Thursday, December 31, 2009

Last One

Last blog of 2009. Eventful year. A little employment adjustment, I went bionic, another wedding in the family, Anita gets a book contract, we inaugurate an African-American president, and the Cubs just miss the playoffs :).

For the most part, a good year. God used a whole lot of thing to grow and mature me. For that I’m glad. God’s not done with me yet and there are opportunities galore.

It seems that the next few years are going to continue to be interesting. The promised return to prosperity is taking awhile isn’t it? The disparity between rich and poor continues to grow. Political unrest is the reality of they day. Islam grows in both popularity and influence. Many of the moral moorings of our culture are being dismissed.

So, we stand in the gap between challenges and opportunity. What do we do?

Here’s some ideas:

Take the high road. The public debate on any issue is both heated and way too personal. Whether we’re talking about the Cubs, climate change or health care pundits are all too often taking the low road. And it’s not just pundits. We do it. We do it when we pass on that e-mail that wasn’t fact checked. We do it when we believe the next hot rumor instead of casting a skeptical eye on what doesn’t pass the sniff test. Character assassinations have become art forms. Maybe we need to start ignoring all those who major in attacking, defaming, and throwing mud. What if we asked for accountability in our own lives and asked others to remind us of the high road option whenever they notice us stooping down to a less civilized level?

Build bridges. We categorize, stereotype and buy into generalizations about situations and people. What if we boycotted stereotyping and majored for awhile in building bridges of understanding? There’s a mosque a few blocks from my home. What if I wandered over a few times this year and started to get know folks who are strangers to me? What if Republicans started to love on some Democrats? What if Sox fans bought a Cubs fan a beer? What if …?

Get involved. One of my favorite conversations this year was with someone who was wondering why we help the poor overseas when we have so many needs here? When I asked him where he put his time, talent, and money locally he admitted (after some hemming and hawing) that he didn’t give his time, talent, or dollars towards much of anything that addressed the needs in our culture. I walked away from that conversation muttering under my breath. Someway, somehow we’ve all got to find ways to invest ourselves in the crying needs of our day and age. We’re way past the day when we can only talk a good game.

Keep learning. Just yesterday I heard about a 72 yr. old widower who bought himself a Kindle. Gotta love it. He’s a reader. That’s always a good sign. The future belongs not to the learned but to those who want to keep learning. How many people do I know who have stopped reading, investigating, exploring, and questioning? Too many. There’s too many who don’t want to tap into the treasures of the past, keep current with today’s thinking, and chart a course into the future.

Stay faithful. It's been said that we play at our worship, worship our work, and work at our play. More and more I realize that I am created by a good God who wants me close. In relationship. 24/7. He doesn't want me to play around with that relationship. He wants it front and center. I'm yearning to be a better student of the scriptures, more present in prayer, and more cognizant of the movement of the Holy Spirit in the here and now.

Can’t wait for 2010. Wonder what God will do next in all out lives?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Cooped in. Feeling guilty.

The day started productively enough. Some snow shoveling. A workout at the gym. Time spent with a couple needing some coaching. Then a trip to the grocery store.

Now six hours later not much has beeen accomplished. Just laying around. Watching TV. The tail end of Goodfellas and 10,000 B.C. (not highly recommended).

It's a good day to lay around. The snow around here keeps falling. Some estimates are around ten inches. Too slick to be driving around. And so we're cooped in. Because I wasted time instead of being productive with it I'm feeling a guilty.

You see, I have a to do list as long as my arm. There's all kind of things I could be doing, maybe even should be doing. But I'm not doing any of it. I'm procrastinating. So I'm dealing with the guilt of it all.

If truth be known I'm also feeling guilty about feeling guilty. (that good old Catholic School indoctrination kicks in again). Feeling guilty about feeling guilty. Does that even make sense? I think I put the fun back in dysfunction.

Very simply, I'm programmed to want to feel and be productive. When I'm not I get the sense that I'm disappointing someone. Often that person is me. It's a stupid way to live.

So, instead of accepting the fact that it's OK to do nothing I get these little waves of anxiousness that flow over me. I'm thinking "What if something falls through the cracks?" or something like that. It's all pretty silly because things always fall through the cracks.

So I'm cooped in and feeling a little guilty about not using my time wisely. What if this was the day God intended for me to discover and implement world peace? What if I missed the opportunity?

To add to my misery Anita's is in the final throws of her book project. So, while I'm idling away my hours she's pounding away on her keyboard trying to meet deadline. Her example adds to my exasperation. And my example will probably prompt her to add another chapter. This one about 'lazy husbands'.

This is one of those days when I feel like I'm in the middle of a Seinfied episode. I'm blogging about not much of anything and there's actually people who will read it because they're wasting their time too. Misery loves company I guess.

The good news is that it's almost time to shovel and snowblow again. The snow is tapering off. Finally, usefulness. There's something about a clean driveway that builds self-worth. One can look back at the end of a day and say with some confidence 'at least I accomplished something today.'

So, I'm getting ready to jump start the snowblower. Driven by guilt I'll probably do the neighbor's walks too. They'll think I'm a good Samaritan. What they don't know won't hurt them?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Ice Storm Christmas

Last evening the weather experts warned all to stay at home. Treacherous conditions. Ice slicked roads. A prelude to Armaggedon.

So, with a triumphant shrug we defied the doomsayers and drove 20 miles to Willow Creek Church and joined about 6,000 others to celebrate Christmas. Anita, John and I have made Willow Creek a holiday tradition. This year son Kevin, his wife Joanie, and my daughter Erin joined us. It made it all the nicer.

We serve, as you know, at Christ Church of Oak Brook. So, why do we go to one of the 'competitors' for Christmas? :) Easy answer. So we can worship. Sometimes it's hard for those who minister to actually worship on their home turf. Sounds funny but it's true.

So, we went to Willow and God met us there. As He will this afternoon when we 'serve' at CCOB. But sometimes you just need to go someplace where there is no responsibility and expectation. And it is there that you can listen and let yourself go and put yourself at the feet of the 'God with us'.

As we listened to the weather reports in the late afternoon yesterday we considered not going. Risking life and limb isn't always the way to go. But the pull to go was greater than the need to stay safe. That actually explains much of the life of faith. Safety and security beckons but there is a greater call to go and trust God. And so we should often find ourselves pushing away from more natural inclinations and venturing out into what might pose some risk.

We all yearn for a God who can meet us at the place of our greatest need, who can help us rise to live beyond our modest expectation, and who gives us a work to do that has meaning and requires us banding together with others. Christmas reminds us that the God we seek 'comes' and is here with us. He speaks. He acts. He calls us to Himself. Always.

It was a good day yesterday. The roads weren't nearly as hazardous as the media experts claimed. The balm for a weary soul was found in a place of wonder and worship.

In a few hours I'll assist at a Family Service at our church. People will be blessed. God will be in the house inhabiting the praises of His people. There are no ice storms in Chicago today. But there will be those who will listen to inner voices telling them that a Christmas Eve service is unnecessary and inconvenient. My prayer is that they will listen to the voice of God beckoning them to the manger to worship the King of Kings who came in the most humble, vulnerable and tiniest of packages. In the manger they will indeed find the a God of relationship who loves them. And they will be forever changed.

Merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Seriously Disturbed

I've been reading a biography of Rick Warren call "Prophet of Purpose". It's written by Jeffrey L. Sheler. It's a good read, at least it was for me.

In the book Sheler writes about Rick's wife Kay. Kay became a 'seriously disturbed women' went God ripped off her suburan, evangelical, soccer mom blindfolds. For the first time she was able to see a whole world filled with hurting people. Her life took on renewed purpose and sense of mission.

Rick Warren, himself, had a moment when he was also wrecked by God.He was reading Psalm 72, a prayer of Solomon. Solomon, as we know, was rich and powerful beyond description. "He prays, God I want you make me more influential. I want you to bless me and give me more power. I want you to make me famous. I want you to spread the fame of my name to many nations."

And why was Solomon praying this? It was so the king (Solomon)"may support the widow and orphan, care for the poor, defend the defenseless, lift up the fallen, release the captive, help the foreigner, and the immigrant.

Warren say, God basically said to me. The purpose of influence is to speak up for those who have no influence."

Wake up calls. One to a soccer mom who was living an insular existence. Another to a pastor whom God had blessed with influence. Together, they became an even greater force for good galvanizing God's people to open their eyes and to take action.

Ever wonder if you need a wake-up call? My guess is that most of us would argue that we're pretty self-aware, pretty savvy, and fairly knowledgeable. That's where we fool ourselves. Our self-awareness is always limited, we're savvy about and knowledgeable about some things but when push comes to shove we really have to admit that we close ourselves off, we put boundaries up, and we narrow our possibilities.

Now, there's nothing wrong with focus, good boundaries, and choosing to do what's doable. I'm all for it. Wish more people would get focused and start doing God's work. But in the midst of that how willing are we to let God in, to wreck our plans, and to challenge us to be influential in ways that we can't even imagine?

I've been thinking about this lately. At church we're preaching the Advent Conspiracy. Ugh. The challenge of worshipping more fully, spending less, giving more and loving all rattles my carefully constructed cage. Why didn't we choose something a bit less edgy like give God what you can, do less, go into debt and love those who look and act like you? Hey, I know how to do all that.

