I don’t know….

Ecclesiastes 11:5
Today, we are more connected than ever before when you consider the ready availability of the internet, wifi enabled equipment, social media platforms, 24 hour news cycle, town gossips, and online news sources.  Very little occurs now that doesn’t get noticed by a camera, cellphone, videographer, or newsman. Privacy is not even available in any public places or private. The mysteries of the depths of the ocean are fast becoming known and considered old-hat. The lenses which we fit on Hubble and SETI have effectively removed so much of the unknown from our visions of the eternal beyond the moon, it’s actually a shock when we see or hear something that is new. So little is considered new and a first it will often become the headline on the six o’clock news and then immediately be relegated to the back page as a casual interest. 

Nothing is new under the sun and you can’t tell me anything is new because it’s all been said before. Conceptually and perhaps even medically I am fully aware of how the bones in the human body knit and expand in density. Books exist that explain just how the child forms in the womb and how the movie was made by seeing the behind the scenes featurette. 

But then I read Ecclesiastes 11 and all of that goes out of the window. 

The writer of this passage is not trying to get us to understand that even if we look hard under a microscope we should disbelieve what our eyes tell us. The writer of this passage is not saying that with a well attuned ultrasound the millions of changes that occur to a fetus will not be plain to all. It is not simply DNA deciding to twist this direction and that, or the blood flowing through that arterie or another. It’s more dazzlingly glorious than witnessing the upturned thumb being thrust into an open mouth or twins who embrace in the womb before they can even see. What is the incredible and inexplicable source of creation to the glory of God is the true mystery. Why would God form us in his image? Why would he look at us and say that is it’s good? What the writer is saying that the powerful gift and breath of life from God is what truly makes the bones coalesce into a complex dance of sinu, marrow, and cartelange forming a whole system of structural support for a human body. But that the reasons behind all of that are a mystery to us. 

The motivation of God to create is not for us to understand. It’s not for us to “get” why He would be so interested in seeing us enter into relationship with each other and Him. It is not for us to know what designs the creator of all has in his mystical trestle-board, upon which the designs of all that ever was, is, and will be is drawn. 

I know it’s disappointing but there really are some things we aren’t supposed to know. It flies in the face of our own perceived greatness. Perhaps it’s because we assume we are to be in dominance over the earth rather than in dominion. Maybe we should read Genesis again….

In due season and as God knows our young minds can absorb, I am sure of one thing: God will reveal. He is not a god of confusion or disorder. He gives us the wisdom and foresight to make choices and love and grow. He gives us so much, how dare we be so arrogant to suggest that we deserve to know more than he already has shown us about his plans and designs for us? I am sure that if we could handle the truth, as someone once said, it would be shown to us. But who’s to say it hasn’t already been shown us? Perhaps we were shown the truth and we misused it. Abused it. Refused to be held account for it. Perhaps even refused it. Maybe God wants us to learn more about ourselves before he gives us even more to absorb. God knows we’ve found spectacular ways to waste good knowledge after bad. Imagine if we knew how He thinks too? I’m reminded of the line in the sand at the base of mount Sinai that God told the Israelites not to cross or die. And when they wanted to see God only saw a small portion of him hidden by meteorological fury. That was enough to tell me that some people can handle the face of God and most others can not. I think I’m in the latter camp. 

God, I ask that you make me content in you. That you grow me to understand nothing and trust in none but you. I ask that you limit my vision to you and that anything else that whorl compete for attention that should be yours alone, gets away  and finds parts unknown. I ask that how you think be your understanding alone. That you remove arrogance from me and that your children on this world find contentment and peace in your vision, love, omnipotence and omniscience. Amen 

What is in a name?

My name is rather common and plain. It is not one you would mispronounce unless you are seeking do so with purpose. In my travels, work life, and friendship circles, I have met and married and associated and navigated relationships with many folk. Some with hard to pronounce names and others with exceedingly easy for my tongue to recall. 
The thing that has irked me the most are people I meet from far away shores who live near me here in America who have absolutely lovely names. Names that their parents almost certainly thought long and hard about. Perhaps discussed long into the night. Prayed over. Had ceremonies to imbue the name. But as soon as an American mispronounced the name, they would alter its pronunciation simply to ease tensions, calm prejudices, or worse ‘Americanize’ the name. Whatever that means. I met a young man who enjoys Chinese heritage. He was introduced to me as Lee. Upon further discussion I learned it’s spelled Le. So I asked him, “Is your name Lee or Le?” He replied Le, but everyone pronounces it Lee. I asked why that was so when that was not his given name? He supposed that “… It was easier for Americans to call him that.” I was saddened that a man would lose his identity and nationality. Le is Chinese. Lee is typically Japanese. I had never yet called him Lee and do not intend to start. 

