Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Who am I?

People have asked me whether I’m a liberal or conservative. So, what do you think?

My voting history is all over the place. I have been known to almost always split a ticket. I’m more interested in character and ability than party loyalties. I started life as a Kennedy democrat. Breathing in Minnesota air brought me the ideas and ideals of McCarthy, Humphrey, and Mondale. Bill Proxmire was a favorite of mine while I grew up in Wisconsin. Nixon made me ill. Couldn’t stand the lies. Chuck Colson, however, has influenced me. Loved Johnson for his Great Society ideas but was not so fond of his Viet Nam policies. Thought McGovern should have been president. Carter was overmatched in the White House but is still making creative noise today. Reagan surprised me in many ways. Was sorry Libby Dole didn’t make a bigger impact. Loved Bush’s down home spin on things but thought he lost control during his second term. Clinton was interesting. A moral failure who was still able to still get people cheering. I voted for Obama and was hoping Palin would add spice to the campaign. She didn’t.

After reading all of the above I realize that I grew up in a world that, for the most part, marginalized women in the political process. Glad that’s changing.

Conservatives have a shrill voice. As one professor said, “They write with fisted crayon.” Nasty, but I think there's some truth in it.

I wonder if liberals have boundaries or core convictions. I mean if you believe in everything don't you really believe in nothing.

I believe in giving back and leaving a legacy.

Greed created the economic mess we’re in. And greed isn't good.

I’m less concerned about a public display of the Ten Commandments than I am with living them.

I’m not for big government but for enough government. I’m worried that the current debt load we carry as a country will burden the young. I think trickle down works but runs out of trickle towards the bottom of the economic ladder. Then what do we do?

I don’t believe the end of school prayer was the end of civilization as we know it. I don’t think being American is the same as being a Christian.

I don't believe Madelyn Murray O'Hare is still alive and trying to force the FCC to shut down Christian radio and TV. Nor do I believe the government is trying to keep secret hidden pools of oil, enough to solves the oil problem for the next 50 years.

I love living in this country but I'm not an 'our country right or wrong' kind of guy. When good people remain silent democracy implodes.

I’m not afraid of ideas.

I’m a pro-life guy who believes it needs to be a consistent ethic for all stages of life. It's that seamless cloak Cardinal Bernadin used to talk about.

I’m an evangelical Christian who loves and appreciates Catholic thought and action.

I think we’re going to have to build bridges of engagement with Muslims.

I don’t have any firm convictions about ‘end times’ stuff. That means there's some churches I couldn't join. That seems silly but it is true.

Immigration discussions have an ugly sub-text of race. They do. Be honest.

I think most Christian movies are sub-par and not very good at all. I said most, not all.

I believe the church is the hope for the world but wonder why so many church leaders keep on doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.

Some poor people feel entitled. Most feel trapped by a system that doesn’t work for them. It's a big issue.

The richer you are the more you can cocoon your life. I think that's sin.

What happens around the globe is our responsibility. “To whom much is given much is required.”

I believe in personal responsibility. Bad people who commit crimes need to be segregated from the rest of society in humane ways.

The American dream is not Jesus’ message. Really.

I’m not a fan of Rush Limbaugh or Larry King or Bill Maher. I love to think for myself and not have someone else think for me.

I believe in global warming and that evolution is not anti-bible.

I love to say really liberal things around conservatives and argue conservatively around liberals.

I think no one in heaven will be able to claim they got there on their own. They’ll have to bow to Jesus, and only Jesus, on that one.

I believe in term limits.

I think Palestinians make some valid points.

I believe everything the Nicene and Apostles Creeds tell us.

I like diversity but admit diversity makes things more complex.

My life’s purpose is to assist people in finding meaning for their life. That means I don’t think many people have found meaning.

I don’t believe in retirement unless it’s a move towards something else that has Kingdom value.

I believe suburbs exist for a lot of different reasons. Many of them not good.

As a Christian I have to care about the environment.

The systems I’ve benefitted from have beaten down others.

We need to learn from the past so we don’t recreate its mistakes. However, the more we live in the past the duller we become.

I believe the Bible is the Word of God but I think proof texting is messy and dull. When we use the Bible as a hammer we miss the point.

I don’t think everyone who has marched down an aisle is saved but I love what it represents in a person’s life.

I believe women should be in church leadership. More churches that won't have me.

Racial profiling happens a lot.

I love to express my opinion but realize when I do conservatives will think I’m too liberal and liberals will think I’m too conservative. I don’t like to be written off.

