Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Untamed God

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Caveat Lector, dear companion. I have the feeling that you are either about to take the ride with me or you’ll be bailing out of this essay pretty quickly. I wouldn’t blame you if you did the latter, because I am going to write some things that I don’t really understand myself. I just need to put them down to see what I think about them. If I am lucky you may stick around to help me think things through.

What I have been pondering, certainly not for the first time, is a subject that I have come to think of as the persistent and highly misunderstood form of inter-species communication that occurs anytime a human being makes a connection with God. I am convinced that what we THINK is happening when we commune with the Divine is almost certainly not what is, in fact, happening.



The first idea with which I have wrestled for quite some time has to do with our persistent human tendency to make everything that is not human over into our own image, a habit sometimes referred to as anthropomorphizing. We believers in God hear a lot about it from our atheist and agnostic friends, and frankly I am sure that they are mostly right in this regard. Put another way, I think that particular criticism actually reflects an unmistakable and oft-repeated biblical criticism of bad religion.
"For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways," declares the LORD. "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts (are higher) than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8, 9
Too many times we attempt to make God over into a comfortable and only comforting caricature of the Divine. I have come to believe that this tenacious habit is in reality a sign of my doubt and disbelief, not a symptom of faith, because while God is certainly personal, God cannot be construed by any stretch of biblical authority to be human.

The first sign of this is that as Creator, God claims complete responsibility for the universe in which we live.

28 “Hath the rain a father? Or who hath begotten the drops of dew?
29 Out of whose womb came the ice? And the hoary frost of heaven, who hath engendered it?
30 The waters are hid as with a stone, and the face of the deep is frozen.
31 “Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion?
32 Canst thou bring forth Mazzaroth in his season? Or canst thou guide Arcturus with his sons?
33 Knowest thou the ordinances of heaven? Canst thou set the dominion thereof over the earth?
34 “Canst thou lift up thy voice to the clouds, that abundance of waters may cover thee?
35 Canst thou send lightnings that they may go and say unto thee, ‘Here we are’?
36 Who hath put wisdom in the inward parts, or who hath given understanding to the heart?
37 Who can number the clouds by wisdom? Or who can stay the bottles of heaven,
38 when the dust groweth into hardness, and the clods cleave fast together? Job 38:28-38
All of the phenomena named above are forces of nature. They are manifestations of creation that cannot be controlled by human beings. They are not lullabies that reassure us of God’s gentle demeanor, but harbingers of the untamed God, who is not subject to human desires and who does not pander to human emotion.

This is not to say that God does not love us but that the God who loves us is of such immensity of power and purpose that we will not in this lifetime understand the Almighty. God’s discourse with Job stands to remind every would-be believer that genuine faith takes into account ALL of the deeds of the Almighty, not merely those which give us warm and fuzzy feelings. The decay side of existence, including its corrosive, destructive and dismembering realities, is also an expression of the Divine character.

OK, well, that is enough for today. I’ll come back later this week to attempt one or two more ideas that seem to follow on from those I have stated above.

In the meantime, what is your reaction to what I’ve written thus far? Leave a comment
.

Photo Credit: www.crosscards.com




Saturday, December 14, 2013

We Have Not Seen Mandela . . . One Last Tribute to Madiba



A South African chain store has laid on one of the most touching tributes to Nelson Mandela seen in the past week – and it was in the form of a flash mob.
Woolworths teamed up with the Soweto Gospel Choir, who posed as shoppers and store workers at the Parkview store in Johannesburg.


The choir then began an "impromtu" rendition of Asimbonanga [We have not seen him], singing:

Asimbonanga [we have not seen him]
Asimbonang' uMandela thina [we have not seen Mandela]
Laph'ekhona [in the place where he is]
Laph'ehleli khona [in the place where he is kept]

Asimbonanga
Asimbonang 'umfowethu thina [we have not seen our brother]
Laph'ekhona [in the place where he is]
Laph'wafela khona [in the place where he died]
Sithi: Hey, wena [We say: hey, you]
Hey, wena nawe [Hey, you and you]
Siyofika nini la' siyakhona [when will we arrive at our destination]
The song was written during Mandela's incarceration as a call for his freedom. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Friday, November 22, 2013

Finding the Healing Road

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Driven To Your Knees

A time comes in your life when, in the midst of your obsessive struggle to avoid failure and to capture success, you are driven to your knees in defeat.

