Lenten Songs

April 19, 2014

I set myself the task of writing songs for Lent based on the readings in each service’s lectionary.  Here are my results.

Poems for Lent (based on Lections for Year A), A Series — “Lenten Questions and Answers”

 

Ash Wednesday (3/5/14) – Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 (Blow the trumpet in Zion . . .for the day of the Lord is coming near) •  Psalm 51:1-17  (Have mercy on me . . . wash me thoroughly of my iniquity) •  2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10 (Rend your hearts and not your garments. Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.) • Matthew 6:16-21 (do not store up for yourself treasures on earth . . .) — Love and Meaning (What should we treasure, and how?  Where should we find meaning?)

 

Grace and Mercy (drawn from Matthew 6:16-6:21 and 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10)

What should we cherish?  What should we treasure?

How can we know where the best will be found?

Do we value work or do we work for leisure?

Answers and questions go ‘round and around.

We can break down every answer, doubt our every turn;

hold in question our very capacity to discern,

Or we can be grateful for what gifts we have and know we could never earn

so much.

We can find meaning in what we can touch,

What we can know, what we can see,

and in the one whose grace brings all to be.

 

*For God is grace and mercy.

His anger is slow and His love is steadfast.

God relents from anger.

Return to God, return at last.

 

Life is in giving.  Life is a present.

There’s so much we can’t earn, more we won’t know.

We could be so rich or could each be a peasant.

Still, hardships will come, good things will flow.

We could tarnish the good with our worries and and our fears,

or choose to see light even through the worst of our teats,

and we can know through all the ups and downs the love that has been with us through the years . . .

such love,

The love only God is capable of.

Faith is the grace that bears us on;

God’s love is the mercy that is never gone.*

 

Return to God and be returned in full.

Push yourself to Him and feel His pull.

Lord, let me find meaning in you,

place all my being in you.

Yes, return to the Lord,

and find all your treasures stored

for you in heaven.

 

cw

First Sunday 3/9/14 — Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7  (Adam and Eve disobey God) •  Psalm 32  (You are my hiding place.)  •  Romans 5:12-19 (by one man’s obedience the sins of all can be forgiven) • Matthew 4:1-11 (the temptation in the wilderness.)  – Love and Error (What if we’re wrong?)

 

Take a Chance! (Drawn from Genesis 2 and Matthew 4)

 

we all make mistakes

and then we bear the aches

of all the things gone wrong.

We all feel the terror

over possible error,

crashing our way along.

through the walls, past the barriers, blurring all the lines;

we find ways for new errors; we do it all the time.

 

* take a chance, the voice says.

don’t you know that effort pays?

why take stones when there’s bread?

leap down; fall like lead!

all the world, you could take.

or worship God for good’s sake!

don’t leave any day hollow!

you know who to follow!

 

we all know what life takes

and when we make mistakes

we know we need forgiveness.

it’s not only for us

but to rebuild trust

in all that our life is.

take a chance!  Go with God knowing He can’t fail.

sin falls away, east, west, and abroad, . . . His light won’t fail.

 

temptations will always be out there,

waiting for you just ahead.

life is meant to be lived fully and well,

and God is the one who has said

take your chance, your life, and follow me.*

 

cw

Second Sunday 3/16/14 – Genesis 12:1-4a (Abram is sent by God to a far country.) •  Psalm 121 (The Lord will keep your going out and coming in . . .forevermore.) •  Romans 4:1-5, 13-17 (faith is recognized as righteousness.) • Matthew 17:1-9 (the Transfiguration.) — Love and the Nature of Change (Why must we change?)

 

Follow On (Drawn from Matthew 17:1-9, Psalm 121, and Genesis 12:1-4)

 

I gave every sign of going;

you should not have been surprised.

You saw the changes coming

when I stood there in the skies

with the promises around me,

when the doubts should have been gone

I gave you every clue as I led you.

It’s up to you now.  Follow on?

 

*It’s not that I am leaving you.

I’ll just lead you further on.

You can be where I have gon.

Follow on.

 

Some people follow where I lead

and their stories ring for years.

Love rings out through their vict’ries,

and sometimes through their tears.

Abram went to a far country

but turned his sister to a pawn.

I’ll show you a still better way

if you’ll only follow on. *

 

Don’t you remember God said to us He’d keep us coming and going?

Isn’t His presence in our lives enough to enlighten your knowing?

It’s not enough to merely go when God promises a dawn.

You must shine as His light does shine.  Come, follow on.

Third Sunday 3/23/14 — Exodus 17:1-7 (Moses strikes the rock for water.) •  Psalm 95 (Do not harden your hearts as at Meribah.)  •  Romans 5:1-11  (suffering produces endurance . . . endurance produces character, character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint) •  John 4:5-42 (the Samaritan woman at the well.) — Love and Our Circumstances (What happens when we are the wrong sort of people?)

 

At the Well (Drawn from John 4:5-42)

 

everyone needs water

and so i come for water

i too am jacob’s daughter

though few will call me so.

 

every day i wait ‘til

the others have had their fill,

knowing how they always will

berate me as i come and go.

