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. 

Fear has won…. For now

I awoke this morning to my own fears staring me in the face. 

A man who peddals in the seductive politics of fear has successfully played upon the heartstrings of the disenchanted among us. He has found a large and growing mob of angry people who recognize the party they’ve been dancing at since the 1960’s is playing Bing Crosby and asking them to do the foxtrot. But what they think is a better choice is Ted Nugent and slam dancing. They are being asked to continue to say no to statesmanship because being a statesman is no better than being a capitulator in chief, a weak kneed yellow belly… They are being told that the Grand Old Party is still their party but all they see is old men who talk of the Greatest Generation. Unfortunately most of those men and women are largely silent and quietly wobble their heads in silent objection without a clue how to talk to these neo-cons that so desperately need leadership that says something other than no. No. No. 

Enter an even angrier man who knows their anger and has a host of people to blame for their disappointments. Who points his finger and says that it’s not your fault, it’s not your parties fault, it’s the brown mans fault. It’s that religion you don’t understand… And frankly don’t want to. It’s their fault. It’s the fault of years of outsourcing jobs to people who are only to happy to take them because your well fed asses are unwilling to do them, but no matter. It’s still their fault for agreeing to do the work. It’s the party across the streets fault for not being as angry as you are. It’s everyone’s fault but yours. You’ve no dog in this fight. You have nothing to be ashamed of. No bone to pick with him because your country iOS in the toilet. Why because he has been on television long enough and built enough buildings to know just how to fix everything. All it will take is a wall and a few deportations. Then when we are completely isolated form the world and no one outside of these shores is willing to deal with us but must because they’ve no choice, then we will be in a much better position to dictate terms. To dictate how great we will again be. 

But these are ploys that prey upon old fears. Play upon memories that have no foundation in truth. Play upon anger that is illogical. Play upon strings that pluck kitchen table race conversations that vibrate loudly in small homes all across America. These are the politics of fear, segregation, fascism, dictatorial edicts that are couched in American exceptionalism. 

And the other party plays songs of we shall overcome. Plays tunes in b-flat minor that says rings hollow and stale. But it’s ok because we can still make history. We can see over the horizon. We have come a long way baby and we shouldn’t stop now. The other party has cookies and punch. The latest dance moves and a tent with no sides because all are welcome. But the scary old party across the street that plays those old songs can’t hurt us or drown us out. We are on the right side of history the other party shouts with arms raised up and heads held high. The other party says that we are so great that there’s nothing to fear but fear itself and we need not give in to it. We are better than that. We are able to vote for something instead of against something. Vote for someone rather than against someone. To be positive rather than negative. 

We are told to be the change we want to see. We are told that the man behind the curtain has a hot air ballon and he’s going to leave you if you don’t kill the wicked witch. But in the end, he leaves us anyway. We all know how the story ends. And no one seems to care. No one seems to be strong enough to pull the rug out from under the fox-trotters and remind them that they are better than this. That they do not need to stay angry. They don’t need to continue to dance angrily and shake their fists. To throw the brown man out and ridicule the disabled. The joke isn’t funny anymore and really…. It never really was funny. 

But now, it’s downright dangerous to laugh at these jokes. It’s actually going to get someone hurt or killed to continue to chuckle into bended elbows or cupped hands. It’s dangerous to shout at Pink to put him up against the wall while the band plays loudly and the crossed arms are thrust forward and back. It’s dangerous to hear the voice of God’s main man on earth speak truth to power and then say he has no right to speak about another mans faith. Convictions. Self aggrandizement. 

The days are now rather dangerous. It is time for the Force to take on the Dark Side and not faint. To lift up the bloodstained banner and wave it bravely. To reawaken the young, old, faithful, lovers, bleeding hearts and artists, the educated and the dreamers. The wealthy and the poor. A call to arms where the best weapon is a pen and a calm voice is pulled out of mothball and flung into the ring. The bell is sounded and the boxers have left their corners. 

Lets watch what happens next. 

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.

So… What did YOU find?

According to a friend of mine, there are no good partners out there to be had. They all eventually leave, abandon, and go astray from my friends side. Therefore all partnerships are doomed to fail from the off and must be viewed at the outset with skepticism and a critical eye. My friend complained that the current relationship was repeating a lifelong pattern of abandonment and was at a loss for what to do.

I was stunned at my friends dismay and said to myself that I needed a sign on how to offer advice. I didn’t need to wait long.

Enter Sunday morning service. The pastor is discussing many interesting passages of faith learning. Not one scripture was given priority over another; somewhat unusual for him. Typically, his sermons are focused and raw from several supporting Words from The Lord. But on this day, I felt like the Holy Spirit had led him to speak from many passages because his flock had many issues, no one like the parishioner next to her or him or them. At one point he said something that spoke to me. He touched on Matthew 6:33 and I knew then I was heart from The Lord. Then later I returned to my friend and noticed others had spoken a prophetic word as well. They said things like, “.. I’m sorry this happened to you… How will you go on?… Maybe you need to go to other places to find relationship if the same dry well you return to is stagnant and reeking with the same funk of the others…” But one stood out to me and said that perhaps a spiritual journey was in order. The one said that with a spiritual journey inner peace might yet be found.

I was elevated immediately and entered the conversation. I said to my friend that it is a great idea to have a spiritual journey. It needn’t be anything formal. It could simply be a walk amongst the dusty stacks in a local library. Or a short jog down a well used hiking path nearby. Or perhaps a quiet moment or two taken for self reflection in a favorite reading nook somewhere. But whatever path taken, the journey was ultimately a path to peace. A path that would begin with a spiritual journey because only with inner peace could outer peace be found. Peace in life and relationship.

My point was this:

God is in us. God is peace. God is love. God desires relationship with us. By seeking Him, we find peace which is the essence of love. By going a spiritual journey that begins with one small step, we are seeking God.

…. Seek ye first, the kingdom of heaven….

The spiritual journey is a path to peace that is seeking God. God is within us if we could be still and listen closely enough to hear Him. The spiritual journey is seeking God and finding him inside you and thereby finding peace and ultimately love. We find love where we seek it. We find peace where we seek it.

On a macro scale, we find only what we seek.

Recall Star Wars. Yoda directed Luke to enter the grotto. Luke grasped his weapons. Yoda chided him saying he would not need them, knowing he would only find what he brought in there with him. If Luke brought anger, fear, envy, weapons, all the things Yoda was attempting to turn Luke away from, those are what he would find. And indeed he did. He found Darth Vader and within he found himself.

That’s fantasy. But there is a great truth in it.

We tend to find most readily the things we are searching for the most earnestly. If we are seeking peace, we shall find it, sometimes serendipitously. If we seek war, we shall find it. If we seek negative folk. Criminals. Love. We will find it all.

Consider for a moment my own story: I was in need of an automobile and had loved the Mini Cooper as a concept but wasn’t sure if it was a good vehicle. But once I set my heart on seeking it out as a path to transportation, I suddenly noticed just how many are on the streets. I expect they were there all along, but it wasn’t until I was taking due notice of them. Focusing on them. Journeying toward the ultimate purchase of a used one, that I noticed them and how many there were. My point is I sought them and they suddenly were plain to me. I was aware they existed but wasn’t seeing them until I looked for them.

For my friend, I suggested that by seeking what was desired most in relationship, the spiritual inner journey must take place first. Why? Because by knowing love and peace within it would be that much easier to recognize peace and love without. Not to be fooled or drawn in to a relationship with one who isn’t loving or kind but is instead a user and abandoner.

Seek… And ye shall find.