree trunks and branches. Numerous times Dad shouted above the motor’s roar, “Hang on!” as he throttled up the motor and jumped the obstacle, each time pulling the motor shaft up enough for the propeller to clear. Afterwards grinning and chuckling, “Now wasn’t that fun!” I was again having fun fishing with Daddy.

At the first line I moved to the back of the boat, and Daddy took his seat in the bow.  As he ran and took up the line, I watched him carefully remove any catch (we got a few), pull the slip knot on the hook line removing it from the main line, sling any trash off the line and hook, and then carefully place the hook over the lip of the white plastic five-gallon bucket. Once he reached the far end of the line, he pulled the slip knot that secured it and began rolling it up into a perfectly round ball of twine. This process slowly pulled the boat back to the other end of the line where Dad tugged the slip knot then wrapped and secured the end of the line before placing the ball in the bucket. His ability and agility with the slip knots always amazed me. He never had to struggle with unwanted tangles and knots in the line.  Lots of practice makes perfect!

I was a bit surprised when Dad asked, “Can you take me to the next lines?” I said, “Sure,” started the motor, and with a bit of trepidation, as I had not done this for several years, began to watch his nodding head and hand gestures for directions. All went well! I banked or bumped him only a couple of times as we checked and took up several more lines.

As he grabbed the last line, he cocked his head back at me and grinned. I heard the familiar words, “Something heavy on the line!” I perked up, “Really!” Then there was no doubt. I could see the line go slack and then taut, buzzing at the water’s surface. There was indeed something heavy on the line! We speculated back and forth about what it might be – a big Appaloosa, maybe a pesky turtle, the blind eel was eliminated quickly as there was too much fight in the line. Dad continued his task removing a couple of small catfish and the hooks as he went, often repeating, “Something heavy on the line,” as his efforts to hold the line became more obvious.

I was watching the show with growing anticipation and had gotten my little flip phone out in preparation to get a photo of whatever we had caught. Suddenly the water to my left rolled and boiled as a large gaping, hissing open mouth came up and hit the side of the boat at my elbow. Scared the B’Jesus out of me! I stood up as I jumped to the other side of the boat – by the way, something you should never do in a boat. 

“What was that?” I gasped.

Dad was wide-eyed as he said, “I don’t know, I never saw it coming. Are you okay? Did it get you?”

“I’m okay,” I said, clearly rattled — shaking like a leaf.

It came to the surface again. A huge, no doubt ancient, Alligator Snapping Turtle — It’s pink, fleshy open mouth big enough to fit two large grapefruits. As it went back beneath the churning waters, I caught a glimpse of its black shiny, spiked shell bigger than a hubcap.

Dad speculated that it was still at least two to three hooks down the line from the boat. In my fright I had not gotten a picture. I asked him to try to pull it up again. I took a couple of shots as Dad strained to bring it to the surface. It was heavy — over 100 pounds according to Dad as measured by his efforts to pull it up.

Now what? We quickly decided we did not want the monster in the boat. How was it hooked? Could we get it unhooked without risking life or limb? Was it injured to the point that it would die? That last question was more mine than Dad’s. He hated turtles and often fussed about them “stealing” the bait off his trotlines. He said, “If I had my pistol, I would shoot it.” He would have regardless of their endangered species recognition. Well, maybe not, if I asked him not to. I was glad he did not have his pistol. 

Dad pulled the line in closer and saw that the hook was in the webbing of the turtle’s hind foot thus explaining how it was able to thrash the water and surface so far from the trotline. Given the length of the hook line and the length of the turtle with extended neck and hind leg, the possibility was six to seven feet. Dad made a couple of attempts to remove the hook from the turtle’s foot; however, with the nearer proximity the snapping and thrashing of jaws and razor-sharp claws was daunting and dangerous. As Dad pulled the slip knot on the hook line he said, “We’re letting you go, hook and all, old man.” Watching Dad methodically ball the trotline twine was calming as my heart rate and breathing returned to normal. He took the motor seat, fired up the engine, and said, “We’ve had our thrill for the day. Let’s go to the house.”

Dad with one of his “heavy” catches!

