Lessons from the “Strangers” among Us

You may have read my post entitled “Instead”published on August 8.  My “kindred spirit” Barbara Sibley who lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, responded to that post by com- menting that “hanging out” with members of an immigrant community near her has shown her the “outworking of the concept of ‘instead.'” I asked her to share her experiences with the refugees she has befriended and worked with. Here’s her own version of “Instead.”

Let me say right off the bat that I am a stranger. While, by all outward appearances, I look like a “typical” American woman—white, educated, and married with grown children—I am convinced that what is currently going on in America is anything but typical. In the past several years, the divisiveness, chaos, and stunning lack of civility have grown to fever pitch, targeting, among others, the immigrant and refugee population. As this cultural and political debasement continues to unfold, I feel deeply saddened and estranged. What in the world is happening?

Well, I discovered an answer to that question in a nearby apartment complex where immigrant and refugee families live. Since I work in a writing center at our local community college, I figured that I could “help out” with volunteer tutoring at evening homework sessions for high school and college students held at the apartment’s community center. Plus, this past summer, I joined a team of volunteers to assist teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) classes to the women residents.

In this setting, I thought I would be the teacher; instead I actually became a learner. I learned that I can choose to be anxious about the day-to-day political intrigues which so easily entangle my soul, or, instead, I can consider the experience of  immigrant families who arrive in America seeking refuge or asylum after their own hellish experiences with repressive, dangerous governments. In addition, many refugees have already lived for years—yes, years!—in abysmal camps, waiting to leave. These same refugees arrive here and become marginalized and in many cases demonized.They are regard-  ed as undeserving of respect or con-  sideration—just the type of folks Jesus would hang out with. What’s more, these “strangers” among us are exactly the ones who can make America great again; the vast majority of them bless the United States and “kiss the ground” of this country as they consider where they came from and the opportunities before them, despite all the obstacles in their way.

My time among these individuals is a spiritually charged antidote to the upheaval in America which swirls and threatens to engulf me. This vulnerable population, so fragile and yet so filled with hope, brings me face to face with Paul’s admonition: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21), a “good” that shows itself plainly with a shared hug, a broad smile, or a new understanding of an English phrase.

So yes, I am still a stranger, but one who is joyfully welcomed in simplicity and trust among a community of new immigrant and refugee friends. Through them, I see Jesus beckoning, and I am enfolded in His arms. Here, I too, am welcomed home

Posted in Living as Apprentices | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Going Deeper with God: “Training Up” Disciples (Proverbs 22: 6)

El Shaddi bannersIn Eat this Book, Eugene Peterson teaches us to chew on a passage of scripture, digest it, and then put it to use in practical ways. Our early Christian fathers and mothers called this process Lectio Divina. In this passage we learn about “training up” disciples.

Proverbs 22: 6; Making Disciples

“Start children off [train up]  on the way they should go,
    and even when they are old they will not turn from it.”

CHEW

As regular readers of this blog know, I am fascinated by Eugene Peterson’s wisdom about scripture and his poetic way of writing about it.  Recently, I learned this amazing fact from one of the sermons in the book As Kingfishers Catch Fire:  the admonition to “train up” a child in Proverbs 22: 6 literally means “to rub the gums of a newborn child with oil before it begins to suck its mother’s breast.”

Peterson says that this intimate expression for welcoming a child into a new and sometimes harsh world later was used for dedication rites for houses and Temples.  Later it came to describe what we do for infants and children to get them started right in life. Peterson adds that “train up” in the original language of Scripture carries overtones of warmth and celebration. And intimacy – for what could be more intimate than a mother nursing her child?

Intimacy is a word that has been hijacked by the world to refer to sexuality. The word intimacy means “a close, familiar, and usually affectionate or loving personal relationship with another person or group.” It is the kind of feeling that infuses close families, long-time friendships, welcoming neighborhoods, and groups and communities that serve others. Of course it should also be the glue that holds disciples of Jesus together!  Peterson makes the point (see quote below) that making disciples is not so much formal church programming.  It is more the encouragement of welcoming friendship with which we greet every person we meet, with which we treat every member of our church, and with which we view our helping and advocacy roles in society. “Training up” is not  just for children; it is a  life-long process; it is how we make disciples.

