The Incapacity of Washington To Govern

Just when you think that Washington can’t get any more messed up than it is, Congress proves a person wrong. Up against terrorist activity all over the globe, with funding for our national security tied to an ideological issue, and with the Mall of America on the short list of targets, (somewhat personal here in Mall of America land), Congress cannot even pass a bill to fund Homeland Security for the next three weeks. Yesterday, we learned that there are active investigations related to terrorism in all fifty states. So, one wonders why is it that anyone would let the safety and well-being of the nation be a political football?

I am clearly not the only person complaining about the incapacity of Washington to govern this county. People on both right and left are dropping comments on newspaper blogs, defending either their political position, or pointing out the ridiculousness of today’s action. I had plenty of caustic comments prepared to add to the narrative until I remembered the apostle Paul had some advice about just this sort of thing. Did he look into the future and see the Washington, D.C. of 2015 and know we needed his words? Or was the political situation just as bizarre in his day? Writing to his young friend, Timothy, he left these words of counsel: “The first thing I want you to do is pray. Pray every way you know how, for everyone you know. Pray especially for rulers and their governments to rule well so we can be quietly about our business of living simply, in humble contemplation. This is the way our Savior God wants us to live.” (I Timothy 2:1-3 The Message Bible)

If I’m honest with myself, I know that I have not faithfully prayed for the rulers and governments to rule well. Instead I’ve tended to throw out prayers that God will give our leaders some common sense at each near disaster point in the past few years. But, what would happen if all of us, who call ourselves people of faith, would pray for our leaders. Not that they do what we think is right, but they do what God knows is right. I suspect there are times my view and God’s are not always the same. What if our prayers were simply that each person who has been elected to office would rule well? What if we prayed all of Washington would rule beyond political ideology and let God’s wisdom direct their votes. What if we prayed that each person would see the world as God sees it and act accordingly. What would happen if all of us began to pray with open hearts? Would our minds and hearts change too? We’ll never know, until we start to pray. So, for today, I’ll offer this prayer.

God of us all, bless each of our elected leaders with your wisdom and knowledge. Bless them with insight in resolving the issues we face as a nation. Grant our leaders courage to work across party lines and divisions, to do what is really best for our nation. Let none be beholden to political favors or skewed in mind and heart by donors wishes, but let each one be led by you. Work in our hearts that we too see the world as you do. We pray this for your sake, for the world’s sake and for all the innocents who depend upon your wisdom breaking into the hearts of our leaders. Amen.

Pilgrims on a Journey

When I lived in Winona MN I served a church that was named after a hero of Midwest Methodism. Dr. William McKinley, (cousin of President McKinley) authored a book about the history of Methodism in Minnesota. Written in 1911, the book originally was owned by some women in Minneapolis but somehow made it down the river to where I was living. Dr. McKinley was a beloved pastor and friend to a much earlier generation, so much so, that their children would share memories of what they had heard. From all the stories I was told and the pieces of his writing which survived, I came to admire him for both his love for God’s people and his devotion to Christ. I wished I could have had a sit down conversation with this giant in the faith.

His love for God shines through his writing as does his love for people, reflected in a sermon about the Transfiguration. Dr. McKinley talks about the transitory nature of our lives against the changeless Christ, “The inner life of a person corresponds with the outer life, and in both the absolute and immutable forever eludes one. We are never long in one state. Our spiritual life ebbs and flows like the tides of the sea. Our way is not along a dead level, but up and down, over hills and valleys. We scale the mountains, but may not tarry on the heights. There is no place where we can build tabernacles and stay. A voice which must be heeded is forever saying, ‘Arise and depart for this is not your rest.’ We are pilgrims and must march on through changing scenes; we are soldiers and must fight on through varying fortunes.”

I found after retirement that the call to ministry didn’t end with my decision to retire. The tug at the heart to be a follower of the one who saw his mission as binding up the brokenhearted, bringing good news to the poor and setting captives free never goes away. In my seminary years one of my favorite songs was “We are Gathered Here Together” by Doris Ellzey Blesoff. The lyrics tell the story of a new beginning, an adventure awaiting, but uncertainty in the direction we are going. The song concludes:

“Well, we know God’s reign is coming
and we know it won’t come easy,
but still we trust our vision of the smile on Future’s face.

