Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Worry Bird

Matthew 6:25-33

Once upon a time there was a bird. A worry-bird, who lived in a magical kingdom called Illinois. The worry bird was dressed all in black, with patches of scarlet on her shoulders that shone in the July sunshine. The worry bird lived in a nest she had built all by herself, out of last years grass and the mud from a thunderstorm that had come in the spring, right in the middle of a field of grass and wildflowers and weeds. The worry bird had everything she needed in life, except for one thing: she did not have enough.
Every morning, the worry-bird woke before dawn and rose from her nest to pick clover seeds and Johnson grass kernels and the tiny black middles of spent thistle flowers. Every morning she worried that today; there might not be enough to eat. If only her field were bigger, then she would be sure to have enough. Sometimes she stopped for a moment to preen her shiny black feathers or she squatted beside a puddle and stretched her neck to let little sips or rainwater run down her throat. Each time, she worried that tomorrow the puddle might be dried up and the rains might not come and there wouldn’t be enough water to slake her thirst. Her worried rest stop could not last long because soon she must be on her way. For she was a bird upon whom depended not only her own life, but also the lives of three little fuzzy chicks. Their mouths were always open and they greeted her hungrily each time she returned to the nest. She worried about what would happen to them if anything happened to her. Or even if nothing happened to her, still she had worries.
The worry bird worked very hard. And her work was a burden; because she always worried that she was not doing enough. The worry bird had a little hidden stash of grain, piled away in a place only she knew about, so that she wouldn’t run out unexpectedly. And the stash was a worry; because it wasn’t big enough, or well hidden enough to really make her feel secure. The worry bird had her little family. And her family was a burden to her, because she worried about them. The worry bird had neighbors in her field – some other blackbirds, a meadowlark, a family of mice and a skunk. And her neighbors were a burden to her because of course she worried that they would get to the seeds and the water, and her babies before she could. The sun shone and the rains of summer came and went. And every perfect day was a burden to our heroine, because she worried, knowing that each one brought her one-day closer to winter and the cold and the long trip she must make south. What worries she had!
And if the food and the water and the family and the neighbors and the weather weren’t enough to worry about – she had the TV, which she had bought to help her forget her worries.
But, alas! The TV only seemed to make her worries worse. She saw on TV that there was a mop that you could buy that would clean up all your messes, wet or dry, and she worried that her nest was not clean enough.
She saw on TV that some birds lived in fine birdhouses, with copper roofs to shield them from the rain, and sunflowers painted around the doorway and a perch made out of a shiny metal key. And she worried that her nest was too plain and too open to the sky. Some birds ate at bird feeders, and bathed in birdbaths. “What I wouldn’t give to splash around in one of those!” she thought.
She saw on TV birds that wore jewel colored feathers, and she worried that her black feathers were not pretty enough. “I’d be satisfied,” she told herself, “if only I had some blue feathers, or some yellow plumage, and a longer tail and yellow eyes and a red crown upon my head. Just a little flash of purple. That would be enough.”
She learned on TV that proper nutrition was essential to good health, and that if someone didn’t get enough vitamins, terrible things could happen. She worried since she didn’t take a scientifically compounded multi-vitamin formula her feathers wouldn’t be numerous enough, her eyes wouldn’t be sharp enough and her beak wouldn’t be strong enough. And how could she be sure that she got the right combination of high and low density lipids for maximum performance of skin and nerve tissue?
She worried because there were so many things out there in the world, and she didn’t have enough of them. She didn’t have that nifty Ronco seed processor that made meal preparation a snap. She didn’t have the “gazelle” exerciser to tame middle age bulges. She didn’t even have a single tube of feather gloss, to make her wings shiny and sexy. She had so little. Really. It wasn’t enough.

