Open REAL EYES to REALIZE what is before us.

According to a recent Pew poll released on in Oct 2012, the United States has dropped below 50% of the population subscribing to a Protestant faith.  The numbers show that the US is now at 48% down from 53% in 2007.  The largest group to see growth is what researchers call, “The nones.”  A similar report dated October 2012, more than 13 million atheists and agnostics and nearly 33 million claim no particular affiliation.   About 20 percent of U.S. adults say they have no religious affiliation, which is an increase from two decades ago when about 8 percent of people were deemed so-called “nones.” Nones are described as young college students, second career individuals, and those just beginning their families somewhere in their middle 30’s.  Most would claim they have a spiritual faith, but as one man stated, “Saying that you are an atheist no longer carries the stigma that it did in years past. More and more are recognizing that you can be good without a belief in a god.”

This leaves the field wide open in terms of Christian faith.  Instead of shrinking back in disbelief at these statistics, I consider this a wake-up call to action for us whom we call brothers and sisters in the faith.  Colin Hay, musician and lyricist offers these words in opposition to this call to faith and may provide the backdrop for many of the feelings society is facing.

All around is anger
Automatic guns
There’s death in large numbers
No respect for women or our little ones
I tried talking to Jesus
But he just put me on hold
Said he’d been swamped by calls this week
And he could not shake his cold

And still this emptiness persists
Perhaps this is as good as it gets
When you’ve given up the drink and those nasty cigarettes
Now I leave the party early, at least with no regrets
I watch the sun as it comes up, I watch it as it sets
Yeah, this is as good as it gets

Can you feel the desperation, the loss of hope resignation in these words?   If the above poll numbers are true, this is the feeling that our young people are experiencing—believing the present conditions are as good as it gets.

BUT!!!!  We know something different, my brothers and sisters.  WE know a different reality and a more solid truth don’t we?  We know that this is not as good as it gets.

Turn with me to John chapter 14

Jesus said to his disciples, “Don’t be worried! Have faith in God and have faith in me.[a] 2 There are many rooms in my Father’s house. I wouldn’t tell you this, unless it was true. I am going there to prepare a place for each of you. 3 After I have done this, I will come back and take you with me. Then we will be together. 4 You know the way to where I am going.”

5 Thomas said, “Lord, we don’t even know where you are going! How can we know the way?”

6 “I am the way, the truth, and the life!” Jesus answered. “Without me, no one can go to the Father. 7 If you had known me, you would have known the Father. But from now on, you do know him, and you have seen him.”

8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father. That is all we need.”

11 Have faith in me when I say that the Father is one with me and that I am one with the Father. Or else have faith in me simply because of the things I do. 12 I tell you for certain that if you have faith in me, you will do the same things that I am doing. You will do even greater things, now that I am going back to the Father.

 

There is hope and redemption in those words, I invite us to consider what the Message gives us in further? – paraphrased (might be a better word) translation.

1-4 “Don’t let this throw you. You trust God, don’t you? Trust me. There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home. If that weren’t so, would I have told you that I’m on my way to get a room ready for you? And if I’m on my way to get your room ready, I’ll come back and get you so you can live where I live. And you already know the road I’m taking.”

5 Thomas said, “Master, we have no idea where you’re going. How do you expect us to know the road?”

6-7 Jesus said, “I am the Road, also the Truth, also the Life. No one gets to the Father apart from me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him. You’ve even seen him!”

8 Philip said, “Master, show us the Father; then we’ll be content.”

And then we’ll be content.  Ah, there it is.  And THEN, we’ll be content.

Will we be content after a tumultuous election?  Will we be content with a higher paying job or a better car?  Will we be content if more people love us or we add more FRIENDS on our Facebook page?  How about when all the moments of frustration cease?  Will we be content?

What will it take?

It takes the command that Jesus gives us in verse 11.

11 Have faith in me when I say that the Father is one with me and that I am one with the Father. Or else have faith in me simply because of the things I do. 12 I tell you for certain that if you have faith in me, you will do the same things that I am doing. You will do even greater things, now that I am going back to the Father.

