Friendship

Henri Nouwen said that “Friendship is one of the greatest gifts a human being can receive. It is a bond beyond common goals, common interests, or common histories. It is a bond stronger than sexual union can create, deeper than a shared fate can solidify, and even more intimate than the bonds of community. Friendship is being with the other in joy and sorrow, even when we cannot increase the joy or decrease the sorrow. It is a unity of souls that gives nobility and sincerity to love. Friendship makes all of life shine brightly. Blessed are those who lay down their lives for their friends.”

A dear friend just found out they are very sick. While this sickness has a hopeful path to recovery, it is still a great concern to me. Through a mutual love and service to the church, we have come to appreciate and care for each other. Through God’s grace and healing touch, I will look forward to visiting the house where we worked together, to once more shake the walls with our laughter. It was in this house that our friendship began.

Living In Awe

I have always been struck by the change in countenance that comes over many of us when we enter into a deep examination of our life, opening our hearts to God, as we come before Him in the spiritual nakedness of reconciliation.

The first time I heard the Holly Miller (aka Hollyn) song In Awe, I was spellbound. I felt she captured the power, beauty, and awesomeness of reconciling ourselves to the Lord.

Every day I fall
But You never let me go . . .
You know what I’ve been . . .
No, not innocent like you
Oh God, I’m sorry

When we separate ourselves from God through selfish actions, he never stops desiring our return – to be in communion with him.

I’m living in awe
Because You don’t need me at all
But You couldn’t love me more

This unconditional, unmerited, and unfathomable love is utterly awesome. We can enter this state of awe when we humble ourselves, embrace the servant heart within all of us, and know that even when we feel unworthy, he sees worth in us. Live in Awe.


The New Guy in Town

One of the necessities you carry out in moving to a new geographical location is learning where to get a place to stay, where to buy food, where to get your dry cleaning done, and at some point, in the “where to process,” where to get your hair cut (at least for those of us that still have some).

This afternoon I experienced the importance of ensuring someone clearly understands what you are telling them. Upon checking in at the recommended hair cutting establishment and watching my name work up the waiting list, a nice young lady asked me to follow her.

After taking my place in the chair, she began by asking if I had been to her establishment before to which I responded I was new in town.  After a few more niceties, she asked me what I wanted done with my hair.

I explained that I usually get it cut like the young man next to me – a number 4 up the back and sides and short but long enough to comb on top. “But,” I continued, “I’ve been trying to grow my hair out a bit longer as you can see. Could you just take a quarter to a half inch off the back, thin out the sides but leave the length and keep the top as is?”

She affirmed my request as I turned my attention to the myriad of TV screens that adorned the establishment. I was instantly mesmerized by the baseball game that was playing as she began preparations to cut my hair.

Then, in sort of that slow-motion recognition that occurs when we distract ourselves, I heard and felt the clippers buzz by my ear. I quickly looked in the mirror in startled disbelief as 2 inches of hair on the side of my head hit the floor. Stunned, I blurted out “What!”

She hears my reaction and responds, “Oh! You only wanted me to take a half inch off the back!” The place almost instantly went silent as she stood staring at me in the mirror.

Grappling for an appropriately pastoral response I said, “Oh well, at least these types of mistakes grow back.”

That made a few in the waiting area nervously chuckle, which must have affirmed her in some way, as she didn’t miss a beat by saying, “I’m going to upgrade you to our VIP service!”

That’s when the hair professional next to her bust out laughing as did the rest of the place. Oh the importance of clarification and verification.

Now, where did they tell me was a good place to eat . . .


Radical Discipleship

Contentment – a state of mental or emotional satisfaction maybe drawn from being comfortable in one’s situation, body and mind. Colloquially speaking, contentment could also be a state of acceptance of one’s situation – a milder and more tentative form of happiness.

Is this a proper definition for living as disciples? Is the path of discipleship all about reaching a level of contentment in our relationship with God, the Church and our community? Ron Rolheiser speaks in Sacred Fire: A Vision for A Deeper Human and Christian Maturity, of a longing that is at the very heart of our souls.

He writes that we are innately driven by a “yearning, a restlessness, a certain insatiable pressure to eat, to grow, to breed, to push beyond self.” He goes on to say that we “are meant to give our lives away in generosity and selflessness, but we are also meant to give our deaths away, not just at the moment of our deaths, but in a whole process of leaving this planet in such a way that our diminishment and death is our final, and perhaps greatest, gift to the world.”

This type of discipleship seems at odds with contented Christianity. Rolhesier’s thoughts are a radical concept for most Christians. Most of Christianity today is practiced in a state of contentment. Rolheiser says that walking in discipleship behind the master requires that “we too sweat blood and feel ‘a stone’s throw’ from everybody.”

This struggle, to give our deaths away, constitutes Radical Discipleship. It is not seeking contentment with our faith but seeking to die to self that is the path to true and everlasting happiness. When we do this, we find a new hope, a new joy, and a new purpose to our lives. We discover what it means to be Christ’s light and love to the world.