Perhaps from sheer exhaustion or a sickness of heart that drains away hope, you find it impossible to stand. You realize that your every effort is only making your situation worse. Somewhere inside your head a voice cries out,

"ENOUGH!"

You surrender, however reluctantly, to the idea that you cannot change things out there. You finally see that even if the people around you change, your life will not improve.

You remember the dozens of times when you completely squandered good fortune and generosity. You find it harder and harder to exercise blind faith in your delusions. You know unless there is a dramatic change within you, nothing can save you from yourself.

You slowly come to terms with the hurt that others caused you. You stop complaining and blaming God and other people for the things they did to you – or didn't do for you. You stop judging and pointing fingers, because in seeing yourself as you are, you no longer find pleasure in their flaws.


Learning to Laugh, to Love, and to Share


Oddly enough, around this time your sense of humor begins to return as you realize the absurdity of the delusions you have been holding onto. As you learn to laugh at yourself while loving yourself, your wounds begin to heal.

You learn the sharp, painful difference between wanting and needing, then you begin to awaken to the fulfillment of letting go of what you want so that you can- perhaps for the first time in your adult life- get what you need.

You discover that no single human being- not your parents, not your lovers or your friends or the authority figures around you- can fill in the gaps in your life. Instead, you begin to realize that you can accept whatever people have to give you, as partial and incomplete as it may be.  You add it to what others have given you so that over time, your life becomes steadily more fulfilling.

You marvel at how passing on these gifts to others does not diminish your joy but inevitably causes it to increase.


Building on New Foundations


You learn that qualities such as honesty and integrity, far from being laughable signs of weakness are the mortar that holds together the foundation upon which you must build a life. You learn that wishing for something to happen is different than working to make it happen.

As you come to terms with the reality that you won’t achieve overnight success, you begin to experience smaller victories. You barely notice them at first, but as you develop humility, you grow in your ability to enjoy every kind of progress. You begin to see the connection between your gains and your ability to exercise direction, discipline and perseverance.

You notice that none of these milestones were achieved on your own; in fact, you realize that your good fortune has increased in direct proportion to your ability to stop hogging the lime light, to work well with others, and to give credit where credit is due. You begin to see how God has been doing many things for you that you could not do for yourself.

You gradually become convinced nobody is punishing you and life’s misfortunes are not always someone's fault. You begin to believe that God is far more interested in your well-being than you ever imagined, and as you test that belief, you find yourself becoming less self-focused and more responsive to the good that comes your way.


One Last Lesson


If you are extremely fortunate, about this time you fail. You find yourself crashing headlong into the the bitter reality that not all of your risks or your hard work will be rewarded, at least not in the short run.
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Soon after you pull yourself out of your shock and confusion, it occurs to you to complain bitterly to God.  However, instead of giving you a direct answer, God sends one of those people you learned to share your good fortune with to help you see that you may have done your finest work in the midst of failure, and that you have much to be proud of even though you have little else to show for the effort. 

You kneel in deliberate, prayerful contemplation.

You rise. You dust yourself off, take stock of your situation and somehow find unexpected grace in laughter.


Then you begin again



Photo Credit: www.crosscards.com

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Why Reality is Raining on Our Emerging Dreams of Relevance

Photo Credit: www.123.rf.com
There are days when the emerging church movement just reaches into the marrow of my bones and and shakes me to the core.  On those days I find myself responding with . . . fatigue. Befuddlement.  Cynicism.  

It isn't that I don't find anything to like about churches and individuals who take up the banner. In fact, the emerging church's critique of the unhealthy evolution of inherited Christianity often sends me back to reread Kierkegaard's Attack Upon Christendom, Cox's The Secular City, Tillich's The Shaking of the Foundations and very occasionally, the book of Jeremiah.  