 

you, Jewish man with the piercing eyes,

you know things much to my surprise,

but i don’t understand this ‘living water’ you speak of.

it seems to me like a promise,

or like something i’ve missed,

or the memory of my mother and her love.

are you saying their is constant, renewing love?

 

at the well, they come and gather

but they’d leave if i’d bother

to join them as they blather.

their hatred is their life.

 

what you promise seems to be

impossible for such as me

but i will follow, i will see

your water, which bears life.

 

i, the one who should never be here

would walk far to find a place that’s clear

of judgment, pain, and this abandonment i’ve known.

if you’re the door i exit through

then i will go, and follow you,

or i will do your bidding here on my own

for this hope of love is more than i have known.

Fourth Sunday 3/30/14 — 1 Samuel 16:1-13 (How long will you grieve over Saul?/choosing David)) •  Psalm 23 (shepherd) •  Ephesians 5:8-14 (the fruit of the light is found in all that are good and true.) •  John 9:1-41 (the man called Jesus healed my eyes.) — Love and the Giving of Gifts (What if we are undeserving?)

 

Blind (Drawn from John 9:1-41)

 

If the blind can see, why can’t you?

It’s hard to understand, but so easy to do.

Just look at what’s in front of us without predetermining.

Just look, and your soul might sing.

 

If a hand can heal, take that hand

even it it’s not exactly what you had planned.

Give up yourself and all the ways you wanted you plans to win.

Give up, and going on can begin.

 

Let those who wake in the morning

in the arms of a loving God

go out giving that love to all,

spreading it far and abroad.

Otherwise we are keeper

of a load we cannot bear.

Undeserving though we may be

there’s a hope for us out there.

 

If a soul can rise, let it go.

Don’t be chained to your ways, anyone can grow.

If you were truly flying, you could hold no one to the ground.

Fly now, and let your songs resound.

Fifth Sunday 4/6/14 —  Ezekiel 37:1-14 (‘Can these bones live?’) •  Psalm 130 (Out of the depths, I cry to you, O Lord.) •  Romans 8:6-11 (the mind that is in the flesh cannot please God, but you are not in the flesh you are in the Spirit.) •  John 11:1-45 (the resurrection of Lazarus.) — Love and Death (What happens to us?)

 

Bones (Drawn from Ezekiel 37:1-4 and John 11:1-45)

 

“Out of the depths, I cry to you, O Lord.  Lord, hear my voice.1

I can’t carry the weight of these lonely stones,

these lifeless bones,

the ioul, my own

so I cry to you.  What will become of me?

 

I ask of you, Lord, can these ancient bones come back to life?

Can this charnel house around me take bloom

and make perfume

in the dark room

deep inside of me?  How could this ever be?

 

What happens to us when our lives are shattered?

What becomes of us when it seems all that mattered

is dried up and gone away?

I don’t know the answers for every person,

but one of the few things I know for certain

is that where we stop isn’t always where we stay.

Sometimes, there’s another way.

 

I don’t find light by studying the dark.  Lord, hear this truth.

I don’t find a way out by staying within;

no, i must begin

to love again

better than before.  What will become of me?

 

We’re all broken vessels waiting for mending,

hoping for loving, healing hands to come tending

to our every cut and sore.

What happens to us when we need a new spark

to bring us new life when all lights have gone dark?

Lord, you made all things and you can recreate me.

Set this broken spirit free.

 

1. Psalm 130:1

Sixth Sunday (Palm & Passion) 4/13/14 — PALMS — Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29 (His steadfast love endures forever.) •  Matthew 21:1-11 (The parade of palms.)  PASSION — Isaiah 50:4-9a (I have turned my back on them .. He who vindicates me is near.) •  Psalm 31:9-16 (Deliver me from the hands of my enemies.) •  Philippians 2:5-11 (He emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave.) •  Matthew 27:11-54 (Jesus before Pilate — Are you the King of the Jews . . . Barabbas.) — Love and a Greater Gift (What is love and how does it work?)

 

Love Is a Gift (Drawn from Philippians 2:5-11)

 

I always wanted to know that fairy tale

to have a boat to sail

out on to the seas of the deepest love.

I always dreamed of that one in whom I’d find

a match, and then i’d bind

myself to her and it would be enough.

These romantic musings, they held me for a while;

they kept me up, they kept me strong.  How they made me smile!

 

But there’s poison n the apple I took down;

and there’s evil around,

and all those hopes and dreams can’t prevent it.

I slammed to a stop on that road I’d made;

and i was sore afraid

where nothing was how i would intend it.

Romance and poems have their pow’r; they’re a gift to me.

But it’s the Giver I need now!  Lord, please come to me!

 

Love is a gift from one who has no other reason to give

than all the things He is and all the reasons He’d want you to live.

Love is a free grace, a great race, a source of unending peace.

And love is the path to take when all your doubts beg for release.

 

I found that true love is not a fairy tale.

It’s more than a boat to sail;

It’s wider and deeper than the sea.

My dreams are now full of much greater things

and my love can take wings

and carry the weight of my soul to the greatest heights.