DIGEST

♥   Think over the idea of “intimacy” in the church.  Intimacy requires and expects honesty, vulnerability, forgiveness, and a listening spirit. Does your church promote intimacy? How can you make that happen?

♥ Peterson urges us to pack up our advice, our quasi-counseling, and our intellectualizing of relationships and instead engage with others in a way that shows them Jesus. Ask the Holy Spirit to poke you when you give advice or counsel or try to prove a point and instead give you an opening to instead care for another.

♥  Has it ever struck you that all our growth experience from a child to a senior citizen are for the purpose of maturing our relationships with God and others (as Peterson notes below)? Reflect on your pivotal growth experiences. Have they impacted your relation- ships with God and with others?  Share that story in person or in writing with a friend or group.  

MORE FOOD FOR THOUGHT

“Training up has little to do with advice giving, counseling or analyzing. Rather it is initiated through person example and caring.  It means that every time you  engage in an act of faith in Christ, you are training another person. Every time you love another in obedience to Christ’s command, you are educating someone else.  Every time you forgive someone because Christ forgave you, you are assisting materially in the Christian growth of that person  Every time you hope because Christ has promised his help, you are opening up new possibilities of growth in another person. 

. . . . The most significant growing up that any of us do is growing as a Christian.  All other growing up is preparation for this growing up. Biological and social, mental and emotional growing are all ultimately absorbed into growing up in Christ. The human task is to be- come mature, not only in our bodies and emotions and mind, but also in our relationships with God and other persons.  . . . We are in this growing up business together, training and being trained to live maturely in Christ”( Eugene Peterson, As Kingfishers Catch Fire, pages 192-193).

Posted in Living as Apprentices | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Instead

“Instead is a word of exchange.”  (Eugene Peterson)

I’ve been musing about this statement for weeks. This is what I have concluded. The word “instead” is a word of change, of choice, of substitution, of purging. It is also a word of power:

I choose to do this instead of that.

I choose to believe this instead of that.

I choose to accept this instead of that.

We live in perilous times in America. Our president is choosing divisiveness instead of diversity. He is choosing his own safety instead of the safety of the American people. He is choosing hatefulness instead of civility. He is choosing lies instead of truth.  He is choosing phony power plays instead of diplomacy. He is choosing ignorance instead of advice. He is choosing incompetence instead of professionalism. He is choosing self-aggrandizement instead of service. He is demanding loyalty to himself instead of loyalty to the Constitution. He is demanding that we accept his version of reality instead of our own common sense.

Christ-followers need to recognize the power of “instead.” Instead of choosing the safety of unawareness, we need to choose to be educated about the actions and policies of this president.  Instead of choosing silence, we need to speak up. Instead of turning away from (or worse making light of) the corruption and sleaziness, we need to protest and complain and join together to end it. Instead of saying, “Every politician lies” we need to acknowledge the enormity of over 4,000 proven lies by the President since Inauguration Day. Instead of saying that God uses imperfect people to do his work, we must argue that this president is not just imperfect but evil. 

Instead of throwing up our hands and saying, “There’s nothing we can do,” we can agree that Christians cannot support a president who believes he is above the law – and above virtue and morality. Instead of giving in, we must protest, in the way that suits us best.  Instead of giving in, we must run for office or campaign for candidates who will not line up in Trump’s brigade. Instead of giving in, we must vote in November – so he can be removed.  

Posted in Living as Apprentices | Tagged , | 3 Comments

From My Reading

“There is nothing wrong with churches wanting to be culturally relevant.  But are gimmicks going to bring young people back to church?  Is that what people really hunger for?  I think the younger generation sees through what is slick and glitzy.  When it comes to church, I think they don’t want cool as much as they want real.  . . . People do not come to church because worship is entertaining, trendy, or hip. They come because the gospel is real and true and life-changing” (Lou Lotz in Words of Hope, June, 2018).

♦  ♦  ♦  ♦  ♦

“To become neighbours is to bridge the gap between people. As long as there is distance between us and we cannot look in each other’s eyes, all sorts of false ideas and images arise. We give them names, make jokes about them, cover them with our prejudices, and avoid direct contact. We think of them as enemies. We forget that they love as we love, care for their children as we care for ours, become sick and die as we do. We forget that they are our brothers and sisters and treat them as objects that can be destroyed at will. Only when we have the courage to cross the street and look in one another’s eyes can we see there that we are children of the same God and members of the same human family” (Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey).

