With Eyes to See

fall leaves

 

The story goes like this…
Once upon a time, a preacher ran through the streets of the city shouting, “We must put God in our lives. We must put God in our lives.” Upon hearing him, a wise, old woman who spent much of her time sitting in the city plaza observing what was happening around her and watching those who past by said, “Sir, with all due respect, you are wrong. You see, God is already in our lives. Our task is to simply recognize it.”

Whether the word you use/the understanding your have is…
God or Spirit or Allah or The Holy or Ground of Being or Higher Power or whatever, the story is true. God is already here.
Already within you. Already among us.
All we have to do is to recognize it.

But, that is the hard part, right?
The recognition.
Taking the time…
Having the eyes…
To see.
In the midst of the busyness and the responsibility or the challenges of life as it is for us it is, sometimes it is hard to see what is around us or within us or between us. But, even if we don’t “see,” for whatever reason in the particular moment that we have right now, maybe we can remember the wisdom of old woman in the plaza and still claim the knowledge that God is present.

Remember When…

twin towers

 

This morning my Facebook News Feed is a stream of comments and pictures from 12 years ago. About this time in the morning (9:15) we had just heard that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. Another plane would follow. Then the news of a plane crashing into the Pentagon and another into a field in Pennsylvania. That day was not all that different than today. Blue skies. Few clouds. Early fall. For those of us living in the New York City area it is hard not to remember where we were when we heard the news and what the rest of that day was like. All of us knew someone who died or know a family that lost a loved one.
But one of the things that is different today…
At least for me…
Is that the anger and shock of 12 years ago has been replaced by a sadness and an even deeper longing for a better understanding between people.

The front doors of our sanctuary are unlocked every day with an invitation for people to take a moment to walk in and to sit quietly, but today our doors are standing wide open as both an invitation and a sign of hope.

Confronting Syria

helping others

 

On of the quotes that is written on a file folder that often sits on my desk is by Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi for the British Commonwealth.  It reads:
“We cannot get to heaven by creating hell on earth.”
What is happening in Syria (and other places as well) is hell on earth.
Governments debate possible responses.
Most of which, it seems to me, only adds to the hell we are creating.
Most of us, weary of war and news from the Middle East, just want to turn away.

I can’t do anything about the Syrian civil war and the atrocities being committed by both sides, but rereading Rabbi Sacks quote I realized that I can do something. If we can create hell on earth, we can also create heaven on earth.  And, what I can do is to do my part to help create some small piece of heaven. Somewhere. Somehow. And, to do so with all of the awareness and conviction and intentionality I can muster. To purposefully create heaven in outright defiance of those who are doing their best to create hell.

A glass of water shared with someone who is thirsty may not seem like much in the face of nerve gas and bombs. But it is something. It is facing forward and not just turning away. It is grabbing hold of heaven and refusing to let go.

Bombs Away or Thinking About Syria

bomb

 

A moment ago the United States Senate Foreign Relations Panel approved a resolution to be considered by the full Senate which would grant President Obama permission for military action against Syria.  I don’t quite know where to begin to think about and to respond to what is happening.  At this point, all I have is a collection of somewhat random thoughts:

  • If Bashar al-Assad is crazy enough or desperate enough or sane  enough (see Thomas Merton’s essay entitled The Sanity of Adolf Eichmann) to use poison gas on the citizens of his own country what makes us think that some type of limited military action is going to change how he thinks or influence how he acts?
  • I wish there were the same press coverage about the growing humanitarian crisis that the civil war in Syria has created. And, instead of nations debating about whether or not to take some type of military action, we were debating how best to meet the overwhelming needs that the war has created and how best to support those countries who are shouldering the burden of hundreds of thousands of refugees.
  • Along the same line, I wish countries were tripping over each other to see who could offer the most help to those who find themselves in such desperate need.
  • If we want to have a long term positive influence in that part of the world, how do we best do that?  By bombing or by offering substantial aid that protects and serves and meets the needs of the most vulnerable?
  • And, what is the real moral difference between poison gas which kills the innocent and “shock and awe” bombing which does the same?  This way to kill innocent people is okay, but this way to kill the same number of innocent people is not okay. I am not sure I see the real distinction. Shouldn’t we be saying that the indiscriminate killing of innocent people is NOT okay?  But, we can’t say that, can we because we would then have to admit our own guilt and complicity, and we are not willing to do that.

