Can we forgive?

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We don’t buy many souvenirs when we are traveling, we used to, but not now. The stuff we got just hung around and the guilt associated with getting ride of the things was too high to make it worth the effort. Therefore, the stuff gathers dust and takes up space. Occasionally we buy a deck of playing cards which are consumed at a relatively high pace when we play some of the competitive card games popular at our house, especially “Pounce!” A nativity set is enticing, but se already have so many so they are even less interesting than the used to be.

On our ecumenical dialogue trip in January I found the perfect souvenir. It was useful, an eraser. It was interesting, it had a label in Latin on it. It was about forgiveness, at least self forgiveness. It was the first three words of a famous saying, “To err is human, to forgive divine.” I bought two of them. One was a gift, the other has been hanging around my desk at work.

I have picked it up and turned it over and over in my hands recently. It is true. As I sometimes hear,
”people are highly overrated.” People are a sinful mess and sometimes the mess is very messy. What should I do about it in the moments when the fractures and flaws become common knowledge? What do I do about the musicians who’s lives have been revealed as deeply sinful? What do I do when one of my mentors, a pastor, Bill Hybels is shown to be deeply flawed? What am I supposed to think when a politician’s personal life so deeply reveals an aversion for the ways of God? What am I to do with the legacy of our founding fathers like Jefferson who had children by an enslaved women and then sold the child away into bondage? What happens when the director of the movies I like reveals himself to be calouse to the pain and brokenness of the world making fun of the abuse of women and children?

Do I listen to the music or try to eradicate from my world? Should I try to get it eradicated from the whole world? Can I listen to Bill any longer? Can I support the politician? Can I cherish the words of the Declaration of Independence? Can I watch Guardians of the Galaxy? What are we to do with the obviously sinful? Should I just make sure I stay naive and never look under the hood of people’s lives. At least that way, I don’t have to trouble my conscience with these pesky questions.

James Gunn was given his director’s job back this week. Disney said,

The social media messages were indefensible, but the filmmaker never did anything but blame himself for poor judgment displayed at a time when he was emerging from [film school] and attempting to be a provocateur. There were no reports that Gunn ever engaged in the behavior he lampooned. Unlike the defensive posture exhibited by Kevin Hart that led him to skip hosting the Oscars, Gunn fell on his sword early and often and never lashed out at Disney. ) Deadline.com. March 15, 2019.

Honesty, the lack of blame, clarity . . . we might call it repentance was the thing that helped. I’m still working out a system for evaluating what I will and will not consume from the obviously broken (I just fooling myself that there is anyone who is actually unbroken), but obvious repentance makes a difference. Now I just have to figure out what to do with those who are dead, or silent, or deluded into thinking they are without fault. What do I do without honesty? This is what consumes my mind when I pick up my eraser.

Noise

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I pulled into my neighborhood and turned my head to the right. At first I thought that a dark cloud was covering the sky. Then the dark mass moved in response to my presence. Like a wave, it rose up and then crashed back on the ground. I rolled down my window and the noise flew through my window. This living mass of feathers would suddenly leap into the air like a blob in a lava lamp. It undulated fell apart then then reformed.

I turned away from my house and toward the birds. I thought of Alfred Hitchcock as I rolled up my windows. I crept my car forward but they were having none of it. The street cleared and the trees filled into my car slipped past them and the cloud returned. I looked down at the the road and the lawn, but could not discover what the fuss was all about.

I have heard the squawking all week. I have heard people talking about the herd mentality. There does seem to be tendency in our world for noise and crowds and chaos to all go together. The airwaves seem to be filled with division. Groups rise up, fly around and make a bunch of noise, but frequently end up right back in the same position.

I was so proud of our community this last week, because some brave souls turned the noise into forward progress. I love that some people tried to raise a contentious conversation to a level of civility and honor. I love that some our our political representatives listened to people and responded. It is rare for anyone to push pause. Our school board did a courageous thing this week. People complain and gnash their teeth about Washington and Austin, that those place don’t listen to the real people. It was awestruck by the leadership expressed by our schools this week. I believe that we will come out of this strong and better.

We should all commit ourselves to not following the crowd, but leading the flock. We should commit our selves to the way of peace. We should honor those who listened and responded. I have heard some chest bumping, some people declaring winners and losers. I have heard condemnation and aspersion. I pray that we could inject peace instead. I pray that we could offer understanding instead. I pray that we can lift up grace instead. There were not winners and looser, just us, just our flock and we all get there together or not at all.

Bird Talk

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When I look at my bird pictures, I often imagine the conversations the birds are having. Last year, I was watching these fire finches. The are beautiful and brightly colored. They almost always seem to be seen in pairs. Frequently I see them in small flocks of 12-20 birds. They are less frightened by people and will often get very close, which makes it a joy to watch them, because you can see their expressions.