Nope. Not God's way. He starts talking about getting disturbed, and praying for more influence and using whatever wealth we have so that it can be used to help others.

You know, the love of God, working itself out in our lives is a good thing. But it demands that we pray to have our blindfolds ripped off. And that probably means that we go places, to people we have religiously avoided. And it means that we might have to be used in places that don't have the appearance of safety and actually feel risky. That's because love always goes to those kind of places. It's there that we get to use our influence to speak up for those who don’t have any. And may I say allowing them to influence us.

In the meantime God places us, during this holiday season, smack dab into the mission field of family and friends. May He give us all the grace to love others in ways we never before imagined. Christmas brings out the best and the worst in people. There's lots of hurts in our immediate families, in our neighborhoods, and with co-workers. Maybe we can be used in some ways to bring a little light, sanity, and love into the lives of those we know well.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Melancholy Christmas

I find Christmas to be a difficult season. It has to do with ‘expectations’ that I’m certain are wrapped in unpleasant memories. It’s this sense that no matter what I do, no matter how jolly I try to be, no matter what kind of gift that I buy …well, it all falls short, at least according to my internal expectation meter and I sense that I’m disappointing someone.

And so, I go into a bit of a holiday funk. It’s difficult to get into the season and I’m happy when it ends. That probably makes me a ‘scrooge’ of some sort. Just being honest.

And so I struggle a bit in this holiday season, wondering if I’m up to the task of the celebration of the season. I confess that I feel a little off, maybe even a tad bit fearful and apprehensive, and unsure of myself .

I know there are others who are approach Christmas with a bit of fear, melancholy and trepidation. Maybe you're one of them. Especially this year with the economic slowdown, if you're at all human, in your private moments, you grapple with the uncertainty that fear brings. For some that fear and uncertainty is caused by an imminent job change, others might be asking God about their singleness or a fragile marriage, some are ill and more than a few are facing financial struggles.

Whatever it is I believe that the hope that Christmas brings is supposed to win out over the fear of circumstance. The angel in the field was very clear "Don't be afraid …. I bring you good news of great joy." Author Kathleen Norris tells us that the “Incarnation is where hope contends with fear.”

And in that hope is a great comfort. God is here. He's bigger than anything or anyone I face. I'm not alone. God's come. I can bring any stuff I'm dealing with to Jesus, God who is with us, in prayer. He's promised to listen, to care, to respond. He's faithful. He loves us. He speaks to our fear and He can speak to the ‘holiday funk’. And in that response we can find that peace that is far beyond human understanding.

I love this little story because it reminds us of the joy of childhood and helps us to see the beauty of the Incarnation through the eyes of a child. It’s written by John Shea and it’s called Sharon’s Christmas Prayer.

She was five, sure of the facts, and recited them with slow solemnity convinced every word was revelation .

She said: They were so poor they had only peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to eat. And they went a long way from home without getting lost. The lady rode a donkey, the man walked, and the baby was inside the lady. They had to stay in a stable with an ox and an ass (hee hee) but The Three Rich Men found them because a star lited the roof. Shepherds came and you could pet the sheep but not feed them. Then the baby was borned. And do you know who He was? Her quarter eyes inflated to silver dollars. The baby was God.

And she jumped in the air whirled around, dove into the sofa and buried her head under the cushion which is the only proper response to the Good News of the Incarnation.

I don't know if you'll jump into the air and dive into a sofa but my prayer is that this Christmas you'll respond to God who came in the flesh. He stands before you always saying "I love you very much. Will you give me your life?" My prayer is that you'll say yes. And in that 'yes' you will understand the meaning of Christmas … and you will be filled with joy. That goes for me too. In the midst of the hoopla that exhausts me I look for the ‘Christ’ who will refresh my soul.

Somehow, Christmas brings together the best and the worst of our lives and begs the question – which will you serve? Will you allow hope to transcend your holiday funk? Will you allow Jesus to be Lord of you merriment? Will you allow Jesus to transcend the appeal of consumerism? Good questions all.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Blind Boys

I went to church on Saturday night. Fascinating experience.

First of all, it wasn’t a church service. It was a bar/music venue called Fitzgerald’s. It’s located in Berwyn, an inner ring suburb in Chicago.

The featured act was The Blind Boys of Alabama. The ‘Blind Boys’ have won five grammies and were featured in the movie “O Brother Where Art Thou” awhile back. They are old (70’s my guess) and truly blind. And they are gospel. Pure gospel.

So, the Blind Boys get up in this club and they rock the place. Sure, there were some real fans there but it wasn’t a very ‘churchy’ crowd. But people were dancing, and testifying, and shaking and singing along. I think what happened is that the Blind Boys stirred something, almost hidden away, in the hearts of the audience. It reminds me of something I’ve used in sermons before.

In his book, "What's So Amazing About Grace" Phillip Yancey tells this poignant story about the primacy of grace. Bill Moyers documentary film on the hymn "Amazing Grace" includes a scene filmed in Wembley Stadium in London. Various musical groups, mostly rock bands, had gathered together in celebration for the changes in South Africa, and for some reason the promoters scheduled an opera singer, Jessye Norman, as the closing act.

The film cuts back and forth between scenes of the unruly crowd in the stadium and Jessye Norman being interviewed. For 12 hours groups like Guns 'n Roses blasted the crowd through banks of speakers riling up fans already high on booze and dope.

Meanwhile, Jessye Norman sits in her dressing room discussing "Amazing Grace" with Moyers. The hymn was written by John Newton, a coarse cruel slave trader. He first called out to God in the midst of a storm that nearly threw him overboard. Even after his conversion, though, Newton continue to ply his trade. He wrote the song "How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds" while waiting in an African harbor for a shipment of slaves. Later, though, he renounced his profession, became a minister, and joined the fight against slavery. John Newton never lost sight of the depths from which he had been lifted. He never lost sight of grace. In the film, Jessye Norman tells Bill Moyers that Newton may have borrowed an old tune sung by the slaves themselves, redeeming the song, just as he had been redeemed.

Finally, the time comes for her to sing. A single circle of light follows Norman a majestic African American woman as she strolls onstage. No backup band, no musical instruments, just Jessye. The crowd stirs, restless. A voice yells for more rock and roll. Others take up the cry. The scene gets ugly.

Alone, a capella, Jessye Norman begins to sing, very slowly:

Amazing grace how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost but now am found-
Was blind but now I see.

A remarkable thing happens in the stadium. Several thousand fans fall silent as she sings.

Twas grace that taught my heart to fear
And grace my fears relieved
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed

By the time she reaches the third verse, "Tis grace has brought me safe this far, And grace will lead me home," several thousands fans are singing along, digging far back in nearly lost memories for words they heard long ago. Thousands of voices proclaim:

When we've been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We've no less days to sing God's praise
Than when we first begun.

Jessye Norman later confessed she had no idea what power descended on Wembley Stadium that night.

Yancey said - I think I know. The world thirsts for grace, When grace descends, the world falls silent before it.


That’s what happened at Fitzgerald’s last night. Instead of silence people shouted and danced. But the spirit of God was present.

Nice night.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Next Up



I drove into and through the city today. Twenty five miles from my door to a room at Ravenswood Covenant Church. The covenant group I’ve met with for the past few years was gathering. We had a special guest Soong-Chan Rah who’s written a book called The Next Evangelicalism …Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity.

Rah’s book is an interesting and edgy read. Basically, he says that the church of the future needs to move away from the white captivity of evangelicalism. That's pretty provocative isn't it? Are we guilty of making American Christianity in our image and likeness thus edging out the work of God which is far beyond border or ethicity?

I don’t argue with his assertions. After dialoguing with him today I especially walked away knowing that he has no vendetta against the western church or group of people. He really is offering a prophetic voice to the church in our country. Prophetic voices have a way of rubbing against the grain. We usually don’t like that especially if it causes us pain and/or discomfort.

Let me confess something. I kind of like being a white male. It has carried with it certain privilege and opened doors of opportunity. I have a lot of choices. People who look like me have a lot of power, money and position. That means we’ve gotten to call the shots for a long time. Sometimes we’ve done that well. Not always though. Regardless of success or failure the end doesn’t justify the means. But basically, I can see where being male, white, reasonably well educated, and of course utterly charming has served me well. I’ve been at the front of a lot of lines and for the most part I haven’t minded. (I’m ashamed to admit that by the way. Now, I wonder who’s place I might have taken)

So from the perspective of five decades of living, I know I can’t do anything about the color of my skin but I can recognize that being in the drivers seat can oftentimes exclude and minimize the contributions of others. That bothers me both from a historical perspective and from a life application perspective in the here and now.

I’ve listened to enough stories of people who look differently from me to realize that the kind of power I inherited and yet chosen to use has not always served others well. Sometimes what I believe, how I think, and how we (collectively) think and believe has served to create a culture of faith that serves us well but not the church as a whole.

The truth of the matter is that the melting pot we thought we were is in reality a stew of various flavors, beliefs, people and ideas. And these flavors, beliefs, people, and ideas do not want to be held captive by a faith system that isn’t inclusive and representative of the way God has moved in other places among other people. Nor should they be. And I think it's well beyond making our brand of evangelical Christianity more accessible and diverse. It's more than that. It brings us back to the Scriptures, I think, where we must try to look at what God is saying without the bias of our particular culture and history. That's not easy.

