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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

"Don't slip!"

"Anything I've ever done that ultimately was worthwhile... initially 
scared me to death."
--Betty Bender

I'm spending a few days with some colleagues on a "pastor theologian" retreat in a breathtakingly beautiful setting on a hillside overlooking Estes Park, CO below with Long's Peak towering majestically above.

Our mornings have been spent hiking the trails of the Rocky Mountain National Park.  Afternoons have been filled with lively discussion of how we understand and experience God through Divine Names and good and evil.  In the evening we have sat around a fire beneath a night sky so clear and close it seems you can touch it while banjo music, singing and laughter caress our souls.

We are hiking some of the more popular trails in the park and so the trail head is rather crowed with people of all ages, hiking abilities, and intentions.   However, it's not long before the crowds are dispersed throughout the numerous trails that branch out from that single path.  Even still we encounter many people going and coming and in doing so hear numerous snippets of conversation.

Two such snippets caught my attention yesterday.  The first was a father with two small children as they took the alternate path across a small stream where  stones were spaced just right for walking or hopping.  The children were giggling, "We're going the different way!" as they gleefully hopped on the first stone.  The father said, "Don't slip!"  The first child immediately froze on the second stone and whined, "I'm scared."

The second snippet came later in the day as we descended.  While taking a water break we witnesses a young woman trip and stumble to her knees.  We and several other people rushed to help her up - assistance she quickly rebuffed as she popped up and brushed off a skinned knee.  Just a few minutes later the same young woman passed us on the trail and I overheard her say to trail mates, "I'm trying as hard as I can to not fall."

This all makes me wonder about how early in life we learn risk aversion and how the very things we fear often become self-fulfilling prophecy.  

So, what are your aversions and fears, small and large?  How many of them have come true?  What would happen if you let them go and hopped to the next stone or stopped trying to not fall?

You might get your feet wet or have to brush off a skinned knee - but maybe that was going to happen anyway.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Lines In The Sand

It seems that recently racial lines so many thought were beginning to fade in the sand have again become trenches of suspicion, mis-trust, and fear.  In light of this, I share with you a couple of thoughts that apply not only to racial issues but all of our relationships.  They come from a daily email I receive from the Church of the Savior here in Washington, DC., Inward/Outward - seeking the depths.

Yearning and Fear

Each person with his or her history of being accepted or rejected, with his or her past history of inner pain and difficulties in relationships, is different. But in each one there is a yearning for communion and belonging, but at the same time a fear of it. Love is what we most want, yet it is what we fear the most.


Not Effortless

As we ponder the importance of community as a spiritual discipline, it is helpful to remember that the model of community of Acts was not effortless, but rather the unfolding of mutual experience tested in the light of serious challenges and supported in God’s strength. We must develop a way to understand genuine community as the product of conflict and testing. We must discover ways to be authentically present to and respectful of one another while we disagree strenuously. We must learn to discover and speak our own truths, without fear and without harm to others who also hold a piece of the truth in which we all live.


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

"Mission Trip"

Today's message comes from the New Jersey Shore where a group of folks from Capitol Hill Presbyterian Church are working this week to do what little we can in the continuing recovery from last year's hurricane Sandy.   

Yesterday after hanging new doors in the home of an 87 year old man, he and his daughter told one member of our group they wanted to take us out to dinner.  The group member explained that we already had dinner being prepared for us back at the Point Pleasant Presbyterian Church where we were staying.  Then the old man, not to be stopped in his generosity, offered to pay for our work.  The group member said, "That's really generous, but we're volunteering to help you.  If you really want to give your money, find someone in your community who really needs it and give it to them."   The exchanged moved the old man's daughter to tears.

On another job several people were doing some painting for a woman whose home had not only been destroyed but looted after the storm.  She lives alone and is constantly afraid of someone again breaking into her home.   The organizers of our work reported that this woman has problems making decisions and is always changing her mind so that projects just can't seem to come to completion.  Our group members reported that one of them was in constant conversation with the woman while the others worked.  It seems as if she's also afraid of her repairs being completed because when they are - the workers stop coming.

As with most mission trips there is usually confusion as to who is giving or receiving the "mission"  or exactly what that mission is.  In any case, generosity, gratitude, and comfort flow freely in all directions.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

All The Difference

When you come to the fork in the road, take it.
-Yogi Berra

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, 
And sorry I could not travel both          
And be one traveler…                               
…Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—              
I took the one less traveled by,             
And that has made all the difference.
- Robert Frost, "The Road Not Taken"

Even though the directions from Yogi Berra make you scratch your head and "say wha'?" there is a context in which they make perfect sense.  I've been told (without verification) that Yogi himself was giving directions to a house with a long driveway that became circular before reaching the house.  In which case, taking either prong of the fork led to the same place.

Perhaps there is a meta-metaphor for life here - regardless of the choices we make in life we all end up at the same threshold. What lies beyond this threshold we call "death" is and always has been a mystery.  Every human being has this destination in common.  However the vast variety of paths along this journey offers as many "forks" to take as there are individuals on the pilgrimage we called "life."

It seems to me if we're all going to end up in the same place, then "all the difference" of which Robert Frost writes is the stuff of our lives created by the choices we make and the roads we take.  Another way to look at it is that wherever we are today is the results of yesterday's choices, while tomorrow will grow out of today's decisions.  The decisions and choices we make really do make all the difference.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013


Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose,
And nothin' ain't worth nothin' but it's free,
-from Me and Bobby McGee, by Kris Kristofferson

Freedom ain't a state like Maine or Virginia.
Freedom ain't across some county line.
Freedom is a state that burns within ya.
Freedom is a state of mind.
- from Shenandoah, by Gary Geld and Peter Udell

If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples;  and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.    
- John 8:31-32, Jesus of Nazareth

As we in the United States celebrate and contemplate freedom this week of Independence Day, may we remember that freedom is not a commodity to be given or taken, bought or sold. Nor is it a possession of any one people, government, or nation.   

One way of understanding the "Truth" of Jesus' teachings (word) is that the natural state of Creation has no boundaries, limits, or attachments; yet is interconnected and interdependent. The real cost of freedom then is surrender, letting go, and releasing illusions of separation.  In unconditional relationship with God, each other and nature we experience true freedom.  This is not license to do as one pleases, but rather a birthright to joyfully and responsibly participate in the whole of creation, free to be who we are created to be.

Have a great and free Independence Day holiday!