Category Archives: synchroblog

You can’t get there from here

you-cant-get-there-from-hereThis post is a contribution to the April Synchroblog “Bridging The Divide”.  This month bloggers are encouraged to offer ideas on ways to heal divisions in the church.

 

You’ve probably heard the saying “you can’t get there from here.” The urban dictionary defines the saying to mean “the problem can’t be solved.”

As I thought about solutions to the divisions the Christian church is presently experiencing I realized I felt like “you can’t get there from here.”

When I think about healing the division in the church “here” becomes Christian unity and that’s where I see us needing to “get to” … I believe we have to know where we want to go before we can plan on how to get there, but, in order to pursue Christian unity we must first understand what it is and what it isn’t …

I don’t have a clear vision of what Christian unity is, so, I am limiting my contribution to some basic thoughts about Christian unity…

What I hate about Christian unity:

I hate the way the term or idea is used to shut down a criticism.

I hate the way the term or idea is used to bully someone who is disagreeing.

I hate the way the term or idea is used to avoid conflict.

I hate the way the term or idea is used as if it means agreement or uniformity.

Some things I believe about Christian unity:

Some things are worth division.

Uniformity is not unity.

Agreement is not unity.

Unity is better than uniformity or agreement.

Getting along with everyone is not equal to Christian unity.

Open acts of injustice are a real and formidable obstacle to Christian unity.

Christian unity is related to shalom in that it doesn’t have anything to do with a lack of conflict but has everything to do with right relations.

Christian unity is not so much a destination as it is something that we are continually striving for in each present moment.

What I love about Christian unity:

It is other centered.

We get glimpses of it when we look through the eyes of the other.

It is a high ideal.

It is centered around, justice, love and mercy.

We can make it happen.

Questions I have about Christian unity:

Is Christian unity the opposite of division?

Can Christian unity exist in the midst of divisions?

Should Christian unity be more about a way of living and interacting than about a list of rules or beliefs that we agree on?

How can I have unity with someone who embraces something I believe is harmful to people?

Is Christian unity really nothing more than the agreement of a few basic ideas?

What do you think? Can we get there from here?


Here are the links to the other contributions to this month’s synchroblog. I hope you will take the time to read more.

Advertisements

New Life, Empowerment and Dropping Keys

This post if part of the March synchroblog. This month’s synchroblog theme is New Life. I’m late to the party – the March synchroblog actually happened last Wednesday but my youngest son was home from college during his spring break and I was busy enjoying my time with him.

 

download

Dropping Keys by Hafiz

The small man
Builds cages for everyone
He
Knows.
While the sage,
Who has to duck his head
When the moon is low,
Keeps dropping keys all night long
For the
Beautiful
Rowdy
Prisoners.

 

My one word theme for 2014 is “empowerment” and the idea isn’t primarily about my own empowerment but the idea of helping to empower others. It’s so easy to spend our energy keeping others small and caged so we can feel more comfortable; but I believe cages stifle creativity and ingenuity and end up robbing our world of ideas and innovations that need to be born in order for us to continue to progress and move forward. So, I’m trying to focus on being the sage who is dropping keys for the beautiful, rowdy prisoners locked up in cages rather than the small woman who is building those cages.

I see dropping keys as helping others consider possibilities that may have previously seemed out of reach, by connecting people to others and to resources that might be helpful, by taking the time to build up others who are life-givers, by spreading stories that seem to be changing the world into a better place, by encouraging those who still have work to do but might be tired or afraid or discouraged, by being willing to share my own “know how” about anything I do well with anyone who wants or needs it.

My hope is that by dropping keys someone will experience new life and in turn become a life-giver.

The inspiration came from the beautiful poem “Dropping Keys” written by Hafiz, a poet from the 14th century along with this thought from Chris Guillebeau:

“Think about the times when someone has really helped you think or live differently. It was like they placed a key on the ground in front of you; you picked it up and unlocked a cage. You had to open the cage yourself, of course, but it was a lot easier with a key.”

What keys do you hold that could set someone free and give them new life?