That’s why Rah’s book stung me a bit. I look at our world from a very simplistic perspective some times. And if truth be told I hold a world view that doesn’t necessarily work beyond my comfortable walls of faith and influence. And, despite the lip service given to diversity, the reality is that most of us feel far more comfortable in settings where we know exactly what the next person is thinking and feeling. We like our exclusive clubs where everyone dresses and speaks just like. The problem is that this doesn’t work well when we truly understand the meaning of the notion of the body of Christ.

The world is changing around us. The world that was doesn’t exist any longer. Our country is going to become more diverse not less. Now, comes the hard work of taking a look at our structures and practices and issues. And then we (all of us) have go about the hard journey of recreating many things so that they make sense in a multi-cultural context. And the big question is whether or not we as individual are up to the task? And if we’re not will our churches be able to find a voice in a rapidly changing world?

So, I recommend this book. It will mess with your head. Do me a favor. Read it. Write to me and tell me how many times you threw it against the wall. Then, if you know someone of faith who is Black, Hispanic, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, etc. as them to read it. Then spend a few hours talking about it. Then let me know what you think.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Total Worship

I can’t remember where I read this but I came across a Franciscan Blessing recently. It reads:

May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom, and peace.

May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.

And the blessing of God, who Creates, Redeems and Sanctifies be upon you and all you love and pray for this day, and forevermore. Amen


I used this to end a sermon called Worship Fully, part of an Advent Conspiracy series we’re doing at church. It struck me that this blessing gets to the heart of the matter of worship. As long as I’m complacent I can’t jump into worship with both feet, walking my talk and not holding back. In order for me to worship fully I need to have some discomfort and discontent in my life that forces me to go deep within my heart where Jesus is calling me to follow Him with no reservations. It’s a call to a healthy skepticism about the things of this world that drives me to respond with all I am to Jesus.

But I struggle with this. I’m a little like some of the disciples in Matthew 28 (The Message):

"Meanwhile, the eleven disciples were on their way to Galilee, headed for the mountain Jesus had set for their reunion. The moment they saw him they worshiped him. Some, though, held back, not sure about worship, about risking themselves totally. "

I hold back, not sure about worship sometimes, and certainly resist risking myself totally. What about you?

It's easy to understand. I come from a Christian world that battles both propriety and privacy. And the culture I live in conspires against worshipping anything but the false idols of this age. Why worship God when we can worship our kids, our music, our jobs, what we own, and where we vacation?

During Advent we’re supposed to be waiting in great anticipation for the coming of our Savior. But do we? My guess is that most of us have become half-hearted in our worship of God. Natural inclinations towards both propriety and privacy join forces with the cultural inclination to worship anything but the true God of true Gods. And when we pay only lip service to the triune God of Scripture we really do miss out on the adventure of total worship.

This is a tough season for Christ followers. The gods of Macy’s, Nordstrom’s, Walmart, Target and Apple beckon us to bow in their presence. They send as their messengers such things as vanity, ambition, keeping with the Jones’s, an unwillingness to disappoint others …all conspiring to keep us away from the Savior and his call on our lives.

Our culture says ‘it’s about you, spend more, preserve your lifestyle, be proper, keep your faith private, and rationalize your lifestyle. 'But, we’re called to a life of total worship. And when we jump into the riskiness and assurance of faith we will be given the grace to believe that we can make a difference in this world, doing what others claim cannot be done, caring about the people and things that are closest to God’s heart.

So, let's enjoy the season. Let's thumb our noses and our pocketbooks at the gods of the age. Let's peer out behind the boundaries of propriety and privacy. Let's love on those God has given us and extend our reach to those who are surrounded by injustice, poverty, and isolation.

So,think about this as part of the equation for moving towards total worship of a great God... Let's thumb our noses at the unimportant + break free of what binds us + Living with thankfulness for what we already have + investing our time, talent, and treasure in those who have far less = A very merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Random Thoughts

Tiger Woods. Pretty tough. Don’t know exactly what's going on in his life but it's not good is it? Sounds like pretty serious stuff in the Woods household. The media is having a field day. I’m sad to report that I even passed on a joke or three to others. Wish I hadn’t. It just shows how slippy slidey the sin slope really is and how much work God still has to do on my character.

Tiger lives in the public eye. It's not an easy place. Expectations are high and when you fall people aren't eager to pick you up. My prayer is that some good Godly men and women enter Tiger's life, love on him and his family, helping them to move into their true God given potential.

White House Gate Crashers. I wonder what head rolled on this one. The big concern is ‘security’ or lack of it. Duh? You gotta wonder what would compel someone to show up, though, at the White House without an engraved, embossed invitation? I would have just assumed that I wasn’t going to be able to schmooze my way in. Things that make you go hmmm.

What with this and the Tiger thing it’s an early Christmas for the gossip pros, isn’t it?

Chicago Bears. The story goes that practice was suspended because an unidentified white substance was found on the field. Upon investigation it was something called the ‘goal line’. Pundits were not surprised that the Bears were unable to identify something they’ve rarely seen.

The President and Afghanistan. I think it’s a bit risky to announce when you’re pulling out of a war and also depending on Pakistan to step to the plate. Something has got to happen to spur the people of Afghanistan to go to war against evil and do what’s necessary to sustain it. That’s a lesson we’re learning in this country. Evil is ugly. Trying to fix it demands a deep resolve. That’s not easy anymore in any culture that wants nothing more than a quick fix.

Mike and his ministry at Breakthrough. It’s been interesting. I’m discovering, especially, how little I really know about under resourced urban neighborhoods. One thing stands out. In my community (where I live) things get fixed fast. There’s lots of things that don’t get fixed fast or at all in poor neighborhoods. Lots of factors at work. Power, privilege, neighborhood leadership, neglect by elected officials, allocating resources to richer neighborhoods. Lots going on.

God’s doing a work inside of me. There’s a lot my mind doesn’t comprehend. I realized that I don’t yet have a heart connection with the people in the neighborhood or the folks in our shelter. I haven’t heard enough of their stories. I stopped on the way to my car today to talk with one of our homeless guests. It was a good move. We had a great conversation and pledged to talk more next week.

I'm glad God led me in this direction. God's going to use it to grow me up. And I think there's some things I can bring to the table that will be helpful.

Mike and his ministry at Christ Church. I love hanging with the folks in our singles ministry. A week ago we had a nice day long retreat. Good people. Amazing stories. There’s a desire to become more and more like Jesus. Several have helped me identify some of my weaknesses (but not all thankfully so I still have some credibility) and asked if they can be the Body of Christ to me by filling in the gaps with their gifts. Yahoo.

And I love being one of the architects of 2HC, our newest worship service. I love team teaching and being part of a congregation that wants more of what God wants.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Rediscovery

I rode the ‘L’ today. It’s been awhile. For those of you reading this who are outside the Chicago area the ‘L’ is The Windy City’s elevated railway, linking neighborhoods to each other and to downtown. It’s part of the mass transit system in Chicago.

For a number of years a branch of the ‘L’ was directly across from my home in Evanston. It linked the Howard St. stop with one in suburban Skokie. Now, living in the western burbs, the nearest ‘L’ stop is several miles from my home.

Today, an acquaintance and I got on the ‘L’ in East Garfield Park heading in for a lunch and meeting in downtown Chicago. It brought back memories.

My first ‘L’ ride came within days of moving to the Chicago area. I walked a few blocks from my home to Howard Street, bought a ticket, and headed south for a meeting near Cabrini Green. I knew nothing about the system. And if it weren’t for the willingness of complete strangers to help the ‘man from Nevada’ navigate the system I might still be on board that original train.

Every trip to Wrigley Field was on the ‘L’. I have favorite memories of taking my kids to games. The ‘L’ would pick up more and more people as we headed south towards Clark and Addison. And when we arrived there was nary a soul left on board except, perhaps, only an occasional Sox fan who had wandered north looking for the promised land. When I went to grad school at Loyola University I’d take the train whenever the weather didn’t favor biking. It was a short trip through deliciously diverse neighborhoods.

I was reminded today why I think everyone should ride the ‘L’ whenever they get the chance. It’s a great equalizer. Crammed onto trains are both wealthy and poor, scam artists, and opportunists. There are executives, factory workers, waitresses, cooks and students all trying to get some place as fast and as cheaply as they can. You see the well dressed and the disheveled squeezed together in seats or holding onto the same pole when no seats are to be had. It’s white and black and brown and yellow all sharing the same place, heading in the same direction. If you’re a fan of segregation the ‘L’ is not within your comfort zone.

Riding the ‘L’ makes me feel a little bit more alive. Riding through Chicago neighborhoods gives me an up close and personal look at this broad shouldered city. Watching who gets off and on at various stops helps you to understand the makeup of the various neighborhoods. It’s a point of view you don’t get from the crowded freeways.

I know people who won’t ride the ‘L’. “ Too noisy”, they’ll say. “Too crowded.” Others lament. Some even say it’s “too unsafe”. For many, it takes them out of their comfort zone. They’d have to rub shoulders with people they’ve tried to avoid. I think they’re missing out.