Then I get in my vehicle and ride over the levee that divides haves from have-nots. I merge onto the beltway that catches the rush hour traffic.  

As I make my way along the beltway I am treated to giant billboards emblazoned with messages from the future church. 

Cruising through this post-denominational landscape, bold, one-word promises shout out to me from signs along the freeway.  

HYPERVENTILATING ADJECTIVES

They invite me to join Courageous Seekers who want to Connect and to Endeavor to become communities of Restorers and Defenders who Pulse with the rhythm of the CityBeat as they Root themselves in the Source to Recreate (ReCreate?) and Replenish that FirstLove.  

And I get tired.  No, not tired, but TIED, as in Exhausted by the over stimulation of gospel (?) hype.

Maybe I am just old fashioned, rooted too much in the inheritance of a stodgy routine that has lost its ability to Relate to the Seekers.  

I don't feel that way.  What I feel at five-thirty a.m. on the phone with a grandmother who has lost one more night's sleep over her beautiful nieto who is running the streets blazing like there is no tomorrow--- what I feel at that moment is that the all-too eager Relevant Endeavor of the Citybeat movement is asleep.  

WHAT MUST NEVER GO OUT OF STYLE

But the Gospel is awake.  The Spirit is present and ablaze with its own healing, smokeless, crackless fire, fighting kush and blunts, cheese and ice, abuse and murder and every demon from hell and the Gospel is saying to that abuela that these monsters SHALL NOT PASS.  

That, my emerging friends, is a movement that is as powerful and practical as the meteoric tumble Christ and the 70 gave Lucifer when they took the gospel down dirt roads in sandals with just the clothes on their backs.

I am not against the emerging church. As I stated before there is much to admire about the movement.  My fervent prayer, however, is that what emerges is religion, pure and undefiled, timeless as wisdom lifting her voice at the crossroads of desperate circumstances and as powerful as the resurrected Christ breathing the Spirit upon his quaking disciples.


Photo Credit: www.crosscards.com 


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

My Greatest Embarrassment as a Christian



A CONFESSION
I am going to step out on a limb here and talk about one of my biggest embarrassments as a Christian.

It can be summed up in a word that militant atheists like Richard Dawkins and Dan Dennet use to slam Christians.

It is the term "Sheeple."

You know, as in "Sheep People."

Our haters take an image that is used throughout Christian and Hebrew holy scriptures to ridicule our characters. They see "Sheeple" as mindless, blind followers of a faith that is just a front for power hungry manipulators.

CAUGHT CHEWING THE CHRISTIAN CUD
"Sheeple" line up at the feeding trough and bleat helplessly until someone comes to feed them.

"Sheeple" wander around directionless, guided only by their most basic needs, depending on a nonexistent Deity to show them where to go and what to do.

"Sheeple" moan pitifully when the pastures are not green and the Shepherd didn't show up or the fodder was not to their liking.

"Sheeple" can't do anything on their own. Their lives are run by fear and superstition and ignorance. They need someone to tell them what to do , where to go, what to think.

"Sheeple" abandon their own, moving on to the next clump of green grass while their fellows who have been caught in danger and mired in muck bleat helplessly for someone to come extricate them from their circumstances.

WHEN THIS SHOE FITS . . . GO BAREFOOT
Why am I embarrassed? Not because some blowhards who make their living off of intellectual bullying call me names.

I become embarrassed because far too often, the shoe fits. 

In far too many cases that term "Sheeple" is a perfect description of the attitudes and actions of those of us who call ourselves "Christian."

When was the last time you picked up a Bible to learn something about the God you worship?

When was the last time you stepped up to actually do something that you know Christ wants you to do but that was inconvenient, or made you uncomfortable, or that you were afraid you might fail at?

On the other hand, when was the last time you complained because the worship service didn't "feed" you, or the church's ministry wasn't "dynamic" enough or God forbid, the people you worship with don't suit your taste?

Or the last time you shunned someone who doesn't believe what you believe or live the way that you live? Or because their choices made you uncomfortable?

When was the last time you passed up a fellow church member, let alone a child of God who was unknown to you, because you were too busy or afraid, didn't care for the circumstances, or didn't like the other Christians you would have to work with in order to HELP SOMEBODY??

