Thursday, April 17, 2014

10

We mark the passage of time in years...that become decades...scores.
It's just what we do, we mark the time...about many things.

We mark the time until things happen.
We mark the time since things happened.

Today is the 10th year I've marked this day.

It's not that I've marked it by writing something. 
I mark this day because this day has marked me, has marked my family.
Like a healed broken bone that aches before a dramatic change in the weather, this day makes a healed broken heart ache.

The scars where once there was an open wound are a bit more sensitive to the touch on days like today.  Anytime you see a scar, you know there's a story--be it falling off your bike, to surviving an accident, to wrestling with the Divine through the night, to being nailed to a cross--our scars say something. 

We all lost much 10 years ago when Jimmy died.
And whatever peace I found since then, I'll never come to peace with a 34 year old going to sleep and not waking up.  That shit sucks.  And it always will (by the way, my blog, you don't my language, move on).

I'm a different man than I was then.  10 years ago I was a few months from being 40 and living in the existential angst of that milestone, consumed with showing outwardly that I belonged while inwardly uncertain what that meant immersed in hiding me for fear of rejection. 

Now a few months from 50...truthfully, I've never been more content with what I don't know.  I'm comfortable living the journey of "I don't know, but let's see what we can discover, together."

I'm healthier than I've been since I was 25, physically.
I'm healthier than I've been spiritually, ever.

Over the years to come I'll continue to mark the time of this day.  I'll always lament a relationship that was never allowed to season....for words never spoken that should have been.

As it happens, the family will be gathering this weekend. It's Easter.  It's also Confirmation day.  My youngest, Jack, is being confirmed.  We'll all be together to mark a right of passage for another of the family...including another one we're just hearing about this week (stay tuned).

And when together, something will be said, a look or a facial expression seen, and someone will say, "you know who that looks like, sounds like?"  
  
It's been a decade.  Gosh, that's a long time.



Monday, April 14, 2014

A Few Things on the Reset

Long time, no see....

May deal with the "why's" later, but for now, let's hit it.

TIGERS - "never think more of yourself, that you ought," comes to mind.  We did ok.  Great?  No. Satisfied?  Nope.  Can we do more than what we're doing now?  Not sure.  Many will speak to Josh's coaching style.  A little less AAU play and a lot more "grit and grind" from our favorite NBA team would be welcomed.  How patient can "Tiger Nation" (which drives me nuts...if we are a nation, we're the Luxembourg of sports nations) be watching Josh grow into the role of coach...which is to beg the question "Is he growing into that role?"  I have my doubts.  Anybody who wants to "hug a win" gives me pause.  His pre-game speech to the troops aired on television was underwhelming to say the least.  On the plus side, we swept Louisville!  But UConn and Cincy?  Got schooled by them.

LATE NIGHT - Watching The Tonight Show on purpose for the first time in 22 years.  I like Jimmy, but the formula is going to wear thin a few months in.  Sometimes he's a little cute by half.  Playing games is fine. Starring in your own skits and doing quite well is good.   What makes the great ones great is knowing that when someone is talking, the host is listening.  Jimmy's got some growing to do there.

And then, there's Dave. There's something to be said about leaving in your timing especially when you're doing something that defines your professional career.  Jay didn't get to do that, either time. He announced it in about as unassuming a way as you'd expect a Midwesterner would.  Much, much, much about Dave on this blog...easy to find.  Enjoy!  Very pleased with Stephen Colbert pick.  I think it will transition very well. I'll deal with farewells for him next year.

TRANSITIONS - Change always seems to come at once for me.  It's the season for that again.  Another kid graduating from high school...one a year away from finishing college...and then there's Jack, who'll be 13 this August.  Thirteen years ago at the age of 36, I was appointed to serve in midtown Memphis, at St. John's.  Jack was born August of our moving there in June.  And this June, at the age of 49, just weeks before turning 50, I take back up the yoke of pastoral leadership at that most special place.  There will much more on that in coming weeks, what it means, what it could mean.  At this time of my life, maybe it's only now that I'm fully ready.

Ok...it's not much, but it's a post....my first for 2014.




Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Taste and See

I stopped eating bread back in July...and crackers, chips, processed foods, sugar, dairy, grains....
You know...everything I love to eat.

A couple of years into a seeking a healthier life, and all the implications thereto appertaining, I realized this summer than the comfort found in those foods created a layer of insulation protecting me from some other thing.  Even though still walking, the intake was too much.  It's not that I needed to practice moderation with those foods...I just needed to not take them at all.

What's fat for except to provide stores of energy for when life's winters come?  The presupposition is that it is stored because it will be needed to provide fuel until such a time that fuel will come with regularity, thus sustaining life.

But we who've lived a life with far more stored than our systems could ever burn in a day understand another function it serves.  Back when I used to write a lot, I've talked a bit about that.

I'm not an Orthodox Paleo guy, although it seems so compared to my previous diet.  I do eat oatmeal 3 times a week.  I do intake some grains in another form...God bless the Commonwealth. :).  But everything else is pretty consistent.  Maybe I'm a Reformed Paleo.

As surprised as I was almost two and a half years ago that I'd take up walking religiously, I wanted to see if I could do this thing with my food intake, and after having done it, would I be glad I did.  The answer is yes, and it's hard to imagine going back.

There is one caveat to this shift.  I do eat bread once a week.  It's a small piece, pulled from a loaf over which the people prayed and invoked the Spirit of the Living God to make known to us the essence of Jesus through bread broken and cup shared.

I guess it wasn't until September, a good couple of months into this shift in me, that I was consciously aware that I was about to eat bread.  I had a moment's pause to think, "just how 'doctrinal' will I be in this pursuit?"   This is my normal now, after all.  My standard.  And what are we without standards?

I guess purists will call it equivocation.  Too often there's little acceptance of others who don't keep to the standard with the same zeal as they.  I get that.  I even thought about it...what can I eat in this moment that would substitute for bread...so help me, I actually thought about that.

And then I heard the words spoken, "This is the body of Christ, the Bread of Heaven...broken for you."  I took that bread dipped it into the chalice and put it in my mouth without hesitation while my mind wandered to a setting of Psalm 34 that Glad River recorded 10 years ago, "Taste and see the goodness of the Lord."

I'm not bothered by the inconsistency.  I find Jesus there.

I started all this for my health.  And I eat bread once a week for my spirit's health.  It's tempting to want acknowledgement for how forward living I am.  Too often things that seem on one hand prophetic really mask more egocentric intent.  At the same time the principles I've come to value guiding my daily food intake are solid and grounded in aspirations for health, not survival.

I've survived long enough.  I want to live, and to do that I had to adapt, to change - but not so that you'll think of me as something I'm not.

Rather, I want to live because of what it means to "taste and see that the Lord is good."  I want to live in the goodness of that because it's there that all that is nonsense in me can fall away and all that's left is my life's charge---to love God with all I am and have, and to love what God loves.

Nothing else matters.







Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Nine

Nine years.

The passage of time is a fuzzy thing. Things happen in life. Everyday something happens. Our days are marked by the accumulation of events. Like episodic television, years gone by are like seasons. And events recalled are as stories often prompted by "you remember the one when....?"

And sometimes there are events that are watersheds. Nothing going forward will ever be as it was.  Everything is filtered through the reality of that moment in time.

April 17 is one of those days.

It's not like today is the gratuitous "remember Jimmy" day. There's something about him I remember every day. I look at my middle kid's facial expressions from time to time and I'm stopped in my tracks.

Today, nine years later...my awareness of loss is revisited...loss of what was, and loss of what will never be.

As traumatic as that day was for my family and me, a day like none other in our lives, what I marvel at today, nine years later, is how we are getting through it.

There were agents of grace dispatched to stand with us that day and the days that followed. You held us close and "Lifted us to the Light" when we didn't know which way was up. Some stand with us still. For that I'm thank-full.

For those who knew him...remember a story (there are plenty to choose from), raise a glass, and laugh.

And those of you who didn't....you know the phrase "force of nature?"
He's the standard by which all others are compared.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Maundy Thursday 2013 - "No Greater Love: A Life Made Sacred (Sacrum Facere)"

So....a funny thing happened on the way to "standing down."
Ahhh, so I'm not going to do it.  Can't.