‘Twas a good day. Rediscovering the ‘L’ and in the process rediscovering the richness of the diversity of Chicago. Then, I had a nice lunch and a productive meeting with two people I’m growing to admire and hope will become friends. To top it all off there was a chance encounter with someone I ‘justice journeyed’ with two years ago. All in all, quite nice.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Got to

I inhabit a land that I don’t like. It’s bordered by both an attitude and behaviors that don’t serve me well. It’s a land called ‘Got to’. You hear me refer to it when I say things like “I’ve got to go to this meeting” or “I’ve got to write this sermon” or “I’ve got to call this person.”

Nothing wrecks a day than having to face a to do list that’s become a ‘got to do’ list. All of a sudden a world filled with opportunity becomes a world of obligation. There are no longer possibilities only responsibilities.

When I’ve ‘got to’ do something it shows in my behavior and attitudes. I go to a meeting feeling my time is being wasted. That attitude will reflect itself in my behavior. Even if I’m adept at disguising it …well, it leaks out.

When I feel I have to do something I’m convinced that I no longer live with a sense of expectancy. There’s no room for the spontaneous or the miraculous. There’s only room for the drudgery of duty.

It’s not the way to live.

Oh, for sure life is filled with ‘must do’ events. How much worse have I made such things by not having the right attitude about them? And by not having the right attitude have I missed out on opportunities to be used by God in redemptive ways?

My default when I think that I’m being forced to do something is to become cynical and sarcastic. I’m really good at those things. The problem is that my cynicism and sarcasm can drag other people into a bad place and impacts my own perspective.

God has given me opportunity. For every opportunity there is a responsibility. Part of that responsibility is to abandon the world of ‘got to’ for something better. What if I really believed that everything I’ve ‘got to’ do is actually part of God’s plan? What if this meeting, this gig, this conversation, this thing I really don’t want to be present for …what if I viewed it as a divinely appointed time? Maybe it’s to work on my patience which is truly impaired. Or what if I’m there for one conversation or one point of encouragement or to honor the person who called the meeting and who doesn’t view it as a ‘got to’ event but rather as something vital and life giving. What if I really tried to be fully present? What could God do with that?

I’m a busy person. Too busy. I was driven to the land of ‘got to’ by stupidly saying yes to do many things and not bothering to discern how best to use my time and energy. So, there are some boundary issues I need to deal with but until I do how can I better be present, inhabiting a land called ‘want to’ and distancing myself from that place of exile called ‘got to’?

In the land of ‘got to’ I sin. My attitude is bad. It drags others down with it. I’m mad and angry about being too busy.

“Got to” is not a lonely place. I have plenty of company. There’s other cynical, sarcastic, angry people living right next door to me. What a neighborhood. I even see some of you there. We gotta find a different place to live.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Different Worlds

Today I was in Lake Forest, IL. I wasn’t far from Halas Hall, home of the Bears. Our church staff was visiting another church staff on their turf. Lake Forest is a beautiful place, the church warm and inviting. The staff we visited with was smart and informative. A good day.

Yesterday, I was in East Garfield Park, a west side Chicago neighborhood. It’s about as far away from Lake Forest as you can get. I spent an hour in a bible study with homeless men. I wasn’t leading, just watching. The conversation was smooth, the observations were poignant. A good day.

I write this from my home in Villa Park, IL. It’s not the inner city. It’s also not an upscale suburb. The town I live is filled with smaller homes and blue collar people. It’s comfortable but not pretentious. I’m blessed to live here.

Lake Forest is pristine. Nestled against Lake Michigan it just smells of both new and old, old money. It’s got the best of education. The best shoppes. The best of everything that money can buy. And it’s clean. Really clean.

On the west side of Chicago one of the first things you notice is the litter. The schools aren’t good. The best restaurant is called Subway. There is no smell of new or old money. This is a neighborhood living on the margins.

In Villa Park, there is a growing Muslim community. The high school finally passed a referendum to beef up its campus. There’s major strip malls on the main thoroughfares that border the community.

In each community good people live. In each there are families in desperate straits. There’s an addiction problem in East Garfield Park as there is in both Lake Forest and in Villa Park. In rough times people cling to their faith. In East Garfield Park it’s always a rough time.

In each community people live in isolation, not knowing the meaning or experience of community. In many respects, each community needs each other. But time and distance and economics and skin color separate them.

I struggle this week to make sense of these different worlds. As I stood, standing in line in a store on the west side, I realized that I was the only white man in the building. I’m not very conscious of race when I walk through a Lake Forest and only mildly so in my own home community. When I drive through East Garfield Park I am struck by the enormous monetary poverty. And when I drive through Lake Forest I see what the super rich do with their excess.

In each, there are people. Smart people. Hurting people. People who lack faith. Some who are discovering faith for the first time. And in each there are people who are far from God.

I’m struck by our tendency (those of us who have more) to use our mobility to spend our time with people who think, act and look like us. We choose to congregate with those who don’t disturb our comfort level.

I’ve lived in places where rich and poor, black,white, brown and yellow live in closer proximity. It’s both easy and hard to live in such places. It's easy because there are so many people to like and so many interesting cultures to rub against. It's hard because no issue is easy to resolve because everything is discussed against the backdrop of race, privilege and class. It can be nerve-wracking.

In all honesty, I often wonder how I can get the different worlds I experience to collide so that God can do wondrous things. Listening to the homeless guys discuss the bible has me yearning to invite the well-to-do to participate in the learning. I want my Christian friends to dialogue with the men and women at the mosque down the street from me. I want the people of Lake Forest to walk the streets of the west side of Chicago to discover the heart beat of the people who live there. And for those who carry negative stereotypes of rich suburbanites I want them to meet and know suburban folk who walk their talk, using both power and position for good not for personal gain.

And so, this week was a learning experience for me. Nothing new really. But I had a heightened awareness about a whole lot of things. One realization is that I’m in a position, working in both in an upscale suburb and an underresourced urban community, to bring worlds and people together with some degree of intentionality. And I’m realizing that this is, indeed, a good and needed thing. In all my worlds there are good people, with God-given giftedness, who need each other. They just don’t realize it. Yet.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Ft. Hood

I watched the President tonight on the news. He was at Ft. Hood. Very moving. His words were wise, the emotion of the families and friends of those killed and wounded was very touching.

I don’t know what happened at Ft. Hood beyond just the obvious facts. I don’t think any of us have the full story yet but there’s growing evidence that extremism lashed out and claimed even more victims. The thought of that both saddens and angers me.

Terrorism. I don’t know about you but it makes me very uneasy. There’s no easy way to combat it. The most normal looking, best educated person we know might be on the edge of doing some horrible act.

I’ve stayed away from talk radio on this one. My guess is that fingers are being pointed and blame assigned. It’s either Obamas’s fault or the end result of the failed policies of Bush. Both presidents are easy targets.

I think there’s a harder target to hit. It’s us. My guess is that no one reading this is a terrorist. Maybe, but I doubt it. For the most part the readers of this blog are beyond their teenage years. Some are in their twenties and thirties but the vast majority are 40+. For the most part all of us are good people, leading good lives, and making whatever good impact we can in the world around us.

We’re appalled when we hear about Ft. Hood. We want an easy answer. We want someone to blame, someone we can point a finger at, shaking our head in disgust. We want justice to be served. And justice should be served. No doubt.

I wonder, though, if we’ll pause long enough to stop pointing fingers and assigning blame and getting serious, really serious about how we make this world a better place. Again, my 60’s idealism informs my thoughts as well as the Christ who lives in me.

I try to make a difference. So do many of you. We do make a difference. But maybe, just maybe, we’re being called to up the ante a bit. Maybe there’s another step we need to take.

To be honest, most of what I do doesn’t require much sacrifice. I’m in my comfort zone most of the time. I’m wondering if the state of the world doesn’t require me to start sacrificing in order to make the difference I really want to make.

Let’s face it. Hate, extremism, and indifference are making their mark. It’s easy to hate, extremists hardly have to think about what they’re doing (just following their basic instinct), and indifference is second nature for many of us.

Maybe, what’s going to be required is that those of us who are living good lives decide to go beyond good and tap into God’s best for us. Maybe the way we live, without sacrifice, without thoughtfulness at times creates the environment in which extremism and hate thrives.

This guy who killed everyone at Ft. Hood was probably influenced by people who were willing to do whatever it took to shape other people’s lives. How willing am I to step up, living into my God given potential to help shape lives for good and not for evil? How willing am I? Are you?

I’m not stupid. The world is in a mess. But I wonder if this ‘Jesus’ stuff many of us talk about goes beyond what’s easy and comfortable and it stretches us a little. Actually, maybe it stretches us a lot.

People died at Ft. Hood. That saddens me. A lot.

But I ask myself ‘what can I do to prevent something like that happening again?” And I have no easy easy answers. The only thing that comes to mind is that I need to step up my game. Wherever there’s hate I can sow love. Where extremists spray their venom I could step up and bravely stand for healing and reconciliation. And I could easily choose to not be indifferent or bask in the light of ‘my good deeds’. There’s a ‘next step’ I could take. So could you.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Leadership Jottings

Have you ever heard someone say “Nope, it’s not going to happen on my watch?” I think every leader I’ve ever served with has found that non-negotiable place where they’ve had to use whatever leadership capital was available and put it on the line. They do it because their sense of ownership of a mission, an ideal, or an organization is high and the cost of failure is unacceptable. Good leaders don’t cash in their chips all that often but when the appropriate push comes to shove they’re not afraid to do what’s necessary.