Dad and I reminisced the fun, excitement, and fright of that afternoon many times over the next couple of years. In the years since Dad’s death the expression “Something heavy on the line,” continues to bring fond memories and has taken on new meaning as Dad’s death was surely, “something heavy on the line.” How often in life do we experience “something heavy on the line” – something heavy and hard in our lives. Sometimes it comes out of nowhere, unexpected and disturbs our peace. Sometimes we anticipate it, yet still surprised or frightened when it appears. What do we do with it? Where and how has it hooked us? How long do we struggle and wrestle with it? When is it in our best interest to let it go? All questions we must ask and answer when there’s “something heavy on the line.”

Questions and Questioning: The Lord’s Prayer?

I have read, memorized, and recited Matthew 6: 9 – 13, “The Lord’s Prayer” since I was a kid in Vacation Bible School and never questioned its content, context, or origins. I can still recite it, but no longer can I say that I do not have questions.

The questions started a couple of years ago, but until now I have only mulled over, sat on, and questioned my questioning. Since I can’t seem to stop chewing on the questions, I suppose it’s time to spit them out!

The first question surfaced around the phrase “. . . lead us not into temptation. . .” What? If we are asking God to NOT lead us into temptation, are we to logically conclude that God would indeed lead us into temptation?  There is something unsettling about imagining a father, heavenly or otherwise, who would lead his children into temptation.  

That leads to the second and third questions regarding the phrase “Our Father in heaven…” “Our Father. . .” – what about the feminine, our Mother God? Have we forgotten Genesis 11:27 and being told that God created them, male and female, “in his own image?”  I interpret that as God being equally male and female. Remember Deuteronomy 32:18, “you forgot the God who gave you birth” – mothers give birth. What about Isaiah 66:13, “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you.” It seems to me that God is as much feminine as masculine! We’ve missed Her way too long, and in my opinion, we have suffered for it.

Moving on!  What’s with “in heaven”? God isn’t just out there somewhere way over yonder! God is right here among us. Whether I ascend to heaven, make my bed in Sheol, or paddle around in the uttermost parts of the sea, God is present (Psalm 139: 7-10). Christ admonishes the Pharisees to “Behold” — pay attention for this is important — and then informs them that the kingdom of God is in their midst (Luke 17: 21). I would assume then that God is in our midst for surely God inhabits her kingdom.

As I have chewed on these questions, my prayer to my Lord has evolved:

Father God, Mother God,
In the heavens and on earth among us,
Hallowed – holy, sacred, majestic – is your name.
May your kingdom in heaven and on earth be nurtured and flourish 
As we seek to know and do your will.
Give us this day our daily bread,
As we give gratitude and praise for your provision and sustenance.
We ask forgiveness for our sins,
Things done and things not done,
Words spoken and words not spoken.
Through the grace of your forgiveness,
May we forgive those who have sinned against us
Guide us in your will and righteous ways.
Guard us from temptation.
Deliver us from evil.
For yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.

Yes, I know there is a lot of stuff – opinion, interpretation, research – out there regarding “The Lord’s Prayer” and its content, context, and origins. All of which is probably interesting and thought provoking! I’ve read a good bit of it. However, for my purposes in this writing, it is irrelevant. Mine is not a scholarly discourse, I write simply expressing my knowing as I continue my journey as a pilgrim, seeker, heretic.

A New Tempo?

It is January 3, 2020, and I can’t seem to get started in this new year. Perhaps this is due to my still processing the last of 2019. I checked my sister out of the hospital on August 19, 2019 and took her to our family home (where our parents once lived) located on Big Cypress Bayou outside of Jefferson, TX. The plan was to spend about three weeks there caring for her as she recovered from a partial foot amputation. Unfortunately, the healing did not go as well as hoped and three weeks turned into three months!

Outside of her foot not healing and my missing my home and wife, who did come and stay a few days a couple of times, it was a different and mostly good three months for me. We visited, reminisced, watched television, and each had ample time to ourselves. I spent a lot of my free time on the porch rocking, reading, journaling, writing poetry, and simply watching in awe the natural world surrounding me. My journal entry from October 14th sheds a bit more light on the experience:

I’ve chopped and diced vegetables and the soup is simmering in the pot. It is marvelous sitting on the porch. The heat has finally – I hope – moved away and the cool air is welcomed.  Actually, it is raining with a steady chorus of drops making their “pits, pats, plops” on the tin roof. Drips are becoming steady ropes of water running off the roof’s edge. The river is pelted and puckered with raindrops. The rain and gray sky meld to form a haze surrounding the trees across the water. Quite calming and restful!