And there it is. Am I liberal or conservative? For sure, I know I don't march in lock-step with some of your ideas. That's a good thing. It's that 'iron sharpens iron' thing we read about in the Scripture.

The problem is that some want all of us to walk in tedious rows of political, social, and faith conformity. Ugh. So Stepford. That's why we end up walled off, belonging to churches that are insular, lacking impact. We live in gated communties of fear and only follow those people and movements that reflect our own tunnel vision. Boring.

We’ve forgotten how to dialogue, to admit that other good people can come to a different conclusion about any number of things. That’s especially true when it comes to matter of faith, politics and Cubs vs Sox. Some who read this are ardent, way to the right Republicans. Some who read my stuff are evangelicals who tend towards fundamentalism. Others of you have abandoned faith altogether and hold firmly to not believing anymore. Some are left leaning Democratics. A few of you are Catholics who mistrust evangelicals. Some cringe when anyone says that evolution isn’t anti-Bible. And when I say I believe in global warming some of you say ‘that’s right’ and others are quick to be on your knees to pray for me.

So, if you just read something that makes you think I’m off my rocker, lost my salvation, or sliding down a slippery slope into oblivion don't write me off or anyone else for that matter. There's a better way.

By the way, I'm not sure if I'm a liberal or a conservative. Actually, I think I'm a bit of both. The bottom line is that I'm a Jesus follower who has a deep appreciation for what has gone on before me. I value living in this country where freedom runs so deep. I also think that there's a boat load of issues in our culture that need us all to be on the front lines wrestling with finding answers. I cling to orthodoxy because it anchors me to live creatively and passionately in the here and now. Some of what I believe might need to be rethought. Challenge me. Some of what I believe compels me to challenge you. It's all good.

Friday, July 24, 2009


When I lived in Nevada I rode my bike a fair amount to stay in shape. One of our local celebrities was a young man named Greg LeMond who was to become the first American to win the biggest bike race in the world, the Tour de France. In fact, he won it three times.

One day, a friend of mine and I, decided to duplicate a good chunk of one of Greg LeMond’s favorite training runs and we embarked on a ride around Lake Tahoe. It’s about 75 miles at altitude. The terrain was up and down and had some significant climbs for us amateurs. I walked away from that ride with a whole new appreciation of how fit world class athletes have to be. It also began a love affair with the Tour de France. I watch as much of it as I can.

In the Tour de France and other major cycling events most of the riders have virtually no opportunity to win the race. Each team has nine riders. One is the christened leader. The rest are called domestiques, each a world class rider in their own right. Some are great climbers, some sprinters, some can keep a great pace. Their role is to do whatever it takes to help the leader win the Tour de France. They are to spend themselves physically in order for the leader to draft behind them. The leader of the team stays on their wheel when the going gets tough. The domestiques help pull their man up the mountain and back down. They sacrifice their ego to support the leader. And everyone knows what the role demands. Do a good job as a domestique and perhaps you’ll get a chance to lead your own team someday. That’s what happened to LeMond and Armstrong. But for most riders they toil in a fair amount of obscurity year in and year out on bike racing’s biggest stages.

In show business they call this being a second banana. On rock tours it’s the warm-up band. In pastoral circles it’s the associate. In a bank it’s the vice-president. On a high school football team it’s the offensive line. It is what it is. There are people who have very distinct gifts and talents. Without them the star attraction wouldn’t shine as brightly or would be less effective. There’s no way Greg LeMond or Lance Armstrong could win the Tour de France with his own skills and abilities. They needed help. And in this year’s race 7 time champion Lance Armstrong is serving as a domestique not as team leader.

This year as I watch the Tour de France I’m reminded of its insane difficulty. I’m also reminded of the roles team members play both in the big race and the races within the race.

When I watch the Tour de France I delight in the dozens of sermon illustrations it provides. It also get me thinking about who I am and the roles I’ve played and will be asked to play. Just like you I have gifts and talents. Sometimes I’m upfront and center stage. Sometimes I’m backstage. Sometimes I get the spotlight on me. And there are times when I get to shine the spot light on someone else.

Each role is good and necessary. Sometimes it’s important for me to be upfront and leading and sometimes I get to play the ‘domestique’ role. Both are satisfying in their own way.

The Tour de France reminds me so much of all the ‘body of Christ’, gifts and talents stuff in the New Testament. There’s ‘magic’ when we understand and operate with the understanding that no one person can do it all and that God doesn’t expect that from anyone. It’s a reminder that this life is far less about the ‘me’ than it is about the ‘us’.