I’ve found myself in places where I’ve caved in when I should have said ‘not on my watch’. There’s a fine line, at times, between being a determined leader or a reluctant doormat. I like being a determined leader. But I have a doormat default mechanism that kicks in at the most inopportune times.

Leadership is hard these days. We want someone to lead us but we’ve lost the art of being followers. Instead of following we critique. And as a result movements stall, initiatives never get off the ground, and morale dips. Leadership has never been for the faint of heart. It’s even more so these days.

I’m a boomer and not sure if I should apologize for that or not. So I won’t. The truth is that I’m in late middle age (thinking I will live to be about 118). There’s a tendency to want to fade into the sunset, thinking my time has passed. The problem is that I’m not ready to become an old curmudgeon, blaming someone and anyone for anything that goes wrong.

Folks my age have to believe that there’s a real need for us to links arms with a new generation of leaders. I’m realizing, however, that a new generation thinks differently, has different expectations, and has been educated and acculturated quite differently than what I’m used to. With that in mind I still believe that I have leadership capital needing to be invested. And if I can resist my urges towards dogmatism, entrenchment and laziness I can still be a factor within my circles of influence and allow others, often much younger, to impact my life.

What’s dawning on me is that I don’t have deep insights about how to solve problems but I do have some strong convictions about how we talk about solving problems. The ‘how’ is important.

In the midst of this continuing leadership involvement I bring to the table my ‘faith’ which can be scoffed at and labeled as both uninteresting and irrelevant. Being a ‘Christ-follower’ is not for those prone to cowardice these days especially for anyone trying to lead outside the walls of the church. There’s a whole world out there that is quite dismissive of what I value deeply. If I can just keep that world from dismissing me as uninteresting and irrelevant God might be able to use my place at the table for something that has kingdom impact. Without sounding trite my job is to show up authentically in leadership circles and allow God to do his thing in and through and despite of me.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Want to play?

One of the striking features of the persecuted church around the world is that people will do whatever it takes to be together. They will risk life and limb, suffer great inconvenience and adjustments of priority in order to sit in chairs in a quiet place together. To be with other believers. No matter what the cost.

One of the striking features of the western church is that even those who are deeply committed followers of Christ opt not to do ‘church’ all that often. If truth be known a good percentage of folks are part-timers. Maybe attending two out of every four weeks in every month. The church is not central to many lives, only the wallpaper that helps adorn it. If that. Many have told me that they live for Christ but the church just doesn't do it for them. Bottom line is that more and more we see people are unwilling to do whatever it takes to be together. Certainly, we're not risking life and limb (although the lack of charity in our church parking lot makes it a risky venture) or inconveniencing ourselves in order to be with other believers.

And yet when you ask the American church what it longs for – people say ‘community’. It's perpexing. It's as if we want community to happen for us but we don’t want to put effort into creating it.

It makes one wonder if the persecuted church with all its trials and travails is better for the soul than a church that enjoys the possibilities inherent in great freedom.

In the early days of the church we find one common theme …the people who knew Jesus needed each other. Jesus told them to go and wait until the Holy Spirit came. And so they waited …together. And then after the Holy Spirit came that desire intensified until the point where you get this captivating picture of the early church. It's found in Acts 2 and 4

They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. ..

All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God's grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.


One in heart and mind. Shared everything. With great power. No needy among them. Testifying to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.

From the very first day I read these versed I longed for what it described. I actually chose a college at a monastery because a friend told me ... "The monks will care about you." For a kid from a broken home I was looking for the church to provide me with the family, the sense of community I never really had. I had this inherent belief that church was more than a worship service, more than throwing my dollars into a bucket …there was something about the notion of faith based community that made and makes my heart beat hard.

Often when one goes on a retreat or a mission trip you grow close to others in a way that makes you want to never come off that mountain. The experience of community wrapped in service is a great combination.

I yearn for community. Yet, I lack the get up and go to create it. I like my space. My private time. Yet, every time I take the step to help create and be in community I'm only rarely disappointed. It's well worth the effort.

So, don't know where this is going except to say I'm being challenged to pray and think about this whole 'community' thing. No, that's not the truth. I've thought and prayed long and hard about this over the years. Ever notice that saying 'thinking and praying' is really pretentious. And it usually means 'I don't intend on doing anything'. So here's the truth. I have it hunch God might be looking a whole lot of us in the eyes and saying something like this ..."You know what to do. People are dying out there because they lack meaningful connection. You're a leader. Be in and create community. Be the church. It's part of your spiritual DNA. Have fun. Get back with me if you run into problems."

The ball is officially in my court. Yipes. Anybody else want to play?



Thursday, October 29, 2009

Observations

As many of you know I like to observe this world of ours. Wherever I’ve traveled I’ve found people to be remarkably similar even though circumstances, economics and social environments are different. At our core we are made in the image and likeness of a good God. No culture is perfect. No group of people is without sin or potential.

My world is getting turned a little upside down and then up again. I’m working both in an under resourced community and in an abundantly resourced community. One in the city. The other in the suburbs. Here’s some initial observations. I offer them as someone learning the ropes in the city and certainly lacking the experience and insight of my more knowledgeable colleagues. And I offer observations as someone who has spent a fair amount of time in the burbs, enjoying the comforts, people, and advantages it provides.

At Breakthrough, in the city, there’s a deep, driving desire to empower people to break free from poverty, addiction, and isolation. At Christ Church, in the suburbs, we want to see people live lives of worship, growth and service. Both want to see people become disciples and live into their God given potential.

It doesn’t take long to realize that in under resourced neighborhoods poverty smacks you alongside the head every time you turn around. Living in a recessionary time only adds to the problem. Addictions to alcohol and drugs tear down lives and can block the development of badly needed hope and becomes an economic engine that actually stalls community development.. When you don’t have hope it’s hard to believe in the promise of a new day and when you see no visible signs of community improvement spirits can take a nosedive. Those who stay in isolation or keep on returning to it lag behind in their healing. And yet there is healing. There are many who look to God, love magnanimously, serve unselfishly and take every opportunity to grow and learn.

At Christ Church, in the suburbs, we don’t see much back breaking poverty although we see people who are being rudely treated by the recession. Coping is difficult for those who had much and now find themselves overextended and in striking distance of losing just about everything. It’s especially hard for anyone addicted to feeding an affluent lifestyle and expecting nothing but the best. It's hard to believe that less might be more and what's left might be more than enough.

For sure, many in the affluent suburbs turn to drugs and alcohol in the cruel belief that what they ingest will make them feel better. And because those in the suburbs are adept at hiding both faults and fears isolation is something that becomes the enemy of Christian community. And like the urban neighborhood there are many committed to the high road and striving to make a difference. Faith is real. Growth is apparent.

City and suburb. Poor and wealthy. Hopeful and hopeless. In each you will find people worshipping, growing in remarkable ways, and serving others. And in each you will see those struggling with issues related to money, addiction, and isolation. One big difference is that the people of the suburb have resources, access and clout. The suburbs have dreams aplenty and the ability to achieve them. For many in the city dreams are alive but resources are scant. Suburban communities expect success and excellence and can’t understand why others can’t achieve what they’ve achieved.

I think it was Mother Theresa who said that when she worked with the poor she saw Jesus in a most distressing disguise. If only I had the same eyes. I wonder if the poor, looking at me and you, also don't see a distressing disguise. And that we need them to point that disguise out to us, stripping it of its power over us?

Probably because I still carry residual idealism from the sixties but more importantly because I believe in this whole biblical notion of the Body of Christ I believe that we can learn from both worlds and from each other. Actually, if we don’t we’re in trouble. So then,

Can the poor teach the rich how to trust God in the midst of adversity?
Can an addict from the city sit down with the alcoholic from the suburb and be wounded healers each for the other?
Can the resource rich figure out ways to walk with the resource poor in ways that aren’t condescending?
Can city and suburbs find ways to worship, grow, and serve together?
Is it important to know each other’s story? If yes, how do we allow that to happen and give it permission to impact our lives?
Is our connection as ‘people of God’ stronger than our inclination to stay close to those who look like us?
How do those with clout and access use those things to better the lives of others?
How do we move beyond stereotype and preconception to really see the person?

My deep fear is that those things dividing us will determine our action and resolve. Maybe the better way is to see ourselves as God sees us. We are His children. All of us. If we really believed it, I wonder what kind of difference that could make?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Simple Compassion

After I read Keri Wyatt Kent's recent book I wrote to her saying

"Keri, this book really packs a punch. I can think of a whole lot of folks who'd throw it against the wall wondering why they picked up a book written by a 'feminist, egalitarian, social justice oriented, probably a democrat, Willow Creeker?"

The truth is that description might actually scare some folks away. Maybe some of you reading it. That would be too bad. You see, Keri is also someone I'd call 'thoughtfully orthodox'. All the way through these devotions you'll see a woman trying her best to be more and more like Christ in today's world. She's biblically solid and wants to find out what an informed faith does with issues like fair trade, caring for the least of these, standard of living, diversity, etc. She pokes and prods, lays out her own issues and will challenge you to think about yours.