Numbers flashed across the TV screen. If only she had a telephone. And fingers. She would dial up and get those things that would satisfy her and assure her that her life was plenty full. But she didn’t have a phone. Not even a land line, much less one of those wonderful picture taking cell phones that every teenager on TV carried around in their pocket because their parents knew they needed it. What about what she needed? Huh? Who was looking out for that? Who would make sure she had enough?
Every night, when the worry bird tucked her little black head beneath her little black wing, her eyes were wide open with anxiety and fear and she worried the night away.
How can I make sure I have enough for tomorrow? For next season? For next year?
How can I make sure my children are smart enough, brave enough, big enough, athletic enough, polite enough, and moral enough?
How can I get healthy enough?
How can I live well enough, long enough to be happy enough that I am alive?
The worry bird tossed and turned every night, till she tossed and turned her babies right out of the nest. And then she worried even more.
One afternoon, as she flitted around the field, worrying, she noticed that the sky was growing quite dark. A line of clouds, pewter-colored and heavy with rain, marched across the afternoon from the west. The slice of blue sky in the east grew smaller and smaller and lightening, at first far away, but getting nearer and nearer, pierced the gloom and struck the earth with explosive concussive thunders. The worry bird flew back to her nest, closed all the windows and turned on the TV to see the “W” in the corner of the screen. Huge drops of rain began to plop into the dust of the field and gusts of wind bent the tall grass around the worry bird’s nest. The clouds to the south of her took on a greenish hue and the worry bird watched in horror as a finger of cloud reached down and traced a serpentine path across the prairie right to her nest.
It picked her up in a whirl of water and roaring dust and spun her higher and higher. At first she closed her eyes, but as she ascended toward the clouds, she opened first one and then the other and looked around at the awesome sights opening before her.
She saw around her clouds full of rain – enough rain to fill a million puddles.
She looked below her and saw fields of grass and grain that extended seemingly forever – enough seeds to feed her forever.
She watched as one, just one, of her glossy black feathers drifted down through the center of the cloud – beautiful enough to be mistaken for a shard of polished ebony.
The worry bird knew that the storm would surely kill her. Yet, strangely, she noticed that she was not particularly worried about that. The moment of life that she had seemed enough. She didn’t fret - her little brain was entirely occupied with wonder.
The world was so much bigger than she had imagined. The sky was so much more beautiful than she had dreamed. Her life was so much more precious than she ever knew. And even the storm had at its heart something that felt like love.
And then, her heart pounding but peaceful, she felt the whirlwind release her. Her nest fell away, and she spread her wings on a suddenly gentle breeze and drifted back down to the meadow.
And she began to sing.

Jesus said, “Look at the birds of the air; your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Sunday's Coming - and I'm not ready!

This is going to be "Creation Sunday" at church.  The kids are going to show off what they have been learning about that story from Genesis.   And our "rehearsal" yesterday was - in my humble opinion - a complete debacle.  I am so frustrated with myself for not being able to corral and keep them all "on task".  And I wondered how in the world worship was going to happen with them "in charge". 
But I woke up in the middle of the night with this idea: 
I'll keep going with the Sermon on the Mount texts.  This week's lectionary is the lilies of the field and the birds of the air.  And I'll say something about how the beauty of God's creation and God's love for his creatures is echoed in Jesus' sermon.  And I'll find (it HAS to be on that old hard drive) my "Worrybird" story and tell that instead of sermonizing. 
Ha.  Problem solved.  Maybe.   I need to get a bulletin put together and see.
Arg.  I love these kids.  I wish they had a great teacher for Wednesday afternoons.  But they have me.  And Michael.  Who also just loves them, and whom they love.  It'll be OK. 
All will be well.  And all will be well.  And all manner of things will be well. 

Monday, February 21, 2011

An Eye for the Beloved Community

These are notes for my sermon on
Matthew 5:38-48
I hope I preached it better than I wrote these notes.

Long Epiphany
An extra long look at Jesus and an extra long sermon on the mount.  This text is practically never preached.  But it is at the heart of some of the most effective Christian lives in the world.  And the most effective Christian communities in the world. 