____________________________________________________________

I hope you will check out the other posts about New Life:

Michael Donahoe – New Life
K.W. Leslie – Sin Kills; God Brings New Life
Carol Kuniholm – New Life. Mystery Fruit.
Jeremy Myers – I Get Depressed On Facebook
Glenn Hager – A Personal Resurrection Story
Loveday Anyim – Spring Forth – Ideas That Speak New Life
Loveday Anyim – Inspired By Spring To Create A New Life
Sarah Quezada – Post Winter Delight
Edwin Aldrich – Finding New Life In Our New Home
Doreen A. Mannion – Each Day A New Decision: Choose Life
kathy escobar – new life through nonviolent communication
Anita Coleman New Life, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and Eternal Living
Sonja Andrews Persephone
Mallory Pickering New Life Masterpiece Theater Style
Liz Dyer New Life, Empowerment and Dropping Keys

It’s a new year and time to make some new mistakes

This post is part of the January 2014 Synchroblog: New Beginnings. You will find a list of links to all the synchroblog posts for the month at the end of this post. neil-gaiman-quote

It’s a new year, a fresh start, a blank slate, a second chance, a new opportunity.

The future is yours, the possibilities are endless, a place where dreams can come true.

So, what are you going to do with it?

Me?

I’m going to make some new mistakes!

That may not sound like a very good plan for the new year at first glance because we usually think of mistakes as something we want to avoid – as something that indicates failure.  But Neil Gaiman turns the idea of making mistakes on it’s head and encourages us to see mistakes in a different light.

neil_gaiman_quotes_mistakes

After all, it’s usually the fear of failure that keeps us from trying something new – from being our real self – from creating – from making something happen!

Gaiman challenges us to let go of those fears and be willing to take a few lumps because of the possibilities that await us – to be willing to get knocked down in the pursuit of making a difference – to take a chance of looking a little foolish for the sake of possibly finding our purpose.

So, yeah, I’m planning on making some new mistakes in 2013.

Will you join me?

Be sure and check out the other contributions to this month’s synchroblog:

Jen Bradbury – Enough

Abbie Watters – New Beginnings

Cara Strickland – Bursting

Carol Kuniholm – Acorns, King, Beloved Community

Done With Religion – A New Year, A New Beginning

Kelly Stanley – A Blank Canvas

Glenn Hager – Overcoming The Biggest Obstacle To Reaching Your Goals

Dave Criddle – Get Some New Thinking

David Derbyshire – Changed Priorities Ahead

J A Carter – The Year of Reading Scripture for the First Time

Damon – New Beginnings: Consider These 5 Questions Before Tying The Knot

Jeffrey Kranz – Where To Start Reading The Bible

Joanna990 – On survival – my one word for 2014

K W Leslie – Atonement

Happy – my One Word 365 surprise

Michelle Moseley – Ends and Beginnings

Matthew Bryant – A New Creation

Liz Dyer – It’s a new year and time to make some new mistakes

Edwin Pastor Fedex Aldrich – Foreclosed: The beginning of a new dream

Jennifer Clark Tinker – Starting a New Year Presently

Loveday Anyim – New Year New Resolutions

Loveday Anyim – New Year Resolution Dreamers

Loveday Anyim – New Year Resolution Specialists

Loveday Anyin – New Year Resolution Planners and Achievers

Jeremy Myers – Publish Your Book with Redeeming Press

Amy Hetland – New Beginnings

Phil Lancaster – New Beginnings

Mallory Pickering – Something Old, Something New

Margaret Boelman – The Other Side of Grief

Kathy Escobar – One Image

Advent 2013: The Way Home

This post is part of The December Synchroblog and part of Christine Sine’s annual Advent synchroblog, both of which invite bloggers to reflect on the idea of “coming home” and what that means to them during the season of Advent. The bloggers who participate will be listed at the bottom of this post for you as they become available. 

1491759_10151798316430418_1968630797_n

The word “home” brings to mind a feeling that is hard to describe … it has to do with belonging and being loved and relaxed and letting one’s guard down and feeling safe. Sometimes home is found in a particular place such as a state or a city or a house, and other times it is found in the company of others or in a particular activity such as painting or riding a horse.