Bottom line. I think if folks really go through this book devotionally, prayerfully and then read it again with others, allowing the Holy Spirit to work in their hearts ...wow. What could happen? Lives would change. Hearts would soften. Eyes opened. New habits would need to be cultivated. Keri raises important issues for us as Christians. Although this book is geared towards women I found it hitting home for me in a variety of ways. Keri pretty masterfully raises issues that are vital to our understanding of how to live as Christ followers in today's world. She helps put compassion into a biblical framework that goes beyond just 'do something'.

Keri also understands the world of the suburban working mom. She doesn't pretend to have it all together. She's trying to figure out how to weave compassion in and through a life that's pretty full. But to Keri compassion isn't just an add on, another thing to do. She's trying to make compassion central to our understanding of the the 'good news' we all desire to live into and proclaim.

So, for what it's worth ...I think this is a 'dangerous' book. Read it. Talk about it. Apply it.

http://www.amazon.com/Simple-Compassion-Devotions-Difference-Neighborhood/dp/0310290775/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1256327124&sr=8-1

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Step Into the Future

I’ve written and spoken on the whole issue of ‘change’ at pretty consistent intervals. My take is that change is inevitable and that too much resistance to the whole notion just throws our lives and the lives of those closest to us into upheaval. Change doesn’t necessarily have to become our friend but at the very least we have to look at change as being a potential ally, not always an enemy.

I’m in the midst of change. If you read my blog regularly you know that I decided to make a fairly significant adjustment to my ministry and income. Of course, it wasn’t a decision made by myself. Anita was on board and other wise people were invited to chime in. God, I believed, was asking me to step out of the boat and onto the water.

It’s interesting. Despite the call of God, despite the confirmation by other people of faith, and the firm assurances of my wife/best friend I find myself with a variety of conflicting emotions after actually living in the worlds of urban ministry and suburban church for just a few days.

Here’s what happening. I’m out of my comfort zone, away from patterns of how best to use time, thrust into a brand new world where I don’t know the personalities, the humor, and the history of relationships. In addition my interaction patterns with colleagues and ministry partners within the church are being altered. And to be honest it’s all a bit disconcerting. Not bad. In most ways, expected. But it’s different. It’s going to take awhile to figure things out, to know my place, to become a value added, and to find the right rhythm.

If anything, the first few days have led to a healthy place of ‘brokenness’. There’s this realization that there’s a lot I don’t have much control over. It’s like God is doing something to re-form me. That’s encouraging. It means God isn’t done with me yet. He still sees the possibilities for my life.

One of the interesting pieces of the puzzle is that I feel like I’m in the midst of a spiritual battle. There’s been a fair amount of e-mail, phone calls, and discussion lately that have been difficult and to be honest – somewhat discouraging. The Enemy has consistently used discouragement over the years to take the wind out of my sails and have me question the value of my ministry and my call. The good news is that I know this. Even writing these words strengthens my resolve because I know who I battle and the tactics aren’t unfamiliar.

Now, I know this is a bit melancholy. Don’t worry. I’m OK. I believe that God didn’t call me with the intent to hurt me. No, I think he wants to use me still in both the church that still supports me and the urban ministry that will help shape the next chapter of my life.

I find it fascinating that whenever I step into change how much really happens inside me as I make the outside transition. It’s a reminder to give thanks for the good work God has already done in me. And it’s a heads up to my ego when I come to the realization that there is so much more God wants to do. I think that means that He’s still rather fond of me.

So, the step into my future has begun. Let’s see what God does with all of this, huh?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Releasing Dreams



Went for a bike ride today. Climbing an overpass I noticed ahead of me what looked like a photographer, with a large tripod, and oversized camera snapping pictures of the highway below. When I got closer I realized that the camera was actually a small boy, perched on a ledge, with dad serving as a sturdy support. Dad was pointing out all kinds of highway things to his son who was taking it all in. In some ways, the child was like a camera, snapping pictures that would help him remember an adventure with dad.

After I passed I realized that, for sure, my eyesight is getting worse but I was struck by the poignancy of the moment. Dad was doing what good dads do. He was creating memories, passing on information, and loving his child. In a small way, on this Sunday afternoon, dad was preparing his son for a time in the not too distant future to do the same with his own son.

At the same time I was watching and riding I was listening to my iod. It was a sermon given at Willow Creek Community Church. It was by Wayne Cordeiro, a pastor from Hawaii. He was talking about having people in our life who are ‘dream releasers’.

Just like God instills in a parents heart a desire to pass on what he knows to his son and daughter so to does God instill in our hearts a need to dream dreams. We suffer when they are not released.

Cordeiro talked about cemetaries. He says they’re full of unrealized potential and the shells of dreams that were never lived out. He wonders if our goal in life is to leave this world 'empty', leaving none of our potential behind. I think he's right. What if we all decided to leave nothing behind, no dream unexplored, no talent underutilized and no possibility unexplored? What would happen? To us. To those we meet. To those we love.

It occurs to me that Jesus wants us to be ‘dream releasers’. Jesus walked the highways and byways to release people from the sin that bound them and to release them to the possibilities of what life lived with ‘Him’ could be. By releasing them, he freed them. To dream. To live into their potential. To make a difference.

What if we’re supposed to be ‘dreamers’? And what if God wants to use us to help release the dreams of others?

Just like a father pointing out ‘stuff’ from high atop a highway so do we have an opportunity to ask the right question, give the gentle encouragement, to call forth the unrealized potential from every person we meet.

Every been around a ‘dream releaser’? Someone who calls forth the best of your life? Someone who challenges you out of the status quo and into God’s best? It’s incredible. It’s that coach who made you think no one could stop you. It’s the boss who gives you the big project because she believes you’re ready for it. It’s the pastor who asks you to teach because he senses something in the quality of your life. It’s anyone who gives us a chance to be more than what we thought we could be even though the deep desires of our hearts yearned for the opportunity.

Dream releasers are in short supply. It’s a shame. We need more of them. In a world that’s buckling down to just ‘get through it all’ we need dream releasers who are called forth to help us believe in possibilities again.

You see, if we don’t believe in the ‘dream’ we’re going to end up dying with all kinds of unrealized potential and possibility. What a waste. And how many wasted lives have you encountered? Be honest. Too many, right? Way too many.

God has us perched on the edge of the highway of His dream. He’s supporting us. He’s also pointing out all the comings and goings of humankind. He knows what He’s planted deep in our hearts. He’s calling it out. He’s pointing out where our life can intersect with someone else’s. He’s showing us the possibilities. He wants His dream to come true ...on earth as it is in heaven

Want in?

Monday, October 12, 2009

34

Linking my blog to Facebook has been a fascinating experience. All 600+ friends are alerted when I write something. Some are encouraged. Others not so much. I do get feedback. Some I like. Other times not so much.

Here’s 34 things I’ve learned as a blogger and Facebooker.

1. Anything political gets a response.
2. Conservatives are the first to engage.
3. Graceless engagement stops others from participating.
4. People with strong opinions usually are the most graceless.
5. Liberals use questions more than conservatives.
6. Both liberals and conservatives get testy when their thinking is challenged.
7. A lot of people don’t know how to express themselves in writing.
8. We love to label people.
9. Christians, for the most part, have a narrow view of who they are and what God really intends.
10. I get the impression that punditainers do a lot of the heavy lifting for people.
11. People deny that they’re influenced by punditainers but then quote one of them as a defense.
12. There’s a lot of meanness in cyber space.
13. We’ve lost the art of healthy, written interchange.
14. Anything tongue in cheek gets lost in translation.
15. There’s a very sick, over the top conservatism, that’s alive and well that scares me.
16. There’s a very sick, over the top liberalism, that’s alive and well that scares me.
17. I saw a web site yesterday of Patriot Christians and I was afraid, very afraid.
18. Some people are really trying to figure it all out. Too many think they already have.
19. I think faith is at best the ‘wallpaper’ on the walls of most people’s life and not the foundation it should be.
20. The church is losing its influence.
21. We’re not reading much anymore that has length and substance and nuance.
22. People are busy but not too busy to spend an inordinate time on Facebook.
23. People will watch a five minute video but won’t read an entire blog entry or an entire article.
24. Whole bunches of people believe they’re Mafia crime bosses.
25. There is a whole lot of incredibly wonderful people with fascinating insights on things.
26. Social networking is here to stay. What an interesting way to stay in touch. It doesn’t beat face to face though.
27. I can’t figure out how social networking pays for itself.
28. People post some very cool stuff.
29. Name calling is considered an intelligent argument.
30. Why would anyone use curse words as part of a Facebook status?
31. I have some very regular contributors to posts who challenge my thinking and allow me to challenge them. They’ve given me insights that prove to be helpful.
32. We don’t get satire anymore. That’s sad.
33. We’ve lost respect for leaders.
34. Too many don't have a diversity of friendships. The people they interact with think and act exactly like them. So, how can they be ever wrong?

Feel free to add to the list. Would love to hear what you've learned and experienced.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Contentment

A few years ago I visited an old prison in Armenia. It was a jail that once housed St. Gregory the Illuminator, the patron saint of Armenia. The prison wasn’t in use but we were able to descend to his cell. It was windowless, it was damp, it was well below ground level and for those of us who were claustrophobic it was an impossible place.