Lord, help me shine that others may rise.  Help me be a light!

Maundy Thursday 4/17/14 — Exodus 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14  (the Lord explains the nature of Passover.) •  Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19  (I am your servant.) • 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (Paul explains the practice of Eucharist.) •  John 13:1-17, 31b-35 (Jesus washes the Disciples’ feet.) — Love and Power (Who serves whom?)

 

What I Do (Drawn from John 13)

 

If we follow, we will be

at the head of all we see.

For the first shall be last

and the future will pass

to everyone.

The last shall be first, and then

the dead are sure to rise again.

Come, all come to the feast!

Where the greatest and the least

all join as one.

 

*And if I bow to wash your feet, don’t be shaken.

For what I do for you I do for all.

And what you do for others won’t be taken

As any less than answering God’s call.

 

The towel of service is mine

and you can take it as well.

My example, like wine,

shall age well and compel

that you shall share.

If I wash your feet, you’ll know

your soul is cleansed by God above.

Come, for He won’t let you go!

Come and partake of His love!

You’ll feel HIs care.*

Good Friday 4/18/14 — Isaiah 52:13-53:12 (He was despised and rejected by others, a man of suffering and acquainted with grief.) •  Psalm 22 (My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?) • Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9 (Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.) •  John 18:1-19:42 (Jesus arrested and before Caiaphas and Pilate, the Crucifixion.) — Love and Blame (Are you our King?)

Can’t Go Back (Drawn from John 18)

 

I promised them a kingdom,

but now I only have the strain

of expectations unmet,

non-acceptance, and pain.

If they are looking at me

and seeing what I have come to,

they’ll forget all the parades

and go look for something new.

 

*If you’ve ever tried to please the world, you’ll know

some are threatened by the way things go.

If you show them the way that the past has led

there will be denial instead

And you can’t go back — can’t go back to where you knew

all the rules and standards that saw you through.

We can’t make gods of our familiar ways.

There’s still a God to whom we owe our praise.

 

Praise Him.  Praise Him.  Praise HIm.

Don’t wait for the light.

Praise Him in the darkest places.

And He’ll see you through the night.

 

I offered them a doorway,

a gate where each voice would be known.

As darkness hangs heavy now

I will be raised up alone.

If they say I’m not a king,

I’ll remind them of the thorny crown

they put on me to subject me –

the king of whips and crosses

shall be the one to set them free.

Easter Sunday 4/20/14 — Acts 10:34-43 (Peter preaches about Jesus.) •  Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24 (Open to me the gates of righteousness . . .) • Colossians 3:1-4 (Set your mind on the things above.) — Matthew 28:1-10 (Mary Magdalene sees the resurrected Christ.) — Love and New Life (Who can expect new life?)

 

About You (Drawn from Matthew 28)

How can this be?  How could you say

that you know my name and speak to me this way?

Rabbouni, wait!  I cannot see

how what you promised has now come to be.

We called you the Messiah, but we walked

a somewhat different road than the one we talked.

I believe.  Help my unbelief!

I struggle to see new life through my grief.

 

* I vowed to praise you, but I let that go.

Lord, help me find that new way I should go.

Praise you that you have come back to me

and given me new life where I can be

more than I’ve ever been without you.

Jesus, I want to make my life about you.

 

Show us your face, show us your ways.

Lord, we need to get swept away with your praise.

You’ve come to us, now help us go

out to the world to say you love them so.

We will follow where you lead, we will rise

and reflect your gifts to the earth and to the skies.

Give us life.  And let us be

a gift to all who need you so badly.

 

Let us sing the songs that praise you!

Let us share our gifts and raise you

before every eye and into every land.

Your you’ve been our heart, let us be your hands.*

These poems were written by Chris Weitzel and posted on 4/19/2014.  They are not meant to be reused, and any reprinting or other use of them must be approved by the author.

Grace Amidst the Struggles

July 3, 2013

Sometimes, I just don’t know about grace.  I mean, . . . what is it if I can’t feel it?  How is it useful if I don’t perceive it or seem to be receiving it?  Where is it in the hard times when I need it most?

Currently, the only answer I have is this:  this is where faith comes in.  It’s up to me to press my faith into serving during these times of questioning.  The deal with God is that we are supposed to be in a loving relationship with Him, and the things about loving relationships is that they may get difficult and even messy on the surface, but underneath the tensions there is a sustaining bedrock of trust and goodwill and shared feelings.

So in order to stay in a relationship with God, and perhaps in order to get access to the grace I need, I must trust Him even when I cannot see or feel Him, I must accept and act in His good will for me, and I must continue to share my feelings with Him and to look for His responses.

Nobody ever said relationships would be easy, and nobody ever said that grace would come and stay without us working for God and with God and toward God on our end.

 

If Grace Were Our Nature . . .

June 26, 2013

Today, the Supreme Court handed down two decisions that seem to move the USA closer to a time when gay and lesbian marriages will be accepted quite widely, if not everywhere.  The Defense of Marriage Act was struck down, and the Court chose not to comment on a law in California that supports gay and lesbian marriage.

