Wednesday, July 11, 2012

all we can choose

"... the purest acts of faith always feel like risks.  Instead of leading to absolute quietude and serenity, true spiritual growth is characterized by increasingly deep risk taking.  Growth in faith means willingness to trust God more and more, not only in those areas of our lives where we are most successful, but also, and most significantly, at those levels where we are most vulnerable, wounded, and weak.  It is where our personal power seems most defeated that we are given the most profound opportunities to act in true faith.
The purest faith is enacted when all we can choose is to relax our hands or clench them, to turn wordlessly toward or away from God. 

This tiny option, the faith Jesus measured as the size of a mustard seed, is where grace and the human spirit embrace in absolute perfection and explode in world-changing power."
                         ~ Gerald G. May, M.D., in Addiction & Grace

Monday, September 5, 2011

Centrifugal Flight into the Void

Trail Ridge Road has been called Highway to the Sky, and when I took this photo, I wasn't thinking at all about Thomas Merton. Then again, God usually gets my attention via misdirection, from something in my peripheral vision.
My mind has been burdened by the debate in our community about a proposed law to punish local businesses for hiring undocumented workers. I've been surprised how some have seen this issue as black and white, open and shut, about 'illegal aliens' robbing jobs from local law abiding citizens, about upholding the law and somehow not about racial profiling or systemic racism. I guess my surprise is in expecting more from people who regard themselves as Christian who don't see something more within this debate. Something Richard Rohr wrote puts this in perspective:
It seems that until you are excluded from any system, you are not able to recognize the idolatries, lies or shadow side of that system. There seems to be a 'structural blindness' for people who are content and satisfied on the inside of groups. It is important to know that people can be personally well-intentioned and sincere, but structurally they cannot see certain things.' (from Things Hidden - Scripture as Spirituality, 2008)
Then last night I was flipping through some writings by Thomas Merton and, without really looking for insight about this issue, or really trying to sort out what I think or feel about the debate, about reducing people to their 'legal' or 'illegal' status, I read this:
Into this world, this demented inn in which there is absolutely no room for Him at all, Christ has come uninvited. But because He cannot be at home in it, because He is out of place in it, and yet He must be in it, His place is with those others for whom there is no room. His place is with those who do not belong, who are rejected by power because they are regarded as weak, those who are discredited, who are denied the status of persons, tortured, exterminated. With those for whom there is no room, Christ is present in this world. He is mysteriously present in those for whom there seems to be nothing but the world at its worst. For them, there is no escape even in imagination. They cannot identify with the power structure of a crowded humanity which seeks to project itself outward, anywhere, in a centrifugal flight into the void, to get 'out there' where there is no God, no man, no name, no identity, no weight, no self, nothing but the bright self-directed, perfectly obedient and infinitely expensive machine. (from Raids on the Unspeakable, 1966)
It seems that Christ and his followers are always messing with the machine.

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Monday, August 22, 2011

A Dream in the Ozarks

This Sunday will be the 48th anniversary of Martin Luther King's visit to Washington D.C. to share his dream and to 'cash a check.' Speaking truth to power, he chose his words carefully. With the world watching, standing under a sweltering, late August sun, Dr. King courageously faced centuries of systemic racism, saying:

In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the "unalienable Rights" of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds."

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we've come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

Dr. King knew well the 'architects of our republic' were slave owners, yet he would take these men and their ideas of freedom and justice at their best, interpreting their intentions as a 'sacred obligation' to include every American in the dream of a land of opportunity. The irony is striking now, as I think about Dr. King's 'cash a check' metaphor in light of the economic storm raging around our nation and our world. King's words should serve to remind us today that there is a kind of bankruptcy that is even more toxic than the financial variety.

Here in the Ozarks I am grateful that our diversity is rising and our welcoming deficit is diminishing. Yet, as civil rights veterans know, progress toward Dr. King's dream is often three steps forward and two steps back. Case in point: the petition offered by the Ozarks Minutemen to Springfield City Council. This petition cloaks an anti-immigrant agenda. It attempts to appeal to strongly held values of law and order, but the effect of this petition, intended or not, is to legitimize attitudes of discrimination and racism, especially against our Hispanic neighbors. I only hope Springfield City Council members will see this petition for what it really is - a step backward for everyone who lives and works in the Ozarks.

To my Ozarks neighbors - to all whose presence signifies to me God's love for the diversity of the human family - may you keep believing with Dr. King, that our nation's "great vaults of opportunity" are indeed abundant. The Ozarks is an even better place to live, thanks to your great faith, your resolute hope, your dream to call the Ozarks home.

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Saturday, February 26, 2011

everything but God

There are times when I forget who I am. Not in the amnesia sort of forgetfulness that causes a person to forget his name or where he lives. What I mean is, I have occasions when I forget in a conscious way that I am God’s, someone who knows he is loved by God, someone who fell in love with Jesus Christ along the way and has experienced a calling to follow Him.