As I said…
Disconnected reflections held together only by my deep sadness that we are so enamored by position and power that we refuse to find a better way.

– See more at: http://paulalcorn.com/#sthash.QI30kUVK.dpuf

The Me I Am Called to Be

I am

 

A reflection written by the Rev. Christine Chakoian, a friend and fellow Presbyterian minister ended with this:
“But over time, work took over again.  Don’t get me wrong – I love my work. But it had become everything: tending parishioners, walking the nave, reading theology, writing sermons. I forgot my calling to be me…” (Presbyterian Outlook – August 5,  2013)

I don’t know about you…
Sometimes I barely know about me,
But how many of us, I wonder, find ourselves in that exact same place defining ourselves or being defined by that which we do…
Banker
Pastor
Business owner
Parent
Partner
Care giver
Rather than who we sense we truly are when all the other layers are stripped away?
We have forgotten our calling to be me.

Maybe it is a factor of my getting older, but I am searching for that me which sometimes pushes itself a bit closer to the surface of my life and which, other times, disappears hidden beneath my own list of expectations I have for myself and, sometimes, the expectations of others. Here is what I realized as I read and thought about Christine’s reflection. For many years I have worked hard at my calling to be a pastor to honor that commitment and to do the best job I could. If I am going to honor my calling to be me, I need to give that task the same time and attention and thoughtfulness I have given the job I am privileged to do. And, if that is the case, I am left with this question.  Am I up to the task?

 

 

How Are You? Fine. How Are You?

how are you doing

 

How many time each day do you extend or hear a greeting that goes something like this:
How are you?
Fine.
And, yourself?
Fine.

This past week I was having lunch with a friend.
After a couple of months of not seeing each other we were catching up on how each of us was doing.  Fairly early on, the conversation turned to how often each of us finds ourselves going from one demand to the next or one appointment to the next or one task to the next with little or no time taken to really pay attention to the person across from us let alone ourselves. Somewhere in the mix of our conversation that went back and forth across the table, in passing, my friend mentioned the exchange with which I started.
How are you? Fine. How are you? Fine.

As so often happens, I find myself in a serendipitous moment when something I see or hear each and every day suddenly strike me in an entirely new way.  And so it was with our exchange over lunch.  I know that most of time when people ask how I am they really don’t want to know.  It is not that they are uncaring, but in that moment they are only practicing a social convention in which we all share.  But I decided the next time someone asks me how I am doing, I am going to use that moment to check in with myself.
How am I doing?
Fine or not so fine?
Tired?
Stressed?
Grateful?
Content?
Maybe a 10 second check in with myself will help me to see where and how I am so I can be more honest with myself and pay more attention to the moment which I have. Naming how I am may not change how I feel or the situation in which I find myself, but it may help me be aware of the strengths or the vulnerabilities which I bring to any given moment. Anyway, I am going to give it a try and see what happens.

How are you…really?

The America I Know

flag

 

I am troubled by the headlines in the news.
The House of Representatives removed the SNAP program from the farm bill they passed this weeks saying they would deal with the food stamp program at a later date. At the same there seems to be more people hungry, more families below the poverty line, more people lining up each week at the local food pantry hoping for a bag of groceries than there seemed to be just a few years ago.

A part of what bothers me is the cynicism that seems to surround these issues.
Do we really believe people are hungry because they are lazy.
Or, poor because they don’t want to work.
Do we really believe that all they are looking for is a handout?
Or, a way to take advantage of the rest of us?
I am sure there are some people like that.
Some people who receive food stamps.
Some people who refuse a job because they don’t want to work.
Some people who will do what they can to take advantage of the system.
But I can’t believe that is most of the people who are hungry or poor.
And, there are certainly some bankers and lawyers and politicians and clergy…
Some people in every profession who are lazy and who take advantage of the system.

My experience is that most people want to provide for their families.
And, most people want to make a difference.
And, most people want to work in a job that has a level of dignity and a decent wage.
And, most people do not think it is right for children to go to school or to go to bed hungry. And, most people, when they come face to face with hunger or poverty discover that those who are hungry or poor are human beings not all that different than themselves. If that is the case, why do we have such a hard time talking about these issues civilly and treating those who find themselves in need as human beings deserving of respect and a level of understanding?