Tomorrow is a crucial stage in the Tour de France. The leader of the race will have an opportunity to become a ‘domestique’ helping a teammate or two ascend to the platform in Paris. It will be interesting if he’ll be able to or want to do it. Sometimes when you’re out front you don’t want to give up the spotlight even for a minute. The sacred text talks about things like that. It says stuff about servanthood, humility, and the importance of the first being last. This is good stuff to remind ourselves of in a dog eat dog world with everyone racing to the finish line forgetting that the race is easier won when we work together, keeping our eyes on the One who's supposed to be the team leader.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


You’re in a tough spot, needing help. It dawns on you. Talk to God about it. So you do. And you wait, and wait, and wait some more. Still no answer. You get to a point where you just give up and walk away. And you mutter to yourself “Where’s God when I need Him?”

It’s a big question. “Where’s God?”

Everyone asks it, even those who don't believe. We're wired to seek God even when we deny He exists. So, from those who claim no belief, to the less spiritually mature, to seasoned followers of Jesus the question is asked 'Where are you God?' Then the wait begins. Those wanting immediate answers and none is forthcoming often walk away disillusioned or at least shaking their head in some form of discouragement. Others, who know God is never rushed, continue along the ancient paths content to wait but still longing for answers. The 'silence of God' is part of the spiritual journey. It's not a lot of fun but it's definitely part of it. We have our choices. We can murmur our discontent or continue to wait with expectaton for God to speak.

We’re living in a world where people are screaming for answers from God.

Where’s that job?
How will I ever retire?
Why am I sick?
Why does life have to hurt so much?

When the ‘customer service God’ they call to doesn’t deliver then the disillusionment kicks in.

As a pastor I deal with people’s disappointment with God all the time. They want answers. “Why doesn’t God come through for me the way I want Him to?”

The truth is we believe more in divine magic than in a relationship with the divine.

We call out to a ‘magic wand’ kind of God thinking that we’re in control. And the true God of true God is not swayed. He’s not into games. He’s into relationship. And He’s not willing to lure you into relationship with cheap parlor games. We’re asking Him to prove Himself. He already has.

Does God care? Yes, He does. Why does He act at a snails pace sometimes? I don’t know. He does. Am I willing to trust a God who moves slower than I’d like? What about if it’s really slow? What if it’s ‘slow’ with a ‘no’ when it gets to you?

Can you trust that kind of God?

Do you really have a choice?

You see, trust means trust. Pretty profound, huh. It’s a radical thing when you trust in the midst of uncertainty.

Those questions linger though. Should we pray for a job, for healing, for our future, for others? Yes. What choice do we have? I mean, we could give up. Then what? Would you feel better? I wouldn’t.

Scripture talks about waiting and wandering. In the big story people waited and wandered for long periods of time. 40 years for many. 400 years for some. Waiting and wandering. Wandering and waiting. His people looked up to the heavens and wondered.

They found other gods, other hopes, and different dreams. They led nowhere. And then God, in His timing, sends them a message. He tells His people that He hasn’t forgotten them, that He still has a hope and a future for them. He tells them that there’s a reason for the wandering and the waiting. And He tells them to trust Him.

I don’t understand God’s timing. I do understand my unwillingess to wait and wander. You see, I’m a good middle class American. I want what I want when I want it. That usually means now.

Now doesn’t mean much to God. He’s got a different view of things. His now might be weeks, months, or even years away. In the in between time …that gap between my prayer and God’s answer I need to learn how to live. With hope, with expectation, with yearning.

The truth is that I’ll get sick, someday sick enough to die. The economy will take its toll on me. People will disappoint me. God will feel both close and distant. None of this ultimately matters.

A long time ago I told God I’d trust Him with my life in good times and not so good. I knew enough of Him that I felt He was trustworthy. Nothing has changed. Like you, I wish God’s timing was my timing but every the truth is that I need to lean into ‘your will be done’ thing we Christians are fond of reciting. Maybe there’s more peace and contentment in that than we even realize.