After reading a daily devotion by a favorite writer one morning this past week, I suddenly realized that, if it hadn’t been for taking the early morning time to read, I would have gone about my day influenced more by what is external to me such as what people expect of me because of my job, my title, etc. Essentially living out of what Thomas Merton called my “false” self, rather than my “true” self. Essentially reacting to people and events without any deep appeal to my heart or conscience since, by definition, such forgetfulness disconnects me from who I am, whose I am. Such forgetfulness blocks me from bringing the Presence into the present.

We live in a culture that shapes us into consumers of non-stop news, celebrity, position, and titles and status, and I wonder what this is ultimately doing to our souls. We easily blend our brand of faith with our cultural preferences in everything from our worship style to our politics. Francis’ conversational prayer meditation almost seems too simple and basic to appeal to people like us here in 2011 who are so afraid of “wasting time” and maybe even more afraid of coming face to face with solitude and silence, which for people like Francis and other mystics (like Jesus), appears to be about the only way human beings have had authentic experiences with God.

The reading that brought about this reflection was written by Brennan Manning. He writes about Jesus:

“The enduring temptation of his ministry is to fulfill his mission in a way opposed to the Father, to begin with a flashy demonstration of power by turning stones into bread and to end with a sensational exhibition of might by coming down from the cross. The alluring attractiveness of cultivating security, sensation, and power with life in the Spirit is Satan’s worldly way. Jesus utterly rejects it. In the final foolishness of love he freely accepts death on the cross.”

In this counterintuitive journey Jesus calls his followers to, I easily forget that the final foolishness is abandonment of everything but God.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

new eyes to see

Keep your eyes on the prince of peace, the one who doesn't cling to his divine power; the one who refuses to turn stones into bread, jump from great heights and rule with great power; the one who says, "Blessed are the poor, the gentle, those who mourn, and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; blessed are the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers and those who are persecuted in the cause of uprightness" (see Matt. 5:3-11); the one who touches the lame, the crippled, and the blind; the one who speaks words of forgiveness and encouragement; the one who dies alone, rejected and despised. Keep your eyes on him who becomes poor with the poor, weak with the weak, and who is rejected with the rejected. He is the source of all peace.

Where is this peace to be found? The answer is clear. In weakness. First of all, in our own weakness, in those places of our hearts where we feel most broken, most insecure, most in agony, most afraid. Why there? Because there our familiar ways of controlling our world are being stripped away; there we are called to let go from doing much, thinking much, and relying on our self-sufficiency. Right there where we are weakest the peace which is not of this world is hidden.

In Adam's name I say to you, "Claim that peace that remains unknown to so many and make it your own. Because with that peace in your heart you will have new eyes to see and new ears to hear and gradually recognize that same peace in places you would have least expected." - Henri J.M. Nouwen

Saturday, January 9, 2010

too much care

"I have been absurdly burdened since the beginning of the year with the illusions of 'great responsibility' and of a task to be done. Actually whatever work is to be done is God's work and not mine, and I will not help matters, only hinder them, by too much care." Thomas Merton, January 1963


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

the face of Christmas

Giving thought to Christmas, Christian writer and Franciscan cleric Richard Rohr wrote, “God’s revelations are always pointed, concrete, and specific. They are not a Platonic world of ideas and theories about which you can be right or wrong, or observe from a distance. Divine Revelation is not something you measure or critique, but Someone you meet!”

I prefer meeting people face-to-face. There is something paradoxically private and yet public about our faces. I’ve come to believe that Christmas has a face.

I’ve seen the face of Christmas in the faces of rural Nicaraguans waiting patiently during a food crisis when the coffee market collapsed in 2001. People were suffering from level-3 malnutrition. If they were fearful and angry, it never showed on their faces as they waited for a ten-pound sack of food that would only last a few days. Most recently I saw the face of Christmas again this year at the Crosslines Christmas Toystore.

Hundreds came on a freezing cold day knowing they would likely be waiting outside, so most were dressed in their warmest, which for some wasn’t much more than a jacket with a hood. Teeth chattering, breath visible in the cold, some bouncing up and down in place to generate some body heat, some huddled together among people they knew, but most were there alone. They came to provide a Christmas for their children that they weren’t able to give them on their own.

Sitting on a concrete step, a face comes in view, a woman’s face without makeup, framed by earmuffs, exposed and expressive because of exposure. Her face seemed to conceal a dignified suffering, concealing deep and secret wounds and yet transparent and open, and opening beyond my expectations just because I asked her, “what number do you have?” Another face pulled me in, her angular jaw jumping up and down intermittently in the cold, her lips chapped and cracking, her eyes downcast and dark and beautiful. The little neon-pink piece of paper in her hand had a number printed on it that wouldn’t be called for more than an hour, but she would endure the cold, not willing to risk missing the moment when her turn would come to make Christmas happen for her children. “My oldest is 4,” she said with a quivering chin, “and he believes in Santa Clause.” Her chin, nose and cheekbones were a color I’ve seen sometimes in the sky at sunrise.

The face of Christmas is a noble, vulnerable, patient, concealing yet revealing human face. I wish for eyes to see this face more. Since my recent Crosslines Christmas Toystore experience, I’ve been experimenting a little. I’m imagining each face I see as a face that is waiting, waiting for all their worth in the freezing cold, clutching a little pink piece of paper. Waiting to be welcomed out of the cold into the warm, and Christmas is about to happen.