Then my mind wandered, as it often does, to the bible. I began to wonder why is the name of the persons in the sixty six books so important? Their lineage. Their surnames. Their heralding comes from their name. Someone is always named something son of someone or somebody daughter of something. More than that, the name is rarely Americanized. Beersheba.  Malachi. Uzziah. Gershom. Abram. All are uniquely biblical but are not so complex that they defy repetition. But others are complex and clearly without much amusement from its original pronunciation. Aminadab. Naasson. Obed. (Matthew 1:4,5) Shelumiel son of Zurishaddai (Numbers 1:6) 
But then the is Mary and Joseph. Mary? Joseph? I’m pretty sure these names are not common in the days leading up to the birth of Jesus. So what we’re their names? I looked. 

Mary was Maria Mariam pronunced mar-ee’-ah mar-ee-am’ or mirjam. 

Joseph was Iōsēph pronounced ee-oh-safe’

Honestly I like their original names better. They speak more to their namesake and heritage and direction in life. The appropriation of their names for the palatability of the masses is of little interest to me. I hope that in time I will slowly replace their common speak names with the names spoken by Γαβριήλ, or as we pronounce it, Gabriel an angel of the LORD. 

It is my prayer that we seek to know one another better. To seek relationship with one another as human to human. Heart to heart. And it starts with a name. Our real name. 

After the fast

It has been many hours after the fast and I am still learning things about myself that I didn’t realize in the first few hours. 

I thought about what I was reliant upon as I was in the midst of my fast. During my fast I relied upon my faith in God. My trust that He would feed me what I need. That there is no need I have but Him and without a Him all else is essentially window dressing and beside the point. I learned that I needn’t be hungry so long as He fills me up. This came as a shock to me because I’ve heard many folk say for all my life to try God and see if He won’t do it for you. That the is nothing too hard for God. That when you have nothing else but God you can make it through. O, taste and see. Those were all nice to hear and offered a glimpse into what being a man of faith can be. But I didn’t have a personal encounter with it. 

Now. I. Have. 

I learned so much during It and even now I’m still learning things. I see now that as soon as I came back into the world and started eating the worlds food, something and changed within me. I noticed that for the first time this week I craved more food. Even when I wasn’t necessarily hungry for food. I noticed a hunger within that gnawed at me and asked me to satiate it. I realized that while I was focused on food I could focus on little else. That my desire to eat food was nearly insatiable and constant. This at first scared me because I realized that I’m not the only one who feels this way. 

Food is a great way to socialize. In America we assign importance to all manner of foods and connect it to most everything we do. At Thanksgiving we consume turkey. At Easter the ham. Birthdays the cake. This is my great challenge. The consumption of food has crept into everything I do. It’s nearly impossible to click on the radio, television or Internet and not be inundated with images of happy people eating food. Foods that are exotic and mundane. Foods that are competitive and passive. Food that is tasty but not necessarily filling. So I eat more. Can’t get enough of it. Even if it’s not healthy for me. And here I see the truth of it all. 

It’s not just that I eat. I must eat. But what I eat matters a lot. This goes beyond simple consumption of nourishment to allow my temple to continue to function. This goes deeper than providing energy so that I can press on and remain focused. This touches on the spiritual foundation of taking in nourishment. Nourishing food for the soul is what I ate for three days. And during that time, even while fighting a bad head cold, I wasn’t starving. I was comfortable. I now know why. Because God was filling my body with Him. He was filling me and nourishing me. If I recall the words of Jesus who said (and I’m paraphrasing) do you not see the birds of the air? And do you not know that God watches over them? If Father in heaven watches over them, how much more will He watch over you? This is not just an idle statement. This is a fact and I’m a living witness to it.