Yet, I feel a bit anxious and unsettled.  Perhaps ambivalence might be a more apt description. I have been here for almost two months caring for my sister following a partial foot amputation.  The healing has not gone as well as hoped, and she is still under doctor’s orders to put no weight on the foot. I have kept busy with her care, meal preparations, laundry, cleaning, and mowing. I have pressure washed a 10’ X 60’ porch and the front of the house. I have dusted, vacuumed, or mopped everything in the house. I have cleaned and reorganized much of the huge pantry and the bedroom walk-in closet. I have taken down, washed, and replaced every curtain and drape in the house – at least all those that could be removed.

I have rewired and configured the TV antennae and cables.  We now get 25+ channels instead of the previous eight to ten. And, yes, I must admit that I have watched more TV in the last two months than I have in the last two years. I have played too numerous to count solitaire games on my computer (no internet or cell service down here) to the point I believe the program is duplicating games. I have mowed two acres of grass sometimes going over the taller areas two to three times. I have used the weed eater trimming the tall grass on the riverbank until my elbow hurts.

I have made four trips home to Tyler for personal appointments and commitments and two trips to Henderson for doctor appointments. All totally about 1000 miles on the road. I just returned from three days at home catching up on paying bills, household concerns, and social and civic commitments.

Why the ambivalence? Using Brother Lawrence’s words, “to chop wood, and carry water” along with the quiet, serenity, and solitude of the surroundings seems to have precipitated some shift within my being as I feel more centered and settled. As I ponder on that for a bit, my thoughts return to my reading of October 3rd:

I find more and more the power—the dangerous power—of solitude working in me. The easiness of wide error. The power of one’s own inner ambivalence, the pull of inner contradictions.  How little I know myself really. How weak and tepid I am. . . . Everything has meaning, dire meanings, in solitude. And one can easily lose it all in following the habits one has brought out of common life (the daily round). One has to start over and receive (in meekness) a new awareness of work, time, prayer, oneself. A new tempo—it has to be in one’s very system (and it is not in mine, I see).

And what I do not have I must pray for and wait for.

from A Year with Thomas Merton: Daily Meditations from His Journals (October 25 and 30, 1965, V.309-10)

Perhaps therein lies the basis for my ambivalence. Perhaps I fear losing it all upon returning to “common life (my daily round).” Perhaps my 2020 is to be a time for “a new tempo.”

Paying Attention with Rachel Held Evans

There has been a great deal already said and written to memorialize and honor the life of Rachel Held Evens, yet, for some reason, I feel compelled to add my voice. When word of her death came across my newsfeed, I was shocked. Such an untimely death at 37-years old and seemingly unexplainable causes even in the midst of such modern medical technology and treatment. Though I only knew RHE through her writing, I immediately felt a void, a loss, and a profound sense of grief in my soul even as I tried to wrap my brain around the fact of her death. My heart ached for her family, her husband, Dan, and their two small children who might not ever remember their mother.

Upon hearing of her death I immediately went to my bookshelf and pulled out Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church, published in April 2015. I find it interesting that April 2015 also marked my leaving the church I loved. I have been a Christian and a member of an evangelical church since I was 13; however, on April 26, 2015, at age 64 I left the church. I had been a member of this particular church for almost 15 years. I was feeling unmoored. Full of questions and doubting the dogma and doctrine I had proclaimed for decades. I discovered Searching for Sunday and read it in December 2015. As I read I felt a kindred spirit with RHE. I was not alone in my questions, doubts, and leaving.

My Searching for Sunday is dog-eared, underlined and heavy with sticky notes. In rereading passages since RHE’s death I am, again, awed by the biblical knowledge, spiritual depth, and courageous, prophetic voice of this young woman. In my reading I was struck with her frequent exhortation—Pay attention!

With all the words that have already been said/written in the last week about Rachel Held Evans, I can think of no better way to honor her life and work than to share her own words: 

Rachel Held Evans
June 8, 1981 – May 4, 2019

The kingdom (of God) knows no geographic boundaries, no political parties, no single language or culture. It advances not through power and might, but through acts of love and joy and peace, missions of mercy and kindness and humility.