But I am only going to post when I have something to say, not when I think I need to say something because everybody else under the sun is posting every single thought that sparks....  Enough of that....here we go.

Below is the current iteration of my homily for Maundy Thursday.  I've lived with this for many, many years.

Simple search of the blog will bring forward other versions and the contextual prefaces that will put those versions in perspective.

We who proclaim Gospel have a predilection toward certain aspects of it.  Parts of the story of Jesus come from us more easily.  Others cause us more struggle to find paths to proclamation.

This is not quite to the magnitude of "Here I stand, I can do no other," historically speaking, but this one strikes close, at least for me.

It's in me.


There are moments in life when the actions we take, the engagement of our lives with the world around us reveal something about us, whether we’re conscious of it or not. We can talk all day about who we are and what we believe – but there’s nothing more revealing or indicting than action or inaction.

Conscious awareness of our role, place and motivation in life, and the ebb and flow of relationships in the slipstream of our existence is “mindfulness.” Taken from wisdom of the eastern religions, it is that capacity for us to know that "wherever we go, there we are" - -and thanks to John Kabat Zinn, the western world is the beneficiary of understanding a spiritual state that belongs to people of all faiths.

Jesus put it this way,  "Don't worry about tomorrow.  It will take care of itself.  You have enough to worry about today." (Mt. 6.34 CEV)

In times of greatest moment – to act or not to act - - “to be or not to be - that is the question.”

Act with haste, that is, without prayerful discernment seeking guidance from trusted voices, and action becomes an end in itself. Those who yearn to be seen as the hero sweeping in to save the day act hastily.

Ask anyone who has been caught up in the aftermath of one’s lustful, egocentric pursuit of hero worship and they will tell you that such action may look good on the surface, but there is collateral damage aplenty.  

"Gotta break a few eggs to make an omelette," after all.

But is there compassion or consideration in the face of collateral damage, when in your pursuit to do something you think is a major thing that someone being hurt, ignored or marginalized is a minor thing?  Or, is there a willingness to put aside being the hero for the common good?

No.

Inevitably, collateral damage, in whatever form it comes, is considered an acceptable loss, and the price of doing business. The end always justifies the means.

Still others live with perpetual inaction.

Able to articulate and argue relevant points of whatever their issue is with passion – they fail to act. They feed so much on the energy generated by the problem itself so that their motivation to enact a remedy, is muted by the fear that if the problem is solved, the “stuff” that feeds their lives is gone.

They know the issue.

They know the problem.

But they are crippled to do anything about it.

A vicious cycle, that. Indeed, it is pitiful.

Those who refuse to forgive a wrong choose perpetual inaction. Even church folks who know the language of forgiveness won’t enact it.  Why?  Because our pain and our anger is what we know, and being liberated from it scares us to death. We love our chains more than being free.

“Repent, and believe in the Gospel,” Jesus would say.
"Repent." "Believe."
"Take" up your cross and "follow."

Action words.

It’s the difference between saying you’re a Christian and actually being a follower of Jesus wherever that leads.

Action and inaction. The transcendent truth of either approach to life is self defining and a prophecy perpetually self-fulfilling.

Maundy Thursday is one of those days when the abstract and absolute, the flesh and the spirit, the universal and the particular collide. It is one of those occasions where “the rubber hits the road.” Here, at the end of Lent and the start of the Triduum, the Great Three Days, it reveals through action the character of the One who draws us into this worship space tonight. It confronts us with the real life, real time implications of what a life made sacred looks like. It makes us look at Jesus’ life and consider what we’re doing with our own.

Is life made sacred because it just is…or is life made sacred by what one does with it?

So, action, these actions give meaning to what Jesus has taught. They give meaning to what we believe. They make all this Jesus business real – incarnate.

On this night we focus on an action of Jesus found only in the 4th gospel. The Synoptics don’t have it. John, historically considered the last of the canonical gospels written, has a particular agenda – the writer has a bias, and his bias is always for Jesus (as he understands him and propagates a narrative to give that understanding credence) – his life, his teaching, and the nature of the Christ that has always been.