I AM NOT ASHAMED OF THE GOSPEL
Listen, I am not ashamed of the fact that I am God's lamb. I am a sheep of his pasture. Dawkins and Dennet will never understand how the term applies to me.

But they sure understand how, far too often, I don't live up to the Lamb's vision of me, of how often I live down to the Hater in Chief, the Devil's, estimation of me.

I want to be Christ's lamb, I want to be a member of his fold, to be protected and loved and nurtured by a gentle Shepherd who says to me, "come unto me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."

Washing Feet of a Homeless Woman
Photo Credit: Mark Grace
I REFUSE TO BE SHOVED INTO SOMEONE ELSE'S STEREO-TYPE
But I also want to be a member of God's Chosen Generation, A Priest of the Lamb, a warrior fully clothed in the armor of God, a leading citizen in that Holy Nation, a one-percenter among the people of this world- not merely of the US of A- but a unique, fully called and completely actualized Child of the Christ who showed me what the abundant, royal life is all about.

I do NOT want to be counted among those whose sum and substance was to only ever graze contentedly in green pastures and lounge by still waters while somebody else did the work.  I don't want to be the one who constantly criticized the work of other Christians and bleated helplessly about how we should be doing better while doing NOTHING to live UP to God's calling on my own life.

When Christ comes back, I know that I will not be able to say that I lived a perfect life.

I just don't want the Alpha and the Omega to wrap his arms around me while I bleat helpless excuses about why I was not able to have done better. I want to hear my Savior say to me, "Well done thy good and faithful servant."

What about you? What embarrasses you about being a Christian?  And what is your personal vision of the kind of stereotype busting follower of Christ that you want to be?  Leave a comment!


Monday, April 29, 2013

Words, Words, Everywhere Words & No Relief In Sight

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We did the consult thing today, with the specialist, well one of the specialists.  Dora was so starved for some kinda news that I thought she was going to fall down and kiss sunny jim’s feet.  

He talked more than my preacher does. No offense, chaplain! You know how preachers can be. They think they can solve anything by throwing words at it.

Anyway, every time I asked a question he got that, ‘Children should be seen and not heard' look in his eyes.

Aw, heck,there wasn't anything wrong with him.  Other than the fact that he talked for most of a solid hour, and didn't say a doggone thing. 

‘Maybe this, maybe that, maybe this other thing.”

Made me weary to the bone.  Why do they waste your dang time if they don’t have anything to say?

I know he thought he was doing a bang-up job because Dora was just about to cry from gratitude.

He didn't say one thing that had any certainty to it. If he had only said what he knew for a fact, we woulda been out in seven minutes. 

Heck, he could’ve taken an extra ten minutes to show us how much he learned in school and I still woulda felt all right. Instead we get a truck load of pig manure.  And I can tell you right now that pig manure is not what we need more of at this point.  It may have its place in this life, but we got an overabundance of it in our corner of the world.

And by the end of the day Dora is depressed as all get-out.  We were eating supper, having a great time joking back and forth, like we used to do, and all of a sudden she looks at me and says, ‘We didn’t find out anything today, did we? We still don’t know what they can do because they don’t know either.’ 

There isn't much that gets that woman down. If I told you everything she’s been through in her life, it would make you cry, and I know you've heard some rough things.  ‘She eats pressure for breakfast,’ is what I have always said about her.

Now she is all jumpy. Her knees have started hurting all over again, from out of nowhere, and she gets these headaches. 

She’s never had headaches before.

When she tells them they just stare back and say, “That ain't related to this,’ like that is a goll-dang answer.  It don’t concern them, like that kinda pain ain't any of their business because it ain't related to what they are studying on.  

I can tell you for sure that it concerns the heck out of me.

Aw, there is nothing wrong with that guy.  I know he’s doing his best, if for no other reason than he’s too proud to do a bad job. You can tell that about him.

In a way we are both alike because right now, I get a lot of pleasure out of making Dora smile.  And I am of less use to her than that bloomin' doctor is. 