“So, too the Spirit, inhaled and exhaled in a million quotidian ways, animates, revives, nourishes, sustains, speaks.  It is as near as the nose and as everywhere as the air, so pay attention.”   —page161

“ . . .the gift of the Holy Spirit. It’s as invisible as your breath but as certain as your skin, so pay attention and don’t forget who you are.”         –page 163

“The Spirit is like a bird, . . . The Spirit is as common as a cooing pigeon and transcendent as a high-flying eagle.  So look up and sing back, catch the light of God in a diaphanous scrim of wing. Pay attention.”          –page 163

“The spirit is like a womb, from which the living are born again. We emerge—lashes still wet from the water, eyes unadjusted to the light—into a reanimated and freshly charged world. There are so many new things to see, so many gifts to give and receive, so many miracles to baffle and amaze, if only we pay attention, if only we let the Spirit surprise and God catch our breath.”       –page 164

“When the Spirit lives within you, any place can become a sanctuary. You just have to listen. You just have to pay attention.      –page 180

“And when we check our pride long enough to pay attention to the presence of the Spirit gusting across the globe, we catch glimpses of a God who defies our categories and expectations, a God who both inhabits and transcends our worship, art, theology, culture, experiences, and ideas.”              –page 184

“This is what’s most annoying and beautiful about the windy Spirit and why we so often miss it. It has this habit of showing up in all the wrong places and among all the wrong people, defying our categories and refusing to take direction . . . .God is present both inside and outside the traditional church, working all sorts of everyday miracles to inspire and change us if only we pay attention.”         —page197

“ . . . it’s the way God shows up in those everyday moments—loading the dishwasher, sharing a joke, hosting a meal, enduring an illness, working through a disagreement—and gives us the chance to notice, to pay attention to the divine. It’s the way the God of resurrection makes all things new.               –page 247

“The kingdom isn’t some far-off place you go when you die; the kingdom is at hand—among us and beyond us, now and not-yet. It is the wheat growing in the midst of weeds, the yeast working its magic in the dough, the pearl germinating in a sepulchral shell. It can come and go in the twinkling of an eye. Jesus said. So pay attention; don’t miss it.                  –page 252

“Church isn’t some community you join or some place you arrive. Church is what happens when someone taps you on the shoulder and whispers in your ear, Pay attention, this is holy ground; God is here.”*                 –page 258

Rachel Held Evans will be greatly missed by her family, friends, and a multitude of others like me. May we remember her spirit, her life, and her message. May we pay attention and be moved by the Spirit as it breezes and blows through our lives and world in all sorts of ways. May we not miss it—the kingdom, God is here!  

*All quotations are taken from Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church,Nelson Books, 2015.

Church This Morning: Beyond Words and into Story

 

I slept in and probably got the best sleep I have had in weeks. I greeted, kissed, held my wife, and told her “I love you!” (which I truly do). I had my coffee and cereal for breakfast, then caught a bit of “This Week” on TV, nothing new just a bummed and bleak outlook of politics as usual. We watched a beautiful cardinal in our back yard. Of course I took a picture! I then listened to the music portion of the worship service at our local mega-church. Good, yet I felt a bit of disconnect with cameras zooming in on the abundance of technology and aura of performance.

Since my return to Turn This World Around a few weeks ago, I created an Amy Grant station on Pandora. Well that might be some worshipful listening! I tuned in and skipped around listening to parts of a couple of good songs, once among my favorites, “I Can Only Imagine,” and “Shout to the Lord.” Actually, I skipped so many songs that the program would not allow any more skips and forced me to listen. I turned it off! Too many words and too much busy noise.

Suddenly I had this thought, like an epiphany. Beyond words! It is as if, for me, words are no longer a necessary nor perhaps meaningful mode of worship, my spirituality, or my connecting with God. Now, all of that seems to come with practicing Psalm 46:10 “Be still and know that I am God.” which is not so much about being quiet and motionless as it is about letting go, releasing control, and acknowledging vulnerabilities in order that we may know God and His power in our lives and the universe. For me it is about worshiping and knowing God with and through a heart of faith. 