We become content when we take off the blinders and REALIZE how to look at our world and God’s people with REAL EYES.  That sounds like a tall order, so there is an implicit help given in that command from Jesus.  There is a Spirit (an Advocate) which Jesus promised would always be with us, to empower us to see others as Christ sees them.  WE are not alone, we have power in the Spirit to realize that this is not as good as it gets.  There is more.

There is more heaven here on earth than we allow ourselves to see and hear.  Yet, the louder voices of desperation, rejection, hurt, anger, and hate seem to engulf  our spirits, wanting to fool us into believing this is all there is.  How have we responded?

For some, for the many whom the “nones” are watching, we have embraced the voices of slander, malice, anger, and hatred…creating a hell on earth where we mistrust one another…we operate out of fear instead of the promise that there is more.  We do not serve a God of fear; we serve a God of…redemption, love, and compassion.   I believe that we have forgotten this.

In the non-profit that I work in in Sioux Falls, I have the chance to see in a practical way, the essence of the Spirit moving in places and doing things I could not see otherwise.  I see people coming together in a garden, slinging compost, laughing and building—together.  GROUND WORKS operates out of a mission to practice being a great. does this break off here? …where have we heard this command?

“I tell you for certain that if you have faith in me, you will do the same things that I am doing.  You will do even greater things, now that I am going back to the Father.”

The mission question you ask of yourselves today is answered in that statement.  How do you remain faithful?—by doing the things that Jesus did and practicing the things that Jesus said.

I cannot give you a nice, neat method to perfectly sewing up your faith and keeping it intact.  I would be doing you a huge disservice if I told you that the older you get, the easier it gets.  It doesn’t. I look at my own children, who so easily embrace the world they see and I am amazed at it.  When did my filter become so polluted?

It became polluted when I decided that the world and its opinions means more to me than seeing people for who they really are==as beloved children of Christ.  It became tainted when the voices of the multitudes screaming that getting my own is more important than loving the least, the lost, and the lonely.  It became dirty when I embraced the belief that poverty is shameful and those who are impoverished are somehow less than me.

Have we forgotten that we are all poor and that the poor in spirit inherit the kingdom of heaven?  When did poverty become a 4-letter word meaning something that we eliminate or cut out of our society?  When did following Christ mean that I have the right to sit in judgment over anyone for any reason?

It didn’t.

When I asked my former seminary professor how to write a sermon a number of years ago, he smiled at me and said, “Go, look in the mirror and ask that person what they need to hear.  What does she most need to hear and what does she need to see the most today.  When you are quiet and allow the Spirit to convict you, the message will come to you.  That is the offering you bring-no more no less.”

See, I told you it does not get any easier, the older that you become.  It gets harder to force out the ingrained methods of thought and deed to be present in the Spirit and to do the things that Jesus did.

Ok, so what did Jesus do?  A couple of years ago, I served my first unit of Chaplaincy at Avera Behavioral in Sioux Falls.  I worked over 1000 hours journeying with children, teens, men, and women living in the midst of hell.  I heard their stories and the Lord revealed something during that time.  It is a mantra that I believe is at the heart of all that we say and do.

People want to be seen, to be heard, and to be loved.  Let me repeat that.  We want to be seen, to be heard, and to be loved.  And the third time is the charm—I want to be seen, to be heard, to be loved.

If we take that principle and the command that Jesus gives us –to remain faithful we do the things that Jesus did, the rest becomes pretty clear.  So, what did Jesus do?

Jesus showed up.  At a well, in a garden, on a sea, on the road, and in the home, Jesus was present.

Jesus saw.  He saw the diseased, the forgotten, slandered, abused, and mistaken.  He saw them for what they are==beloved and blessed children of HIS Father, he saw them as brothers and sisters of great potential and light and love.  He saw them for what they could be instead of what the world was telling them they are.

Jesus heard.  He listened to the words of the heart, the ones we keep hidden and he responded.  He heard the stories from people desperately wanting healing, to those empowered to simply touch his cloak, he heard and embraced their humanity and spoke to them in it—not content to allow the lies of the world to fill their heads, he came to deliver a promise of something sweeter—something more divine.

Jesus loved.  Pure and simple.  There is no other act of love than to see us through REAL EYES and REALIZE the way to save us would be to die—to give up his own humanity so that we might believe and do the things he did and follow the things he said.