Only John has this text – Jesus, at Passover, after sharing table fellowship, takes upon himself an action that will be self-defining hereon, as it will be for all of us who carry his name.

He, the one called, Rabbi, Teacher, Lord, Messiah, Christ – comes now to assume the role of the menial laborer – literal dirty work is not beneath him – he embraces it...he love us in it.  It defines him. He takes a towel, a basin and a pitcher – and washes his disciples feet.

And at first, it was more than they could have stomached.

"My Jesus don't do stuff like that."

Far too many of us spend way too much time "lifting his name on high," when if he's to be found it will be at our feet.

Failure to honor that, to embrace that is failure to really know anything about him at all.  What is it he says to an obstinate Peter?  "If you refuse me this you have no part of me."

But why?

Rarely in our observance of Christian liturgy do you find something so profoundly intimate as the washing of feet. Maybe that’s why it’s not a sacrament (which it should be), there’s really no way to observe this liturgy with integrity without touching someone, literally touching someone.

It’s too close, too intimate. It’s not “churchy.”

Getting on our knees and taking off shoes, using water, towels and basins, it’s beneath the dignity of our erudite gathering.

To which I say, “right.” It is.

But it is supremely of Christ.

That Francis I makes this act a loving expression of service today toward juvenile detainees is no small thing.  The first Pope of the Church was slow to come around, the current Rock on which the Church is built deserves our notice.

And if we are going to be “of Christ,” with integrity, then tonight, our action or inaction is, guess what? Dare I say it again? Self-Defining.

And maybe that’s what all this dramatic fuss is about this Holy Thursday night and there following into the Great Three Days. If nothing else, we observe integrity at work. That’s an awe inspiring thing. For to live with integrity is joyful, because in it we are complete. We are fully what we’ve been created to become.

Don’t forget, though, that just because we live with integrity does not mean our work is easy.  The faithful pursuit of Christ takes us to places we’d never before imagine, and that joyful pursuit is an act of thank-full praise in itself.

William Sloane Coffin said, “Joy is the most important Christian emotion.  Duty calls only when gratitude fails to prompt.”

To do this thing…to wash his disciples’ feet, was not a choice absent other options. Think of those options presented to Jesus in the wilderness temptations…to be relevant, spectacular, powerful (as Henri Nouwen would teach us).  No, this was a matter of integrity. He did this thing, both in the upper room with his disciples, as well as walk the Via Dolorosa precisely because that's who he is.

To have done anything other than to be a servant, than to identify with the suffering of humankind by embracing the cross, would have been to have missed his moment – the moment when action defined who he was.

This is what a life made sacred looks like:

12 ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another. John 15.12-17

Another way of seeing this night might be this. Jesus did not miss his moment and he’s imploring us not to miss ours. Our lives are gifts, to be sure, but they are only made sacred when we enact self-giving love as every moment's measure.

Look. Ministry is hard.

Giving yourself away is hard. Following Jesus to where ministry leads you is hard.

It is counterintuitive to everything innately part of our being that cries out for self interest and self protection.

Placing yourself in the role of servant and not hero is tough. Doing ultimate good without desiring credit for it is extraordinarily difficult.

If it were easy, wouldn’t more folks be doing it?

Instead, too many of us play at Church, play at following Jesus, use our religious pursuits as a contrivance of convenience rather than a covenantal commitment.

Listen, people. To live with integrity or not is far more in our control that we'd care to admit.

It’s in your grasp, sisters and brothers – right here, right now.  And that thought burdens us because we are so used to claiming it is our weakness of character, or faith, of prophetic passion that prevents us from being what we’re made to be.  We've become accustomed to being able to saying "no," "can't," "that's not my gift."

Bill Coffin again, “We want God to be strong, so that we can be weak.  But He wants to be weak so that we can be strong.  We want God to prove herself.  But she answers, “Do you want proof or freedom?”

Or consider the words of David Whyte:

The Opening of Eyes

That day I saw beneath dark clouds
the passing light over the water
and I heard the voice of the world speak out,
I knew then, as I had before
life is no passing memory of what has been
nor the remaining pages in a great book
waiting to be read.
It is the opening of eyes long closed.
It is the vision of far off things
seen for the silence they hold.
It is the heart after years
of secret conversing
speaking out loud in the clear air.