In the meantime when I sense more of God's absence than presence I need to go looking for the Divine in all the familiar places. For me that means music, in believing friends, in the comfort and challenge of wise authors, in worship, in repentance, in prayer, through creation, in certain geographical places, through service and mission trips, the arts and the reading of the sacred text. I go to those spots where I have met God before. Often something happens. I am strangely warmed. There are glimpses of the intimacy I crave. And I realize that the absence I'm experiencing is the result of ignoring certain habits and avoiding certain experiences. I am the one absent, not God.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Living vague and sketchy

For about six years I lived in the state of Nevada. I lived north, in Sparks which is right next door to Reno. Great place, great people, beautiful scenery. Every once in while you’d get the sense that the wild west of yesteryear was still right around the corner. People came to Nevada for a lot of reasons. Some to find their fortune, others to lose a fortune. Some came for a fresh start. And others came to hide out, hoping not to be found.

Occassionally, I’d sit down with someone and as ask them questions about their past. Sometimes folks were very forthcoming. Often enough the answers I got were a little vague, very sketchy. I wondered why. Then it began to dawn on me. Nevada is a big state with few people. It’s a great place to disappear. Buy a single wide mobile home, park it in a desert valley next to some other single wides and no one would notice. No one would care. Just fit into the landscape. There were people in Nevada that had a past they wanted to escape from. “ Don’t ask, don’t tell” was the mantra long before ‘what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.’

Moses moved to the biblical equivalent of Nevada. It was a place called Midian. It was a good place for a murderer to hide out, buy a trailer, grow a beard and start life all over again. It had to be a tough move. Moses went from the penthouse of Egyptian society to a nomadic existence in the middle of nowhere. He had a past. It probably served him well to be vague and sketchy.

And then God found him. Spoke to Him. Stopped him in his tracks with a 'burning bush message'. He not only found him but he had a ‘mission’ for him. Moses didn’t want any part of it. It meant going back to Egypt. It meant staring down one of the most powerful people in the world and then attempting to extricate thousands upon thousands of people who knew nothing but slavery and take them on a journey towards a future they weren’t even sure they wanted.

God was disrupting Moses’s life.

I’m convinced God is in the ‘disruption’ business. And that’s a good thing. It’s a sign of love.

If truth is told we don't like disruptions. Of course if God wanted to disrupt my life tomorrow and say to me ...

Mike I want you to be the pastor of the Caribbean. I’ve got a place in Arube, right on the beach, for you and the family. Nice salary, medical, good pension. I’ve also got a yacht and a crew because I expect you to check up on my people in Grand Cayman, St. Thomas, St. Maarten, Antigua …don’t go any further north than the Bahamas. I don’t want you to come close to getting chilly. Make sure my people are doing OK, that they have what they need. OK?

I think I'd like that kind of disruption. Unfortunately, that's not the way God seems to work. OK, maybe if you’re a TV preacher he works that way but not in ordinary lives.

Nope, God looks for you. He asks for your heart. And then he messes with your life and we don’t understand why half the time. Oh sure, God loves to love on us. But almost always He’s calling you to someplace or something where you’ll have to trust Him.

And the truth is we don’t want that because it’s disruptive. We want a big house and a nice car. He might want you in a trailer park in a desert valley in the middle of Nevada. We want a nice retirement. God says “I’m your retirement plan”. We want more. He says less is more. We're committed to being busy and God says 'slow down so you can get to know me'. We commit ourselves to being laid back and God asks us not to squander our talents.

Let me be blunt. Most of us don’t want to hear what God will say to us unless it’s on our terms. That’s especially true if we’re lucky enough to be living high and well and relatively secure.

And so we hide ….trying to create a cocoon of safety. It works as long as we forget that God is on the prowl.

In all honesty, I want to be Pastor of the Caribbean. Many of you would love to be on my staff. Those jobs don't exist.

Moses faced the business end of God over and over again. He interacted with God. He saw God’s anger and frustration and He saw God’s provision. God called Moses from a hideaway in Midian to one of the great adventures a person ever was called to undertake.

And Moses didn’t want it. He made excuses. He asked God to send someone else. When push came to shove Moses was God’s man for that time for that mission. Just as Moses was feeling OK about Midian God forces him to change direction and focus on going back to Egypt.

Why does He do things like that?

1. Because He loves us.
2. There’s work to be done.
3. He needs to call our bluff or challenge our priorities in order for us to become more like Him.
4. He’s prepared us for some specific mission.
5. He knows we’re growing soft.
6. Because our comfort isn’t necessarily integral to His purpose.

All these things. You could probably add a dozen more.

Let me repeat. Most of us don’t want to hear what God has to say to us unless it’s on our terms because we value our comfort more than we desire doing God’s will.

And so we hide and hide and hide …ignoring the burning bushes calling out our name.