 

 

Impressions

I have been focused on the word impression over the two long days moving across the better part of the country to my new vocational home. There was ample time to reflect on the impressions made in my previous work and the imprints that were left; the impressions I expected to encounter as I began to take in the new surroundings; and the imprinted reality of meeting these new impressions as they are.

I am overwhelmed by the universal truth of God’s unconditional love and the reality that so many have rejected his plan of salvation. The imprinted certainty is one of choice. Ron Rolhieser says that for many, the choice is to remain in “a private hell of woundedness, of fundamental alienation, of sin, of paranoia, of fantasy, and of fear” that grips their lives.

The mission of faith is to walk with those caught in the rationalization of this disordered life and outside of true love. Someone once said that a true missionary is someone who goes where he or she is not wanted, but is needed; and leaves when he or she is wanted, but not needed. So the journey continues – new impressions to be made and understood – what a wonderful blessing.

The Beauty of Imperfection

Richard Rohr is one of my favorite daily reads. He challenges me to see and be the purity of love. In this quest to live out one’s life through the application of pure love, we can often translate this into a desire for perfection like that Jesus spoke about in the Gospel of Matthew: “be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Mt 5:48).

Rohr notes in Wholeness and Love that “perfection is not the elimination of imperfection. Divine perfection is the ability to recognize, forgive, and include imperfection—just as God does with all of us. Only in this way can we find the beautiful and hidden wholeness of God underneath the passing human show.”

It is these very imperfections that define our humanness. Once we can accept this about ourselves, we are then able to accept others as they are. This seems so foundational to a faith based mission of life. This is what another great spiritual writer, Henri Nouwen, spoke about in his wonderful work The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society.

Nouwen speaks of the Christian being called as a minister of healing, “It is our humanity, not our pseudo-perfection, that allows us to both receive and pass on what Christians call grace—the goodness that flows into our lives from beyond.”

It is the wholeness of self, with all that is imperfect, that allows us to enter the path to our deepest humanity. This allows us as Rohr says, “to live with an openness of mind and heart, to encounter others, not as strangers, but as parts of one’s self. When we enter into the heart of love in this way, we enter the field of relatedness and come to know our truest and deepest belonging and calling.”

A Light to Others

In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus tells us, “You are the light for the whole world” (Mt 5:14) This is one of those verses that many Christians see as intended for others more “holy” than they are. They see their lives like the dark side of the moon, unable to reflect anything good. But how can we feel so incapable of being this light?

I feel part of this comes from not wanting to be seen. We like to live out our faith in the shadows and on the fringes where faith is lived as a private aspect of life. We are fearful that our light will not shine because of the darkness that we have allowed into our life. But Jesus wouldn’t have said that all of us “are the light” if he didn’t know that we possess it.

The light the Lord is speaking about is love. Take a moment and reflect on people in your lives who have inspired you by their faithfulness in honoring commitments. People who have gone out of their way to help others. We all know these people and have been blessed to have witnessed their light.

In these selfless actions, what we have witnessed are examples of love in action. The Lord is asking each of us to embrace this light by reflecting His love to others through something as simple as small acts of kindness.

It’s time to step out of the shadows and shine the light of your love. Don’t go and make some grand plan. Just trust in the goodness of God and simply reflect love to others as you go through your day. You can do this!

Divine and Human Faithfulness

What a privilege it is to discuss the concepts of covenant and contracts with couples going through marriage preparation. As we go through the definitions of covenant and contract, an amazing thing starts to take place.

The couples begin to see the strength and power of unconditional love. In showing them that a contractual relationship is one in which I give 50% and you give 50%, they soon realize that If one fails to live up to their end of the contract then the contract can be broken. This type of ‘conditional’ faithfulness eventually can lead to one of them saying, “I don’t have to live up to my end of the deal (marriage) since you didn’t live up to yours.”

But when they understand covenantal relationship, one in which God is faithful to us even when we reject him, they begin to desire a relationship that is based on unconditional love and divine faithfulness. This is a faithfulness that will see them through all things in their life. This is a faithfulness where each partner seeks to fulfill the needs of the other before their own. This is a faithfulness that seeks to model the divine love of God.

The internationally renowned priest, author, theologian, and beloved pastor Henri Nowen said, “That when God makes a covenant with us, God says: ‘I will love you with an everlasting love.’ God made a covenant with us, and God wants our relationships with one another to reflect that covenant. That’s why marriage, friendship, life in community are all ways to give visibility to God’s faithfulness in our lives together.”

Brokenness that can Lead to Wholeness

In 2011, a magnitude 9 earthquake and a resulting tsunami took nearly 19,000 lives and destroyed 230,000 homes in the region northeast of Tokyo. In its aftermath, The Nozomi Project, named for the Japanese word for “hope,” was born to provide sustainable income, community, dignity, and hope in a God who provides.

St. Paul declared, “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness” (2 Cor. 11:30) because he had found strength through reliance upon God. While lamenting his “thorn in [the] flesh” (12:6-9), Paul affirmed, “I delight in weaknesses . . . . For when I am weak, then I am strong” (v. 10).

What areas of brokenness in your life can become pathways for strength?

Bill Crowder from Our Daily Bread