From My Reading

“Our sociology is predictably derived from, legitimated by, and reflective of our theology. And if we gather around a static god of order who only guards the interests of the “haves,” oppression cannot be far behind. Conversely, if a God is disclosed who is free to come and go, free from and even against the regime, free to hear and even answer slave cries, free from all proper goodness as defined by the empire, then it will bear decisively upon sociology because the freedom of God will surface in the brickyards and manifest itself as justice and compassion. . . ”  (Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination).

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“Your journey has molded you for your greater good, and is exactly what it  needed to be.  Don’t think that you have lost time” (Asha Tyson).

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“Self-love or pride is a sin when, instead of leading you to share with others the self you love, it leads you to keep your self in perpetual safe-deposit. You not only don’t accrue any interest that way but become less and less interesting every day” (Frederick Buechner, The Clown in the Belfrey).

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“I believe that until we create churches that allow for more authenticity and transparency—where it’s okay to not be okay—and people can honestly tell their stories, we’ll continue to hear about burnout, stress, depression, anxiety, suicides, exhaustion, and breakdowns. 

. . . .  I believe with all my heart that vulnerability and authenticity are the only way to find wholeness in Jesus Christ. We’re not meant to gloss over or skim the surface, pretending our way through life. Jesus invites us to be real with him and with one another” (Junius B. Dotson, Soul Re-set). 

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Exhaustion, burnout, and depression are not signs that you are doing God’s will. God is gentle and loving. God desires to give you a deep sense of safety in God’s love. Once you have allowed yourself to experience that love fully, you will be better able to discern who you are being sent to in God’s name.(Henri Nouwen,  You are the Beloved).

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Where I’m From

The idea for this post comes from a crowd-sourced poem created by poet Kwame Alexander from 1400 poems on the topic of “Where I’m From” sent in by listeners of “Morning Edition,” a morning radio show on NPR.  Here’s my version; you might try writing yours.

I come from:

♥ immigrant Dutch and English families joined in 1909, greeted with home town dis- approval, but proudly lived out.

♥ a white cross in a graveyard in France dated April 5, 1945; sorrow, tears, longing, grief and broken dreams.

♥ days and nights in a home filled with frightening anger, stiff silences, and confusing behavior – and worst of all, feeling unwanted and ignored.

♥ multi-generations of teachers, musicians, and athletes, and heartening examples of public service:  an agent for the Indians in west Michigan, service men in WWII, a state senator and lieutenant governor, dedication to non profits.

♥ millions of tall and proud red, yellow, purple, orange, and multi-colored tulips filling tulip farms, front yards, downtown planters, boulevards, parks, and elaborate plantings with hope and joy.

♥ Tulip Time festivals in May, Dutch costumes, parades, Dutch dancing, Dutch folk music – and “if you ain’t Dutch you ain’t much.”

♥  the crashing waves of Lake Michigan, sand dunes, pink, orange, and red sunsets.

♥ blueberry bushes, strawberry plants, grape vines, carefully staked leafy tomato plants, rows and rows of green and yellow beans, purple lilac bushes and delicate pink and white fruit trees joyfully bringing in spring, and roses bushes artfully climbing trellises viewed from Grandma’s desk.

♥ Honey Bunch, The Bobbsey twins, Nancy Drew, stuffed bookshelves in libraries and living rooms, the Book of the Month Club, newspapers, magazines (decades of National Geographic) –  reading, reading, reading!

♥ church twice on Sunday, Sunday school, youth group, catechism and, always, choir practice!

♥ The Hallelujah Chorus, Onward Ye People, Amazing Grace, Mary, Did You Know? Crown Him with Many Crowns sung in congregations and choirs; Johnny Mathis, Elvis, the Everly Brothers, the Righteous Brothers, and the Temptations; sheet music of WWII love songs and ballads stacked on the grand piano and vinyls of patriotic marches on the turntable.

expectations of college degrees and beyond (I’m all in), conservative politics (sorry grandpa, no can do!) and Calvinist theology (sorry mom, I don’t totally fit there either).