♦  ♦  ♦  ♦  ♦

“The first word of God is light, according to the Bible.  This is in the opening paragraph.  When we see the sun, it’s as if we see a divine word.   All of creation is spoken into being in this way, and everything is called good.  Over the course of time, the entire language of God reverberates across the universe.  In the beginning, the first word(s) of God, the first revelation of the divine, is reality itself.  The unfolding – aka, evolving – of the universe is God learning to speak. This is a profoundly sensitive worldview.  Only a poet in love with creation, in love with nature, could have penned the opening chapter of Genesis.  Only an experience of wonder could have given birth to such insight. The biblical storytellers were artists not scientists. Most of the biblical writers experienced and imagined a world where everything was alive with the presence of God” (Kent Dobson in Bitten by a Camel, Leaving Church, Finding God, pgs. 100-101).

♦  ♦  ♦  ♦  ♦

“God created human beings in God’s own image, and we’ve returned the compliment, so to speak, by creating God in our image. In the end, we produced what was typically a small, clannish God. In America, God looks like Uncle Sam or Santa Claus, an exacting judge, or a win/lose business man—in each case, a white male, even though “God created humankind in God’s own image; male and female God created them” (see Genesis 1:27). Clearly God cannot be exclusively masculine. The Trinitarian God is anything but a ruling monarch or a solitary figurehead” (Richard Rohr in Daily Meditation for July 1, 2018).

♦  ♦  ♦  ♦  ♦

“We must not let ourselves think for a second that becoming like Christ or loving like God loves is something that happens when we become a Christian. If we do, the long hard road of hypocrisy and despair awaits. Flourishing, becoming like Christ, is something that happens over a long, frustrating, rewarding, painful, and glorious period of time.  Christlike character is only something we can grow towards. It’s not something we attain in an instant or something God pours in our lap. We don’t get it, we grow into it”
(Jonathan Bailey, jonathanrbailey.com)

Posted in Quotes | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Enjoying Simplicity

Readers have commented on the usefulness of my blog posts that speak to accepting changes, moving with the seasons, letting go. Several authors have helped me understand this process:  Richard Foster taught me about living simply, Ignatius of Loyola taught me detachment, Parker Palmer and Frederick Buechner added their wisdom about accepting my personality, James Bryan Smith, Dallas Willard, and Adele Ahlberg Calhoun  showed me the spiritual disciplines that helped me make the changes I wanted to make.

Recently, an excerpt from Calhoun’s work was published on the Renovare website. It states so beautifully what I have been trying to say in my posts:

“Aging has always been about simplifying and letting go. Sooner or later we realize that we can’t manage all the stuff and activity anymore. We have to let go. The practice of letting go and embracing simplicity is one way we prepare ourselves for what is to come. One day we all will have to let go of everything—even our own breath. It will be a day of utter simplicity—a day when the importance of stuff fades. Learning to live simply prepares us for our last breath while cultivating in us the freedom to truly live here and now” (Adele Calhoun, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, Practices that Transform).

A good friend of mine has shared the journey of letting go for years.  During one class I taught, we were all asked to give up something we love the most to someone who really would appreciate it. Jayne chose to give up two precious things her mother had given her. One went to her sister and one to her niece; each accompanied by a loving letter.  Letting go of these keepsakes was a huge struggle, but she experienced the joy of sacrifice that the spiritual discipline intended to teach. 

Jayne was in the midst of a courageous battle with esophageal cancer when I was diagnosed multiple myeloma, a blood cell cancer. We shared a cancer doctor and our appointments and treatments were often on the same day. She was a constant encourager. Even as she lost her voice, her hair, and her energy, her strong faith gave me hope.

Recently Jayne’s cancer returned; she once again began the chemotherapy that made her so sick. Life became very difficult, but she never lost her faith nor the verve for life that made her Jayne. Jayne died this month. At her funeral we learned that in her last hours she said, “It’s time. It’s time.”  Her practice of letting go made letting go of the next breath easier.  

In The Spiritual Formation Handbook, Practices that Transform, Adele Calhoun shares several spiritual exercises that can help us learn to let go.  Here are a few:

  • Intentionally limit your choices. Do you need six different kinds of breakfast cereal, hundreds of TV channels or four tennis rackets? What is it like to limit your choices?Does it feel free, or do want and envy surface?  Talk to God about this.
  • If someone admires something of yours, give it away. Find out just how attached you are to your things.  What is that like for you?  (This is the one Jayne chose to do).
  • Where have you complicated your life with God?  Consider what actually brings you into the presence of Christ.  Spend time there.