Moses is a good example. He didn’t ignore his burning bush. He went, certainly not sure of himself but with enough trust in the God who was leading him.

I don’t want to go sometimes. Uncertainty reigns. When I do go I learn to trust God all over again. Sometimes I hide. I rent myself a singlewide trailer in the middle of my mind and pretend that no one notices me. I want to live in a vague and sketchy kind of way. God always notices. Always beckons.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Let the fun begin.

Talked to a friend today. She was born in another country. We talked about America and whether or not our country would ever return to 1980’s-90’s prosperity. That appears to be the goal if you listen to both politicians and pundits. We both agreed that what we had will probably never return.

Does that make you sad or does it invigorate you?

Prosperity. It’s an interesting phenomenon. Some get rich. Their wealth is supposed to trickle down but it doesn’t trickle as far as we'd like to think it does. Many get poor and poorer. So, a return to prosperity is economic good news for some but not for all. Those on the + side of prosperity don’t like to hear such things, especially if they are Christians. Hearing should cause a leap into action. For some it does. For most it doesn’t.

Our world is changing. 40 years from now white American will no longer be a majority. Western Christian culture will be influenced greatly by eastern Christian thought and practice. What was, won’t be any longer. Those who can’t adapt will spend time yearning for what was. It’s not coming back.

For Christians, our notions of the Gospel have been read through the lens of prosperity and individualism. Others in our world read the Gospel through the lens of ‘good news for the poor’ and the value of community. These different readings are destined to collide. One is about me, the other is about us. Different perspectives.

I wonder if we’re ready, able and willing to engage in the cultural paradigm shift that’s taking place. My guess is that we’re not. Many churches won’t make it. They’ll get old and they’ll die. Many individuals will hold on, encouraged by well meaning but misguided spiritual guides, to a gospel that was created in our image and likeness instead of grabbing hold of a gospel that can transform us into His image.

This is big stuff. What does the old song say …”I wish we’d all been ready.”

Our meism doesn’t allow us to consider much beyond what we already know. Because we think we’re the center of the universe we don’t read much, don’t engage much in interesting conversation with those who are different, and don’t care much about what’s happening in the world unless it impacts our pocketbook. That’s going to be the death of us.

There’s a whole world out there that is reading and learning, and engaging. For them, life is bigger than prosperity. There’s issues of compassion, justice and poverty. We talk about how we can return to a time when we can get ‘rich’ again. The rest of the world reads the gospel and wonders how we can spread the ‘riches’.

So, I wonder what’s going to happen. Who’s going to wake up and start to look at themselves and their faith and start to wonder if what they believe and what shapes who they are is going to be adequate for what’s coming straight at us? My guess is that it’s not going to be many.

I’m wondering if Jesus isn’t going to use the ‘few’ to revive our western hearts and soul into a more transforming vision of what it means to a Christian. Then, let the fun begin.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Beautiful Day

What a beautiful day.

A bike ride, Cubs win, dinner outside with Anita, some interesting meetings with good people and another beautiful day promised for tomorrow.

We traveled just a few miles to eat. People, people everywhere. There were bike riders, moms and dads with their kids, an old car festival, young lovers. parks filled, softball games, Dairy Queen lines and lots of smiles.

Days like this are so good. So needed. Is this what heaven will be like?

I sometimes live at a frantic pace. Even today, I had a small group, then a meeting and even a wedding. But it felt more manageable. Do you think good weather helps put things into perspective or does the promise of good weather help us to manage our time better?

Tomorrow promises to be good. We're heading out after church to the Chicago lakefront. We'll ride bikes, enjoy the skyline and delight in some people watching.

Monday, the race begins again. I have a day filled with decisions, meetings, and obligations. It's OK. That's part of life.

Maybe weekends like this remind us of the need for Sabbath. I'm reminded of a book written by Mark Buchanan called 'The Rest of God'. Clever title and a good read. He reminds us that our yearning for the rest of God requires us to actually rest. It's part of the rhythm of a maturing believer. Go, go, go is not the mark of maturity. It's a sign of a life out of whack.

So, three cheers for Sabbath reminders, for nice weather that helps us slow down, for the hope of maturity, and for the longing for something more.

'Twas a good day.

Oh yah, the Cubs beating the Cardinals was frosting on the cake.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

No Yellow Jersey

After watching a portion of the Tour de France I asked Anita if she thought I might be past my prime bike riding days and whether or not I should shoot for the Tour next year? In her typical fashion when I talk nonsense she laughed at me and dashed my dream of riding into Paris wearing the yellow jersey. So if preparing for the Tour de France isn't my raison d'etre what is?