Without getting into the legal positions of the case (I am sorely unqualified to do so), I can say that I know this is going to be a tough time for many Christians.  Most Christian denominations don’t hold that gay and lesbian marriages are within God’s will.  Over the last 50 years or so, some theologians have stepped forward with new interpretations of the Bible that would allow these unions, but the overwhelming position throughout church history has held otherwise.  And, as you may know, churches and denominations are institutions that are slow to change.

Personally, I have mixed emotions about what seems to be a movement toward more universal acceptance of gay and lesbian marriage.  Perhaps I will detail my feelings and thoughts at another time, but not now.  Without getting into all that, or the Biblical analyses that support one view or the other, I want to talk here about grace.

My questions are:  If we were more like God, how would we respond to changes on these issues?  If grace were our nature, what would we say and think and do regarding gay and lesbian (and transgender and bi) people. and how they are accepted in our culture and in our churches?

I think grace begins with loving kindness.  Yes, God does judge and He may not be happy about certain turns of events here on earth.  (He certainly has shown this side of Himself in the past according to Scripture!)  But if we are to believe that one of God’s paramount characteristics is grace, then we should try to live in a manner that shows grace as much as we possibly can.  How then do we respond to issues regarding homosexual and gay persons?  Well, we don’t really have to respond to the issues so much as we must love the people!  No matter what we may think of gay or lesbian unions, the people in them our created by God and beloved by Him.

I know there will be Christians who will say that showing love to people means explaining God’s demands on them, and that these demands include that they come out of homosexual relationships.  That’s an interpretation that may be defensible, but it does not preclude being loving and kind and humble and gentle in relationship to gay and lesbian people in other ways.  It comes down to a “golden rule” response — how would you like to be treated if you encountered a church group that didn’t accept some integral part of your life?  Treat others the way you’d want to be treated,  . . . or maybe, in the spirit of grace stepping forward as a gift, treat them even better.

I think churches must find ways to behave more lovingly and more in the spirit of outreach and grace toward gay and lesbian persons.  Now, this may create tensions for you when same-sex couples find out that your denomination or your congregation does not perform same-sex unions or permit the ordination of gay or lesbian persons.  (My denomination, the United Methodist Church bars clergy from performing these marriages and also bars “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” from ordination.)  But if we’re going to be loving and kind, we must be willing to live in the midst of these tensions.  We must accept being made uncomfortable in order to make others more comfortable.

Christianity is built on the belief that God lived in the form of Jesus the Christ, and went to the Cross for the sake of His people.  That is the ultimate in grace.  And if Christianity’s Jesus allows Himself to die a tortured death, then perhaps He is not asking His followers to live comfortable lives.  I believe that it is time that we faced that churches haven’t done as much to reach out to gay and lesbian (and transgender and bi) people as we might have done, and that the time has come to get busy on that front.  It doesn’t mean that we have to change our theology if we just talk with them, and more importantly listen to them and get to know them.  That would be a good beginning from which grace might grow for all.

Grace from the Far Side

June 26, 2013

Grace has been described as that which comes from God for our good.  And I won’t debate that.  But I will say that sometimes, perhaps especially in the worst of times, we humans need to exercise grace too.

I know that when I have struggled, I have at times felt far from God.  I have found it hard to pin down how to reach Him or know what He had in mind for me.  In these times, I have, in a way, had to “forgive” God, to offer Him grace.  I may feel deeply that God should reach out to me, help me in some way, but I have determined to let go whatever frustration or disappointment I may feel.  I am choosing, sometimes moment by moment, not to hold it against God that I feel badly or can’t make the progress I want to see.

While I may feel like I am on the far side, distant from God, I want to keep some hope of nearing His embrace again.  I want to keep trying to make contact, and keep it.  So I choose grace as I means.  It’s a step-by-step process.  When I get frustrated, I try not to hang on to it.  When I can’t access God, I try to think of some other way to reach for Him.  When these steps fail, I try not to let myself become embittered.  These efforts don’t always work, but I keep trying.

Grace comes from God, and perhaps the best any of us can do is to hang on with whatever skills and helps we have.  For me, it remains important not to put walls up between me and God, not to remain angry with Him, and to keep trying to find ways to reach Him.  I may have to remind myself time after time about these choices, but that is what I do.

At times, it is the best way I can reflect the grace God has given me back to Him.

A Sermon — On the topic of grace without mentioning the word.

June 15, 2013

“On Our Best Behavior”       Sunday June 16                           Luke 7:36-50

Behavior matters.  Attitude matters.  Taking some initiative matters.  And I don’t just mean that these things matter in life.  I mean that they matter as Christians.  Behavior, attitude, and initiative shape our human lives, and also are shaping the church and its future.

Jesus goes to visit the home of Simon the Pharisee and an odd thing happens.  A woman comes into the dinner setting and weeps over Jesus’ feet and then wipes them and pours perfume on them.  Now, in Middle Eastern culture, it was normal to treat a guest in your home with great magnitude.  Their culture of hospitality was highly refined.  Jesus might even have reasonably expected the Pharisee or his servants to wash His feet when He entered the home.  That was the norm in their culture.