Living simply, detaching from our possessions as well as our want lists and our life experiences, and learning to let go are all spiritual practices found in the life of Jesus. (I encourage reading the four gospels looking for examples of these practices.) They are also the disciplines encouraged by “saints” of the church for centuries.  We do well to take them seriously.

Posted in Living as Apprentices | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

God’s Gift: Craftsmanship and Artistry

One of my favorite PBS shows is A Craftsman’s Legacy. After a devastating health crisis in the late  ‘9o’s, the host, Eric Gorges, a self-confessed IT nerd, walked away from a lucrative corporate career for good. He sought out Ron Fournier at Fournier Enterprise in Detroit and signed on as to apprentice as a metal shaper.  In April of 1999, he decided to strike out on his own and Voodoo Choppers, a custom motorcycle business located in Auburn Hills, MI. was born.  Now Eric  travels across the United States to gain insight into craftsmanship in the 21st century, focusing on the history of a traditional craft and its importance in the U.S. today. Each week on the series he apprentices with someone and learns their craft, celebrating unique skills passed down by generations.

During each show, Eric asks the person he is interviewing, “How did you become the craftsman you are today?”  The answer always includes “I keep trying until I get it right.”  He also asks if the person sees himself or herself as an artist or a craftsman. This question has haunted me as long as I have watched the show. What is the difference between an artist and a craftsman?  Why does it matter if you are one or the other – or both?

Today, some answers came to me in the form of a theological brain storm.  It does matter that someone can be both an artist and a craftsman, because God is both. A craftsman is  a person who creates with skill and dexterity and perseverance. As a perfect craftsman, God created a world that  is mathematically sound and scientifically successful. What was set in motion millions of years ago still works perfectly and in sync. Creatures born become creatures adapting to their surroundings. Whatever problems we have with the envi- ronment we live in are man-made! The Original Craftsman’s plan and execution were faultless.

Artistry is a person’s creative skill.  It is a flair, an imagination and a vision that drives their craft. Eric Gorges’s interviewees usually answer that they are craftsmen and craftswomen first, but they also always speak about the artistic vision that sets them apart. Many of them refer in some way to a gift or vision from God. God, of course, is also the Original Artist. It was not enough for God that the universe work properly; it also had to be beautiful. Our artistic vision comes from our Creator God, whether we acknowledge that or not. We rarely speak of theoretical mathematicians or physicists or research scientists as being artists, but many talk about the beauty of numbers or the beauty of a concept in physics or the beauty of  the workings of the human body. 

As a writer for most of my 75 years, I have grounded myself in my craft: grammatical knowledge, vocabulary, stylistic skills, proper punctuation, clarity of sentence structure, structure,and organizational skills. I honed that craft as a re-write specialist for a mag- azine. However, as Artificial Intelligence algorithms have taught us, perfectly crafted sentences don’t have to make sense. Computer programmers have been tasked with finding a way for college entrance essays to be graded by computers. However, they are learning that they write can a perfectly crafted essay that is unintelligible or logically flawed, and the computer program will still give it an  A+. 

So in addition to my techniques, I need a creative, artistic side to dream up a concept and apply an imaginative, even poetic, sensibility to the writing.  “Successful” writing needs to be not only well crafted, but also inspired.  Even technical writers have to go beyond clarity and create picture-forming sentences so that their directions can be easily followed.  

So what’s the point of 600+ words on craftsmanship and artistry?  The point is that our God is the master of both!  That mastery invokes awe in his children; just read through the book of Psalms.  If we have lost our awe over the God’s masterful creation of a working, yet beautiful, universe we are missing a vital piece of our faith. And since we are made in his image, we are capable of being both craftsmen and women and artists. We are at our best when we are both at the same time. Developing craftsmanship and artistry – whether in engineering or architecture or fine art or quilting or writing a blog post – helps us tap into everything God has created us to be.   

Posted in Living as Apprentices | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

The Tree of Life – by Guest Blogger, Carol McGeehan

Guest blogger Carol McGeehan shares what she has learned about the changing seasons of life.