This pair was in a tree above my head. In the top picture they seem to both be seeing the same thing. Their eyes are locked onto something. I wonder if it was another bird? another little female bird? She turns away from him. “I can’t believe you would even look at her!”

“What?’ he says. She turns back to look at him, “Don’t even talk to me.” If you were to look at the pictures, what is the story you are telling yourself? “Let’s go out to dinner.” “I’d rather stay home.” “Look, I’ve already got my house shoes on.” “Yes, you do.”

What story can you tell with the three pictures?

How often, when we see things, do we start tell ourselves a story? We think we know people’s motivations. We think we know what is in their minds. We think we understand what their words really mean. How often do we jump to conclusions without gathering enough information?

It is so easy to assume. It is much harder to listen and understand. It is easy to accuse. It is much harder to wait and see. It is easy to react, but much harder to control ourselves and choose. Until we can honestly confront the inner dialogue, our inner voice that fills in the gaps around us, we will never move to a deeper level of community, compassion and love.

Jesus saw people. The pharisees saw people. Jesus saw sheep without a shepherd. He had compassion on them. He wanted to gather them under his wings. The pharisees saw people. They were harsh with them. They tried to push them away. Same people, different narrative.

This week tell a better story when you look at people. Choose to believed the best. Choose to interpret them in the most positive light.

Spots

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Last week, during DNOW many of us were praying for the young people to have a fresh encounter with Jesus. All through the weekend I would see kids and pray a simple prayer, “God reveal yourself to them.” 

We were trying to find a way to make those prayers real and tangible to each person. We wrote each kids name on a ball and asked individuals to pray that simple prayer and when they did, to make a simple mark. I love this picture because it shows in such a tangible way that lots of people have gathered around these teenagers. 

I wonder how often we tell someone, “I’ll pray for you” and then we don’t. I wonder if the tangible nature of these balls connected our promise to our actions. They are like living prayer journals. I wonder how often we tell someone that we are praying for them and they wonder if we actually did  I love each of these dots because they are evidence of follow through on the prayer promise  

On Wednesday, the kids were given these markers to remind them of what we had done. Now maybe we need reminders to keep it up. Why not take this picture and put it in the fridge, or your mirror and everyone you see it pray that simple prayer, “God reveal yourself to these youth (and to me).” 

Why not create your own version and give someone the encouragement of your prayers and the tangible sign of your action.  

When I'm 64

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At the end of the day I do the pat down. I check my pockets for the stuff that has ended up in them. I try to hang my keys on the hook by the garage, my wallet goes in the brass bowl and then I sort out the other stuff. Usually, it’s bits of paper, cough drop wrappers and reminders. Last Wednesday had been a full day. Lots of meetings and a full contact prayer meeting for DNOW led to a late night . When I got home, I sat for a few minutes and then headed to bed. I reached into my pocket. I forgot to hang up my keys on the hook. Then I reached into my left front pocket and pulled out a huge pieces of hardish plastic. It was my number from lunch. I don’t know how for most of the day it had been in my pocket and I had not once noticed it. Sometimes, I am oblivious.

Rewind about nine hours earlier. I sat down at the table and my table-mates asked me, “Where is your number?” I stopped and look around. “I did not get one,” was my reply. I walked back to the front counter. “I did not get a number.” There was no accusation in my tone, it was an admission that I had walked away without the number.

They looked at me. They typed into the cash register. “Your number is 64.” They looked through the cards and found no 64. “Ill just tell they guy delivering the food your number.” I went back to the table and my food appeared on cue.

Later that night, when I pulled out the card, I realized that I lied (“I did not get a card”) and I stole (the card was in my pocket). On further reflection, the cashier knew that I had been given the card. That is how she got the number for my order. She never let it interfere with helping me. On Friday, I returned to the scene of the crimes. I pulled the card out and walked into the lobby. Several of the workers looked at me. The worker that had helped me was not there. I apologized for taking their card and for asserting that I had not been given a card when I clearly had been given a card. I was told that I was banned from the store for two weeks.

Then they laughed at me. They took my order. They gave me a card, it had 64 on it. I sat at the table with the number right next to me. I was humming the Beatles song, “When I’m 64.” In part it reads, “will you still need me, will you still feed me, When I’m 64.” I’m thankful that they still brought me food. They were good sports about the whole thing. I wondered how many people never bring the cards back?

Sometimes our errors are hard to see layered under our reasons and justifications. Sometimes the evidence is powerful and convicting. I’m praying that I see my errors more clearly and then make them right more quickly.

Kyle's Bad Day

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This watery reflection is a statute of a famous author, Dante. I took the picture in Florence, but thought about him last week in Athens. He is the author of the Divine Comedy, it’s not a book many have read, but one of the most influential. In the book, Dante describes a journey to Hell in a section called the Inferno. His imagery influenced people from the 1300’s to the present. In the book, he describes a long descending journey of pain and suffering.