So here is Jesus, possibly feeling disrespected, when this woman shows up and wipes His feet with her hair and pours perfume on Him to refresh Him after His walk through this desert environment.  Behavior matters.  The Pharisee may have invited Jesus over and said all the right thing, but His behavior was less than stellar.  Attitude matters.  The household of the Pharisee may have revolved around an attitude of superiority.  Taking some initiative matters.  This woman came forth to take care of Jesus when no one else had.  Now, the text here says that the woman was known locally to have lived a sinful life.  There’s a real and meaningful dichotomy here, a break, . . . and we should look at it for its meanings.

To unpack the meaning, Jesus told a tiny parable.  Suppose there are two people who owe money to a moneylender.  One person has a much bigger debt than the other and neither has a chance of paying Him back.  When the money lender forgives both debts, Jesus asks the Pharisee, which of the two men will love Him more?

The answer is obvious, and the Pharisee gives it:  The one for whom a greater debt was forgiven.

The analogy is that this sinful woman, who has been forgiven much, will love God more than most people.  I would add that the reason for her great love of God is not merely because she realizes how sinful she was, but more because she, because of how great her need has been, most fully realizes how great and thorough and absolute God’s love is.

Let me make a clear point here:  Scripture is not mostly about us.  We often make the mistake that it is because we want it to be.  We want a guide for how we should live.  And Scripture can help us with that, so we focus on that aspect of it.  But the real truth is that Scripture is primarily and most importantly about God, and how He expresses Himself and shows His nature to us.  And the key idea of Scripture is that God shows Himself to us so that we might act and think in a way closer to how He acts and thinks.

And that’s what shows through this reading.  The parable shows that God forgives and that this forgiveness is a great and powerful tool to turn people’s lives around.  But who in the story shows a love for another like the love God shows in forgiving sin?  The woman throws herself into the act of showing love to Jesus.  She holds nothing back.  Even in the company of the Pharisee and his household, and their guests, she got down at Jesus’ feet and wept and sought to show Him compassion and love.

When Simon is made to see this point, He has nothing to say.  The guests in his household say who is this to forgive sins?  But do you notice how they twist Jesus’ words?  Jesus doesn’t say “I forgive your sins.”  He says, “Your sins are forgiven.”  What this means is “all sins are forgiven.”  But the Pharisee and his guests miss this important point.  Why do they miss it?

Attitude.  Lack of initiative.  They are self satisfied.  They are not curious and lack initiative because they think they already have all the answers.  They lack the initiative to examine their faith and their religion and themselves.  What they are forgetting is that faith is not mostly about them, it’s about God.  It’s about an abiding trust in who God is and how God will act.  What the Bible attempts to do is give us foundational reasons for that trust.  Faith is not about us.  The Bible is not about us.  What is happening in faith is about God reaching us right where we live, right where we struggle.  Behavior matters because it shows our character and our intent and our needs.  This woman who wiped Jesus’ feet had a need for forgiveness, and Jesus, as one with God, understood her need.   She showed her intent through actions.  And Jesus told her that her needs had been met in God, . . . indeed, all needs are met in God.

Now I have stated some mighty important truths in this sermon.  Write them down.  Behavior matters.  Attitude matters. Initiative matters.  And the Bible isn’t primarily about us and our ways, but more about God and His.  That’s a lot to take in from one sermon.  But let me also move on.  There’s more.

I’m writing this to myself, for myself, because I no longer have a congregation.  Sometimes I wish I still did.  Other times, the idea of having a congregation again after nearly three years away scares me to death.  Deep down, I really don’t believe it will ever happen.

I am wounded.  I would say “walking wounded,” except that sometimes, emotionally, I am not walking.  I am barely creeping some of the time, and there are times that I am not moving at all.  I learned about two years ago that I have a condition called Avoidant Personality Disorder, which in essence means I often consider myself to be socially inept or personally unappealing and that I may avoid social interaction for fear of being ridiculed, humiliated, rejected, or disliked.  It is a condition that leads to a lot of anxiety.  I am also dealing with being bipolar and having PTSD and ADD.  Being bipolar creates anxiety and so does having PTSD.  So there’s a lot of anxiety in me.  In general, there’s a lot going on in my head, and sometimes it’s just overwhelming.  I thought I had been dealing with simple depression all my life only to find out that it’s more a case of bipolar disorder and anxiety, which is more complex and harder to deal with.

That’s the psychological definition.  What I feel happening in my life is that I don’t connect to other people easily.  And I have had many, many people tell me this is true as well.  And I also lack confidence about most everything where I am concerned.

About three years ago, all this built up in me to the point that I had a series of anxiety attacks that took me out of my work in the pastoral ministry.  Even before that, I was asking people in the Methodist hierarchy for help figuring out what to do when congregations would tell me I didn’t seem connected or some other wording of the same idea.  Since then, I have been looking for help from therapists and psychologists.  I have taken numerous medications, aimed at the ADD or at the depression or at the anxiety or at the bipolar condition.  None of that has been much help at all, I’m sad to say.