When my son comes home from college and we give each other a great big hug that lasts 10 or 15 seconds I get the feeling that I’ve found my way home. At times I experience that “coming home” feeling when I realize that someone “gets me”.  Other times I feel like I am home when I hear a particular song or am in the process of creating or when I’m hanging out with friends.  And sometimes I find my way home in a simple act of giving or listening or helping.

Whether the feeling of home is brought about by people, places or activities it is a blessing that is like a deep, refreshing breath for our souls … it feels right and there is a lightness that occurs within.

Thinking about the holidays and home reminds me of the sermon “Are You Going Home For Christmas?” by Frederick Buechner in which he talks about what it means to be truly home.

“I receive maybe three or four hundred letters a year from strangers who tell me that the books I have spent the better part of my life writing have one way or another saved their lives, in some cases literally. I am deeply embarrassed by such letters. I think, if they only knew that I am a person more often than not just as lost in the woods as they are, just as full of darkness, in just as desperate need. I think, if I only knew how to save my own life. They write to me as if I am a saint, and I wonder how I can make clear to them how wrong they are.

But what I am beginning to discover is that, in spite of all that, there is a sense in which they are also right. In my books, and sometimes even in real life, I have it in me at my best to be a saint to other people, and by saint I mean life-giver, someone who is able to bear to others something of the Holy Spirit, whom the creeds describe as the Lord and Giver of Life. Sometimes, by the grace of God, I have it in me to be Christ to other people. And so, of course, have we all-the life-giving, life-saving, and healing power to be saints, to be Christs, maybe at rare moments even to ourselves.

I believe that it is when that power is alive in me and through me that I come closest to being truly home, come closest to finding or being found by that holiness that I may have glimpsed in the charity and justice and order and peace of other homes I have known, but that in its fullness was always missing. I cannot claim that I have found the home I long for every day of my life, not by a long shot, but I believe that in my heart I have found, and have maybe always known, the way that leads to it … I believe that home is Christ’s kingdom, which exists both within us and among us as we wend our prodigal ways through the world in search of it.”

May we all find our way home during this season of Advent by spreading love and kindness wherever we go.

***********************************************************************

check out the other synchrobloggers

 

Stages of Faith and Beauty in the Wilderness

I originally posted Beauty In The Wilderness in March 2011 as I prepared for Lent.  I have done a rewrite so I could post it today as a contribution to the November Synchroblog: “Faith Stories”

walkingdesert2_thumb

Over the years my faith has changed significantly – as I believe it should. For many years my faith was mostly about ascribing to a list of beliefs that were non-negotiable. Today my faith is more about living into the way of Jesus which mostly ends up being about loving others.

When I first started having questions and doubts about “the list” of non-negotiables I was really thrown off balance but over time I have become pretty comfortable with having more questions than answers and embracing the mystery of God.  I no longer believe that changing my mind about some faith related issue is evidence of a weak faith or being an immature Christian.  In fact, I ascribe to the idea that an active, vibrant life of faith will often lead to stages of faith that are filled with questions and doubts (see stage 4 in the chart below) which can lead to wonderful revelation and transformation (stages 5 & 6 in the chart) that always seemed out of reach in the midst of being so certain about everything. [1]

nextreformation.com wp admin resources stages of faith.pdf

These days I assume that I am surely wrong about a multitude of things that I believe at any given moment. However, that doesn’t stop me from living out my faith with conviction and passion. Instead, it imbibes me with a dose of humility that keeps me from feeling like the world has ended if I happen to discover that what I thought was true doesn’t hold up under serious study, thought, prayer and scrutiny.

One of the things that I have a significantly different perspective about these days is suffering … or “the wilderness” as it is often referred to by Christians.

“The wilderness holds answers to more questions than we have yet learned to ask.” – Nancy Wynne Newhall

I grew up hearing sermons and bible lessons that talked about God leading us into the wilderness in order to teach us something – about Him, about ourselves, about the world we live in. The “wilderness” was another word for suffering and the reason (they said) God led us into suffering was because in the midst of suffering he was able to get our attention, to cause us to trust him and to make us teachable and transformable.