We’re traveling on a road we’ve never seen before,
and, oh, it’s hard to know which way to go.
But somewhere there’s a promise
‘bout distant shore that those who seek will someday know.”
– Doris Ellzey Blesoff, “We Are Gathered”

We have this call to faithfulness and commitment. We are drawn ever more fully into the circle of God’s love and grace so we can draw others into the circle. We are pilgrims on a journey who know that what we seek, we will some day know.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us . . . ”  Hebrews 12:1

Life with Abundance

Once, a troubled teenager tried to trick an elderly rabbi, known for his wisdom. The boy said, “I have a bird in my hand…is it alive? Or is it dead?” He knew that if the rabbi said “Alive,” he could crush it and prove the man wrong. On the other hand, If the rabbi said “Dead” he would open his hand and let the bird fly away . . . again proving the rabbi wrong. But the rabbi was not so easily trapped, for he responded by saying, “The answer, alive or dead, is in your power and in your hands. It is what you will.”

The season of Lent, which begins on Wednesday, is a time to look seriously at our lives and to see that they truly are in our hands. . . . for good or for ill. God has given us the power to use our lives in ways that are life-giving or to waste them through destructive actions. Daily we make those choices through our habits, our attitudes, our relationships and our use of time. Often, we don’t consider just what it is that we are doing. But choices are ours to make. We can continue in destructive patterns, and self-defeating actions or we can make positive changes in our lives. We can ask for the help we need. We can go back to school and educate ourselves. We can get counseling for ourselves or a troubled child. We can deal with our illnesses. We can end destructive relationships. We can stop abusing alcohol, drugs and other people. We can treat everyone with kindness and respect. We can choose the path of goodness. We can reach out in love to those around us. We can learn to cope. We can draw nearer to God. We can experience the comfort and peace of God. We can accept God’s forgiveness and mercy. We can let go of yesterday’s destructiveness and move into tomorrow’s promise.

Lent, the six-week period that begins on Ash Wednesday and continues till Easter, offers us the opportunity to reflect, to grow, to ask the questions about our life that we can too easily put off. However difficult the questions may be, we have this assurance that God is with us. There is nothing that can separate us from God’s love. Not a troubled child, or an ugly divorce, a business that fails, or our personal failure. God wants for all of us to experience that abundance of life that comes in our putting ourselves in the hands of God, then following where God leads. Jesus said, “I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) May your Lenten Journey draw you more fully into that abundant and life-giving power of Christ.

How Wide the Heart, How High the Soul

One of my favorite poems is by Edna St.Vincent Millay. Whenever I read it, I’m reminded that we each hold in our hearts and minds the extent to which our lives are stretched into meaning and significance.

She writes: “The world stands out on either side
No wider than the heart is wide;
Above the world is stretched the sky”
No higher than the soul is high.
The heart can push the sea and land
Farther away on either hand;
The soul can split the sky in two,
And let the face of God shine through.
But East and West will pinch the heart
That can not keep them pushed apart;
And he whose soul is flat—the sky
Will cave in on him by and by.” Edna St. Vincent Millay, Renascence and Other Poems

We make choices every day in how close we’ll let another person get to us. We decide ourselves if we will share the deep thoughts of our hearts. We make decisions about generosity of spirit. Will we express care for a person going through a tough time, or ignore the impulse to reach out? Will we volunteer for a cause we believe in, or be an observer? Will we risk a new direction or cling to our security? Will we pull into ourselves, when life is tough, or will we let others into our hearts? Will we let go of our fears and skepticism long enough to do some good in this world.

Walter Brueggeman in his book, “The Threat of Life” says: “When we live according to our fears and our hates, our lives become small and defensive, lacking the deep, joyous generosity of God . . . Life with God is much, much larger, shattering our little categories of control, permitting us to say that God’s purposes led us well beyond ourselves to give and to forgive, to create life we would not have imagined.”

How wide is your heart today? How high the soul? What is God nudging you to do? Are you willing to allow your spirit and soul to stretch to the sky – enough to let the face of God shine through?

The Apostle Paul put it this way: “I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit,  and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.  I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth,   and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:16-19

Grief’s Expression

Grief’s Expression

Grief catches us unaware. A sudden and completely unexpected loss in my extended family has left us all reeling. Grief’s expression comes in waves of sadness, the inability to sing a song, misplaced resentment. There is an emotional roller coaster which spins me on a ride I never intended to get on.

Grief usually sends us backwards to other losses and other times. Memories rise from an earlier heartache we thought we had worked through, only to discover remnants that shatter our illusion of control. Last fall I co-led a grief class. I feel a need to reread the text for the class, to remind myself that sorrow has its season, but joy will also have its time. The psalmist tells us that, “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Psalm 30:5b) But how hard it is to remember, joy will come when the heart is broken and sorrow lingers far more than a single night. Grief is the unwanted guest, whose intrusion moves and rearranges life.

Revisiting previous griefs grounds us in the reality that healing is possible. Each loss has its time span. Our response to grief may be one of the most significant decisions we will make in our lives. We can close in on ourselves or we can reach outward. One direction will leave us letting go of people who care about us, the other will allow those same people an opportunity to love us with a friend’s love. There may be awkward attempts at comfort. They may say words meant to console which do the opposite. Our friends are unlikely to have perfect timing in what we need and when we need it. Still, recognizing the gesture of kindness for what it is, kindness, is important to our own souls.