Ancient prisons were difficult places. For that matter so are modern prisons. And so it’s interesting that the apostle Paul writes from prison and says “I’ve learned how to be content.” Phillipians

Paul believed that contentment is an ‘inside-out’ thing. Psychologists agree with Paul, by the way. They’re always trying to get their clients to develop and internal locus of control not an external one.

You see, we live in a world that believes contentment moves from the outside and then in. That’s why we try to control our circumstances whenever we can. I know that I do better when the weather is good, the sky is blue and there’s nothing but clear sailing on the horizon. I’ve discovered that when the outside influences are going well…

When my relationships are strong.
When health is good.
When work is satisfying.
When there’s enough money in the bank to pay the bills
When the to-do list is doable
When my sports teams are winning
When the weather is great
When I feel God’s blessing more than His discipline … then life is good.

I feel content. Until a wheel falls off. Until a relationship goes south or work isn’t satisfying or when the Cubs miss the playoff and then I can get a little disgruntled, no longer at peace, discontented. And wheels fall off all the time. Every day. Despite my best efforts (and believe me I try) I can't control my circumstances. Only my response to them.

What’s out there determines my mood. But it’s the most unreliable guide for contentment.

I think contentment in today’s world is hard to come by. People are dissatisfied, anxious, and agitated in almost epic proportions. Discontentment is the cultural game and it bleeds into our lives. Outside in doesn’t work.

Paging through the New Testament the apostle Paul writes to the Church in Phillipi. He writes from prison and he pens these words.

… for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little.

I have learned how to be content. I’ve learned the secret.

For Paul, the secret is the deep belief that God began and continued a good work in him. It’s this deep conviction that ‘he could do anything and everything through Christ who gave him strength.’ Paul believed that his inner Holy Spirit driven spiritual compass and constant companion, Jesus. could keep him on course and at peace despite the circumstances of his life.

It’s what’s inside that counts.

I bow to circumstance far too often. Maybe you do too.

How’s that working for you? I know, for me, it doesn’t work well at all.

Today, I received two e-mails. Let's just say the words pierced deep, wounding. No fun. Also had a doctor's appointment. His assessment. Get thin or else.

So, the weight of circumstance is huge. Daggers to my ego, my abilities, and longevity. Almost everything in me wants to run, hide, and escape. Almost everything. Thankfully, there's a current of peace and contentment running through me. It reminds me that bad days happen. This too shall pass. Circumstances are out of our control. Our response isn't.

So, riding that current of peace and contentment is vital. It reminds me that God is in control. It doesn't mean that I don't heed my doctor's instructions or seek to reconcile with the e-mailers or look carefully at the issues raised. No, that wouldn't be God's best for me. Contentment can't be fed by avoidance. But in the midst of 'pressing in' God wants me to find the current of his peace.

God's best means I give Him permission to keep working in and through my life. To have him complete that good work He started in me long ago.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Do Not Disturb

I’ve seen people with a lot of different kind of hearts.

Kind hearts. Open hearts. Care-free hearts. Sincere hearts. Broken hearts. Selfish hearts.

And I see hearts that don’t want to be open for business especially business with God. And so what people do is put up a ‘do not disturb’ sign on the door of their heart. It’s designed to keep God from walking in. It’s designed to keep certain others out. Unfortunately, the back door of their heart is often wide open letting all kinds of things both in and out…often things we know God wouldn’t be happy about. So, we deny Him entrance while our heart jumps into trouble, causing greating damage.

When we do this …when we put this big ‘do not disturb sign up’ we end up not valuing our heart, not protecting it, and we let the enemy have access to it. It happens more often than we realize.

We live in a fascinating culture. We want what we want when we want it and we want it fast. We want faith but not too much of it. Writer Wilbur Reese I think captures the dominant religious sentiment of this age. Actually it’s been the dominant religious sentiment always.

I would like to buy three dollars' worth of God, please.
Not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep, but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine.
I don't want enough of him to make me love a black man or pick beets with a migrant.
I want ecstasy,
Not transformation.
I want the warmth of the womb not a new birth.
I want about a pound of the eternal
In a paper sack.
I'd like to buy three dollars' worth of God, please.


We want enough God to satisfy some low level spiritual desires but not enough to disturb what he really wants to do with my heart. Enough religion so that we’re in control. Enough to make us feel good. But not enough to transform us. Don’t disturb me God. Don’t alter my plans. At least not long term.

We settle for a little when God wants to give us everything. We want God on our terms not his. God wants to walk into our heart and love on it. He wants to help us clean it up, clear up the cobwebs, help our heart to beat stronger and truer.

And we say ‘don’t disturb my heart like that’. I’m doing fine. And God, because He is gracious and wise, lets us learn from our failures and live with consequences of our actions. But it breaks His heart.

In the gospel of Luke Jesus is asked by the Pharisees. Why do you spend so much time with sinners? What’s that all about? Let me put this in a context we might understand.

Have you ever been around people so religious, so holier than thou, so judgmental that you just can’t win when you’re around them. They’re so tight that they squeak. That’s the Pharisees. And the only place they can find Jesus is at places they detest, with people they want to distance themselves from. And so they find Jesus, let’s say, in the local tavern where there’s drinking, spitting, some cursing and loud music. It's filled with sinful people. And they want to know why Jesus is there. And they ask point blank ..."Why do you do this’? Why are you here with them?"

Jesus responds with three stories. One is about a lost sheep, one is about a lost coin, the third about a lost person.

The story of the lost human is the good news in capsule form. It’s a story of two brothers and a father. The younger son walks away from His father. Walks away from relationship and home. Walks towards a rebellious future. Walk into moral trouble. He is self centered.He thumbs his nose at his family, their people & their traditions.

He put a ‘Do not disturb’ sign on his heart out and walks away, turning his back on everything that is important.

If you’d ask the younger brother I’m sure he’d say “I’m just following my heart.” It’s interesting whenever someone says that you know they’re past the point of listening to reason. It’s their way of saying “I’m going to do it my way”. Don’t try to stop me.

We’ve all done it.

Sometimes ‘following our heart’ is a good thing. I think I’m following my heart by going to work with Breakthrough Ministries. I think it’s a God thing, confirmed by godly people.

But how many times have I followed my heart to something that wasn’t godly, wasn’t good, wasn’t noble, wasn’t uplifting. How many times have I decided to do my own thing. Slapped a do not disturb sign on the door of my heart and went my own way. Probably about as many times as you have.

Basically, what happened is that the younger son finds himself in a boatload of moral, financial, and relational trouble. He comes to a hard conclusion and says … “I’m wrong. I need to go back to Dad.”

When he does that He takes the do not disturb sign off the door of his heart and is willing to have happen what needs to happen. But he's confident that the worse that his dad could offer him was far better than what he was experiencing.

And so he turns his heart towards home. The scripture account is fascinating.

So he got up and went to his father. "But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. "The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'

"But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate.


Jesus, in telling this story was looking people straight in the eye and telling them in no uncertain terms. It’s never too late. Someone can turn his heart from God and when He turns back God is there. By the way, the visual of this father hitching up his robes and running to embrace a sinful, disrespectful son was huge for Jesus’ audience. That’s not what a ‘wealthy man’ did …not when his son walked away from the family. It would have been out of place in his cultural framework. But Jesus was making a huge point. Finding what was lost and celebrating his coming home is more important than breaking cultural rules.

Sometimes in the movies you hear that phrase “You are now dead to me. You no longer exist” and the father walks away. That’s what many people probably wished the the father in the story would have done. They'd love it it he turned his back on the prodigal or at the very least ‘let him have it’. And then, in the end, give him not all of his love and affection…only $3 worth of it.

But Jesus was hammering home his ‘big idea’. That’s not what God does. You can’t buy $3 worth of Him. You get it all.

What this younger son did is tear the ‘do not disturb’ sign off the door of the heart and turn it around to say ‘please clean this up’. A selfish heart became a repentant heart and a gracious Father sees him coming, picks up his robe, greets him with a hug and a kiss and immediately makes plans to throw a lavish party.

That’s what our hearts yearn for. To be connected to our Father, to the one who loves us. Who wants our heart to beat strong, to beat long, a heart true and connected to Him.

And so the answer to the Pharisees question "Why do you do the things that you do?“ is an easy one. Jesus says "I’m here for the lost. Nothing can separate them from my love." And the Pharisees never understood it. Never got it. Their hearts were hard. They missed it.

Why? Because they couldn’t put themselves into this story. They couldn’t see their own brokenness, their own selfishness, their own betrayal of God, their own squandering of resources. They couldn’t see themselves in the younger brother. They thought they were good and so couldn’t put themselves into the repentant posture of the prodigal son. They couldn’t see that they too have lost everything and need God’s healing embrace. They just couldn’t understand. Hopefully, we do.

There's a Spanish story of a father and son who had become estranged. The son ran away, and the father set off to find him. He searched for months to no avail. Finally, in a last desperate effort to find him, the father put an ad in a Madrid newspaper. The ad read: “Dear Paco, Meet me in front of this newspaper office at noon on Saturday. All is forgiven. I love you. Your Father.” On Saturday, 800 Pacos showed up, looking for forgiveness and love from their fathers.