I've written about this before but am increasingly becoming agitated by a world that just seems to go along in order to get along. Satisfaction with the hum-drum, what amuses us and what doesn't inconvenience us is the order of the day.

I still think it's not a silly to think about such things as purpose and meaning. I'd rather live with a sense of meaning and purpose than without. I mean who wouldn't want to have a keen sense of why they're alive and what they were created to do and be?

My guess is that plenty of people don't know nor do they care. Whenever I mention the subject a lot of folks just roll their eyes and look at me with that look that says 'who cares?'.

I think God Cares.

Scipture shows pretty clearly that God uses us to fulfill His plans. He doesn't need to but he chooses to. He expects us to be uselful, helpful, and at least somewhat focused on the things He cares about. It's surprising, however, the number of people who don't think about such things.

It's all apparent that God wants us to use our talents and giftings. It's like he nudges us in the midst of us being surprised and/or wrecked by and something and He says "You could do something about this." That's why you see people getting all excited about feeding the world, teaching kids, visiting prisoners, coaching soccer, praying for the sick, etc. etc. They find their God ordained 'sweet spot’. My friend Robin Chaddock calls it their 'divine assignment'.

Scripture warns us, however, that we have an enemy who wants to kill, rob, distract and destroy. In any way possible he wants to dissuade us of any notion that this sweet spot exists. And we are easily dissuaded and distracted.

How many times have we given up on something because someone has said or done something that's discouraged us? We just give up. Don't try anymore. Sometimes I feel like the rookie third baseman who's in an 0-20 slump. The boo birds are the only ones I seem to hear. And the enemy of good wins another battle. I'm sidelined.

Distractions keep our eyes off our 'divine assignment'. I know all about distractions. I have three. One's called TV. Another is called cell phone. The internet is my third nemesis. Although each have value each keeps me preoccupied, often ignoring what's most important. That great TV show (the one that's going to give me a glimpse into the culture I say), the ringing phone, and the vitally important hourly check of Facebook all give the appearance of urgency. Usually they never are. But they occupy lots of time, lots of thought, and plenty of my resources.. I wonder how often they keep me from what's truly important - my 'sweet spot'?

Busyness also keeps us from God’s best and from living with a sense of purpose. It’s almost a badge of honor to say “I’m busy”. Adults with older parents love it when their parents ‘stay busy’. It seems to be a sign of health and well being. Unfortunately, a steady dose of 'busy' keeps people from seeking God’s direction. Instead of filling life with meaning and purpose people just try to fill their calendars.

Drive to a casino sometime. Go in. Look at all the retired folks in the middle of the day who are 'busy' feeding the slot machines. They're busy but I think unfilled. I know. That's a judgment. There's nothing wrong with diversions. There is something wrong with a life wasting away. Busyness fills a calendar with often unrewarding activities. At the end of the day there can be a sense of emptiness . Purpose, on the other hand, fuels our need to give our life away. And a noble life purpose seems to lead to something bigger than busyness. It paves the way to leaving a meaningful legacy. There's nothing empty about that.

Most people, when pressed, will admit to spending most of their time reacting to whatever life throws at them. Not very purposeful. And life throws discouragement, distractions and busyness at us in massive quantities but mission and purpose isn't thrown at us. It's discovered. Discovery requires work. And prayer. And counsel.

Too many don't want to discover anything new, especially if it involves work, honesty before God or being vulnerable in front of others. We don't want want to do it. Afterall, we're spending a lot of time being distracted and busy. Who has time to discover our life purpose and mission?

I’ve read in a number of places that those who do best in life have a sense of purpose.

Bill Hybels wants churches to thrive.
Bono is wrecked by the AIDS epidemic.
Ron Santo wants to find a cure for juvenile diabetes.
Wendy Kopp of Teach for America wants to end educational inequity.
Catherine Rohr wants to teach inmates how to never return to jail.
I know some business people who live to bring integrity into their workplace.
I know moms who want to raise Godly kids not spoiled brats.

Even thought these people all have other things that occupy some of their time they remain focused on what appears to be some God-ordained sense of purpose and vision for their life.

When I watch purposeful people the sense I get is that they are able to focus on what’s important in their life. There's discouragement. Sure there are distractions. Sometimes purposeful people find themselves filling their calendar instead of living their dreams. That’s true for anyone but when push comes to shove they do what’s important, those things that feed their purpose and sense of mission.