So I am going to take stock for a minute here.  Have I exhibited wrong behaviors?  Oh sure.  I’ve been frustrated, and seemed angry.  I’ve been hurt and got defensive.  I’ve cried out for compassion, and not shown as much as I was looking for.  All that.  But, in my defense, I have also exhibited some laudable behaviors.  I have visited the sick, and visited in homes, and led missions to help the less fortunate.  I have taught the Bible and helped people in their faiths.

Have I had a bad attitude?  Yeah.  I have been persistently sarcastic.  I have been frustrated by my relationship with the Methodist Conference.  I have met church members who I was convinced weren’t Christians and I was not always kind to them.  I’ve been an ass.  In my defense again, I have also been almost overly compassionate to many people even when they found fault with me and hurt me or my family deeply.  I’ve tried.  But I do know that I need to ask forgiveness, so I do.

Have I lacked initiative?  Well, I have lacked energy and motivation at times because of depression.  But all in all, I think I have shown a lot of initiative despite these issues.  I am the one asking for help and I have been the one seeking to find ways to make churches do a better job of what they’re supposed to do.  I don’t think initiative has been the problem.

1 Peter 3:14 says, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”

So I admit that I have not always been gentle and respectful.  I have not always been loving.  I have failed to be Christlike.  And I seek forgiveness for all that.

Let me ask those same questions though of some other Christians.  Here I am, dealing with some heavy psychological issues.  And while it’s true that people don’t often know I am dealing with all this, they do know that I have been out of work for almost three years.  And some of the people in the Methodist hierarchy have known that I am dealing with very difficult psychological disorders.

Have they taken action?  No.  Not really.  In their defense, I think they just don’t know what actions to take to help me.  But, even so, someone could have reached out to me or my family and walked through this valley with us, and no one has.  Even the therapists I’ve seen have mostly shrugged their shoulders and told me they don’t know how to help me.  Where is the compassion in that?  Couldn’t somebody have taken some time to help me deal with finding a job, with receiving disability, with my grief over losing my career, with loneliness, . . . with any one of the parts of my issues?

Have they had a bad attitude?  Sometimes, yeah they have.  I have gone to my Methodist superiors, people who are supposed to be in their positions to serve the church, and they have at times been cold and uncaring.  I have directly asked them — people who are ordained clergy — to minister to me and my family.  But nothing has changed, and I’ve given up trying with them.

Have they shown initiative?  No.  Not toward me.  It just hasn’t happened.

So the question Jesus asks is basically:  who more appreciates God’s love more?  And the answer is:  the one who has been forgiven more.  And I probably have been forgiven much.  So I really appreciate God, even though sometimes these days I find it very difficult to feel much about His love and acceptance.  I wish I could know in some clearer way that God is with me.  Perhaps that is one of the reasons I need forgiveness . . . I struggle to find and know God’s presence clearly lately.

But . . . and this is the lesson the Pharisee probably missed . . . there are others who need forgiveness too.  The Pharisee and his household needed forgiveness.  Just as in our day, bad behavior, sour attitudes, and lack of initiative are rampant, aren’t they?  Gentleness in love and respect for others is in short supply all around us.  Forgiveness is also in short supply.  So . . . I forgive those who have hurt me.  I don’t know how I do it, or how long it will take to work through it, but I take the initiative to amend my behavior and forgive, and I offer a positive attitude for the future of all these relationships.  I’ll try.  And I’ll take responsibility to amend other behaviors and attitudes for the better as well.

I can’t really do much more about the needs others may have to be forgiven, or about the needs they have to be forgiving, to change behaviors, to improve attitudes, and to increase initiative as well.  I can pray about it and keep up hope, although I will admit I expect that to be very hard.

The lesson about the woman who washes Jesus’ feet is simple.  We have to behave in ways that are loving.  Merely having faith isn’t enough.  The Pharisee had faith in God, yet still didn’t know God’s real depth of compassion or how to show compassion himself.  We each have to watch our attitudes.  We each have to step forth and show our faith from time to time, or it will shrivel up die and on the vine.

And the still larger lesson for each of us is this:  every single day of our lives we walk past someone or talk to someone who is in real pain, who is really struggling, but the pain doesn’t show like it would if the person was on crutches or something like that.  We each must go further than merely accepting what shows on the surface.  True compassion means sometimes taking the initiative to dig a little deeper with someone and learn what their struggles are and how they are trying to deal with it all.  Christian love means lifting our attitudes to others until all that shows is gentleness and respect.  We must each be willing for our behavior to be changed if we expect to be “transformed” by the power of Christ.

The Bible isn’t primarily about our ways, after all.  Instead, Scripture calls us to something higher.  It calls us to reflect and represent God’s ways here in our world.  The other people, even the ones who may not yet understand their need for forgiveness — maybe especially them — need to see clear representations of God if they’re going to be led to Godliness.  And if we’re the people of God, the followers of Christ, it is up to us to led that charge.

It is even up to me, broken and wounded as I am.  And Goddammit I am trying here!  It would be nice if someone tried back.

Think of Red River . . .