Sounds like pretty easy application, right?  So, you’re saying if we show up, see, hear, and love===all the rest will take care of itself….RIGHT!!!!!

To do this requires more of you and me than we initially believe.  It requires all of us.  The song that you heard this morning as we were walking in speaks to this.

I am the only one to blame for this
Somehow it all ends up the same
Soaring on the wings of selfish pride
I flew too high and like Icarus I collide
With a world I try so hard to leave behind
To rid myself of all but love
to give and die

Where are we in this?  Where have we given in to selfish pride, to arrogant love of self and what we can do?  Where have we forgotten the ultimate sacrifice of love covers the world’s hurts than any amount of money or man power can?  When did we begin believing that we alone can do anything?

Do we really want to do the things that Jesus did?  Do we really want to see people with REAL EYES and realize them as precious human being that a Savior loved enough to give up His own life?  Do we really want to hear their voices and to love with the same love that Jesus loves us.  Do we even want to admit that Jesus loves “them” with the same fervor and passionate love that He lavishes on us….we are the chosen ones, aren’t we?

In the gardens in Sioux Falls, Jesus has shown us Himself.  A couple of weeks ago a young 13 year old girl who resides at the Children’s Home Society came to a catered meal and took center stage to share a poem about what a garden means to her.  She talked of a seed being planted and
watching it grow.  She talked of a place where she can go when the entire world is happening around her.  She said, that (a garden) is, “A place that needs me to stay alive.”

Does she realize that she is the seed- that place of great potential and opportunity?  Does she see herself as the seed in need of care and love and growth?  Does she know that Jesus can be the place where she can run and hide a place to go when sad or glad?  Does she know that Jesus needs and wants her to stay alive==that HE desires for her to live and BE alive—to be seen, to be heard, and to be loved?

Do we know the same?

Do we know that to be faithful means to believe that GOD wants to see us, to hear us, and to love us?  Do we believe that to realize that promise means that we are to see with Real eyes the world around us, and we are to respond.  We are to love with the heart of Christ and to do that we have to adopt the heart of Christ.

We have to see with the eyes of Christ, eyes that see beyond poll numbers, political affiliations, social and economic strife to the heart of each individual person…to recognize that their soul is to be cared for and loved==just like ours.

We have to hear the words that are said and to those unspoken.  We have to listen beyond the rhetoric and the pat and easy responses we give on a daily basis.  We must hear their stories, to hold those stories, and to honor them as precious…after we have heard them—really heard them we can hear how beautifully our stories intersect with one another.  We have incredible impact==we have the chance to turn the tide toward Heaven instead of Hell.

We have to love with the love of Christ; fierce and on fire and smoldering and peaceful all at the same time.  A love which consumes all the darkness and forces light into the hate and drives it away.  A love that embraces poverty as desirable because it means we are in the presence of the Risen Savior.  A love which knows no limit to compassion-knows that no amount of money or power or control can take the place of being held and seen and heard and loved.

Ladies and gentlemen, let us not grow weary in the race set before us, my same seminary professor has become a life mentor to me and reminds me often that what we are doing is a Marathon, not a Sprint.  This is not a race that has an out the gate running start or an ability to maintain that pace for the duration.  It is a marathon of building of seeing with REAL EYES what we can REALIZE in Christ.

I end with an adaptation of the Jars of Clay lyrics you heard earlier.  May this be the prayer to remain Faithful—doing the things that Jesus did, in the manner in which He did them.
We look beyond the empty cross
forgetting what our life has cost
and wipe away the crimson stains
and dull the nails that still remain
More and more We need you now,
we owe you more each passing hour
the battle between grace and pride
we gave up not so long ago
So steal our heart and take the pain
and wash the feet and cleanse our pride
take the selfish, take the weak,
and all the things we cannot hide
take the beauty, take our tears
the sin-soaked heart and make them yours
take our world all apart
take it now, take it now
and serve the ones that we despise
speak the words we can’t deny
watch the world we used to love
fall to dust and thrown away

Take our world apart.