Jesus continues his revision and expansion of the law with “You have heard it said an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.  But I say to you . . . do not practice violence when confronted with evil.”

The rule “lex talonis” was an advance in ethical understanding that limited escalation of violence.  Where it is not practiced - wars ensue and suffering increases exponentially.  The Hatfields and the McCoys.  Mafia wars.  Sophisticated lasar targeted bombs exploding on mud huts.  How does it end? 
Escalation happens in more personal venues, too.  Dear Abby letter from the guy who left his laptop out on his desk in his open dorm room.  Someone hid it from him, supposedly to teach him a lesson, but actually they might have just been being mean.  So he filed a police report, pressed charges, got the hider kicked out of school, fined and put on probation.  And now the hider is mad at him and turning his classmates against him.  Yeah.   Great revenge!  

Getting revenge - Doing to others worse than they’ve done to you is deeply engrained in human beings.  Some say it’s a byproduct of evolution.  In her book The Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life, Karen Armstrong begins by writing about our "reptilian brain," the one that is still present underneath the more developed brain. The "reptilian brain" is responsible for the fight/flight response in animals.

Some argue that it is a necessary part of life when danger is near and a quick response is necessary.

I’d argue, to the contrary, in increasingly complex and interrelated communities, and that the dangers we face now -   loss of political cohesion, economic dysfunction, environmental damage, or just plain mean people messing up our emotional health - these are dangers where fight or flight is the wrong response.  Wrong as in ineffective and the kind that will get you killed. 

If we practice an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, what do we end up with but a village of blind, toothless people. 

So it isn’t true that, Jesus is inviting us to consider embracing a life that is riskier and more foolish.  It is just that it is counter to our very basest instincts for survival. He is outpacing our reptilian brain with a call to the highest and best within us, to raise our sights and join him in creating a more compassionate world.

I think this has personal as well as global implications.  But let’s talk about the global.  before we talk about taking Jesus seriously in our own community - let’s talk a little about how non-violence figures into larger changes in the world.  Mahatma Ghandi used non-violent confrontation to acheive human rights and political independence for India.  Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement he led practiced non-violent protest even in the face of violent resistance.  And the United States was delivered from a future of apartheid.   Egypt is undergoing huge changes as the result of non-violent resistance to a violent regime.  Huge.
     Last week a Palestinian doctor put a human face on the cost and the possibility of peaceful resistance.  His story is sort of heart breaking  but hopeful.  Kind of like Jesus’ own story is heartbreaking but hopeful.  The doctor spoke several places in Champaign Urbana, about his effort to respond non-violently to the Israeli occupation of his land.  His story is all the more compelling because the targeted shell from an israeli tank tore through his apartment in Gaza and killed three of his children - daughters.  His response has been to write, speak and form a foundation dedicated to the rights and education of women and girls.   I heard him tell Steve Shoemaker, “Of course when we are attacked, we become angry.  We should be angry.  But what that anger motivates us to do - about that we have a choice.  And violence is always the wrong choice.  I choose to address the injustice in a way that takes us forward to a better place.”  I encourage you to read his book, “I Shall Not Hate” as a way of understanding that part of the world better. 

As Christians, we need to be praying for and standing with and using our considerable power to shape public opinion in favor of people like that.   I think it matters what we bother to understand and tell people is important to us. 

But I don’t pretend that our Jesus’ vision applies directly to our political situation.  We have power. 

I think that our challenge, to love our enemies and resist hatred and violence comes much closer to home  -  that is in our response to mean people and ugly behavior that we encounter day to day, at our jobs and in schools and in our extended families. 