Posted in My journey

From My Reading

Detachment is often understood as letting loose of what is attractive. But it sometimes also requires letting go of what is repulsive. You can indeed become attached to dark forces such as resentment and hatred. As long as you seek retaliation, you cling to your own past. Sometimes it seems as though you might lose yourself along with your revenge and hate—so you stand there with balled-up fists, closed to the other who wants to heal you” (Henri Nouwen, You are the Beloved).

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 “. . . .  Christ is alive and active. He continues to speak and teach. His voice is not hard to hear. His vocabulary is not difficult to understand. He will teach us. Now Jesus is a living Savior and the salvation that is in him includes teaching us how to live and re-forming our very selves. Dallas Willard puts it well: ‘I am learning from Jesus to live my life as he would live my life if he were I.'”

And so, today, God is calling you and me to accept Jesus as our life. We are to trust Him for all things. We are to band together as his disciples, learning from him how to live and being formed by God, through Christ and the Holy Spirit, into the kinds of people capable of this transformed life. This is the salvation that is in Jesus Christ” (Richard Foster, quoted in the Renovare Weekly Digest,” August 5-9, 2019).

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“Be importunate, Jesus says—not, one assumes, because you have to beat a path to God’s door before he’ll open it, but because until you beat the path maybe there’s no way of getting to your door. “Ravish my heart,” John Donne wrote. But God will not usually ravish. He will only court.” (Frederick Buechner Wishful Thinking).

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“Saintliness means living without division between word and action. If I would truly live in my own life the word I am speaking, my spoken words would become actions, and miracles would happen whenever I open my mouth” (Henri Nouwen, You are the Beloved).

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“Are [Christians] getting their view of refugees from Christian sources? Or are they getting their view from Fox News, talk radio, and Donald Trump.  I suspect the latter.  And the worship of political idols is ultimately a spiritual problem – a different kind of blasphemy.

These challenges run deeper than politics. Many white evangelicals hold a faith that appeals to the comfortable rather than siding with the afflicted. They have allied themselves with bigots and nativists, risking the reputation of the Gospel itself.  And, in some very public ways they are difficult to recognize as Christians at all” (Michael Gerson quoted in the Holland Sentinel).

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“A problem is a chance for you to do your best” (Duke Ellington).

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Countering Donald J. Trump’s Fantasies and Lies

Even passing attention to the news media will make us realize that life everywhere in 2019 is hard. If you, like me and many of my friends, watch, listen to or read a lot about American politics and international disasters and politics, you may feel overwhelmed and hopeless much of the time. Part of our distress is figuring out if our President is telling lies, living in fantasies, or just not thinking clearly.

Now that the G7 Summit is over, and the President’s lies and stories over the days and nights of that gathering have been counted, the media have begun a concerted effort to point out and respond to some of the most lies and egregious stories the President has woven just last week.

One example is Lawrence O’Donnell, host of the nightly show, The Last Word (MSNBC, 10:00 EST).  Last night, he took one of Trump’s ideas fantastical ideas, “Why don’t we drop an nuclear bomb into a hurricane to disrupt its course?” and invited an expert, Michael Mann, Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Science at Penn State University, to answer his question. Here are Professor Mann’s answers to “Why don’t we just drop a bomb on a hurricane?”:

  • a fully formed hurricane carries 100’s of trillions of watts of power, more than 10 megaton bombs dropped every 20 minutes: ergo, “It wouldn’t work anyway.”
  • regularly dropping nuclear bombs into the ocean would do damage to ocean life from residual radiation as well as noise pollution.
  • prevailing winds track to the the eastern coast of the US (including Maralago), carrying radiation over highly populated areas.
  • on their way to the US, the winds pass over many inhabited islands killing many people in the short term and thousands in the long term.

Professor Mann goes on to say that if Trump really wants to work on the life-threatening issue of intensifying hurricanes and accompanying floods, he should accept the truth that our climate is warming, humans are the cause of it, and it will take a concerted effort with the other major nations in the world to stop the destruction of the planet.

One way we can influence the political atmosphere of our country is to track Trump’s lies and wacky ideas daily along with the readily available explanations of why they are lies or fantasies and share that information with friends and family.  

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Making History

This post was first published on May 5, 2013.