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No Day but Today

I have mentioned before that one of my all-time favorite musicals is RENT.  There is something raw, gritty, and real about it.  Aside from the stereotypical depiction of most theatre folk, the message is one that transcends surface thought.  I like that.

Idina Menzel does a phenom live performance of NO DAY but TODAY, I will provide the link.  No Day but Today

There’s only us
There’s only this
Forget regret– or life is yours to miss.
No other road
No other way
No day but today

There’s only yes
Only tonight
We must let go
To know what is right
No other course
No other way
No day but today

I can’t control
My destiny
I trust my soul
My only hope
is just to be

There’s only now
There’s only here
Give in to love
Or live in fear
No other path
No other way
No day but today
Jonathon Larson 1995

I think for the next couple of blogs I will dissect a bit or two of these lyrics.  There is something that is haunting me about them as of late.
There’s only us
There’s only this
Forget regret– or life is yours to miss.


I stand on the precipice of graduation in a couple of days…72 hours actually.  My fellow graduates and I have been looking forward to and dreading this day since we entered Seminary.  For me, it has been 4 years of the most tumultuous travels I have ever experienced.

There is something academically rigorous about the History, Doctrine, Politics, Ethics, and Theology that we digest.  Pile on top of that the self exploration into personal belief systems, values, traditions, goals, and hopes and you have a recipe for some serious soul-searching.  It never fails that some of the hardest tests and trials often happen during this time.  What appears to others as moments of great growth and maturity can seem like the most lonely and scary of times.  You feel stripped of all that you thought you believed, you have to be able to articulate what you believe and now you have to find answers as to why you do or don’t believe it.

If you choose to go a more pastoral route and incorporate some counseling into the mix, there is the exploration of self and family that takes place.  This is often much more grueling than the constant onslaught of academic papers.  It requires a tough skin to crawl that deep within yourself and stare down some dark places….sometimes you wonder if you will come out on the other side. I wondered that more than once, and there were times I was so angry, confused, frustrated, and hurt that I wanted to throw in the towel, scream a litany of curse words, and stomp out of the building never to return.  There were also times of such great joy that I could not believe that some of what I was seeing and hearing was real.  I have dear, dear, dear sisters whom I would walk through fire, no matter the situation or the time.  I remember conversations in corners of the buildings, tears shed, laughter shared, prayers uttered in earnest.  One of my dearest sisters, I connected the strongest with on the floor of a shower stall in a women’s bathroom.  I am honored to work with her in a ministry role today.  Another is in Canada and has just accepted a position in  an area that speaks to her passion in a way I know she will soar!  Still another has been ordained this year…our MOTHER!!!!  I was privileged to play a small role in her ordination service….these “girls” or “my peeps” are some of the closest people to me.

I am blessed to know these women.  I have had mentors…2 of whom are the closest adult role models I have ever known.  I have specifically dropped to my knees in one of their offices and sobbed my heart out to them.  They have prayed for me, with me, interceded on my behalf countless times, and pushed me in ways I never thought possible.  I am indebted to them.  They would never cash in that debt, rather would expect me to continue in the path of excellence and wellness that they model themselves.  They have helped me articulate a vocation that is both thrilling and terrifying at the same time.  They have my deepest respect, love, admiration, and loyalty–and those items do not come easily.

This Saturday I will cross the threshold, having completed four years of education and training, all while working and helping to raise 2 young boys with my husband.  I have had to say NO to some things in order to complete this mission.  I have also been told NO while on this mission.  I do not like that very well.  Do any of us?  No.  I cross the stage, leaving the guaranteed community I have known for the last four years.  I am…..scared.

Who is this person on the other side of this education and training?  I look back through things that I have written, pictures taken, tests completed, and I wonder….whoa!  Who in the world is this woman?  I entered Seminary a bumbling “kid” at 33ish…and leave knocking on the door to 40…in a couple years.  THAT is quite a chunk of time.  I began this journey not having a clue as to what I was doing….now I have a bit more of a clue.  No one could have prepared me for what I would encounter, tell me the pain I would endure, or the strength I would be provided.  Now I am done…what do I do now?