Our challenge is to not become hateful when people are hateful to us.   To figure out and live out Jesus’ better way with our neighbors and co-workers and church brothers and sisters.    This is often messy and difficult.  But it reveals the kind of person we are.  And I want to tell you a little story:

When my family moved to Oklahoma City, my father worked for a man I found morally repulsive.  He owned this huge insurance company, which he ran like a tyrant.  He was bad to people.  Little things, like sexually harrassing the many women who worked as low level clerks.  Discriminating against people of color.  And being hugely, obscenely rich.   He and his family lived in a huge Oklahoma huge mansion, with servants and expensive everythings, which he shared only with other, equally obscenely rich folks.  And he made my father’s working life miserable.  I hated him.  Because he was wrong in every way I could see.  And here’s what my mother did:  she baked bread and took it to his family.  Not all the time.  But often enough that it completely ticked me off.  I used to rail at her, “Why are you being nice to those people?  Why are you treating them like human beings?  They don’t treat us like human beings?  We are nothing to them.  Don’t do something “friendly” for them.  They don’t deserve it.  They don’t appreciate it.  They have everything!  Don’t give them our bread!”  But she disagreed.  She said, “Oh, I don’t think they have anything as good as my homemade bread.” 

Now - if I was making this up, the end of the story would be that the horrible evil man called daddy into his office one day and said, “You can have the resources you need to do your project.  And I’ve decided that women deserve a fair shake around here.  And you can hire that African-American assistant and pay her a decent wage.  Why don’t you and Lou come over and help me decide which charity to give a million dollars to.”

That didn’t happen.  Here’s what happened:  This guy flew his family out to Aspen, on their private plane, to ski one winter.  And he got in a hurry to get back and make more money, so he bullied  the pilot into taking off in some very bad weather.   And the plane disappeared in the mountains.  After several days, his spoiled rotten children had to hike out of the mountains.  His wife was paralyzed and spent the rest of her life in a wheelchair.  And the big boss guy was killed.  Froze to death in his private plane. 

And my mother, who had practiced Jesus’ way, was in a position to minister to them as a friend.  And they needed a real friend.  Just like they didn’t have homemade bread.  The didn’t have many real friends. 
I, on the other hand, was left with a dark and ugly and hateful heart, in need of some deep repentance and grace and healing.   The vehicle of the healing came with Jesus’ words, “If you love those who love you, what do you want, a medal?  Everybody can do that.  If you greet those who greet you, how does that make you special?  I have something better in mind for those who follow me.”

The last line of this scripture sometimes trips people up - it gives them an easy out.  The NRSV translation is “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  Well, of course we say, that’s impossible.  Nobody’s perfect, least of all me.  But that’s not the best way to translate what Jesus said.  His words mean something more like, “Become (in the future tense)  make your journey be in the direction of - completeness.  (Perfect here means completed.)  Just as your heavenly Father’s love encompasses everyone - the good and the bad, the just and the injust - so you are called to practice loving both friends and enemies.”  It’s not about them.  It’s about the image of God that is in you.  Be like God is. 

And that’s not impossible.  It’s hard.  But it’s not impossible.  Jesus showed us that.  There is a way.  He is the Way.  Let us walk the Way of love and mercy that he sets before us. 

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Amputating Hands or Changing Hearts?

This is the sermon for Matthew 5:21-37.