May 24, 2013

Things in the world coalesce.  The human mind takes information and emotions and barely perceived concepts and places them together.  We compare, we contrast, we take lessons from one event and turn them, re-perceive them, and use them to help us through the next thing that comes along.  Right now, my own mind is trying to do that, and i don’t know why such strange, unconnected ideas came up more or less together.

Today, May 24th, is the anniversary of what most people consider to be the beginning of my denomination, of the Methodist movement.  We call it “Aldersgate Day” because our founder, John Wesley, had a spiritual awakening on this date at a church meeting on Aldersgate Street in London.  The year was 1738, and Wesley was an Anglican priest, aged nearly 35.

The totally unconnected thought that worked through my mind as I thought about Wesley’s awakening was about a little-known song that I happen to love called “Incommunicado” by Jimmy Buffett.  The lyrics begin like this:

On the day that John Wayne died

I found myself on the continental divide,

Thinking “where do I go from here, . . .

Guess I’ll ride into Leadville and have a few beers.”

Think of Red River!  Liberty Valance!

Can’t believe the old man’s gone . . .

But now he’s incommunicado . . .

The word “incommunicado” means “out of contact,” and Buffett was using it as a wistful way of talking about our lingering connection to those who have left us.  John Wayne may have died, but he was still with us as an iconic figure.  It’s impossible to “believe the old man’s gone.”  While Marion Morrison (Wayne’s name before he became an actor) was dead, John Wayne lives on as an iconic figure in American life.

The connection between the two that comes into my mind is one of change and identity.  Before his Aldersgate experience, John Wesley was known as a somewhat stiff and prickly cleric.  He had been a top student and was a good preacher, but he did not easily warm up to other people.  He had been a leader in trying to open his Anglican denomination to being more responsive to needs in the community and more committed to personal spiritual growth.  Yet He himself had remained pretty closed off.  After that meeting at Aldersgate Street, he wrote:

In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans.  About a quarter before nine, while the leader was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death. 

Wesley became a changed man.  His hard-driven personal style remained, but it became tempered by a real love for people and a desire to bring them into a life-changing faith in Christ.  It wasn’t just personal determination that drove this change.  Wesley became, as the Bible promises, a new man.  And the change in him, in no small way, led to a revival movement.The icon that is John Wayne was also a new man.  In his early days as a movie roustabout, Marion Morrison realized that establishing a well-defined character was the key to long-term success as an actor.  He set himself on a path to become John Wayne, a new man.  Like Wesley, he internally remained the same person with the same basic values, just more aware of how he lived in the world and how his character was perceived.  The stature the actor and his films still hold establish his success.

Wesley was changed by the hand of God, by faith.  Wayne was changed by his belief in himself and his future, and his personal effort to bring that belief to pass.

There are difficult issues here.  If a person can be successfully shaped for the better by personal will and confidence, is God really necessary?  And if God seeks to change lives, what do we say about those people who have gone to God, but whose lives have not improved?

Often, the central question (for me) is “why is God incommunicado”?  I seek to change.  I seek God to shine a light in and around me in such a way that I see a step to take that brings some progress, or at least some hope for progress.

Think of “Red River.”  In that movie, John Wayne plays an embittered old rancher, a man so accustomed to outlasting and outworking everyone and getting his own way, they he can’t accept the changes necessary for his beloved cattle business to continue to thrive.  His stubborn refusal to bend leads him to fight everyone around him, even his own adopted son.

Sometimes, our resistance to change is so deep that we hurt ourselves in the effort to keep change from coming.  We become angry.  We become cold.  We become distant.  We become slaves to something we once had, even after the reality of it may be long gone.  We believe and follow the icon, . . . and not the real living thing that brought us our original faith.More often than not, this is what happens with churches that cease to thrive.  They begin to believe in the strengths and values of their beloved congregation over and above believing in the saving grace that comes through faith in Christ.  When we do that, or we think it’s even possible that it may happen, we need to “think of ‘Red River.’”  We need to picture the closed-off, dangerous state that Wayne’s character came to.  With that vision in our mind, we may be able to accept our need for change.

Then we have to think of the possibility of change, and the hope and new life it can bring.  And we must believe.  I believe God works in mysterious ways to bring ideas and plans to us.  Want an example?  As it happens, John Wayne’s birthday was on May 26, this Sunday, two days after Aldersgate Day.  And I didn’t know that until I just looked it up.  Think of “Red River,” and then turn the other way and think of hope and faith and growth.  Think of change.

A Maze in Grace 17: Grace and Mercy, Mercy and Grace

March 3, 2013

In Christian terms, grace is eternally tied to mercy.  Mercy is said to be “not getting the judgment we deserve from God,” and grace is “getting far more love and blessings from God that we deserve.”  Mercy is about forgiveness; grace is about abundance.  Mercy is about not evening scores, but reaching a point where you stop keeping scores.  Grace is about recognizing that blessings are everywhere, and adjusting ourselves to seeing them.

Then, mercy is entirely external.  It is something that only God wholly owns and which only God can give.  Only God is above us.  Only God is in a position to be merciful, and it would only be His mercy that would matter anyway, in the end.

