Course Correction

November 22, 2014 § Leave a comment

FSU “So we shoot for happiness, but we’re formed by suffering…”

David Brooks

This past week Katherine and I were visited with the terrifying news of a shooting at our daughter’s college, the Florida State University (pictured). So let me begin by saying that our sweet Erin is fine. We praise God, not only for her safety, but also for the other young people who were spared.

It is both surreal and terrifying to be in the fog of waiting to hear good news, while deep down denying the idea that your child would be among the victims. Throughout the morning our family texted back and forth, only to experience relief over her wellbeing, though in muffled tones, knowing that some parent might not be celebrating, but grieving.

In retrospect I was struck by the fact that just six days before, we were intent on cheering on the University of Miami Hurricanes’ football team as they faced off with FSU, and then the subsequent and almost-mandatory belly aching, finger-pointing and excuse-making that accompanies a heartbreaking loss. Before the shooting, the most important thing was that our team beat their team (which we didn’t!). In fact it was heartwarming to read of how Florida State’s most hated rival, the University of Florida, put aside trivial rivalry with displays of intrastate support.

Suffering has a way of correcting our course, doesn’t it? It resets our priorities and quickly sheds away the unimportant. We so easily become scattered by life and love and work and schedules to the extent that focus withdraws from our daily diet.

In suffering there is clarity.

Now I know that there are some who have almost made a virtue out of suffering, almost as though it is a spiritual mountain to be scaled. But this is warped.

No, suffering is raw, and it is real, it is personal, and on any level it is horrid and hideous. It is the result of the fall, and part of the Curse. One day it will no longer be, but until then, there is nothing inherently good in suffering.

Except for one thing.

It is our common cup. In suffering, our differences fade into a shared struggle and inextricable bond with every other human in this broken world. It is our very real and flesh-and-blood protection from smug platitudes. It puts the pain and pathos of others into perspective and protects us from cold indifference. My pain, though horrible, is shared.

In a few weeks we will celebrate the birth of Christ, and at the heart of the Incarnation is a God who would meet us at the point of our greatest need and deepest sorrows, and then invite us into what the apostle Paul calls, ‘the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings’ (Philippians 3:10).

Paul’s summons is not for the sake of glorifying suffering, but to remind us that when we drink from the common cup of brokenness, the Risen Christ is at the table with us.

And this friends, is good news.

peace.

Outside the Window

October 4, 2014 § 2 Comments

Window “There is nothing less attractive than stingy Christians. We serve a generous, lavish God who delights in beauty and diversity, color and aromas.” Christopher L. Heuertz & Christine D. Pohl, Friendship at the Margins

Last evening, Katherine and I, along with our daughter and son-in-law, ate at a downtown restaurant for my birthday dinner. Baltimore has a beautiful skyline. At night it is spectacular. To eat on the main drag of the Inner Harbor with lights reflecting on the water, and boats at dock, as cars pass and people walk, is such a treat.

As we enjoyed the moment and one another I noticed the energy outside the window we sat beside. It always seems as though something is going on in the city, and on this night it was particularly exciting. The Orioles had just won the second of the best-of-five series with the Detroit Tigers for the American League Eastern Division Title, leaving only one victory to take the series. City buildings were lit up in Orioles orange and the air was filled with elation.

It occurred to me that there is always another layer of activity going on concurrently with that of our own lives. I sometimes miss this, and when I do, I become stingy, and the world shrinks to my own puny concerns and insecurities. Fortunately I am married to someone who won’t let me hide in the cocoon of my hermit-like instincts.

It isn’t that the details of my life aren’t important, but when reduced to being everything, my enclosed world becomes its own toxic little universe – and we weren’t meant to live this way. In fact we are never healthier than when we look and live outside of ourselves. I know this flies against every instinct, but it is true. And it is the whole point of the Beatitudes – Those who abandon self, find themselves. It is the magnificent counter-intuitive principle of the gospel.

Just think about when you have been happiest in your life, and you will recall moments spent in the company of others, and in an awareness of the world around you.

It is likely that pain, disappointment, our awkward peculiarities, and fear are the culprits behind our reticence to engage in the world around us. Bodies heal but inner wounds don’t, and our kneejerk response will always be to flee into our own skin. We are unfinished and something deep within doesn’t want others to recognize our discrepancies – I get that.

But take it from a borderline introvert – we come alive when we escape the tyranny of self, and enjoy the world outside our windows.

And each time we take the bread and share the cup, we rehearse Jesus and His vision of a healed universe, in celebration of His willingness to abandon the security of heaven, in order to enter into the hostility of a broken world that He created to be good…

…for us.

What good news…

peace.

The Welcoming Kingdom

October 12, 2013 § 1 Comment

Salad“A community which embodies hospitality to strangers is a sign of contradiction, a place where joy and pain, crises and peace are closely interwoven.”

Christine D. Pohl, Making Room

I was writing at my favorite spot yesterday – in Starbucks at the mall (as I am now). This is rarely an unsatisfying experience, but yesterday it was, because a woman who sat nearby decided to open and then eat a salad with a pungent dressing. In a word, it stunk! I assume she thoroughly enjoyed it, but I smelled it. The aroma was all I could think about (obviously I’m still thinking about it!).

And it wasn’t like there weren’t dozens of empty seats she could have chosen other than one next to mine!

Actually my problem wasn’t with the salad. It was the woman who dared invade my space (are you sensing a twisted rationale here?) with an unwelcome smell. Never mind that she purchased something Starbucks sells and actually encourages people to eat on site!

It got me thinking.

In the scriptures I observe how graciously Jesus entered into the lives of people who constantly inconvenienced Him – it all appears so seamless. He just received people, even crowds, without complaint – when He was exhausted – when His heart was heavy – when His tears flowed – when betrayal and execution were immanent.

Children jumped into His lap. Crowds denied Him rest, even when on a sea vessel attempting a moment of solitude.

None of it was convenient!

But none were turned away either. And still today, He says, ‘Come…’

As I rattled Jesus’ way around in my brain and heart, it occurred to me that He wasn’t gritting His teeth, secretly stewing over the smells, weirdness, troubles and inconveniences of people. He was being who He had always been, reflecting the welcoming presence of His Father. Welcome is the currency of the Kingdom of God.

At the end of the day it wasn’t a salad, but my attitude that stunk up the place. Fortunately Jesus has taken that into account as well. In fact, in spite of this, He became a sweet aroma to the Father on my behalf. Yours too.

That’s good news…

peace.

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