Do you know who Aron Ralston is?  About seven years ago, Aron Ralston was a 27 year old out door enthusiast who loved rock climbing in the desert southwest.  One Saturday morning, he got up early and began a hike that would change his life.  He was in the Blue John Canyon of Utah,  having a great day of solo hiking,  he fell down a slot canyon and a boulder fell on top of him, trapping his right arm.  He was unable to move the boulder to escape and finally, after over five days, he freed himself by amputating his own arm.  This little adventure is the story line of a movie that is showing right now called 127 Hours.  Yes, I went to see it.  And no, I did not see very much of that part of the film. 
You can guess why I would want to see the movie though:  Because in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says a pretty shocking thing:  If your hand causes you to sin - cut it off.  Better to enter heaven without a limb than to have your whole self consigned to hell.  I’ve always been horrified by this saying, and I hoped that the movie might give me a new angle, a new perspective on this outrageous action. 
Both the movie and the passage of scripture are less about amputation and more about transformation.  They are less about the hand than they are about the heart. 
I’ll get back to the movie in a minute, but let’s look at this challenging scripture together first: 
In this passage Jesus is attempting to describe the kind of right- life that God desires for us and from us.  He’s contrasting his vision with that of people who are focused on obedience to a set of laws or religious guidelines.  But he doesn’t do it by sweeping the law aside or minimizing its importance.  What Jesus does instead is to expand the range of God’s authority in human life - to blow up its importance, and to make larger and more voluminous the area of life that matters to God. 
He does it 6 times altogether:  The first four re-casting of the Law are in our passage for today.  The last two - which are sort of the climax of this section of scripture - are next week’s lesson.   He uses a standard format - like some pronouncements have a formalized wording - e.g. “Whereas . . . this, whereas that, therefore be it resolved . . .”  Jesus uses the rabbinic formula:  You have heard it said . . . . . but I say to you . . . . 
You have heard it said, “Thou shalt not kill.” 
You have heard it said, “You shall not sleep with someone else’s spouse.” 
You have heard it said, “If you want to end your marriage, you have to give your wife a certificate of divorce.” 
You have heard it said, “Don’t swear to something that isn’t true.” 
Then Jesus, in each case, spells out a much more rigorous, much more demanding, much more difficult - maybe - even - impossible!  standard.  Don’t kill is reinterpreted to say, “Don’t hold a grudge.  Don’t insult or cast aspersions on another.”  Don’t commit adultery is broadened to prohibit leering glances or lustful looks.  Divorce law is rewritten to have only the very narrowest window of permissibility.  And telling the truth under oath becomes a demand for integrity so stalwart that one’s word could NEVER be brought into question. 
Wow. Do these enhanced commands, this righteousness on steroids,  . . .  have any impact on our life?  Well we don’t take them literally.  If you think about this a minute, it is pretty obvious: When you see an eye-patch - your first thought is probably, “Pirate” not “must be a Christian.” 
But even though we don’t take them literally - we cannot and should not dismiss them.  They deserve our attention.  If Jesus says something this weird, it must mean he wants us to notice it.  He must be trying to motivate us somehow.  Jesus isn’t widely known for blowing off steam . . .
Of course!  We’re not going to be motivated to amputate.  No legal system worth its salt puts insults on par with murder.  We don’t slap people in jail for calling their brother a fool.  We don’t gouge out the eyes of those who ogle the freshmen and women on Green Street.  We don’t cut off our hands if they give somebody the finger. 
Jesus was up to something different -letting us know that God is concerned with our very selves.  He desires an attitude that can’t be faked with a few surface gestures of civility.  He wants to shape and change our hearts and our relationships.
All these examples Jesus gives are about right relationships.  And Jesus’ command is that they be RIGHT.  Not just POLITE. 
Relationships with brothers and sisters, close friends, relationships with the opposite sex, marital relationships, even marital relationships that are on the verge of ending.  Relationships with people with whom we do business, with whom we enter into contracts and to whom we make promises.  In all these relationships, Jesus insists, God’s intention is that we should go beyond the bare minimum legal requirements for doing the right thing.  We should do the right thing for the right reason, out of the right heart.  We should act with perfect integrity and love. Right.  Not just polite.
The gift of opened hearts and right relationships that please God is a gift that Jesus wants us to understand is offered to us.  He uses vivid, even horrifying language, to tell us the value and beauty that God desires to see in our lives.  But I hope that we can get past the grisly-ness of it to  see and accept the larger and better life that is proffered in heart changing commands.