Monday was just such a day. I went to bed on Sunday night with a mild scare. I looked into my eye and saw what I thought was a worm. I was horrified. I steeled myself and swished it out of my eye. I realized it was not a worm but a long mass of eye goo. I thought I must have gotten a hair in my eye and snuggled in my bed thankful it was not a worm.

I woke up on Monday too early. I’m still not back in Central Time Zone, so I tried to ignore being awake and go back to sleep. I tried not to move, I did not open my eyes. A deep piercing pain made itself known from deep within my right calf muscle. The very first thought I had was, “I have another blood clot.”

My eye shot open. My left eye opened. My right eye stayed glued shut. I crawled out of bed and went to the mirror. A crusty eye residue had woven itself through my eye lashes. I woke Cindy up to look at my eye (isn’t that a great way to wake up, “Hey honey, look at this goo'“). We both agreed I had Pink Eye. I laid back down waiting to call the Doctor for the inevitable appointment. My leg ached.

Cindy wake up an hour later and the goo was in her eye. She had it too. We both went to the same Doctor’s appointment and the eyes were easily diagnosed, and prescriptions ordered. Then I broached the subject of my leg. The pain had been unrelenting. I was sure it was a blood clot. The exam in the room was inconclusive, but due to my history I was hustled off to the hospital for an ultrasound exam on the leg. It confirmed what I believed that I had a blood clot in my right leg. Now both of my legs have had a blood clot in the same place.

I can tell you I felt frustrated and embarrassed. The questions people almost always ask are very blaming, “Do you drink enough water?” No, but there is no direct link to this and clots. “Do you walk around on those flights?” Yes, I’m so worried about this that I rarely rest well on planes and get up and walk around ever 2 hours. “Do you wear support socks?” Yes, every day, all day. “Are you on blood thinners?” Yes, I was on an aspirin regime, but now am on Xarelto. I hate that my body is betraying me.

I left the doctor very discouraged. I went to visit a friend who lifted my spirits. Then I went home and got the stomach bug that is going around. The waves a nausea were debilitating. If I had had the courage to expel the contents of my stomach it might have helped, but mostly I curled into a ball and spun in the darkness. The next day was lost in a fog of illness.

Why do I tell you this? Because I don’t want you to pat me on the back and make sweet eyes and nod your head in sympathy. People have heard of my ails already and I want everyone to agree to ignore them! If you need to say anything to me, just shake your head and say, “Bummer.” I’ll know that means you feel my pain and are on my side. Say it real quiet so that my leg will not hear it. I don’t want to give my leg too much attention because it might just try this behavior again.

I praying for better days this week.

Splash

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On the last day or our trip to Italy, I stood in the Piazza Santa Croce, people were walking through the area, shopping and talking. People were huddled in pockets for warmth. The sun was hidden behind the clouds. Many people’s heads were down. Inside the church were some of the graves of pivotal people, Michelangelo (the painter & sculptor), Machiavelli (the father of political science), Enrico Fermi (the first to produce a controlled nuclear reaction), Galileo (the astronomer), Guglielmo Marconi (the inventor of the radio), Bartolomeo Cristofori (the inventor of the piano). In the middle of the square, was one little boy. Dressed in bright red and blue, he stomped and spun and and celebrated the day.

Childhood is a universal language and puddle stomping does not have to be taught. The bright round mirror like disk did not stand a chance against the white soled tennis shoes. They leapt with joy in response to his downward crush. The father who was “watching” the child seemed bored and distracted. The child, however, seemed energized and focused. No puddle was to go undisturbed. He walked around and around attacking with gusto and without need of rest. He reminded me of the people inside the church-delighting in discovery and action.

For what do you have boundless energy? What gives you strength and you hardly ever tire of doing? What drains you and numbs you to life? Watching someone who is excited, thrilled, enthralled in an activity makes me long for those same moments in my life. The task of life is to starve the life emptying moments and transfere that time to the life affirming activities. I hate that sometimes the whirlwind of activities spin so fast and I get caught in it so easily that I don’t take the time necessary to really live life.

I made plans last year and the year before to see some friend and spiritual guides. I never got around to it. I was too busy and too distracted. I looked up and the year was gone and now a whole month is gone and still I have not done what I intended to do. I have projects I love that are sitting untouched.

Looking at that foot poised in the air, knowing that it is going to come down with delight makes me want to put my foot down and do what I know will help fill up my spirit. The confines of life so easily form borders and boundaries that are hard to shake off. The ruts are so deep that it is hard to see the landscape. I need a little more delightful energy, a little more recess abandon.

Maybe you do to? Maybe it’s time to get back to somethings that excited you about life and love and God. It’s time to put your foot down and make a splash.