Most of my classmates are walking into a practice or a congregation.  I am not.  I am blessed to work for a Non-Profit which works in the realm of school teaching gardens as a means of holistic health, wellness, and education.  I work to advocate for community development based on assets that already exist, we do not do for anyone what they can do for themselves.   I enter into the journey of people’s lives and stories, and I am not afraid.

There’s only us….the now, the people, the life in the moment.  Now.  There’s only this…..so many times people have busted me for living for the future, steeped and stuck in the past, not present to the now.  I need to change that.  There’s only this moment, this second to breathe and be.  I have BIG trouble with that.  There’s only this….  Forget regrets….do I really need to hit that one now?  Forget them or life is (yours and mine ) to miss.

I want to embrace this….to breathe this into my soul….to crawl inside what that looks likes and put it on like a warm blanket ( much like my fuzzy Z blanket made for me by another dear sister).  How do I do that?  How does this woman, on the other side of Seminary change and transformation, crawl underneath that Forgetting Regretting and simply be?  Those that have the answers…speak now or forever hold your peace.

I don’t know.  I think my next blog will explore this idea.  For now, I need to lean into the celebration of a journey’s end and the expectation of the next chapter.  No DAY but TODAY.

shalom,

cahl

Holy Moments

Holy Moments.

Holy Moments

There was such movement and energy present in an interaction today.  I encountered a woman today in her human holiness.  I was privileged to talk with this woman and to see before me a physical representation of why faith is so important to me.

What began as a typical lunch ordering and desire for a cold Diet Coke gave way to good-natured ribbing and conversation and we exchanged humourous sarcasm with my colleague.  A thin and powerhouse waitress,  she revealed bits and pieces within her conversation that made me think.  It made me wonder what was underneath the sarcasm and the bravado.

I showed her a picture of one of my boys, cause that is what parents and grandparents do.  They brag on their kids and show anyone they can the latest pics.  She talked about her child, a gorgeous 3 1/2 year old.  She will spend some time in and in depth PTSD program.  She wants to move on from a past that has brought her such pain.  With tears brimming in her eyes she talked candidly about her first husband and losing him in the midst of the Iraq War.  More conversation revealed a second husband who was abusive to her.   Out from the clutches of this marriage, and her daughter safe, she wants her life on more solid ground. 

She mentioned that she stood in the middle of a Christian book store the other day, wondering what Bible study would best direct her path.  She said she stood there completely confused and at her wit’s end.  “Someone told me Beth Moore?”  I told her that would be a great choice, but more than that is being ok with the identity that she has already been given.  Aside from the work, the parenting, being a widow, and wanting to put a painful past behind her…she simply wants to experience the love of just being.

I heard her heart, I saw the struggle, the raw pain….and it spoke to me.  As she continued to bustle and bring soup for my colleagues pile of crackers….I had to speak.  “When you return, can you spare a moment for a prayer?”  She came, she sat down, we entered into a more holy moment with this young woman, whose bday was recently.  I saw this beautiful and courageous woman….I saw reality.  What an honor.  I told her how courageous I thought she was in tackling those hurtful obstacles.  What a warrior.

I often think of that when the moment lends itself to sharing of our stories with one another.  Those are precious and holy moments….and they don’t come around every day.  Scratch that, I think they happen all the time, and we miss them.  I think sometimes they are staring us in the face and we neglect to see them for what they are, fail to respond the what our gut tells us to do.  I am guilty of that more times than I can count.  How often have I yearned for that from someone. As I reflect on this today, I can’t help but think that some of the reason that I have not had that in my life is because I refused to notice it, or I threw the gift back.  What a lesson to learn.

At the end of the day, even though the chance was there to be present for another, she spoke to me.  I am not done thinking about today and its impact on me.  As I tackle my own issues of identity, she called me to reflect on humility and realness.  Thank you, thank you, thank you for the chance to see up close-humanity.  My colleague mentioned that many would not see or sense what happened today.  If they did see it, fear would cripple many from acting.   I told them that is where I live and what I understand every day.  The beauty of raw life and the ever-present grace that is not earned, but simply accepted.

Simply accepted…that is my soul cry for each of us tonight.  To be simply accepted and to simply accept it when we are.

