Thursday, October 27, 2016

Through Stained Glass: A Mid-Week Reflection-Dead Ends

It’s hard to argue this sign.

Most everything in this photo has come to an end.

The road.

The leaves.

The field.

There is not much ‘joy’ about this photo.

The clouds hang low and dark, green grass fading to yellow.

This photo perfectly captures an autumn afternoon in late October.

As the golden dogs and I stood looking out over field once full of life, I could not help but think of that Socrates quote that goes something like this:

“The unexamined life is not worth living.”

Sometimes in life we come to dead ends. We find ourselves standing at a place we thought for sure was the way. We planned everything out perfectly specifically to avoid something like this:  a sideways square sign telling us you can’t go this way.

It can be discouraging knowing where we want to end up has not changed, but how we get there has.

Rather than getting frustrated and angry, offering unsolicited advice or unnecessary criticisms about the decisions that got us to the dead end, perhaps there is an invitation in this sign…in this photo…to stop and consider how to get going again in the right direction.

A dead end forces us to reflect and reexamine the route that leads us to the stalling of forward motion. This is the perfect place to look at a map and review what might be the better way to get to where we are going.

Which might include a great deal of backtracking. Or it might be a simple turn around.

Dead ends though don’t always lead to an ending. It simply reroutes us back to where we needed to be all along.

Which is the story of our faith, right?

Y’all might remember this line from the Gospel of Luke:

“And as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said unto them, Why seek ye the living among the dead?”

The story of God is full of God’s people taking a few wrong turns and ending up at what appeared to be a dead end.

But that’s the thing with the story of God, God is not about ending things with death.

God is about bringing life from death.

God is about resurrection.

God is about bringing new life from hearts that lie fallow.

Dead ends are there to reroute us. They are there to prevent us from wandering too far off the road and ultimately from endangering our lives. Dead ends remind us of how sometimes we make wrong turns.

Are you on a path with something in your life that has come to a dead end? Are you in a season where you find yourself asking, “Well, now what?”

If you are, know you aren’t alone. Many of us have been there and might still be there looking at our maps wondering, “Okay, what’s the best course of action here to get to where I want to go?”

Friends, dead ends aren’t bad. Admitting a road we are on has come to an end isn't either. Sometimes we need to reexamine the different roads that make up our faith journeys and see if they are still the best routes to our destination.

The destination of course is a life lived in the love and light of God.

Which of course, that road always leads back to the joy of the Resurrection—the promise that death is never the ending.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Through Stained Glass: A Mid-Week Reflection-Praying in Triangles


What is it?

Well, that depends person to person.

There really isn't a 'right' answer or a 'wrong' answer.

Prayer is communicating with God.

Communication happens when the sender sends a message to the receiver.

Pretty simple, yea?

Sometimes we communicate with words and sometimes we communicate with our nonverbal--our bodies and what not.

When communication is hindered--or not carried out in a clear way--anxiety, confusion, and even anger emerge. When communication doesn't happen clearly chaos can ensue resulting in complaining to someone about someone else as an attempt to reclaim a sense of calm. What forms when this happens, when a two party conversation turns into a three person complaining session, is a triangle.

Triangles create tension and unneeded stress.

Triangles, when they don't reflect the Love of the Trinity, can hurt.

Triangles can derail the development of true community by preventing communication between the original sender and receiver. Mole hills quickly become mountains when unhealthy triangles form from lack of communication...

Y'all, we just went down a rabbit hole. 

What in the world does this have to do with prayer?

Let me attempt to make the leap back from triangulation to prayer...

Prayer is the practice that draws us back to the heart of God when we find ourselves immersed in the chaos, confusion, and, yes, even the celebrations of life. Sometimes life is so good we don't pause to pray. Other times life has us so down we don't know what to pray.

Yet prayer is the place where we communicate with God. If we aren't praying, and praying can look like many things, we aren't hearing that still small voice that says "You are mine. I love you. Follow me."

Prayer is what keeps us in communication with God.

Sunday in my sermon I offered these words about prayer:

Prayer above all is a way of listening for God's voice and finding one's own whisper. Voicing one's concerns through prayer--both as individuals and in community before God--raises our own consciousness; voicing concern enables us to hear the voices of those long silenced and even those hushed silences in ourselves; voicing concern enlivens our imaginations as we listen attentively or accidentally for God's hopes and dreams.
            Prayer, friends, is where God initiates Christ's claim and call on us, and prayer is where the Spirit prompts us to action. Prayer strengthens the rhythm in us between faithful action and deep contemplation.
            When we pray something happens to us. Plain and simple. The more we pray, a better sense of who we are, to whom we belong, what really matters in this life, and why--these things deepen and solidify. Our hearts grow stronger the longer we are in prayer. It becomes less flighty and fragile, sarcastic and cynical. Once in a while, our hearts might even soar.
Y'all, take time to pray. Like seriously pray. Pause from the "pray for cousin Billy and brother Clarence." Not that offering these up to God isn't okay. That's not what I'm saying.