OK. I'm not in the Tour de France next year. No yellow jersey for me. But there is a race I need to be in. So do you. There's some need out there that God knows you can meet. In the process you'll have to battle discouragement, distractions and busyness. It's a battle worth having. Know this. There's something out there for you. If you do it, you will start to live again.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Engaged and Involved

If you have ever been to Washington D. C. I’m sure you’ve seen and experienced the Vietnam Veterans War Memorial. It was designed by a young woman, from Chinese descent, named Maya Ying Lin. That mirrorlike wall of black granite contains a roll call of deceased soldiers. Every name beckons you to touch it and in reaching see relected your own image in the polished granite.

When Maya Lin's design was first unveiled, the backlash took everyone by surprise. One veteran called it "a black gash of shame." Another called it called it "the most insulting and demeaning memorial to our experience that was possible," Another noted that the design was a "nihilistic statement that does not render honor to those who served." It was alleged that the selection panel was infiltrated by Communists. Some veterans groups lamented the fact that the Lin design didn't hoist a flag. Of Chinese descent, Lin had racial epitaphs hurled at her - slurs filled with hatred and insensitivity.

A controversy over the appropriateness of the memorial had begun. The government stepped in, appointed a committee and with the decisiveness of a bureaucracy muddied the water further by authorizing the commissioning of a second memorial - call the "The Three Servicemen," which was a more traditional, oversized, statue of three soldiers much along the lines of the Marine Corps Monument, with its bronze soldiers raising the flag over Iwo Jima.

For more than three years the fight raged over these two memorials. Maya Lin fought the concept of a "second" memorial”. She thought it was unnecessary. Politics. When it became clear that the issue had become such a political hot potato that the only way to get Lin's sculpture built was to put in the other one, the question was where. Opponents wanted it placed in the vortex of the V-shaped wall, with a flag stuck on top. In a moving speech before the government commission, Lin stood her ground and refused to change her design. Finally Lin agreed to this compromise: Go ahead and install "The Three Soldiers" near the entrance to the memorial site; but don't invade the wall's space and give people room to experience, participate, and interact with the monument. And that's what happened.

The rest is history. The outpouring of emotion that greeted Maya Lin's memorial continues to this day. It has done more to heal the oozing wounds of the Vietnam War than any other single thing. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial collection now contains more than 250,000 items, artifacts, and mementos left behind by pilgrims to the wall. Ironically, Lin's greatest critics have now become her greatest fans. Vietnam vets now see her as one of them, and every major veterans group has passed resolutions either apologizing for their earlier treatment of her, or thanking her for hanging in there when their own members mercilessly attacked her.

This snapshot is a mini-case study of America and the perils and promise of freedom.

America desired to do something good - to honor fallen service men and women. But good intentions often gets intertwined with the deceitfulness of the heart. Thus the debate that freedom mandates is sometimes filled with tension, rudeness, misunderstanding, racism and compromise which doesn't always lead to what's best but rather what is expedient. It gets messy. For those of us who like things neat and clean freedom is problematic. .

The woman who designed this memorial intrigues me. She had deep convictions that withstood deep attack. She didn't back down in the face of almost overwhelming obstacles. She also had an interesting slant on what a memorial should be - she wanted her tribute to be interactive. That tells me she understood something about the true heart of America. Our history, I believe, tells us that people need to be involved and engaged in order for our republic to work. And their hearts touched.. That's what happens at the Viet Nam memorial. If you've ever been there you see a living drama - where those who come to visit - become, in a sense, part of the memorial.

Freedom is like that. It needs to be engaged. It's an interactive experience, not passive. Freedom is at the core of both the American experience and the Christian life. We are free to choose … it's a God given gift that needs to be EXERCISED thoughtfully and prayerfully - for Freedom, outside the context of moral law, is nothing more than a license to do one's own thing even at the expense of others. That kind of freedom honors no one.

On the 4th of July we celebrate our freedom, our nation, and our citizenship. They deserve to be celebrated. Understand this though. Even though our country has roots deep in Christian thought and experience we are not a Christian nation. The reality is that we live in a multi cultural, pluralistic country. We are one among many. Our country allows for diversified expressions of thought, of worship, and of practice. There are those Christians who don't like that reality but it is a reality. And on this 4th of July questions of how we live, work, and witness within an increasingly pluralistic culture deserve reflection.