Don’t get me wrong! I am not saying that words are nonessentials in our spiritual lives. After all, what am I doing now—writing, sharing my thoughts with words. We use words to share our stories, to connect with one another, to foster meaning and understanding with all sorts of folks in our daily lives. Maybe somewhat like the parables of Jesus. Perhaps only as we go beyond words in our personal worship and spirituality can we use words efficiently and effectively in the enhancement of God’s Kingdom on earth.

As I continued my “church,” I reached for an old journal to write about my Beyond Words! epiphany. Go figure on that one! I thought the journal was empty, and this would be the beginning of my renewed commitment to “story” and story writing and listening. However, the first several pages were filled with quotes from an old reading of Dan Allender’s To Be Told: Know Your Story, Shape Your Future. Coincidence, maybe or maybe not. I was awed as I read what I had copied years ago. Do I still have the book? Yes! I found it on the shelf between David Gushee’s The Sacredness of Human Life and Jim Wallis’s On God’s Side. A couple of quotes that jumped from the pages of To Be Told:

Nevertheless, every story given to us and every story told to another is a precious gift that has the potential to seed us with God. – page 211

It is my responsibility to own what deeply moves me and then to live it out for the sake of others. – page 68 

I am passionate in my belief that everyone’s life is sacred, and as we share our stories with one another we invite greater understanding and compassion – we become portals of grace one to another. Needless to say, I will continue to share my stories and invite you all to do the same.

Turn This World Around

I tugged several of my old college literature anthologies from the bottom bookshelf yesterday. No, not to do any serious study, but to use as weight for a gluing project! A paper filled with my handwriting fell from one of the books. The writing was in verse form, so I thought perhaps an old poem I had written and tucked away.  I have a tendency to do that – start a writing project and put it away not to be found until years later, if at all. But this was not my “writing.” It was the lyrics to an old Amy Grant song, “Turn This World Around.” Apparently the song had some special meaning for me in 1997 since I had taken the time and effort to record the lyrics. The song was included in her Behind The Eyes album released in September 1997 and written by Amy Grant, Beverly Darnall, and Keith Thomas.

Reflecting back on my 1997, in and of itself, it was not a good year, and September was particularly difficult. It was a year of losses and reversals in every area of life – professional, relationship, financial, and health. I could certainly relate to the melancholic melody and many passages in the lyrics of “Turn This World Around.” I was living in the midst of “broken promises and dreams” even as I struggled to carry on “in good disguise.” I needed “somewhere safe and warm” and was thankful for the shelter of friends during this stormy time in my life. I had to “turn and face (my) fears”– the fear of more losses and rejection from family, friends, and the church as I began to acknowledge my same-sex orientation after decades of living in hiding and pretense. I learned to “reach out through (my) tears” and discovered “it’s really not that far to where Hope can be found.”

After finding the paper I dug through my old CD’s. I found it! I had bought it which was something I rarely did. As I listened I recalled the solace and encouragement I had found in other songs in the album such as “I Will Be Your Friend,” “It Takes a Little Time,” Missing You,” and “Somewhere Down the Road.” Today I look at this decades old piece of paper, read these words, and am thankful for how my world was turned around in 1997, albeit after it was turned upside down. Today I hear a more universal and much needed message for our world. The message that behind our eyes “we are all the same it seems.” We all want to be safe and warm and find shelter with others through the storms of our lives. We all need to face our fears and reach out to the other in the midst of suffering—ours and theirs. It is the reaching out and acknowledging the “hunger and longing” that we all know inside that “could be the bridge between us if we tried.”

We all know our world needs to turn around. We are headed in the wrong direction. Look no further than the death and destruction resulting from the numerous and lengthy armed conflicts throughout the world. Grasp the magnitude  of gun violence, the global refugee crisis, increased human trafficking, and world hunger levels rising. We are the world! Only we, working individually and corporately with one another throughout our communities, cities, states, provinces, districts and countries, can turn this world around. Maybe one day we will turn and see behind the eyes of all our brothers and sisters regardless of race, religion, culture, nationality, sexual orientation or gender identity and see our sameness, reach out to one another, and experience the will and kingdom of God “on earth as it is in heaven.” Yes, maybe one day – maybe in this New Year!

Charlottesville! What Do We Need?