Today on the NPR program Morning Edition, historian Charles Emerson was discussing his new book 1913.  He made a comment that literally stopped me in my tracks to reach for a pen and paper:  “Make the history you want to live in.”

Making the history I want to live in propels me from hand-wringing and complaining to proactive involvement. What kind of legacy do I want to leave? My history is my grand- children’s present. How do I step into the fight against the raping of the planet I live on, the violation of human beings though sex trafficking and slavery, the deaths of millions of young children because of unequal distribution of wealth, the rampant racism and assumptions of white privilege. . . . the list goes on and on.

Making the history I want to live in also is a prod to never give up on difficult relation- ships.  Do I really want to consign a friendship or a partnership or a dysfunctional family to history without doing what I can to make it a healthy relationship?

And finally, what do I want my personal history to look like? Am I willing to take on Dallas Willard’s challenge for transformation: VIM (vision, intention and means)?  Or will I lazily walk through my relationalfuture with no thought about the history it will become?  What is my vision for my relationship with God?  What is my vision for how I will become more like Jesus?  Am I willing to be intentional about my personal transformation and thus my family’s transformation, my church’s transformation, my neighborhood’s transformation, my country’s transformation, the world’s transformation? And what are the means (methods, strategies, plans) I can intentionally choose to make that happen? This is fodder for every committed Christ-follower’s journey

What if each of us took a step every day to make the history we want to live in?

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From My Reading

“As soon as [the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation] began to spend more time understanding how people live their lives, we saw that so many of the barriers to advancement – and so many of the causes of isolation – can be traced to the limits put on the lives of women. In societies of deep poverty, women are pushed to the margins. Women are outsiders. That’s not a coincidence. When any community pushes any group out, especially its women, it’s creating a crisis that can only be reversed by bringing the outsiders back in. This is the core remedy for poverty and almost any social ill – including the excluded, going to the margins of society and bringing everybody back in” (Melinda Gates, The Moment of Lift, How Empowering Women changes the World).

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“Wholeness does not mean perfection.  It means embracing brokenness as an integral part of life” (Parker Palmer).

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“If Christians practice brotherhood among Christians, this would be one limited step in the direction of a new order among men. Think of what this would mean. Wherever one Christian met or dealt with another Christian, there would be a socially redemptive encounter. They would be like the Gulf Stream or the Japanese Current tempering and softening the climate in all directions. Indeed the Christian would be a leaven at all levels of the community and in public and private living. Of course, such a situation may lend itself to all kinds of exploitation and betrayals—but the Christian would be one of the bulwarks of integrity in human relations in an immoral society” (Howard Thurman, The Luminous Darkness: A Personal Interpretation of the Anatomy of Segregation and the Ground of Hope).

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“The world is changed by your example, not your opinion” (Paul Coehlo). 

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“Our sociology is predictably derived from, legitimated by, and reflective of our theology. And if we gather around a static god of order who only guards the interests of the “haves,” oppression cannot be far behind. Conversely, if a God is disclosed who is free to come and go, free from and even against the regime, free to hear and even answer slave cries, free from all proper goodness as defined by the empire, then it will bear decisively upon sociology because the freedom of God will surface in the brickyards and manifest itself as justice and compassion. . . ”  (Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination).

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Specific Love

This post was first published on December 3, 2018.  I was reminded of it when someone unexpectedly “liked” it last week.  I like it, too. It still speaks to our chaotic world.

How can I be a life-giving presence in a world that is so desperate for love and compassion? How can I even begin to serve the broken people whom I hear and read about? Dallas Willard, spiritual leader and author of many important books on spiritual formation, comments that “it is very important to understand that the command [love your neighbor] is not to love everyone. God does. You can’t even begin to. Love can only be specific, and love cannot exceed our resources.” That reassurance is priceless to devoted Christ-followers who sometimes bear guilt about not loving or doing enough.

So the question is “How can my love become specific?” How do we stop trying to “exceed our resources?” Persian poet and theologian, Rumi* (1207-1273) has some beautiful images to help us here.

Be a lamp or a lifeboat or a ladder.  Help someone’s soul heal.   Walk out of your house like a shepherd” (Rumi)*.