Rome in the rain

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Rome is not always easy. It can be brutally crowded and oppressively hot. The combination leads to frayed emotions and stress. Our trip was designed to minimize both. Most people travel to Rome in the summer, a huge influx of pilgrims come on the shoulders of Easter. The fall draws tourist crowds trying to avoid the crowds and relish in the Christmas season. No one goes in January. Everywhere we went, we were told how empty the place was and how lucky we were for coming in January. We went to the Roman forum and for a little while there was no one else around. The crowd grew steadily during the day, but for an hour the place was ours.

The downside is the rain and the cold. It rained most days, which I think is a minor inconvenience, since most of what we did was inside museums and churches, but some of our long walks become long slogs. The other problem is closures. Lots of tourist sites close early in January. I was worried about it before we went, but now realize the pace which we kept meant most people needed a break at 5 and were not really wanting the museums to stay open till 8.

To heal the wounded, we often stopped for a break. We had been, in part, on a Gelato (incredible Italian ice cream made from milk not cream) tour. Almost every day we would try Gelato from a different store. We judged and compared and even shared tastes. Our guide told us about a place in Florence that was “the best gelato in the world!” For days our mouths watered in anticipation. We arrived on our last day of touring at our last event and then we were going to end at the Gelato shop. We weaved through the rain covered streets and turned the corner. The guides shoulders dropped. We all stared in disbelief. It was closed for January due to the lack of crowds. Sadly, we boarded the bus for the return to Rome and the trip home. Everyone was a trooper. If this was the only penalty, then we had a made a good trade.

We had several bumps in the trip, a misplaced bag, a pocket picked, a very bad blister and a traffic jam. The traffic jam triggered a long wait and a ridiculous game on the bus (ask any of the travelers about the pirate alphabet), but my favorite moment of the trip. The tour host and guide both complimented our group on the way that they dealt with problems. no fit throwing, mostly laughter and seeing the bright side.

On the Monday I left for Rome, I hurt my back. It had not hurt this bad in years. Many times I had to stop and rest and take lots of pain medicine. It was a bummer. I tried not to let it interfere, but I was often uncomfortable and people looked at me with worried concern. I felt like a distraction. When I passed a kidney stone in a flying box high above the Atlantic ocean on our flight home (FYI. the roar of the engines mask the sounds of screams) lots of things become much clearer. I woke up today with no back problem and I am celebrating.

Do you see the positive or the negative? Looking at the beautiful art, which I know was created during years of pain and difficulty, plague, famine and war, I was inspired that we can see beauty if we want to. We can’t control much, but we can control our outlook. When I am at my best, I choose to see beauty in the world.

Did Jesus Tell Ya'll to Do That?

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Last year, I read a book that has really stuck with me. It was called, Jim and Casper Go to Church. In it, Jim Henderson (no relation) describes hiring an Atheist (Casper) to travel with him to churches and then give honest unfiltered feedback about the experience. I love the book. I love the two guys featured in the book. They both seem like authentic people. They seem curious to learn from each other. They are not mean spirited, but kindly honest.

During the debrief from the church services, Casper almost always got to a point when he asked, “Did Jesus tell ya’ll to do that?” Since he had had less church expereince, he was often baffled by things people did in church. After attending a “healing” service in a church Casper asked, “If that guy can heal people, why do they need handicapped ramps?” An outsider looks inside and wonders what did Jesus want from his people most of all? That is a worthwhile conversation.

Lat week and Kings Day (Dia del Reyes) ,I was petting Humperdinck, the friendliest camel I have ever met. He was looking over toward the steeple of the church and I thought it was a fun picture. It got me thinking. When Jesus laid in the manger, could anyone have foreseen church buildings made of red brick with white spires reaching toward the sky? It’s funny, that the style of our church buildings follows the Greek temples of Athens from the time of Jesus. The church flows though that area and picks up the architecture of pillars and pediments and then flows though Rome and the Renaissance and then on to England and finally to America and Georgian architecture.

If the camel’s actually got to see Jesus, they would have seen none of that. They, however, would have seen what is most lasting and real about Jesus and therefore the Jesus community. They would have seen love. That, more than buildings, is supposed to be what characterizes us. They would have seen prayer—in a world where women died frequently in childbirth, a mom that survived was reason to celebrate. They would have seen awe and wonder as the strangest assortment of people find their way to the feet of the baby. They would have seen courage for the world did not receive him gladly.

May the world see us not as people under a steeple, but a group devoted in love to each other, calling on a gracious and generous God, including everyone in the circle of our care. May we have the boldness to step out of an ordinary life and to the extraordinary life of Jesus. I pray that is what Humperdinck could see.

A light in the sky

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We stepped out onto the streets of New York. Ever since I was a child New York City has been the image of joy and celebration. I get up on Long Island from the time I was 4-8. My Dad flew airplanes out of Laguardia Airport and we often took him to the city because we just had 1 car for the 5 of us, a VW Beatle. Driving to the city was like visiting OZ. I loved the lights and the bustle. I especially liked the library where I got my first library card and participated in a reading program.  Christmas held the promise of bigger lights and greater celebration. 