Image result for images of treesI soon will be 70, and I’ve been thinking about how my purpose in life has changed over the years with each new “season” in life. As I gazed out the window at my favorite tree, I found an answer to how to think about the cycles of life. Actually, God gave me the answer though the beauty of his creation. 

Do you wonder what your purpose is in life? Learn from the trees. See how they connect earth and heaven as they reach up to the sun for light to grow tall and reach down into earth for water and food. They clean up carbon and turn it into oxygen for other creatures to breathe and survive.

In summer they bear fruit to nourish and feed all God’s creatures. They give shade and homes for animals to nest and shelter their young. In the fall their leaves paint glorious splashes of color against a brilliant sky before flying and dancing on a golden breeze. And even in winter when trees grow old and die, they give back their life to the earth where new life can spring forth from their life. See how trees reveal God’s plan for all creation in the circle of birth, life, death, and resurrection.

Be like the trees. Reach for the sun. Dig deep roots and draw strength from the Earth. Grow tall and bear fruit. Provide food, shelter and shade.Show your glorious colors to the world and then dance in the wind. And when you die, know that your life will be resurrected and recycled into new life. Learn from the trees. . . . Be like the tree.

_____

God’s first revelation was the natural world of His Creation, which is echoed in words from Scripture:  

  • Psalm 1:3 – “He is like a tree planted by rivers of water which yields its fruit in  season.”
  • Ecclesiastes 3:1 – “To everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven.”
Posted in Living as Apprentices

Twilight Time

The sun is slowly fading. The sky is still pale blue, but the skyline is streaked with shades of pink. White puffs of clouds drift in and out of the colors. Lyrics from an aging song (1958) by the Platters float unbidden across my mind:

“Deepening shadows gather splendor as day is done 
Fingers of night will soon surrender the setting sun.”

 I hold my breath as the horizon changes before me.  It is twilight time.  

Scientists report that twilight is the time after sunset or before sunrise. It’s a time that precedes or relieves the darkness. At twilight, light from the sky appears diffused and often pinkish. The sun is below the horizon, but its rays are scattered by Earth’s atmosphere to create the colors of twilight.

People my age are often said to be in the twilight of their lives. Everyone realizes that at some point we will leave this life, this earth, this reality. But people over 60 begin to see the sun sinking; those of us who are in their 70’s or older see the sun going down in all its pink and yellow glory.

During my twilight years, I have started making peace with who I am. I still plan to live life on this earth until I step into eternity. But I realize that many experiences I had hoped to enjoy and many achievements I had hoped to gain will not happen. And it’s okay!  I accept my introverted personality and am trying to make the most of it. I understand that who I am influences how I have been able to relate with others and trust that I will be forgiven for my absences or seeming distance. 

Making peace with myself means making peace with my past. I have made peace with my childhood, with my now deceased parents and their influence or lack thereof on my life. We all do harmful, foolish, self-defeating things – sometimes unknowingly – some of which permanently  affect others. I am no exception. I try to make amends – and forgive myself.  Others have interacted in ways that permanently affected my life; I try to forgive them.                                   

Making peace with my present means relinquishing the expectations for each day and for each person I am with and for each situation I am in.  Instead I try everyday to make the most of the life I still have. I can no longer expect to get up and go wherever and whenever I feel like going. So I find little joys where I am.  I can no longer expect to be free of aches and pains, so I accept the discomfort and let go of wishing for the life that used to be.

It is hard to know how to begin making peace with my future. I can anxiously peer down the road and imagine all sorts of things: financial issues, worsening physical or mental health, taking care of my husband when I need taking care of myself – the list can get intimidating. Making peace with my future, I think, is continuing to visualize lying down in green pastures, being refreshed by cool waters, being guided in the right direction, being comforted by God’s rod and staff – and dwelling with God forever.

As I muse about twilight, another song comes to mind, a much-loved song recorded by  Nelson Eddy, a classically trained baritone my mother swooned over.

“Just a song a twilight, when the lights are low,
And the flickering shadows softly come and go,
Tho’ the heart be weary, sad the day and long,
Still to us at twilight comes Love’s old song,
Comes Love’s old sweet song.”

While Love’s Old Sweet Song is a popular romantic love song, it can also be seen as a promise that Love will accompany us through everything we experience in our future twilight time.

Posted in Living as Apprentices | Tagged , , | 3 Comments