When Aron Ralston fell into that crevice in the rock in Utah, he was an OK guy.   But sort of a jerk.  You know the kind?  You get the picture of someone who doesn’t really care about anyone but himself.  He doesn’t do anything bad, but he doesn’t pick up the phone when his mother calls.  He doesn’t tell anyone where he is going, even though that would make them feel better.  He’s the kind of boyfriend who just can’t give the relationship much time or energy.  He lets a woman who loves him drift away.  And she tells him as she leaves, “Aron Ralston, you are going to be so lonely.”  He’s not a criminal or a drug addict or a liar or a thief.  But he’s profoundly stingy of heart. 
So then he is trapped.  All alone, knowing that he is probably going to die, he has the chance to think deeply about his life.  And he thinks of his mother and his father.  Of the co-worker he didn’t even care enough about to tell where he was going.  Of the woman who loved him, whom he had used and discarded, like an old backpack.  But, even more, he begins to think about his future - he begins to have visions of a son - a young boy who doesn’t even exist yet.  These visions of the son he feels he is supposed to create, being together in the future - these experience transformed Ralston in a profound way.  One reviewer said, “This story is a tale of massive transformation on a small, personal scale - of and individual’s life changing forever, over the course of five days.”   Here’s what Ralston says, “My physical self was stripped away, but what was left were the connections with people in my life.  When we are connected through love to other people is when we’re most alive and have our greatest sense of resolve and courage.” 
And opening to those connections - allowing God to train and shape our hearts so that right relationships can arise - this kind of new life and transformation is worth an arm (and a leg).  When he finally cuts his arm off - he’s glad.  And, as a viewer, you share his sense that this is the absolutely right and joyful thing to do.  You know that his life, and your life, is beloved by God.   There’s something that touches your heart to see his heart grow so much.  And the bigger heart is one that is filled with gratitude and love. 
“When my mom first saw this film, she was holding my hand,” Ralston recalls.  “The amputation scene is over and we all made it through, but as I hike out and the music builds, my mom’s squeezing my hand so hard I think I’m losing my other arm.  We’re involuntarily rocking in our seats and she’s going,”Thank you, God!  Thank you, God!”  That’s what a beautiful gift this is.” 
Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day - hearts everywhere.  God wants to give us a Valentine’s present - but we have to let him know that we want it.  Will we accept that gift?  Will today be the day that we recognize the need to let God transform our hearts, to move us from polite to right in our relationships with others.  Will today be the day that we resolve to give up a grudge that cuts us off from relationship.  Will today be the day we open our hearts to the friend who has wronged us, the person we desire but do not love, the spouse who is driving us crazy, the obligation we’ve been meeting, but just barely.  Will today be the day we hear Jesus’ call to live - really live - the quality of life that God desires for us.  A life that is Right.  Not just polite, but Right. 
Maybe today is the day we,  like Aron Ralston, begin to see the beauty of human connection and the loving future God has planned.   
And I hope that we catch the vision that rocks us to the core, and tears from our hearts the cry, “Thank you, God!  O thank you, God!” 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Just noticing

That today, after Wednesday Sunday School, the sky is still light.  I am sitting on the back porch at 5:07 and it isn't dark yet.  So maybe spring is coming after all.  (It is, however, 13 degrees.  Maybe it's not coming soon.)

Sunday, February 6, 2011

half a sermon is better than none?

Matthew 5:12-20
This is the last half of this Sunday's sermon.  The notes from the first half aren't complete enough to post.  You know  - you are the light of the world.  

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus sets forth a vision of the Kingdom of God, and invites people to participate in what God is doing to make that Kingdom a reality.

And I can’t sit down and shut up before touching on the often neglected portion of the passage we heard this morning:  Jesus says to his followers, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will fall short of the kingdom.”  I want to give a little shout out to my friends the scribes and Pharisees.  They were doing their best to live out what they knew of God through the Law - the Torah - that they had been given as a map of the Kingdom.  They were trying to live out God’s intention by minding, very carefully, the letter of the law.  Jesus doesn’t fault them for that.  And neither can we. 

But Jesus is saying to his disciples, “You can do better than that.  You have my life, my teachings, my example, my fulfillment of God’s vision to follow.  You have me - the way, the truth and the life - to follow.  You don’t rely on what are just words on a page.  You have me to light your path.  And you can do better than even the most rigorously faithful follower of the Law.  I expect more of you.  I expect something greater from  you.” 