_97314644_mediaitem97314643            What is happening in Charlottesville? We know what’s happening in Charlottesville! Again, factions of our society have chosen some one, some event, some thing to rally around and espouse their opinions and beliefs-prejudices and ideologies perhaps. And, again, being the diverse peoples that we are, opposing factions have rallied in protest. And again, mutual respect and rationale thinking has been replaced with anger, hate, and violence. And again, sacred lives have been injured and killed. When will we learn that we must come to respect human life, be respectful in our disagreements, and seek peaceful cooperation and co-existence with one another? Succumbing to violence harms us all, physically and/or morally, and contributes to the decay and demise of our nation.

            The “thing” that has become the rallying point in Charlottesville, and other places, is a statue. In this instance the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, a prominent figure in our nations history during the Civil War. The debate over removing the statue is burning! Proponents for removal argue the statue is a symbol that honors Lee, the Confederacy, the enslavement of hundreds of thousands of African Americans, and memorializes racism. Proponents for keeping the statue argue it honors our Southern Heritage.

            It is a statue-mere bronze and stone. Although Charlottesville officials report it will cost $330,000 to remove it, it has no value compared to a human life. It is a statue the primary purpose of which is to make us remember. Yes, we need to remember the Civil War-slavery, succession, reconstruction. We need to remember the misery, the suffering, the cruel, inhumane treatment of our African American brothers and sisters, the families broken and destroyed, the deaths both off and on the battlefield. We need to remember and embrace this portion of our national history as the horrific and tragic era that it truly was. We, white Americans, need to confess and repent for the sins of our fathers and perhaps in some degree our own-the sins of fostering white supremacy, either intentionally or unintentionally, and subjugating African Americans to the horrors of slavery and oppression. Out of genuine confession and repentance, can we ask for forgiveness? In no way being able to know the experience of my African American brothers and sisters, I dare not speculate on what they might need.  Could we not rally, even around the statue, for these purposes? With remembrance and repentance,  can we then refocus on hope and healing amidst our national values- truths that we hold to be self evident, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”?

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What’s happening in Charlottesville is reported as “white nationalist” rallying around the Lee statue honoring “Southern Heritage.” Really! I don’t think so! Folks are carrying Nazi flags, chanting “blood and soil,” as well as “Jews we will replace you.” Doesn’t look or sound at all like “Southern Heritage.” One might ask, “What nation?” Maybe shades of another nation bent on white supremacy in another horrific and tragic historical era, and hopefully not our nation of America today.

And, by the way, I don’t know that the presence or absence of a statue is going to change hearts and minds one way or the other without the presence of meaningful relationships and community. We need a narrative change, a paradigm shift. We need to remember, repent, forgive, and refocus on hope and healing grounded in our national self-evident truths.

Stop the Bleed-Out!

Note:  Occasionally I hear or read something that just simply makes me say “Oh, Geez,” and I can’t help but respond.  Well, this is one of those occasions!     Unknown-5

     The Tyler Morning Telegraph Wednesday, June 7, article, “East Texas lawmakers respond,” is evidence of a huge problem we face locally and nationally. The problem –labeling and the growing division and partisanship reflected not only in our politics but also in other vital areas of our communities. This concerns me deeply.

     In the article these comments were made: Sen. Hughes – “…it’s easy for conservative bills to get lost…” Rep. Schaefer, “Gov. Abbott just scheduled a conservative home run derby.” Rep. Hefner, “…special session includes many important conservative priorities…” It is disappointing that our local legislators, elected to represent the common good for all the PEOPLE, seem more focused on labeling and promoting an ideology. We, all of us, must stop thinking and talking in terms of labels and ideologies if we hope to heal the partisan wound in our nation. If we don’t, we will surely “bleed out” and die–no longer the nation of the people and the beacon of democracy and freedom to the world.

     Let’s make the effort to drop the labeling and ideologies. Maybe if we start by changing our language, our heads and hearts will follow. Let’s talk about the substance of the legislation. What will the legislation do? Is it just and helpful? Will it pass the test of equal justice under the law and non-discrimination? Let’s think and talk about the people affected by the legislation and how they will be effected-physically, emotionally, financially, socially. I hope and pray our strength and courage as a people and nation will rise to the top.

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