That’s God. Jesus writes on the newspaper called our heart. Come home. Take the do not disturb sign off you heart.

All is forgiven. I love you. Dad.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Musings

Just finished helping to teach a Divorce Recovery program. We gathered some folks in a fair amount of pain and gave them some hope. I think some of our content and guidance helped. Just being together probably helped more. Just the fact that these men and women took a step in the direction of getting help was huge for their life. They put their life in motion again. They quit being stuck.

I’ve noticed over the years that people like being stuck. People will argue that they don’t but most often the way they live belies the words coming out of their mouth. The truth is that it’s hard to get unstuck. It doesn’t happen by just willing our life out of a rut and onto a path that leads somewhere. It takes work.

We rely on those things that are habitual even if they’re not good for us. The habits of our life can become our worst enemy. And when we try to change a habit there’s always a tad bit of discomfort. Too many don’t want to deal with discomfort so they just keep doing what they’re doing even if it isn’t working for them.

So, kudos for those who take those baby steps in a ‘new direction’.

***
I’m still in the midst of my transition to Breakthrough Urban Ministries. I’m in phase 1 of a two part fund-raising effort. I know what I’m doing is the right thing (and a God thing) but raising money can be tiring. It’s also rewarding. And then tiring. Then rewarding.

***

Just read that the President is going to Copenhagen to help sell ‘Chicago’ to the Olympic Committee. Have a hunch he must think it’s a done deal. Would he be willing to risk, putting himself on the line for something that might fail?

I’d love to find out that he’s taking the ‘risk’ even though he might fall flat on his face. We need more examples of people doing the right thing even if it might make them look bad.

Of course, in the current climate of incivility, the failure of any public figure means a field day for the ‘punditainers’ (By the way I think 'punditainer' is a new word I just invented. For those who don't get my humor (more people than you think) it's a combination of pundit and entertainer. I'm sure it will start showing up nationwide within days. Just remember. You heard it here first.)

***
Found out recently that my Chicago Cubs will not be going to the post season this year. Hmmmm. Next year for sure.

***

I was talking to some folks today about church attendance. (not ours specifically but on a more macro level). The comment was made that even those who are devout usually stay away two of the four weekends in a month. I wonder what that means for the future of the local church?

***

I recently had someone tell me that I was the most liberal person they knew. I think it was an insult but I'm still not sure. For sure, I think they've got to get out of the house more. But it’s interesting. Even if I was a ‘liberal’ why would anyone want to insult me? I know liberals who think I’m conservative. Maybe I am the proverbial ‘every man’ or worse just a chameleon. Hope not. Actually, I think we just like to label people and movements as a marginalization tool.

It reminds me, though, of the time when I was doing Young Life in Nevada. A handful of Baptists walked out of a meeting when I shared my conversion story and it contained some ‘thumbs up’ comments related to my Catholic education and upbringing. The following Sunday a Catholic priest urged his parishioners to stay away from Young Life because it was an ‘evangelical’ organization. Sometimes you can’t win.

We're all label slappers I guess. Another habit to get rid of. Labels keep us from knowing someone and finding out the rich textures and possibilities of a person's thinking. Of course, that's what many people want.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

At War

You gotta love Eugene Peterson and his take on familiar Scripture passages. He's talking about spiritual warfare. He's earthy and pithy. Here's a portion of Ephesian 6 from The Message.

So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no afternoon athletic contest that we'll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels. Be prepared. You're up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it's all over but the shouting you'll still be on your feet.

I remember the first time I encountered evil in an other worldly way.

I was visiting a friend up in northern Wisconsin. Older friends of his were also visiting. A married couple. An attorney and his wife. I knew the husband, not the wife.

During the course of the evening the couple started talking about the wife’s ability to communicate with the dead. She was a medium. Somewhere along the way she closed her eyes and started chanting and channeling. After a few minutes I felt this deep sense of foreboding, and instinctively knew that something was happening that was both unfamiliar and dangerous. And I remember going over to this stranger and shaking her –doing whatever I could to get her out of her trancelike state. I remember saying very firmly to her ‘stop’. I was truly shaken. I sensed something ‘evil’ in our midst. It was a very uneasy feeling.

A few weeks later I was back at that house. Alone. And I couldn’t stay. Something was different. To this day, I believe that wasn’t my mind playing tricks on me. I wasn’t in any mind-altered state. There was something that frightened me. I felt I was in the presence of something that wanted to hurt me.

Throughout my life I’ve also been in the presence of people that I believe are unduly influenced by evil. They, too, frighten me. I always have a deep sense that these folks are being guided by something that's truly malignant.

So, I believe that there is something evil that tempts people to do evil. It's real. It's dangerous. I believe we have an enemy who wants to attack our heart leaving it scarred, lonely and rendering us ineffective in our work for the kingdom of God.

Anything that is important to God is an enemy of the devil. And we are really, realy important to God. So, if you ever feel stymied in your attempts to reflect the glory of God you can bet you're in the midst of a battle. It's a battle against God and for your heart. And even though the devil is defeated, because of the cross, he is still allowed to have some freedom in this world of ours until Jesus deals with his reign of terror once and for all. Until that time comes he wrecks havoc in order to damage the Lord’s reputation.

We’ve often been told that the problems in our spiritual life will come from the flesh, the world and the devil. In a nutshell that means that we all have spiritual Achilles heels. For some it’s sexual issues, for others gossip, for some it’s how we deal with finances, for others it’s anger, or unresolved guilt or a sense of shame, or an unwillingness to accept or grant forgiveness. The devil will use whatever is our weakness and offer us an alternative from the world. He’ll distort what's meant for good and use it to drive us up, down or sideways and away from God. It’s a battle. Truly a war. The enemy want to attack our heart, discourage our heart, break our heart, and leave us truly heart broken and angry at God. And in the shadow of our discontent the devil stands arms folded, a wicked smile on his lips, a 'gotcha God' expression on his face.

I was reading a book recently called God Goes to Starbucks. In it, the author talks about a Nigerian seminarian who was asked to comment on the differences between Christianity in his native land and what he experiences here in the states. He said that the church is the U.S. is relatively prayerless and that we're unaware of spiritual warfare.

I think he hit the nail on the head. We don't know much about prayer and we too quickly dismiss any notion that a war is being waged for our heart.

The consistent message of the Bible is that there is an Enemy eager to destroy your heart. And this enemy wants to leave your heart homeless, haunted by fears, and feeling completely abandoned.

John Elderedge writes ... “To live in ignorance of spiritual warfare is the most na├»ve and dangerous thing a person can do. It’s like skipping through the worst part of town, late at night, waving your wallet above your head. It’s like walking into an al-Quaeda training camp, wearing and “I love the United States’ t-sirt. It’s like swimming with great white sharks dressed as a wounded sea lion and smeared in blood. You don’t escape spiritual warfare simply because you choose not to believe it exisits."

The bottom line is, you are going to have to fight for your heart. It’s getting shot at all the time. Are you up for it? Are you up for a ongoing assault against you and yours?

A brand new friend on Facebook wrote to me recently about this topic. She's had some experience with these kind of things and offers some ways to deal with these ongoing assaults. So, I'll close the post with her words. Real wisdom.

I’ve learned to anticipate some of his attacks. I’m speaking next week to a group of women who were sexually abused in the church. I know for a fact that God wants to heal and restore these women. The enemy hates this.

So, I’m on alert this week …not afraid, but on guard…putting on the full armor …and then prepared to watch God do what He does best. Go God.

I used to let the devil intimidate me and would back off from whatever I was doing that brought opposition. Now I tell my husband so he knows and he can pray. I tell at least one good friend who understands spiritual warfare, and I try to take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ …the mind seems to be his primary target and playground. I press through in prayer …


Good stuff. Anticipate attacks. Understand the tactics of the enemy. Don't be afraid. Don't back off but put on the armor of God. Pray and enlist the prayer of others. Don't believe the lies that go through our head. Trust God to do His thing, letting Him do what He does best. Go God.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Mary Travers



Mary Travers died.

I saw her sing a few years ago at Ravinia. She was on tour with Peter and Paul. Big crowd. Lots of memories. She couldn't hit the high notes anymore but the three of them together ...Peter, Paul, and Mary ...well, it didn't matter.

I first saw the trio perform many years ago in Minneapolis. They were singing at a political rally for someone who, for sure, was an anti-war candidate. I think it was either Eugene McCarthy or George McGovern. Peter, Paul, and Mary were deeply convicted about matters of peace and justice. They were folk singers in the Peter Seeger tradition, troubadors who had a message. And it was hard to resist singing along.

It's hard to lose people who influenced you. In high school we sang Peter, Paul, and Mary songs. I used their songs at retreats back in the day. They were articulate and passionate voices for the things they believed in. Noel Paul Stookey met and still walks with Christ. That conversion created some tension within the group that I don't think was ever completely resolved.

I don't know where Mary Travers was at spiritually. My prayer, of course, is that she found peace in Christ as she neared the end of her life. I know she was dearly loved by God, as we all are whether we be saint or sinner or some curious mix of both.

Peter, Paul, and Mary helped shape a generation. Helped shape me. I was saddened when I heard of her death. Mary Travers was someone who made an impact for good. She and her singing partners got me thinking, singing, wishing, and praying. She made an impact. I thank God for her life.