What I am saying, or wondering 'out loud', is what do we use to triangulate ourselves from God? What do we do to avoid praying, actually praying with God? If prayer is how we communicate with God, I wonder what, if anything, might be standing in the way of the message God-the-Sender is messaging our way?

I like this definition of prayer:  Prayer is the interactive conversation with God about what we and God are thinking, feeling, and doing together.

Take time to allow God to search you and know you, to transform and transfigure your heart. Allow Christ to draw near to you and heal the wounds that no one, not even you, can see. Take a moment and don't talk about baseball or politics but allow the Spirit to breathe upon you a freshness you haven't felt in a while.

Pray, beloved sisters and brothers. You never know what you might discover...

Monday, October 10, 2016

Through Stained Glass: A Mid-Week Reflection-Story Stewardship

“Stewardship of Our Story—The Past”

They have become my go-to sources for comic relief and for simple, but profound doses of truth.
         Of course I’m referring to the characters in the comic strip from the bulletin cover, Brain and Heart.
         Without boring you, here is a brief synopsis of Brain and Heart:  the comic strip follows the inner dialogue between the cynical, society-influenced Brain and the impulsive, optimistic Heart.
         Or, in short—it’s like a modern day interpretation of the story of Mary and Martha.
         The comic strip today is entitled Living in Time and it could not have come during a better season than this: the season of stewardship for our church.
         Guiding our conversation around stewardship, which means the responsible planning and management of resources, is the theme of time—past, present, and future. Specifically, this stewardship season we will explore the story of our church and the stewardship of where we’ve been, how we got here today, and where we want to go.
         Stewardship of our stories is the foundation of our faith, the sustenance of our shared lives together, and the hope we can promise to the pilgrims who will follow us to the place God has promised.
This is why I love this Heart and Brain comic so much. There is Brain, the practical realist, or traditionalist, standing at the threshold of what was, and sighing. Meanwhile, Heart, the hasty romantic gazes with wide eyes at the present, wanting to take root right here, right now. With one looking to the past and the other caught up in the moment, the future is left with a sign that reads “Under development.”
         How you interpret this cartoon is up to you. But the obvious conclusion, I think, is the simple message that the future depends on the decisions we make now. And the decisions that we make now are influenced by the places we have come from and the stories of those upon whose shoulders we stand.
         Stewardship of story, then, is looking at our stories, where we came from, the past, and recognizing that we are here because it took the faith of someone to try something new, different, physically at an unfamiliar location and step from the known to the unknown.
         Thus, the way forward must involve more than hoping for the best in times of uncertainty. It is faith that often times brings us to seasons of uncertainty through following God’s call.
         Stewardship of story, particularly the past, invites us to ponder the question: How do we know where God is leading and calling if we aren’t making ourselves available to God’s call?
Why rock the boat when the water is calm? If it ain’t broke, why mess with it? Because sometimes we need to get out of the familiar to see what God has waiting for us elsewhere. The stewardship of the stories of our past affirms this about the faith of those before us:  faith often is a voluntary giving away of dreams, positions, possessions, in response to God’s nudging.
Which is why Abram’s story is important to our faith story. Because Abram’s story was about something else besides the courting of God and Abram. It was written when the people of Israel had established their monarchy. Or when the promise seemed fulfilled. What this story initially was intended for was not to applaud where they had come from as if saying, “Wow, we’ve done it.” Rather it was about reminding the people that this arrival has occurred not solely on their accomplishments but as a life grounded in God’s benevolence.
         It all started with Abram’s willingness to follow God into the unknown. It began when Abram let go of what was, the way of life he knew and how to exist in the linear definition of which he was a part, and entered into a new relationship with a God who promised something greater than Abram.
Indeed, Heart and Brain can teach us a bit about the stewardship of our past stories. While where we have been gives shape to us, we cannot lament for what was and attempt to recreate, and I’ll even say, clasp onto, what was. Nor can we completely erase and skip over those chapters that got us to this place as a church. Rather the stories of the past teach us how those who went before us lived with God and not against God.
         We are because they were.
         At some point in the long legacy of First Presbyterian Church someone had a vision like Abram. They stood beneath great sky and heard God say, “Don’t be afraid. Look to the heavens. I have not forgotten my promise.”