Some people choose to live with the pluralism in our midst by withdrawing. Driven by fear. Many Christians advocate this position. Let’s eat at Christian restaurants, have our tires changed at a Christian garage, get in shape at the Christian health club and buy our books and videos at the Christian book store. Somehow, I don't think we honor God when we retreat into a Christian sub-culture that proclaims the message "you're bad-we're good". Hunkering down, doing our Christian thing and pointing fingers at the rest of society is, at best, counterproductive.

Others dive headlong into the cultural delights of this day and age without reference back to the authoritative voice of Jesus. That becomes dangerous.

There is another way. A better way. It is basic to the freedom we enjoy as Americans. It is also at the heart of the biblical message. What is it? With the Holy Spirit as our guide we are to be engaged and to be involved - striving to be God’s agent within this culture.. When we are engaged and involved we begin to better understand the obligations that free people must attend to in order to live as responsible citizens both in our country and in the kingdom of God.

When I was in college Spiro Agnew was Vice-President of the United States. He argued against anti-War activists and in particular the press corps that he considered partisan calling them "nattering nabobs of negativism". He thought they were emblematic of but a tiny, insignificant minority who paled in comparison to the "silent majority" supporting our involvement in that war. It was that silent majority, Agnew believed, that was the true heartbeat of America.

The Vice-President, I believe, was sincere in his belief but failed to understand a fundamental democratic principal. When silence becomes apathy that silence thwarts the debate, engagement, and involvement freedom demands. Those who remain silent lose ground to an active vocal minority.

The silent majority in the Revolutionary War, for example, did not want to fight the British. An active minority won the day. Many of whom, by the way, were Christians. And the United States was born.

In the 1960's a silent majority of people cared little about Civil Rights. A movement started, deep in the south, by a band of determined men and women …an active minority, literally putting their lives on the line, that took a struggle for freedom to center stage and men and women of color took their rightful place on the American landscape.

In this time and place we live in a world beset with issues. There is Terrorism. Poverty. Racism. Right to life and right to die concerns. Broken families. Educational reform. Health care reform. Business ethics. Welfare issues. Crime. Immigration. And the scope of the problems we face in the days and weeks and months ahead dare not be underestimated. These are issues that have both international, national and local impact. It’s big stuff. Complex.

Sometimes we are guilty of wanting to provide the quick fix to complex and substantive issues. Let's just get a famous personality to go to schools and tell them not to do drugs. Let's get everyone to sign an abstinence pledge and then we’ll never have to worry about teenage pregnancy. Let's put the Ten Commandments up in every classroom and behavioral problems will disappear. Let's bring back prayer to the schools and little Johnny and Suzy will have the moral compass that is lacking in their life.. Let's point a finger at Hollywood and boycott everything that appears sleazy and America will be OK again.

It's not that easy. Sin is too deeply rooted in our culture. No, the answers lie in a more intense and relational approach. These issues before us will be discussed and policies formed not by a silent majority but rather by active and committed people willing to make their voice heard. The resolution of big issues will call for good people to log quality time at the decision making tables. That begs the following questions. Are the variety of Christian voices in our culture poised to make an impact in relational ways? More importantly … Are you, Christian, willing to do your part? If yes, remember this.

When we choose to be engaged and involved there will be battles won and battles lost. That’s what happens in a republic like ours. But if we are not at the table we lose by default. That’s not a great way to lose. Too many Christians leave the table before the main course. They give up …pointing fingers, getting involved in the pursuit of our own pleasures …retreating to our religious ghettos -hoping God will make all the yucky stuff go away or that somebody else will do our dirty work for us.

It doesn’t work like that. It’s about engagement and involvement - it’s about long obedience and staying at the table even when it feels we can’t take it any longer. But when we stay at the table we get sharper, we listen better, we win the right to be heard, you influence decision making and you often learn to love people you thought were your enemies. And God smiles. Without a place at the table our voice won't be heard. And perhaps even more importantly we won't be able to listen. When we don't listen we don't understand. When we don't understand we battle stereotypes and caricatures. And then we battle shadow and not substance. And there is just too much substance, these days, to be wasting our time fighting boogeymen.

I wrote this several years ago. I don't have my original notes anymore. Some of the info about Maya Lin and the controversy surrounding the Memorial comes from an original source that I no longer can find but I wish I could because I'd like to give credit where credit is due. Although I doubt that I'm quoting anything word for word I just wanted to acknowledge that I wish I could cite the original source inspiration for the first four paragraphs./strong>