I’m not saying that I’m going to stop eating and carry on till the day I am finally called home. Chances are excellent that that course would put me in His arms a LOT sooner than I’d like. What I am saying is that while He allows me time here on this ball of dirt we call earth, I will not let a day go by that I don’t stop at some point during the day, consider Him and have a conversation with Him. My minister said to us the other day that which I know all too well. But hadn’t TRULY understood. That daily prayer with the almighty is necessary. Prayer is not necessarily a bended knee, prostrate positioning of the body with many lovely words strung together in supplication. Prayer may simply be a word or two spoken between two old friends. Prayer is what I did while fasting and each time He answered me. I want to continue that dialogue. 

Maybe, if you have not yet tried to chat with God, you too will try. Your conversation may not be overwhelming. Mine certainly was not. But it will be comforting. And that is what He promised, isn’t it? To send a comforter in times of need? 

Yeah. I learned a lot during my fast. 

Faster

What did you learn? 

Whenever someone decides or is led to fast I’m certain this is an inevitable question they must field. Fasting is an unusual word for something that to my ear has nothing to do with food. I’ve just completed a three day fast and I did it because I felt led to it by God. I know to many this sounds quaint or grasping for “likes”, but I know what I felt and how I knew I needed to respond to the call. 

You see, I’ve made a number of decisions in my life recently. One was to accept the call to the diaconate. It’s a call I’ve accepted before but never finished for a number of reasons. Some reasons completely out of my control. This time the classes are clearly rigorous and are quite intense. I feel like I’m taking college classes again. Whole books to read and report on, reflection papers, group studies, one on one interviews, and on and on. The pressure is high and fast paced. But I’m determined and will not waver. 

I’m entering a new phase in my professional growth. My career as a public official is expanding beyond my four walls. It’s exciting. It’s new. And it’s frightening. 

Change is all around me and I believe in my heart God said you need to stop focusing on everything else and take some time to reconnect with me. The Word discusses fasting and so does many books in the library. They discuss what to do to maintain health and well being during my fast. But I didn’t read them this time. This time I simply told my family I will fast and when God releases me from it, I will let go. Not because I’m hungry for food, but because I’ve finally realized why I needed the fast. You see, I’ve been replacing God with food for months now. Replacing God with career achievements. With short term goals. Social organizations. People. Anything I could find to allow me to pretend to be closer to Him when in fact, I was just as far from His side as I was before I was baptized. Something needed to change and fast. 

So food had to go. I needed to remove food because it became an excuse to not focus on Him. To not pray to Him in the mornings and noontime and at night. To not in random moments think of how He is still there for me. With each passing hour I saw myself thinking of food instead of His ability to feed me. When I felt a hunger pang, I simply asked Jesus to come closer. To let me talk to his father. To fill me with Him so much so that food wasn’t needed. And it hasn’t. Not for three complete days. I’ve found that living on water and liquids like juice or broth only for these days has opened me back up to Him. To trust in His guidance in ways I needed and will need. 

So it was no stunt. It was not for weight loss. It wasn’t for a fundraiser. It wasn’t for social justice. It wasn’t to prove to myself I could do it again. I fasted because I wasn’t talking to God. He spoke. I didn’t talk back. My relationship with Him was becoming a masquerade and I was tiring of affixing my disguise and pretending it was ok. 

It wasn’t all easy though. I am still fighting off a sinus cold that will become intolerable should I fly while still ill. Fasting while sick isn’t the best thing to do, I’ve been told. Taking medication on an empty stomach is tough going. Or it should be except I found something other than food to satisfy me. 

Tomorrow I believe I’ll start back eating. I’ve seen what I must do and I won’t shy from it any longer. 

Me: Hello dad, how are you? 

God: I’m fine. Let’s sit and chat. 

Joy cometh in the morning

Years ago I was sitting in a church in central Indiana. My roles in the church was many. I was part of the men’s fellowship, young adult choir, nursery ministry, and more. Being a member of a church who’s pastor was a former boxer it is easy to see how his vision of the world would always be colored ever so slightly by that world. It’s not unusual to hear a man who is a former athlete allow certain things to slip into his speech pattern. Saying things like, “be a team player” “hit a home run with that speech” “get up and dust yourself off”. “Keep swinging” and on and on.

So it was so unexpected what he said on one particular Sunday so many years ago.