It is Moses in the desert
fallen to his knees before the lit bush.
It is the man throwing away his shoes
as if to enter heaven
and finding himself astonished,
opened at last,
fallen in love with solid ground.

-- David Whyte
from Songs for Coming Home
©1984 Many Rivers Press

Jesus gathers with us in this room, as he has done with his companions for millennia and says, “Here’s who I am, here’s what I’m prepared to do, here are the depths I’m prepared to plunge – for you.”

How far are you willing to go? Could it be that tonight it is at least to declare that “no greater love have I” than to give myself away, even sacrificially, because of love?

What we do tonight, through bread and cup, is a liturgy you have repeated many, many times. May it be, however, that tonight you see beyond your own action of getting up and coming down here and partaking Eucharist, or sitting in this chair to have your feet washed or washing another's.

Consider and embrace the life made sacred because of what he did…made his life sacred, for you, so that your life is sacred in the love you make carried out in His name.  Amen.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Standing Down

After 8 years and 374 posts, I feel like it's time to put the blog thing to rest.

This will be my last post on this blog.  It's not like I have nothing else to say, but there are other avenues to do that.  Shoot, I may learn to be so poignant and concise that I'll master the art of doing it in 140 characters or less (don't count on it)!   And then there's always "the" Facebook.

The factors prompting me to launch this in the first place are not what they were...a lot of things can change in 8 years, and that's been the case with me.  Bottom line...I just don't want to do this, like this, anymore.

Over the years I've revealed a lot about a few things that matter very much to me, and a little bit about a lot of stuff going on in the world.  I've revealed my story...my journey.  I've written much about me.  Arguably too much.  But I've tried to be true.

Upon reflection some of what I've shared would have been better for a journal.  Living in the stream of consciousness that I do, some of what I have written is just me sharing where I am at a given moment.  Most folks get that.  Others want to dissect it and parse hidden meanings, and that fatigues me.

When I write wondering what the reader will think, and if I edit myself for fear of how it will be received, it's time to stand down.

I never started this to get denominational notice, although I surely say a lot about my denomination.  If you're looking for that kind of blog...there's ton of 'em out there each begging for your notice and acknowledgement of how relevant their words are for issues confronting the church.  And a few of them really are that relevant.  A very few.

It's not that I'm writing less.  I'm probably writing more than ever, but my writing is staying with me for now as I process the next phases of my life in ministry.  In my journal I'm free to write for me, what I think, what I feel, and I don't have to interpret it.  That's my "zone" right now.

I'm not planning on deleting the blog.  The day may come when I take it back up, but I do not see it on the horizon.   Ultimately I may grab some posts that meant much and migrate some other place...but that's not a worry for me right now.

For those who've hung in there with me across the years, I appreciate it.  A few of you were there from the very start, and I know you'll stick with me still.

Peace, y'all.
Johnny


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

On the first day of Christmas ....

  Time for my annual rant. 

"Christmas is over," so says the marketplace, media types and others. The work of putting away all the exterior fixtures showing we had "Christmas spirit" will be gone by the weekend. Presumably, so will any of the interior work we will have done. 
As long as we can put Christmas in a box to open when we want and put it away when we say, then there is no true transformation. 

The Church observed Christmas as a season. The impact of Incarnation requires meaningful time be observed. The newborn Jesus deserves our attention more than just seeing him lay away in a manger. We who have had newborn children know that there's only one thing better than the first time you see the baby---it's the next time you do. 

The days of Christmas (yes, there are 12), allow the reality of Jesus to "breathe" in us. It gives room for us to take in the implications of his life in the midst if ours. 

Maybe one of the reasons we put all evidence of Christmas away so quickly is that while we're happy to observe the season, we're not convinced we can be transformed by it....and that goes for institutions as well as people (can you hear me talking, UMC?)

So let this season "be."  And "be" in this season.  It may just be that the changes in life we most seek are being packed away in storage boxes with tinsel and lights.