I believed it and it made me very afraid of God.

Whether it was a relationship problem or an illness or unemployment I didn’t just have the anxiety of the problem at hand to deal with – I also had the emotional and spiritual agony of believing that God was making me suffer in order to get my attention so I could be transformed.

I don’t believe that anymore.

Now don’t get me wrong – I believe there are things I can learn in the wilderness and I believe my wilderness experiences do change me.  I even believe God can bring good out of wilderness situations – I just don’t believe God is causing or orchestrating my suffering. Of course I still battle those beliefs that set God up as my adversary but after I talk myself into remembering God isn’t causing my suffering I can more easily trust God in the midst of my wilderness.  And for as much as I dislike wilderness experiences and spend a fair amount of time and energy avoiding wilderness experiences it is in the wilderness where I have found out the most about who I really am and what my life is really about.  Not so much because of the suffering that takes place in the wilderness but because of the self awareness and self examination it causes, because of the focus it produces, because of the questions it births, because of the humility it generates.

“the wilderness is still one of the most reality-based, spirit-filled, life-changing places a person can be.” Barbara Brown Taylor

It was during a wilderness experience where I discovered God wasn’t the perpetrator of my suffering – that I didn’t need to be punished for who I was and it was okay for me to be me – in fact, it was better than okay, it was good.

Not long after that particular experience I ran across the poem Wild Geese by Mary Oliver and fell in love with it … not just because it is a beautifully crafted message but because it reminded me of the beautiful truth I had just discovered while wandering in the wilderness with God.

I leave you with Oliver’s poem in hopes that you too will discover something beautiful about yourself, about God and about the world you live in even when you find yourself wandering in the wilderness.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Mary Oliver, Dream Work, 1986

[1] If you want to explore more about the stages of faith:

Read these three excellent blog posts about Stages in the Life of Faith  herehere and here which may lead you to read the book: The Critical Journey, Stages in the Life of Faith by Janet O. Hagberg & Robert A. Guelich

************************************************************************************

Check out the other posts for this month’s synchroblog:

A Social Justice Story

This post is part of the October Synchroblog: What is social justice?  I’ll add a list of all the other contributions at the end of this post as soon as they are available.

tree

“Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore. We have seen the future, and the future is ours.” -Cesar Chavez

Social justice is difficult to define. I heard someone say that there have been whole books written about social justice which never offer a concise definition. And so you can easily understand why I feel inadequate to offer up a definition. However, I am compelled to share a story with you that I believe has the definition of social justice written between it’s lines.

This story is true and it was written by my friend Hugh Hollowell who leads a ministry called Love Wins. Hugh is a perfect example of what it looks like to work for and practice social justice.  He inspired me to become a person who is aware of injustices in the world and to be brave enough to fight against injustices in word and deed.

She Call Me Bobby by Hugh Hollowell  

Several folks have wanted me to talk about what I do day-to-day.

“I don’t get it,” one correspondent said, “You just talk to the homeless? About what?”

Well, I do more than just talk to folks who are experiencing homelessness, but that is a big part of what I do. I want to show you how one such conversation went down just this morning.

Note: The way we talk, the choice of words we use, all of that is part of our story and part of who we are. Life on the streets is not pretty and it is not polite. Many in my position clean up the language when reporting what is said, but I have chosen to leave it.

*****

I was on my way to use the Internet at Morning Times (a coffee shop and, most days, my office) when I saw a gang of folks I know over by Betty’s van. I stroll over. The mood is solemn.

“Hey guys,” I said, “What’s going on?”

Everyone murmurs and shuffles, looking at the ground. I notice that one older guy everyone calls Slim was sullen and weeping.

“Slim,” I said, “How’s it going?”

“Bad,” he says. “I went to give plasma this morning like I always do on Fridays. This time, they wouldn’t give me any money. Instead, they told me I’m HIV positive.”

HIV. For most Americans it no longer means what it once did. However, these folks know that, if they get it, they probably won’t have access to the life-giving drug cocktails and cutting edge treatments. They all know someone who has died as a result of being positive.