It was deep in the midst of football season and the early part of the basketball season. My Indianapolis Colts were playing. I believe that they were playing badly because it was pre-Payton Manning. So they were still in the AFC East. These were the days that my Pacers still had Reggie Miller, Rik Smits, the Davis’s, and so on. The greatest enemy of every Indiana sports team was the Knicks, Bulls, Dolphins, and really any team that would dare draw breath in our new RCA “Hoosier” Dome or Market Square Arena.

I honestly do not recall the message. I couldn’t even guess what line of scripture he lifted up that day. I’m not even sure what color suit or robe he had on that day. But I do remember him saying this:

It’s a shame that we can shout and scream and foam at the mouth at a Reggie three [point shot]. But we can’t open our mouth and make any noise at all for the word of God.

Wow.

He really put things into perspective for me on that Sunday.

No, I didn’t stop being very depressed when my team was once again sent to its bench with too few points to win. No, I didn’t stop wearing with great pride the gold and blue of my Pacers or the white and blue of my Colts. Not even the vibrant reds of my beloved Indianapolis Indians. But I DID take due notice of how I responded to the word of God in worship service.

Today, we heard the Word from Isaiah 3:1-10. In this passage we were reminded that Isaiah was a young child who, though he was a servant of God, he knew almost nothing of God. So when he heard Gods voice, he confused it with his own earthly fathers voice. So mistaking it, he disturbed his fathers slumber three times. Only on the last hearing of his name being called out did his fathers words to respond to the voice of God occur. He said “here am I.”

My point is that I could be walking down Meridian Street or down the hallways of Victory Field. And if I should chance upon one of those teams ball players and they literally tripped over me, they wouldn’t know me. Probably wouldn’t even try and get to know me. Though I’d’ve been a full fare, ticket paying fan, I’m not going to be his priority beyond the brief moment of his footing being lost on account of us having crossed paths just a bit too closely. My mama used to say, “… Could trip over you, and wouldn’t know you.”

So why in the world would I shout so hard for him, a person who really wont do anything specifically for me? Why would I scream until I’m horse for him? Clap my hands until they hurt? Stomp my feet until my bones shake? Spend money like a drunken sailor on team gear to PROVE I’m the best sixth man or twelfth man or whatever man? Why would I do all these things that cry vainglorious fandom…. But I cannot be bothered to even so much as crack a smile when the word of God is delivered and He loves me in all I do? Will be my father no matter what? Has my back like no one else? Literally sacrificed his only son for me before I even knew who He is?

It was then that I made sure I re-prioritized my praise. Re-assessed where my faith was placed. In whom I placed my trust. I learned that day that man will at some point always let you down. Man is at some point going to give you reason to question why you trusted him at all. Analyze your very rubric for judging another’s character. But in God the trust and love will never EVER fail. It’s why when someone at work recently asked me why I’m always so upbeat and happy, I responded that I have a close relationship with God. She was stunned by my answer…. And frankly so was I. I too was surprised I said that so readily. It wasn’t an answer I’d planned on. But it was the answer I had on the tip of my tongue. And it was the truth.

So yes, I’m very hurt my favorite football team lost. I’m very upset that I live in a state where their team was the instrument by which my team was embarrassed to have even dressed to play. I’m hurt inside because I know the fans of that team here are rude, often crude, and love to brag and be crass in their wins and fein concern for my feelings when they ask dumb questions like, “So…. What happened to your team?” In other words, in the fellow men and women of my current community, I will find no comfort. I will find no peace or honest sympathy. They are men, after all.

But with God I can be sure that when I go to him, I don’t need to wear a particular teams colors or shout a particular chant to get comfort, peace, love, guidance and joy.

So yes, I’ll still be a bit touchy over this latest loss. And yes, I’ll one day soon again, be a super fan again. But as for now, I can still be myself and happy because I don’t put my faith in men. Because men let me down. I put my faith in something much more permanent. Someone more in tune with my spirit and my heart. Someone who does know me, even if I trip over Him.