Too often I fear, we afflict our spiritual lives with low expectations.  We lower our sights for our own spiritual life, and we expect too little of the church to which we belong.  There’s a new book out, called “What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still be a Christian?”  The title is firmly tongue in cheek - it’s not about a small faith, but an argument that mainline moderate Protestant churches can actually offer a vibrant, grace-filled, life-giving faith that many people in our world are longing to find and embrace.  I’m thinking about ordering a few copies of that book.  Would anyone be interested in reading it and talking about it with me? 

High expectations produce high quality results.  Since it is Super Bowl Sunday, let me just quote from one of our secular saints, the person for whom the trophy for tonight’s game is named.  Vince Lombardi said:
“The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavor.” 

Lombardi was not an dewy-eyed romantic.  Neither was Jesus.  But they both knew that human beings, be they football players or followers of Christ, are capable of great things, if they are challenged with a worthy goal.  “Perfection is not attainable. But if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence.”

Maybe that is Gospel - that is good news - for us:  We are told that we are the light of the world, so that we may be mindful of how our light shines. We are called to perfection, so that we may acheive excellence.  

We don’t have a scoreboard to tell us how we are doing.  But we have a table.  To remind us of the goal and to keep our heads in the game.

In a few minutes we will come to receive a taste of the Kingdom that Christ has set before us.  To raise our sights to the goal of the prize of the Kingdom of God. 

Here we see, and touch and taste the Kingdom -
The bonds of sin broken. 
Bread shared with hungry ones. 
Life poured out in forgiveness and grace. 

This is the goal and purpose of the Christian life: 

For here the prophet’s words are fulfilled:  God says,  “You shall call, and I will answer.   You shall cry and I will say, “Here I am.”

Saturday, February 5, 2011


Yesterday (at Ed Bower's funeral) I met someone who rigs parachutes for a living.  We had a chit chat conversation for a few minutes, and then I asked about what she was doing these days and then she told me what her job was and suddenly, she came alive.  How did she come to have such an unusual job?  She said that a client  from her old job, as an event co-ordinator, had given her a jump as a present.  And that one jump completely changed her life.  She went back for another, and another, and pretty soon she discovered this community of folks defined by this "hobby".  And she was hooked.
When she talked about sky-diving her face lit up.  She said when she dives it is the most intense and alive thing she's ever experienced.  I was just floored by the difference in her.  Amazing.  I was so struck by how passion - for something anything? - transforms life.  Every person has the most ineffable beauty inside them, manifested when their body and soul meet the experience that unleashes their passion.  (Too long a sentence.)  Passion makes people beautiful.
Somehow, the fact that there is a community of people who share this experience, understand one another's passion, this is important, too.  She mentioned "community" several times.  That in itself is sort of unusual for a young (30ish) person.  To have and acknowledge a community as being an important aspect of their identity. 
So I've been thinking about sky diving.  Here's what I wonder:  Is that sense of being able to put oneself in a situation of being totally out of control how we put ourselves in touch with our truest and best selves? And others?   It seems to be a metaphor for faith, in one sense.  You prepare.  You prepare as if your life depended upon it.  You aren't sloppy or careless in rigging the chute.  And you rely on others.  She rigs parachutes for other people.  They completely depend on her to get it right.  She doesn't fly the plane.  She depends on someone else to do that.   But the pay off is that you go up into the sky and throw yourself out of a plane and then you fall/fly, totally in the hands of gravity and the air  - things you couldn't control, no matter how hard you try.  And letting yourself GO is such an incredible high that it matters more than the fear (she said sometimes she cries on the way up!) or the discomfort (it's cold up there) or the possible loss of even your life.  It changes how you see your life.  That's what she said.  It changes everything.
I'd like to live like that.  I'd like to experience my life as totally in God's hands and out of my own.  And I'd like to live it in a community that shares my passion.