Shalom and Shalom,

cahl

They need me, to be IMPERFECT

So, I threw a temper tantrum of mammoth proportions yesterday.  I am ashamed to admit this at nearly 38 years old, but I did.  You see, I fancy myself a writer, communicator, artist, advocate for change…and I botched it yesterday.  As I worked on the latest piece of communication for a non-profit there were tweaks that needed to be done, small edits.  I missed an S on a word.  I went ballistic.

An old tape ran through my head…what my mother intended for motivation has plagued me my entire life.  That is MY issue, not hers.  The message that there would always be someone out there better than me, smarter, more talented, more attractive and just plain better screams at me.  When my best and the highest standard to which I hold myself needs tweaking, I feel inadequate, vulnerable, and a failure.  I spoke those words to myself yesterday.  I screamed them in my head and to others….They are lies.  I looked back at am email that I sent last night commenting that I would never allow myself to be published, because I am not perfect.  Missing an S caused such an avalanche of crap that it is almost overwhelming to consider.

Where do we stumble on these concepts?  I have to believe that I am not the only one to wrestle with the concept of perfection, of measuring up, of being number 1.  A good friend of mine called my quest for perfection, an idol.  That hurt.  They were right, and that stunk even more.  To think that I would place the quest of something I can never achieve above the One that created all….well, I ought to be ashamed.  I am, but lest I become too ravaging towards myself, I invoke the concept of grace.  I find that I am really good at speaking that to others, even extending that in instances when I should be advocating something else.  I stink at accepting grace. 

What of that word, grace?  From a Christian perspective, it is God’s unmerited favor–kindness that we do not deserve.  Kindness…favor.  What peaceful words, what a comforting concept in which to rest.  So, why is it that so many of us wrestle and argue with understanding that we can let up on ourselves?  Why this need to beat up and extract every speck of humanness that makes us unique?  I do it all the time.  When my mother told me some 33 years ago that there would always be someone out ahead of me, I ripped me apart, literally.  I have spent the better share of my life chasing after something I will never attain…no wonder I am exhausted.  No wonder I spend good grey matter fretting over issues or nuances that mean nothing.  No wonder I am almost paralyzed with fear that what I know to be right and true would never make the grade.  Am I really willing to give up on a dream that has been placed in my soul since I was little because it will never be perfect?  As of last night, yes.

I think that scares me the worst.  In the light of day, temper tantrum subsided, I said yes.  Yes, I was willing to chuck a “calling” and dream because I am not perfect.  My husband asked me last night if I would hold my sons to the same type of standard.  Out of my mouth, “No, of course not.”  In my head and heart…you betcha.  You bet I would hold them to that standard.  Yes, I just typed that and you should be peeved that I thought it.  I am.  The fact that I would consider holding them to that standard is ludicrous.  There is no way I expect my kids to be perfect…and you should see the uptight attitude I carry sometimes….They will never fit that, and neither will I.

I said when I graduated Seminary this past December that my goal was to break whatever dysfunctional cycles I carried into my adulthood.  That somehow, sins of my past would not be reflected on my kids…that I would do it different.  This dysfunction is not the same for others, it is my own, from my experience, and I will contend that we all possess some.  I vowed that the cycles would end with me, for the most part, they have.  I forgot one major part.  I forgot to model grace towards self to them.  That batch of insidious messaging is ingrained in my head and the only one who can rewrite it is me…and I have to–for their sakes.  Another good friend of mine told me not so long ago that he needed me to be a strong and capable woman, confident in my place and calling—so that his daughters would see that modeled for them.  “I need you to be that, for my daughters.”  Wow.  What a charge.  My kids need to see it, so does the next generation…they need not to be perfect.  They need me to be IMperfect.  What a concept.

I laugh a bit here as I contemplate that…ok, please give me the 12 step handbook which will allow me to be imperfect…perfectly.  C’mon, you saw it coming too, and you laughed.  I will end with this plea.  I know I have to rewrite, at this point I do not know how.  I type here, vulnerable and admitting I don’t know what that mold looks like.  I have to believe there are others in the same boat….shall we row together?  How bout those that have a vision of this?  Help us steer?  Maybe I can come along you in your boat sometime soon, too?

Grace and peace and blessings to you each.

Shalom,

cahl

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