I’ve always wanted to go back. This year I had one Sunday of vacation left so we we made the choice to go for the weekend.  Our flight was delayed 2 hours and it had taken a day of travel so my plans were already off the rails, but when I stepped onto the street I was 5 again. The air was crisp and clean. The streets were not busy. I jumped and skipped and danced through the street, at least on the inside. 

Then it happened. The lights dimmed and flickered. Alarms began to ring. The there was light. The sky erupted in blue. All of the buildings took on a turquoise hue. People in the streets stopped and stared. One lady had her phone out and kept repeating the name of Jesus. This was not ordinary, it was a happening. People walked faster. We scurried underground to the subway. 

We texted our son pictures from the sky and Twitter, which was all twitter about it. Later that night we learned it was an electrical transformer explosion in Queens. 

We went downtown looked at lights and ended up at the skating rink in Central Park. It really was a magical night. 

It was fun being 5 again. It’s already been a great rest getting ready to be fully present in 2019 and if he does return in the clouds then be ready doing his work. 

Meetings

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I have been studying photography since high school. We had a darkroom in our house. I have read books about it and gone to museums to look at photographs. I have reproductions of numerous famous pictures by Ansel Adams up in my house. I even have a few pictures I have taken on the walls. One of my favorite photographers is Vivian Maier.

Discovered from complete obscurity when her belongings were auctioned off from a storage unit in Chicago, her legacy of photographs is largely tied up in legal wranglings that will last for years. Still, some of her pictures (there are over 100,000) have made it to the light of day. While in New York, I decided to go to the one gallery that is authorized to sell pictures made from her original negatives. I have a very soft spot for her pictures of children.

We followed the map to a non descript location in upper Manhattan. The lobby that opened before was nearly empty and very plain. The skeptical doorman asked what we were doing. “Trying to find the Greenberg Gallery.”

His demeanor changed and he escorted us to the elevators and sent us up to the 14th floor. We walked around the corner and found the gallery. We were greeted by a friendly receptions who asked where we were from. We exchanged information and found out that she had graduated from SMU. Two exhibits covered the walls. One was huge photographs that were amazing in detail and color and structure. They are hard to describe landscapes that capture awe and beauty and wonder. The second was of Vivian Maier’s exquisite color work. We browsed through the exhibits consider each picture in turn. It was delightful.

Then I returned to the receptions. I explained that I was thinking about buying a Vivian Maier. I have been thinking about it for several years and I decided that it is on my bucket list. I asked her how the process works. She asked me about my interest. She collected about 10 photos and brought hem to a viewing room. It really was breathtaking. She gave me the pricing. The first photo of the ten run from each negative is the least expensive. Each one that sells increases in price. The one I was interested in was the 10th image and therefore the most expensive (of course). I told her I want to wait until new ones come out and try to get in on the front end instead of the back end of the line.

I asked for her card. Then we were saying our final goodbyes. I asked one final question, “How did you get to SMU?”

She told us she came to study dance, because SMU has one of the few programs that awards a degree with a concentration in dance. I asked the follow up, “Do you know Amanda Owen?” (Amanda is the daughter of James and Laura Owen and grew up in our church). She stopped and looked at us.

“Yes! She is in Latvia. When we had recitals she always had lots of people come because there were so many people in her family. “ Several other ideas bubbled into our conversation and we left having made a new friend through a mutual friend.

You just never know who you will meet, so treat people right.

Is Our Church a House of Prayer?

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I read an article in the Gospel Coalition that affirms much of what we have been learning the last few years about the habits of family and church that generally produce long term faith commitment in the children of that home and church. The following are some of highlights of the article by Trevin Wax (almost entirely in his words). He is quoting from a study that produced a book titled, Nothing Less.

Research has indicated that children who remained faithful as young adults (identifying as a Christian, sharing their faith, remaining in church, reading the Bible, and so on) grew up in homes where certain practices were present.

BIBLE READING

The biggest factor was Bible reading. Children who regularly read the Bible while they were growing up were more likely to have a vibrant spiritual life once they became adults.

PRAYER

The practice of prayer did not specify whether it was private or corporate, before meals or before bedtime, or in the morning. But prayer was present.

SERVICE

Note that the church-related factor is about service, not just attendance. It wasn’t just that parents took their kids to church (where “professional clergy” could feed them spiritually), but that the children were included and integrated into the church through the avenue of service. The habit of serving others in the church and community likely formed these young adults in a way that kept them from identifying merely as a churchgoing “consumer,” but instead as a contributor to the building up of God’s people. Down the list a little, church mission trips show up, another indicator of the power of active service.

SINGING CHRISTIAN SONGS

Augustine’s ancient observation that we sing the truth into our hearts. When we sing together as congregations and when we praise God on our own or sing songs that fortify our faith, we reinforce the beauty of our faith.