As I’ve walked with people in times of grief, I’ve learned the greatest comfort I can give is in simply listening. No profound wisdom is needed. A simple ‘I’m so sorry,” means more than the perfect phrase we struggled to find. A hug can speak our love louder than words. In my personal life I keep a prayer journal, in which my own heart is poured out to God . . . who listens to everything I have to say and simply responds with love.

Friendship Is Built on Trust

Integrity is a part of the code we live by as Christians. Our word is depended upon by others. We need to know that we can trust each other in the small stuff, or how will we ever trust in the important stuff. All of which is why I was so troubled when a friend was dishonest with me recently. I wish my friend had simply spoken the truth. It wouldn’t have been hard to say, “I forgot. It slipped my mind. I couldn’t.” . . . Or any number of simple, easily forgivable reasons. Instead my friend told me something I knew was less than true.

Trust is breached when we choose dishonesty. This is especially so, when you consider the person to be a friend . . . A friend that you have trusted in the past and hoped to trust in the future. I’m not sure all that motivated the lie, but I do know that it hurt. The odd thing about the lie, is that it didn’t accomplish what it was meant to do. I’m disappointed in my friend. All of which is causing me to rethink this friendship. Do I want to be around a person I can’t trust? What can I believe that this friend tells me? What other lies have I been told?

The writer of the book of Proverbs says of friendship, “A friend loves at all times.” (Proverbs 17:17) I think that love means that we can be honest when we slip up in friendship. It is alright to admit that our thoughts were elsewhere, and what we should have done, we didn’t do. It is in fact better to be truthful than to hide behind a lie.

To have a lasting friendship is truly a gift. Our friends bless us with their care and faithfulness, through the persistence of their presence in our lives. We may live long distances from our friends, yet with a phone call or visit, years fall away. When a friend hurts, we hurt. We celebrate with friends the joy of life. Relationships grown through the years bring laughter to our hearts and joy to our spirits. I’m grateful for friends who have shared my journey . . . For those who have been with me in good times as well as bad. I’m grateful for friends that I can trust.

I’m grateful for another friendship . . . the friendship that comes in Jesus Christ. This friend will never lie to me, will always be with me offering both grace and compassion. It is a friendship that will not end, with one whom I can always trust.

The Long Journey to a Promised Land

I’m always reminded that the route to the Promised Land led through wilderness territory. The journey begins with Moses who in meeting God in a burning bush is told, “I have seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters; I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” Exodus 3:7-8

The idea of a Promised Land after years of slavery, must have appealed to the oppressed Israelites living in Egypt. What they hadn’t counted on was the path to the Promised land, would take them into a place where water was scarce and food more scarce. I’m sure the Israelites would have liked to bypass that time . . . and yet it was in the wilderness that they were shaped and formed as God’s people. Wandering through the wilderness they discovered God would care for their needs on a daily basis. In the wilderness the people learned to trust God with their future. And it was there that the Israelites learned obedience to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. No one would accuse the Israelites of being quick learners though. Their wanderings take them far afield of where God wants their hearts to be. Years spent in the wilderness are far longer than God intended.

Which in some ways gives me hope. When I read the newspapers, I can get pretty discouraged about this world. Whether it’s Martin Luther King Jr.’s “long arc of the moral universe” bending “towards justice,” or Isaiah’s words of hope that one day “They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, “(Isaiah 11:9) we’ve been given words of promise that one day God will set right what is wrong in our world. Today the headlines scream of beheadings, and corruption in high places. They speak of little boys who find guns in purses and shoot their parents, measles outbreaks touching a new generation, violence in the middle east, catastrophic effects of global warming and a host of problems in our neighborhoods.

The Israelites found their way through the wilderness, when they started to listen to God and act on what they heard. We also are being led. Day by day God’s tugs at our hearts to take a turn toward mercy, kindness, goodness, sacrifice and compassion. Other voices would have us lean into resentment, prejudice, selfishness or vengeance. Still others would tell us not to care that it doesn’t matter.

Lovers of God soon learn that all of this matters. God cares what we do with our lives and how we live in our relationships, not only as individuals, but as a nation. God has this dream that one day there will be peace on earth and God’s will shall be done here, even as God’s will is done in heaven. God always uses individuals to accomplish what God intends. From Moses who led slaves in Egypt to freedom, to Mother Theresa feeding the hungry in the slums of Calcutta, there have been those who said “yes.” God still pulls at our hearts and asks us to follow to the unique places where we can best be a part of bringing healing to this world. The way out of the wilderness is in saying “yes” to where and how God leads.