Broken

The other evening I was watching an episode of NOVA with my family. The subject of the program was ship disasters and what causes them. The obvious choice of conversation was the Titanic and the Costa Concordia which both sank for similar reasons. They both ran into objects more solid than their hulls and took on water in ways the ships were unprepared to compensate for. The ships both had very strong skins designed with one or two linings. But those were compromised. They both had leaders who, it has been argued, placed the ships into positions which that were likely to fail. The ones who paid the highest price were the ones inside the ships. Many of which had no idea what was coming and were ill prepared to handle the doom that awaited them.

Then, some days later, I was listening to a radio show that described the consequences and potential folly of failed security. The subject was about privacy and leaks of secure information. The show mentioned Edward Snowden and his efforts to expose the teraflops of information about us currently in the hands of people we don’t know and in at least some cases have not the foggiest idea they have it. The conversation turned on the issue of leaking such information to the people.

I saw a connection. What exactly is a leak?

In its essential form, a leak is when there is a breach of trust or a failure of faith in something or someone.

When a plumber installs a pipe, the intention is to connect a homeowner to a trusted source with an equally trustworthy product into his or her secure home. A breach of the pipe, whatever its contents, is a leak. We trusted so much. The utility provider. The pipe. The plumber. The product in the pipe. The appliance the pipe is attached to. The home the pipes are run into and through. So much trust and faith in others. But somewhere along the line, in that maze of copper, lead, and brass a failure of trust occurred. The pipe may have swollen because the homeowner was supposed to turn on the heat, but didn’t and so the pipe froze and burst. The fitting may have failed because the plumber didn’t apply the correct amount or type of solder. The utility had a surge of supply beyond the pipes capacity and exceeded its design strength. The appliance failed to shut off correctly and allowed the product in the pipes to run unchecked. These are all leaks. These are all breaches of established or assumed trust.

Assumed trust. Breach of faith. Failed security. Compromised hulls.

These are all leaks.

These are all what we fear will happen with our vital information. So we add passwords, security checks, retina verifications, fingerprint identification. Anything we can to restore or eatable trust or faith in something other than ourselves. But it doesn’t always work. It’s not always fail safe. In fact on a daily basis I we learn truths about just how vulnerable we are to a sufficiently motivated “other.”

So what’s a leak? It’s when our faith or trust in something or someone fails. It’s not just when the pipe bursts. It’s not just when the NSA collects data and the sealed lid they created is exposed as vulnerable. It’s not only when the Target, Home Depot or any other retailer in the news recently, loses control of your account numbers or passwords. It’s not just when Nixon taps a political adversaries line, or the NSA taps the German chancellors. It’s not just when that Ziploc bag you bought unzips and spurts the contents in your purse. It’s deeper than that.

Much deeper.

It’s when you trusted enough to give of yourself to someone or something. When you allowed yourself to be vulnerable just long enough to connect with something you need or like or love. And then that trust is broken.

That is a leak.

Prayer

On a Thursday night some years ago, I had the distinct privilege and honor of leading a class of youth in my church. This youth bible study was a continuation of the classes I taught in another state, in a different church, in a different time. That is to say that my teaching method was raw and not always up to the task. It often required me to be adept at recognizing the needs of the young adults and help explain the bible in ways that sometimes even I didn’t quite fully grasp. In my shortcomings I found ways to become less and less a fairly good teacher of several and soon the underwhelming leader of one or two.

It wasn’t exactly my best example of leadership on display. But there was this one time, a very important lesson needed to be taught. It was born of a question the kids asked one week prior.

What is prayer? And this is what I said. This is what I believe. This is what I know for myself.

Prayer is one of the most recognized actions of the faithful but the least explained. I have spent most of my life hearing the faith leaders in my life explain to me that prayer is something we as the devout do when we wish to talk to God. That its something we all do as men and women of faith. And it’s not exclusive to Christians but is common to most every religion and faith. And they told me it’s an action that must come in any one of several forms:

Praise and adoration. This is prayer that is focused upon God, Himself, and in this prayer form we express love of and for him. This prayer form outwardly shows our love of and for Him in as much as a child of God can. It’s an expression of love returned. Since love is a circle, it’s simply completing the circuit.

Penitence. This is the prayer that expresses a willingness to show an admittance of personal fault and a true need for Gods forgiveness. It’s the kind of prayer that recognizes that sin is part of who and what we are but we are still seeking His guidance. It’s not true that we are wholly sinful, but those who would follow the Word of God are expected to seek to rise above our sin filled heritage.