THE POWER OF IMITATION AND ENVIRONMENT

Also notable is the impact of the parents’ example of reading Scripture, taking part in service projects, sharing their faith, and asking forgiveness after sinning. In other words, the more the repentant, joyful Christian life was modeled, the more likely children were to remain in the faith.

It is more likely for kids to grow up and stay in church, if worship was a singular priority-not an option in the family, but a way of life.

We launch “Teach Us To Pray” beginning in January. This will be an important year for us.

Exhausted

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My batteries ran out, literally. I was trying to broadcast the NorthPole live on Facebook. It was an experiment, a fun oddity. I decided to do it dressed in a Reindeer costume. Then I decided to replace the lame antlers (fabric) that came with the costume with actual antlers. Several hours later I had a bicycle helmet covered in fox fur and sporting a nice set of deer antlers (no reindeer antlers were available).

Then I attached a special streaming camera to the back of the helmet. The contraption weighed a ton, but I gave a great image. I added colorful socks to because the costume was little short. I started walking around talking to people and welcoming them to the event. It was a blast.

The camera uses my phone to broadcast the image to Facebook. The camera has a large battery that is supposed to last six hours. My phone, however, needs to be recharged after a couple of hours of full time use. I had a battery hooked to he phone, but the connection kept coming undone. Eventually, the phone gave up.

I reconnected my phone to a portable battery and tapped it in place and then waited for the phone to get enough charge so I could start broadcasting again. That is when I shed my antlers. My neck was like jelly. Several of those muscles had not been used like that in years. Then my back was having spasms so I just rolled over and laid down.

That is the moment caught in the photo. It is such a confusing picture. I looks like pastor got run over by the jeep. I was told several times that I was brave to wear a deer costume during deer season and the a number of people would be interested in taking a buck like me if I would just step out into the woods. I stayed in the light and the parking lot.

The North Pole was such a great exhausting night. We had 333 volunteers and 1900 guests. Wow! I love working hard for something worth doing. I was so proud of our church and all the hard work people did.

After my battery recharged I put the helmet back on and started to broadcast. It was a great night. I say, work hard, rest well and make a difference.

Absorb

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His black head stuck up out of the leaf pile. We could see him from across the park. Several times he bounded out of the leaves to greet people walking and running the pathways. He seemed joyful. He would take long bounding jumps then curve his back down almost like he was bowing. Then he would bounce away and finally end up in the leaves.

We were in Istanbul on the way back from Ethiopia. Dogs have it marginally better in Turkey than Ethiopia. One of our pastor friends in Ethiopia was shocked to find out that many of us had dogs as pets and that we let them inside of our homes. In a strange twist of fate he ended up staying with one of of partners in Chicago who has a tiny indoor dog for several days last summer. I can’t wait to talk to him about it.

The dogs of Istanbul have a long history. In 1869 Mark Twain wrote in his famous travelogue, Innocents Abroad, that he had seen lots of dogs on the streets. “The dogs sleep in the streets, all over the city. From one end of the street to the other, I suppose they will average about eight or ten to a block.” There have been attempts to deal with the problem, but nothing yet has worked. The problem just keeps getting bigger. There is an ugly trend of buy cute puppies and then when the dogs get older, taking to the forests and abandoning them. They dogs eventually make their way back to the city and live on the streets as best they can.

All most dogs want is to be fed and loved. A friend posted on my facebook a moving little video. It shows a person getting up and facing the day. Slowly, through the human interactions, the person absorbs the hurts and bruises of the people he meets. The tears, the sorrows and confusions build up and the character that left the house in the morning buoyant is now burdened down. Finally, arriving back home with drooped shoulders the character trudges up the steps to their door.

On the other side is a dog. The dog waits on the floor, melancholy from a day of waiting. Then the door opens. The dog and person meet. In an instant both are renewed. I have watched it over and over. It is so they way I feel. Days are long, the hurts are real and it gives me great joy that waiting for me when I get home are two creatures whose only purpose seems to be cheering me up.

I wish the world were more filled with love and support. I wish that is what we valued and protected most. I wish that people could go through the world and constantly get their needs met. Isn’t that what the God tells us, that our gifts, our lives, have been offered to each other, for “the common good.” (I Cor. 12:7). Like the piles of leaves in the park we should be stationed around each other ready to bound out at a moments notice and cheer each other on.

Red

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What is it? When I pulled the handle I had no idea what I would find. I was trying to repair a broken piece of equipment and I was trying all of the knobs and doors to see if I could get into the inside. A small curved protrusion was the only hint that I was able to move the panel. This is what I pulled out.

It was bright and red and I kept my distance. I knew at once that it was ink. It was strong ink. It lived inside of the mailing machine. I have no idea what this is. It is far away from the printing element. It even seems far away from the ink cartridge. The machine has sat on the counter for a number of years and none of us remember seeing it.