For them, HIV spells death.

Having already heard this story, the crowd begins to melt away. I’m uncertain if it’s out of a desire to give us some privacy or a desire to get out of the cold– in any event, it was welcome.

I have known Slim for about two and a half months. I have helped several of his friends with job applications and have let them use my computer to check their email for messages from family. He knows me to say hi, but he has never really opened up to me. He is much older than most of the street folks, perhaps 50 or so. He told me once in conversation he had been homeless for seven years.

“They tested me, like they always do,” he begins to explain. “They test you every time. They wanted me to sign a paper saying I had HIV, but I ain’t signing shit.”

After several minutes of conversation, I managed to extract the following details.

That morning, Slim went to sell plasma. Many who are currently homeless do this as it is the only thing many of them have to sell. You lay on a cot and stare at the wall while they insert a needle in your arm. After they take blood from your body and extract the plasma, they put the blood back in you. They sell the plasma to the various bio-med places for research and pay you $20 – $35 and you can expect it to take about two hours. If you are a regular donor, they pay bonuses and an extra $5 every third visit, they say.

The routine tests on his blood for HIV showed positive. He was told he had to sign a statement saying he knew he was HIV positive. He refused and left – he later reveals that reading is not something he does well, so he has a fear of signing anything. Understandably, he was in shock by the time I heard this story, so the finer details were a bit harder to nail down. As near as I can tell, he had no second test and no referral to any health care options.

“You need to go to the Health Department,” I said. “You need to know for sure.”

Slim is crying. “It’s Christmas, man. I don’t need this.”

It goes like this for about 10 minutes, when I realize that Slim doesn’t have the two dollars for the bus to go out to the Health Department. I assure him I can spare $2.

“Will you walk with me to the bus station?” he asks.

“Be glad to.”

We begin to walk toward Moore Square Station, the central hub for the transit system here in Raleigh. Slim is beginning to calm down. He has the two dollars that I gave him clutched in a death grip in his hand.

“You are a nice man,” Slim says. “I know you help Sam and Julia out with clothes and help them, let them use your phone. I tell everyone what a nice man you are. I would ask to borrow your phone, but I got no one to call.”

“No one?” I said.

“Well, I got a Mom, but I haven’t talked to her in four years. I want to call her, but I’m scared. I’m afraid she don’t want nothing to do with me anymore. I done bad things.”

We talk about his Mom for a bit. It turns out she lives in Maryland and the family has endured one too many broken promises, so they no longer talk. I urge him to call because four years is a long time. He promises to think about it.

“You’re a nice man. Why you so nice? I mean, you help us out, you talk to us… I ain’t nothing, man. My own Momma don’t want to talk to me, you don’t even know me and you help me. Why you doing this?”

I hesitate. I know folks who would see this as an opportunity to swoop in, tract in hand, tell them about how Jesus will solve all their problems, fix everything. I try to imagine what Jesus would say.

“I care about you guys when it makes no sense to, because Jesus loved me when it made no sense for him to,” I tell Slim.

He perks up, looks at me from the side of his eyes.

“Jesus?” he said.

“Yup. Jesus,” I said.

I think I have lost him now. He surprises me.

“I know Jesus loves me – my momma told me,” he said. “But that Jesus, he is a motherfucker.”

I have no idea what to say to that.

“Yeah?” I said.

“Oh yeah. The thing about Jesus is, he don’t cut you no slack. Jesus is hard.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I know.”

We’re at the blue section of the transit station, waiting on the bus. The air is cold on my ears, the turbulence from the exhaust fumes pressing my jeans against my ankles. The two dollars has managed to disappear. After a lengthy search they turn up in a coat pocket.

“Thank you for doing this,” he said. “I don’t want to die from HIV.”

“Well,” I said, “we are not even sure you have HIV. The first step is to find out for sure.”

We agree to meet up this afternoon in Moore Square about dark so he can let me know what the verdict is. While we are working out the details, the bus pulls up and the doors open, a line of patient commuters waiting to board.