Petition. This is the prayer that we normally fall into. It’s the kind of prayer that is us asking for something. Usually something that has a price tag that you can affix to it. It’s always a prayer of asking. Heal my illness. Take away this hurt for my friend. Almost begging for anything and everything. The hope is that petition is not for material possessions, but instead for the betterment of self so that the glory of God can be seen clearly from within to the without. Petition should be beyond what one wears on the outside and be more about who and what we are on the inside. Asking for inner peace and a giving heart may be a good place to start. Or perhaps asking to be more like what God wants us to be: truly like Him on earth.

Thanksgiving. That’s the prayer that essentially boils down to a spirit of thankfulness. It’s a chance for us to express our gladness and joy in the blessings of God. This is the prayer that for some is most often want to offered. It is the prayer some may feel is all the prayer we ever need do. It’s the prayer form that I’ve seen some use to “lord” over the petitioner. The hard part is that many of us have a very hard time thanking folk for things they’ve done or said or given. I am an advocate of thanking God for the time he gave us to be in his presence and the time we have to live.

Intercession. This is the prayer that is selfless in nature. It’s designed to intercede on behalf of others and see to their needs and not your own. This prayer may have elements of petition-like language but the language is not personal, but magnanimous. It’s literally asking God to be a bulwark for someone where you see them in trial or trouble and have not the power yourself to help, aid, or assist. But you know God and ask for Him to step in.

So back to my class: here is where I took a left turn. I asked the children just what should a prayer say? How does one pray? Is there a certain set of rules that apply to the meditation we call prayer? Should we be on bended knee? Prostrate on the ground? Standing with our eyes closed? Open and gazing heavenward? Is there a biblically prescribed rule that says that when you pray, you must be in this place or that building or the other position?

In all my reading of the bible, the answer I have is – no.

I’ve arrived at this conclusion. And I ask you to look at this example of prayer:
president Bartlett prays
It’s an example of prayer that I’ve never before seen so wonderfully presented on television or in life. Prayer has literally nothing to do with where you physically are. Because of grace there is no requirement for us to be in any particular building, situation or physical position to speak with God. God never said that He will ignore your pleas if you are not in a massive cathedral, kneeling on a hard bench, head bowed, and hands firmly clasped in a position of supplication. That if you don’t have someone pray for you at an altar or in a room out of your eyesight then God hasn’t heard your hearts words.

Not true.

You may have heard that prayer requires a certain set of words to be acceptable as prayer. The model prayer of the bible for example. But that too is not my belief.

I believe that prayer is fully and centrally devoted not to the position of ones body, but to the position of ones heart. The heart not the mind. Ones mind may be in a state of abject fear, or confusion. But if ones heart is sincere and open to receive, then prayer can begin.

I also believe that prayer is not more recognizable nor more correct nor likely to be heard by the Almighty God if it is of a particular length. No prayer must be long winded and include all the elements of “traditional” prayer. I say “traditional” because I am hoping to see a new tradition. One centered upon the open dialogue and personal relationship that develops with communion. Let’s not fool ourselves. Prayer is communion with God. Common. Union. Unification with God as a commonality. It need not be formal. Grandiose. Edited for clarity. Presented to a board for approval. Written and checked for grammar.

Prayer is a chance to chat with God. Or to yell at Him. Share your day with Him. To tell God off. Ask Him how He’s doing. Tell Him how unfair things are. Mull things over with Him. Chew the fat with God. Tell Him all your troubles not so much because you think He doesn’t know them. Far from it. But as an acknowledgement that YOU know the troubles and are not above asking His intercession on your behalf with a penitent spirit.

Prayers may be as long as the Gettysburg address. Or they may be a single word. It’s not the length or the position or the formality. It’s the heart that supplies the prayer with its power. Sharing time, our most valuable possession beyond life itself, with God, is the ultimate gift to him. Time well spent builds relationship, not just with Him but with our fellow humans too. And in the end, that is what God really wants with His children. Relationship.

So whether you are a Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Druid, or Wiccan, prayer is a chance to express your heart to your God or god or goddess. I am not here to judge your faith walk. I am only suggesting that if you have faith, and you feel like it is waning in the slightest, maybe you need to take a minute…. Just a tiny little minute… And have a nice little chat with someone.