It looks like it could be a celestial display, like a bright red moon is rising on a snowy day. The light filters through the crystals. Or it could be a big dollop of strawberry jam that has been dropped on white carpet. Or it might be a hole drilled into a catchup container. It could be a wound.

It feels like a Rorschach test-those strange ink blots that tells us more about ourselves than about he inkblot.

Jesus gives us a new way of seeing and new way of viewing the world. As we put on the way fo Christ, we begin to see the way he sees. Slowly but surely we begin to choose a new set a values, a new set of loves. This week we are reading in Isaiah. he tells us to see the world differently. Seek Justice, Defend the oppressed, Take up the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow (1:17). This is a profound challenge to the old way of seeing. In the old way power tramples over the powerless, the weak are ground underfoot or neglected completely. The Jesus way is to see all things new.

We are glad that God sees us new. He does not hold on to our old status, but makes us new and clean. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” Is 1:18.

Experiment

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I went with Cindy to the store to buy all the supplies for a our Thanksgiving feast. We went late at night to avoid the crowd and becasue we were Lae getting off from work. The aisles were filled with other shoppers who were on similar missions. We began to help each other.

“Chopped pecans?”

“They are in that middle aisle.”

“Do they have ground ginger in a smaller size?”

“No, just the bigger bottle.”

“Where is the cranberry sauce?”

“Its on the top shelf, but the box edge is high, so you can’t see the labels.”

The problem with going late is that I was tired and a little punchy. I began to pick up random items and sneak them into the basket. I managed to get a pepper grinder with multiple colored corns into our cart. I got a bottle of Carmel Macchiato from the dairy section. Then I stopped at the deeply discounted damaged and discontinued shelf. Behind the damaged cans and broken boxes stood a section of cereal boxes. They were held the price of their similar cousins.

I was made for this box of cereal. You have to know that “Special K” is my cereal for an obvious reason, I am a “special” K. It has stood proudly in our pantry for many years. More so since they started adding strawberries tot he mix several years ago. Now a great cereal is linked to my favorite fruit. Now, I was confronted with this new flavor. I love autumn. I love the smell of piles of leaves, smoke from the chimney and holiday flavors. The box proudly proclaimed that the cereal had pumpkin spice and hints of cinnamon and nutmeg. They had me at cinnamon.

As I put it into the top of the basket, no hiding this proud purchase, I counted the remaining boxes. I was planning my strategy for cornering the Athens market of this breakfast delight. Im writing this on the morning that I am going to crack open the box and try it, Ill be back in a second.

Its good. Pumpkin spice can be over done, but this is subtle. It is slightly sweet with burst of flavor. It was unexpected. It was really good. I’ll be heading back to the store before this newsletter gets posted.

I love trying something new. Why not crawl out of the rut and try something entirely new? I imagine that there are so many more experiences we can all have, but we wall ourselves off with familiarity. God tells us that there is something new in this day, why not find it?

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness. Lam. 3:23

No Rain, No Rainbows

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The wind was howling, the air was biting, the temperature was dropping and the rainbow was beautiful. We were standing on the edge of the Bosporus, the channel of water separating Europe from Asia cutting right through Istanbul. We had been watching the boats and the water when this storm blew through the city. It had been a beautiful morning with no need for a jacket. I was wearing short sleeves and had left my coat in the hotel. Cindy had brought her jacket.

We were taking a picture of the water and the city and not really paying attention when we looked up and saw the quickly forming rainbow. It stretched across the sky. It was beautiful. The bible indicates it was in this area that the first rainbow announced God’s loving intentions to the world. It was a stunning and encouraging sight.

We ran for the subway. The rain increased and our clothes absorbed more and more water. This had been our last stop before heading to the airport and now a clothes change would be required. We ran from building to building trying to find some shelter, but found very little. We eventually reached the subway entrance and rain out of the rain. Drip by drip we proceeded down the long escalator to the awaitng car. We jumped on the for the four minute trip to the next stop, the one nearest to our hotel.

I reached up to hold on to the loop as the car lurched forward. I noticed my exposed arms and hands. They were bright red from the cold. Water dripped from my hair on to my arms. I looked up and down the train, which extended three or four cars in each direction. It was one big open tube. As far as my eyes could see I was the only one wearing short sleeves. I was the only one dripping wet.

I also had the biggest smile. Lots of people were wrapped up tight in warm cloths with their hoods pulled over their heads and the eyes cast down. The storm and the cold and the rain had driven them inside their shells like turtles. I, on the other hand, wanted to dance and sing like Gene Kelly. I could not have picked a better ending to a great trip, without the rain, there would be no rainbows.