Is it just the way the news is reported?
Or, just the current partisanship in the political process?
I don’t know.
What I do know is the America represented by the headlines in the news and the current political gamesmanship is not the America I know. The America I know cares about about its neighbors and does what it can to help.  The America I know cares about children and, for the most part, works hard at whatever job it has.  There are problems, yes.  But, if we start from the vantage point of the America which I know and not the America of the headlines in the news, there has to be a way we can figure this out together.

Far From Perfect

not perfect

One of the hardest lessons for me to learn is to say to myself and then to admit to others that I can’t do something I think another person expects of me.  Or, that I can’t do it well or that I dislike doing it so much that I procrastinate almost to the point of panic.
I am not perfect.
I cannot do it all.

Of course I know that about myself.
I am my own harshest critic.
Seeing all to well and remembering all too clearly…
The mistakes I have made.
The times my words or actions have hurt another.
The times my silence or my inaction have hurt another.
The lesson I need to learn and to relearn and then to learn all over again about giving myself permission not to be perfect has something to do with learning to let go and to recognizing and understanding my own particular limits.  Learning to allow myself to be who I am with my own particular strengths and weaknesses and not who others think I am or expect me to be.

And, this has something to do with the word grace that I have found myself using quite a bit recently.  As in “being aware of those moments when grace brushes up against your life.”  Grace, I think, has something to do with those moments when we understand something more about who we really are.  And, when we live with a deepening gratitude and honest appreciation of who we really are.

I long for grace to brush up against my life.
Maybe we all do.

A Place to Practice – Part 2

After I wrote my last post about church (I use the church in its broadest and best sense) being a place to practice those things that nurture our best values and our best selves and expand the circles we draw around our lives, I recalled a lecture I attended a number of years ago. The presenter was a sports psychologist who worked with the New York Mets baseball team.  His presentation was not on professional baseball or professional sports, but on the changes that were happening (and have continued to happen) in the sports programs in which our children participate.

He noted that the change that was taking place was most children’s sports programs were now being organized, run and managed by adults.  Whereas a generation ago, most sports activities in which children participated were organized by the children themselves.  Kids would show up at the ball field.  Sides would be chosen.  The rules agreed upon.  When a disagreement arose it would be worked out often by agreeing to a do over.  While the skill level today might be greater with semi-professional coaches who oversee practice and training, children’s love of the game and the negotiating and conflict resolution skills they learned by playing together on their own are  diminished.

I thought about that lecture quite a bit as my children grew up and participated in organized sports, but after my last post I began to think about it in terms of the church.  Longer than children’s sports programs, the church (in its most traditional sense) has been organized by a group of “adults” who organize, run and set the rules for the game.  If you want to “play” you have to play according to our rules.  What is now happening, it seems to me, is that more and more people are saying we don’t want to play the “game” in that way anymore.  We want to show up at the playground and whoever is there we will organize the “game” and negotiate the rules and work together to figure out the best way forward.

Which makes me wonder…
If we (and our children) have lost something in overly organizing their sports activities, is there something to be gained by individuals and groups of people reclaiming their own initiative in redefining church or community or spirituality?  It will certainly look and feel different than what it does today, but it may end up being more thoughtful and more vital than what we have known for some time.

What do you think?

A Place to Practice

Here is what I think church should be or could be about:
A place to practice.
A place to practice kindness.
And compassion.
And generosity.
And gratitude.
A place to practice saying Please and Thank you not just for what we need or have, but please and thank you on behalf of another some of whom we know and many of whom we don’t.
Church could be and maybe should be a place where we practice being (or coming closer to being) our best selves.

But, more often than not we get it wrong.
And church becomes a place of shoulds and oughts;
Right and wrong;
My right and your wrong.
A place where if we know the rules and the rituals we belong and if we don’t we feel like we don’t have a place.
A place of believing in Jesus instead of being inspired by the words and witness of Jesus.
A place where God is understood more as a noun than as a verb.
A place of being right and getting it right more than a place to practice.

What if we could be more the first than the second?
What if we began to believe that any place we practice being our best selves was church?  And, anyone with whom we practice kindness and compassion and generosity and gratitude was our community of faith? Would we began to pay attention in a different way because that which we know and name as God could be present in each and every one of those moments?
What would change for us?
Would we look at our lives and each other differently?
I wonder…