Be a lamp –  Think a minute about the purpose of a lamp or light.  What  does a lamp do?  It turns darkness into light. It helps you find your way.  It can enhance fellowship. It can make a place safer. Some lamps are works of art; they beautify their surroundings. Every day we can look to light someone’s path, share knowledge, give direction, and inspire lives of beauty. Jesus said, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father” (Matt 5:16; NIV).  The light we bring reflects  the love of  God.

Be a lifeboat – the purpose of a life boat is to rescue. As God’s lifeboats we can ensure the liberation of  others. We can also make sure we are inclusive. God’s lifeboats are for all people; we can make room in our lifeboat for anyone who needs relief.  We can help others ride out their stormy seas.

Be a ladder – a ladder helps a person climb. Who do you know who is “climbing” and needs your support? A ladder is used to rescue someone who seems beyond help. Have you given up on someone who could benefit from your love and care? For example, at times it seems as though the three teens I support through Compassion International have so many strikes against them that they are beyond help. But with God in the equation, no one is beyond help. 

Lamps, lifeboats, ladders. All of these are symbols of the ways we can help others heal. Rumi concludes this poetic line by encouraging us to walk out of our houses “as shepherds.” A shepherd is someone who provides for the needs of others.  Someone who can see the way ahead and lead in the right direction. Someone whose rod and staff create safe boundaries. Someone who knows others by name – personally and deeply. Shepherds light the way, rescue from harm, and support those persons or those causes that seem beyond our help. There is no more important role for a Christian to play in a world that becomes more and more angry, vengeful and  hate-filled  every day.  

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*Rumi was a Muslim scholar and poet who took Islam seriously, but the depth of his spiritual vision goes beyond sectarianism. According to Professor Majid M. Naini, “Rumi’s life and transformation provide true testimony and proof that people of all religions and backgrounds can live together in peace and harmony. Rumi’s visions, words, and life teach us how to reach inner peace and happiness so we can finally stop the continual stream of hostility and hatred and achieve true global peace and harmony.”

Shahram Shiva, performance artist and Rumi translator, asserts that “Rumi is able to verbalize the highly personal and often confusing world of personal growth and development in a very clear and direct fashion. He does not offend anyone, and he includes everyone. . . . Today Rumi’s poems can be heard in churches, synagogues, Zen monasteries, as well as in the downtown New York art/performance/music scene” (Wikipedia).

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No Matter How Life Turns Out

“Hope is a state of mind, not of the world. It is an orientation of the spirit and orientation of the heart; it transcends the world that is immediately experienced and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons. Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously heading for success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed. . . . It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.” 

How many times a day do we need to remember these stunning words by Vaclav Havel?Havel – Czech playwright, poet, and political dissident, who, after the fall of communism, became president of Czechoslovakia (1989–92) and of the Czech Republic (1993–2003) – certainly had many opportunities to try make sense of something regardless of how it turned out.

We all have experiences that don’t turn out well. Why did my father (and many fathers) not return from World War II (or Korea or Viet Nam or Iraq or Afghanistan), leaving a void that could never be filled?  How do you learn to love life with a mother who grieved for 60 + years?

How do we receive an incurable cancer diagnosis or regroup after a flood takes everything we own or lose our sight from diabetes or a child from a car accident?  Our hope for life is buried in our tragedy.

After the crucifixion, the disciples and followers of Jesus of Nazareth argued over what was to happen to their movement now that Jesus was gone. How could it be that all his  promises would not be kept?  How could they go on without their beloved leader? This was not how it was supposed to turn out! But the disciples didn’t know the end of the story. And even after the resurrection, they still struggled to “make sense” of what had happened to their lives.

We don’t fully know the end of our stories either.  Like the disciples, we have to cling to the hope that life will make sense no matter how it turns out. We have to live in freedom not because everything will end in success, but because we have been assured that life will all make sense in the end. If we live in the light of hope and grace, we may learn that:

  • our biggest mistakes become our greatest blessings
  • our most painful heartaches become our greatest joys
  • and our greatest losses become our greatest gains.
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