And Grace, while a gift that also can only come from God (as all gifts do, really) is also partly internal. Grace is an action, and it is an action incompleted until we receive knowingly receive it.  Grace is fully realized only when we live in the spirit of seeing life and its gifts as a blessing. Living with the recognition of grace in our lives means seeing everything as a gift, in fact.  It is a change in every fiber of our being because it begins with recognizing God and His desire to give, and once we have opened our inner doors to Him, there is no turning back.

Maybe some have been reading who don’t believe in God.  Maybe by this admission about God I have already lost you.  If so, I’m sorry.  If you don’t believe in God, then whatever gifts you see in your universe are still there.  They don’t vanish because of religious ideology.  You woke up, you were still breathing, you read this far.  Perhaps you read a blog on grace because you were looking for something, or perhaps it was just something to do.  I don’t know.

The thing is, you’re looking for something.  So am I.  Regardless of how we name that “something” we are looking for, the act of looking is a way of stretching ourselves, of growing.  Perhaps grace is the itch inside that makes us want to grow.  In that case, only by recognizing the gift of this itch — only by becoming comfortable in the discomfort of constantly moving on in our journeys — will we find peace and strength.  In that sense, the driving force that is grace is still the best bet we have.   “Be bold, and mighty forces will come to your aid.” — Goethe.

If grace is the reaching force, the accelerator of life, mercy is its roadmap, telling us where we have got off the best route.  Mercy points us home.  Grace sends us out to keep growing.  The two can be in perfect balance and shape a life of meaning.

For me, that always brings me to God.  For you, I wish good travels.

current events (a sort of tribute to “Ozymandias”)

February 10, 2013

king richard, it seems, had a severe scoliosis.

if the bones that held him are these we’re being shown

then, standing, he must have looked as if his legs
belonged to the person standing next to him.  alone,
this skeleton shows a pitiable form, and yet he fought;
we know he fought and led, bravely and often well.
how curious a figure he must have seemed, crooked
as he was, his legs beneath him like the clapper of a bell.

at Bosworth Field, he fought his last and died at 23,
making him the last of his line, giving way to the Tudors.
Shakespeare, living under later Tudors, made him a monster,
a man as twisted as his spine.  you can see his ardors
played out on stage still.  “My horse, my horse!  My kingdom for a horse.”
Yet, we know nothing of him really.  He is a figure, molded
like a toy soldier that our minds put on the stage of history,
and we make him play his part, until, arms folded

over his chest he is carried out upon his shield.  no rest
is complete, however, after five hundred years, he is disinterred.
his purpose for us, only a name to put on history or in a play.
we don’t know his mind, his heart, or even if he’d understand the word
“discontent.”  we place lines in his mouth, or attach them to his bones.
time moves on and history turns to dust.  love is forgotten, packed away,
and truth becomes whatever is remembered.  myth wins out.
twisted bones may be all we leave behind, all we have to say.

A Maze in Grace, Part 16 — Grace Is a Moment

February 10, 2013

Sometimes, you have to find grace where you can.  We had a very minor fender bender today, with me driving.  I could literally feel my anxieties shutting me down.  I couldn’t seem to move, didn’t want to speak. I felt as if I had done something terrible even though my rational mind knew it was only an accident, and a minor one at that.

My wife said to me, “It could have happened to anybody.”  And she said it in a voice full of warmth and caring.  The grace of it struck me right away, even though it didn’t diminish my anxieties or enable me to function better.  I eventually did “come back to myself,” but it took a few more minutes.

For me, the greater grace was realized when the deeper reality occurred to me.  My wife has put up with a lot thanks to my issues.  She isn’t alway as open as I wish she might be to hearing me out when I want to talk.  (But I do know I’d want to talk endlessly, and that talking wouldn’t change the struggle really.)   

But I know see that she understands on a deeper level than words would convey.  She knew that in a potentially tense moment, I might eat down into myself and be lost.  She wanted me not to be alone in that moment.

Grace is a moment, the moment when you see love and know it.

A Maze in Grace, Part 15 — From Grace to God

January 29, 2013

I don’t know what non-religious people think about grace, or if they even consider it a reality.  These days, a lot of people are saying they are “spiritual, but not religious.”  And I don’t really understand that either.  It seems to me that if you believe human beings have a spiritual component which connects  us to others and to something larger than ourselves, you must also believe there is some power or being beyond what we can see.  To me, wherever that is true, a religion is being expressed.

So I would say that a lot of people don’t follow the historic religions — Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and others.  Their religion may not be well defined, and it may not have any historic books or settled theology.  It’s just the way they feel connected to the larger cosmos, and this can be highly individualized.

So where does grace come in?  I just don’t know.  We can say our lives are full of hardship and believe in grace as anything that comes along to weight the balance on the other side, I suppose.  But to me, grace seems less random.

I really don’t believe in that bumper-sticker thought that says, “commit random acts of kindness.”  An act of kindness is intentional, and not random at all.  So it is with grace.  Where goodness is, there is an intended gift, I believe.  Even where grace is lacking, as it sometimes is in life, I know that grace has existed, and in my mind this leads me back to a Giver, to the intentional love of God.

 


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