Gone and Forgotten

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At the end of a hall, with only a small sign sits a modest lion statue. It’s not very big, not particualry beautiful, but it has a storied history. It used to adorn a famous building. It used to decorate, along with 20 other lions, the top story of one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

Take a break and see how many you can write down. How many did you get? (Colossus of Rhodes. Pyramid of Giza, , Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Lighthouse of Alexandria, Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, Statue of Zeus at Olympia, Temple of Artemis at Ephesus). I got five and half. I thought it was a statue of Athens not Zeus. Artemis totally slipped my mind. The lion statue is from Halicarnassus.

Only a handful of artifacts remain. It stood for many years on the southern coast of Turkey, but by the Crusades it had been toppled by Earthquakes and then scavenged to build new buildings. In the late 1800’s during a period of intense interest in Archeology this lion was discovered. Through careful reading of ancient texts an archaeologist bought a piece of land and stared excavating. Then he burrowed under the neighbors lands until he found the ancient ruins. He then went and bought the plots of land he really needed, knowing what was beneath them. (It harkens back to a story Jesus told about buying land containing a treasure).

We stumbled upon this lion in the archaeology museum of Istanbul. There is not much fanfare. You can take a selfie with it. People were casually touching it. Most people just walked past it and did not notice. I was shocked at how little interest most people paid to this important artifact that represents the best of the ancient world. Later in the museum we looked at several other world class, earth shattering artifacts. One was hidden in the dark. The other was made so hard to see that most people dismiss it without a second glance.

I wanted to shake people and make them take notice. I wanted to tell them the story, but I didn’t. I didn’t want to be that guy, so I just looked intently at the items and enjoyed them myself. I think that is what a lot of us do about Jesus. We know he is more than just an ancient prophet. We know that he deserves our full attention, but don’t want to be thought of as crazy as too sold out and too annoying. So we just enjoy him ourselves and don’t share.

Take a Pause

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On the way back from Ethiopia we stopped in Istanbul for a little rest. The week had been very long and tiring. Most days we were without power. Cold showers were the norm. The Internet hardly worked making communications nearly impossible. Supplies we had taken were being held in customs. Supplies we were getting in Addis were late. Printed programs were delayed by the lack of power in the city. Each day we got up and worked hard and then slept fitfully due to the drastic time change. When we left, we were all exhausted, satisfied, but exhausted. We had had four great GLS events around the country. We had prepared materials for the next 8 events and left everything in working order.

We arrived in Istanbul at 6 in the morning after getting on the plane at midnight. We were all in a sleep deprivation daze. We were driven to our hotel and our rooms were ready for us. We went immediately to sleep. After a short nap we got up to see the city.

Our first steps lead us to Gülhane Park. This area used to be reserved for the sultan, but in 1839 was opened as a park for all people. It was a beautiful respite after seven stressful days. I had intended only to walk through the park on the way to the Archaeological Museum, but we lingered. We watched birds and dogs and cats. We listened as a children’s field trip ang as they walked. We took pictures and watched people. We spent an hour an hour doing nothing.

The grounded was covered with leaves. I started looking for a beautiful one. I found this one. I stopped and looked at it for a long time. I love the fact that the yellow color was always present-that the green color just masks the underlying color. As the days shorten, the chlorophyll stops being produced and the underlying reality is revealed. I grew up with a saying, “Time and truth walk hand in hand.” It means that given enough time the underlying reality of a situation we become clear. Or another way, you can fake something for only a short amount of time.

As fall emerges around us, take some time to slow down and watch the world. Practice a little autumn in your life. Let somethings go that are no longer producing for you-let go of an idea, think something new. We can’t always be in spring mode instead sometimes we need a strategic pause to get ready for the next things.

Can you give me a hand?

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I came into the house through the laundry room. I was not paying attention because the dogs were so glad to meet me and were twirling around my legs. Then out of the corner of my eye I saw a disembodied had on the dryer.

It was with Cindy’s computer bag, so I knew what it was. It was a prop. It was going to be used for a skit in the Lodge. The Lodge is one of our attempts to link parents and our church more deeply together in the task of spiritual discipleship. Each week a group of youth and adults practice and perform a 30 minute presentation of the bible, a value and a contemporary story applying the idea.

Frequently, we are the prop department. This prop, however, was more unusual than most. It was really weird. I thought I should have been warned before I open the door. “By the way, don’t mind the arm on the dryer.” I came into the house with a strange look on my face. I just had to say, “Arm?” We have laughed about it for several days.

When do you need a warning? When do you need to give someone a heads up?

Jesus give us lots of warnings. Most of which we ignore. He tells us to be careful because we are about to enter into a complicated situation, and don’t be surprised. He tells us that following him will cause trouble. People will misunderstand. People will think less of you. People will think you are weird. We have a phrase, “That will cost you and arm and a leg.”

It started during the First World War. It was a measure of the real cost of standing up for our cherished beliefs. We should not imagine that we can get through the battle for the truth in our world without paying the real cost. Sometimes its money, more often, it is time, commitment and choices. This is what it will cost us to do the work God has called us to.