It is so easy to please her these days. It feels so good to do some little thing for her.  And you would think I just worked some kind of a genuine New Testament miracle.

But I feel like crap for feeling so happy while she is suffering.  Some days I feel positively happy because she needs me so much right now. 

Dora has always loved me but there has never been a day in our marriage when I thought she actually needed me.  Now she needs me and the way it makes me feel is kind of scary.

OK, well it is time for me to shut up. I'm talking more than that dang doctor.

Will you pray with me? Right now it feels like that is the only kind of talking that is gonna help anything.


Photo C redit: www.crosscards.com

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Please Share This With Your Colleagues, Friends & Family Members: The Boston Marathon Bombing

PHOTO CREDIT: The United Methodist Church, Praying for Boston Marathon Victims

You don’t have to be a children’s organization to realize that the most vulnerable among us in times of horror like the Boston Marathon bombing are, in fact, children. 

For starters, very little helpful news and information is oriented toward children. It is often surprising to me how little time or energy is devoted to constructive efforts to help children deal with the crushing onslaught of images, sounds, and words that are primarily oriented toward the sensational.

In a world in which most adults have become desensitized to images of horror and the constant flow of the panicked and obsessive repetition of intense emotions, it is easy for us to forget that the children we love most- our sons and daughters, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, god sons and god daughters, and children of friends- may have precious few cognitive and experiential resources to deal with what is coming at them.

Please take some time to view the message below and pass it on.  As adults, our greatest resource in times like these is our ability to step back for a moment from our sense of helplessness and ask what we ourselves can do to help someone else.  Here is one thing that you and those you love can do. In the process, it is entirely possible that you may find something of real help to you.


thanks,
Mark

Monday, December 31, 2012

Inspiration for the New Year

Dorothy and Megan Grace, circa 2005
Photo Credit: Mark Grace



Well, 2012 was a banner year by any standard of judgment.  We managed to dodge several apocalypses.  Now at year's end everyone seems to be more or less in the same place they were when the year started.

Of course this game of The-End-of-the-World-As-We-Know-It appears to be one of the few trends we human beings manage to sustain year in and year out.  

No Armageddon?  Well, step right over here.  How about a nice high Fiscal Cliff to jump off?  If nature or God won't oblige, we'll build our own mini-apocalypse. 

Though I am as overly anxious and prone to panicky obsessions as the next person, in my middle age I seem to have discovered unexpected resources for dealing with the constant excessive preoccupation with disaster that culture and politics keeps throwing my way.

Two of those resources are embodied in the persons of the women pictured above: my daughter, Megan and my mother, Dorothy.

Now 82 years of age, my mother survived the dust bowl years in the Panhandle of Texas and managed her way through the near death and year-long hospitalization of my grandad, Miller Cason.  Though fortunate to survive his milk truck being struck by a train, his body took a long time to mend from its injuries.  Mom and her mother Lena traded 12 hour shifts sitting with him in his hospital room and my mother took on many of the chores of looking after her siblings.

Now she manages a very challenging life with my father, who has mellowed nicely in his old age, but who also suffers from Parkinsons and functional blindness.  Their biggest desire?  To continue to find meaningful ways to serve Christ.

Megan is working hard in Austin, Texas, hustling jobs to make ends meet in an incredibly tough economic climate.  In spite of disappointment and delays on the job front, she brings her best on a daily basis to a very challenging life.  In midst of it all she copes with humor and passion and a deep commitment to learning and growth.  In so many ways I see her carrying forward the legacy that Dorothy is leaving all of us.

Both of these women remind me in different ways of a very basic truth.  Though I can't predict or control what 2013 brings my way, I have more than enough love, determination and faith to deal with what comes.

2013 may or may not be my year to find wealth and fame, to live up to my full potential-whatever that may be.  It may bring disappointment and delay.  Who knows, really? 

I can tell you, however, that because of these two women whom I love and admire more than words can tell, I know that with God's help I have the resources to deal with whatever the New Year brings.

What about you?  Who reminds you, on the cusp of  a new year, that you can meet the challenges that may come your way?  Leave a comment!


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