It’s one of those moments – they happen sometimes – when I think God tells me just the right thing to say.

“Slim,” I said. “What does your momma call you?”

He smiled, remembering. “Bobby. She call me Bobby.”

“OK, Bobby,” I said. “I will see you tonight.”

He laughs that I use his name. “Do you think Jesus cares I have HIV?” he asked.

“If you have HIV, then Jesus would be heartbroken,” I said.

“You gonna pray for me, aren’t you?” he asked.

I assure him I will. The breath is almost knocked out of me as he tackles me in a spontaneous bear hug, tears running down his face.

“If it is OK, I gonna pray for you too,” he said into my coat.

Then he turns, embarrassed at the sudden emotion and steps onto the bus.

As he waves to me from his seat two thirds of the way back, the bus pulls away, the exhaust kicking up leaves that swirl around my feet as both our tears dry on my coat.

If you want to know more about Hugh and Love Wins and how to get involved and help go here.

Check out the rest of these posts about Social Justice:

Changing Hearts Rather Than Minds

This post is part of the August 2013 Synchroblog – Parables: Small Stories, Big Ideas

“Religious writing is usually designed to make the truth of faith clear, concise, and palatable. Parables subvert this approach. In the parable, truth is not expressed via some dusty theological discourse that seeks to educate us, but rather it arises as a lyrical dis-course that would inspire and transform us. In light of this, parables do not seek to change our minds but rather to change our hearts.”  Peter Rollins in The Orthodox Heretic and Other Impossible Tales 

I love the way a good parable surprises us and turns our thinking upside down.  Many good parables take a well-known story or situation and give it a twist here and a tweak there in order to cause the audience to think about something from a different perspective.  Jesus was a master at crafting and telling a good parable.

But I notice that Jesus parables don’t always seem to have the impact that they should have on me and I think that is because they have become too familiar.  Which is why I think I got such a kick out of the collection of parables that Peter Rollins wrote a few years ago.

If you haven’t read Rollins’ collection of parables you should pick up his book The Orthodox Heretic and Other Impossible Tales.  I think the 33 parables in his book might end up pushing you around a bit and that’s what a good parable should do.

Here’s one of the parables from the book to whet your appetite:

You sit in silence contemplating what has just taken place. Only moments ago you were alive and well, relaxing at home with friends. Then there was a deep, crushing pain in your chest that brought you crashing to the floor. The pain has now gone, but you are no longer in your home. Instead, you find yourself standing on the other side of death waiting to stand before the judgment seat and discover where you will spend eternity. As you reflect upon your life your name is called, and you are led down a long corridor into a majestic sanctuary with a throne located in its center. Sitting on this throne is a huge, breathtaking being who looks up at you and begins to speak.

“My name is Lucifer, and I am the angel of light.”

You are immediately filled with fear and trembling as you realize that you are face to face with the enemy of all that is true and good. Then the angel continues: “I have cast God down from his throne and banished Christ to the realm of eternal death. It is I who hold the keys to the kingdom. It is I who am the gatekeeper of paradise, and it is for me alone to decide who shall enter eternal joy and who shall be forsaken.”

After saying these words, he sits up and stretches out his vast arms. “In my right hand I hold eternal life and in my left hand eternal death. Those who would bow down and acknowledge me as their god shall pass through the gates of paradise and experience an eternity of bliss, but all those who refuse will be vanquished to the second death with their Christ.”

After a long pause he bends toward you and speaks, “Which will you choose?”

_________________________________________________

Be sure and check out the other contributions to this month’s synchroblog:

Jesus’ Parables are Confusing? Good! – Jeremy Myers

Parabolic Living – Tim Nichols

Seed Parables:Sowing Seeds of the Kingdom – Carol Kunihol

Parables – Be Like the Ant or the Grasshopper – Paul Meier

The Parables of Jesus: Not Like Today’s Sermons – Jessica

Penelope and the Crutch – Glenn Hager

Parables and the Insult of Grace – Rachel

Changing Hearts Rather Than Minds – Liz Dyer

Young Son, Old Son, a Father on the Run – Jerry Wirtley