Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Spirit Dance

Themes emerge each vacation. Last year vital ‘what next’ questions needed to be addressed. This year ‘rest’ seems to be at the heart of my experience. Just rest. I came into vacation weary. Very weary. It’s been a year of change, delicately balancing new challenges with past responsibilities. Thus far, I’m feeling pretty rested. Adequate sleep. Lots of down time. Exercise. Plenty of reading. We have visited family, worshipped with monks and now rest easily at the beautiful home of a friend in Door County, Wisconsin. On Sunday we worshipped. It was a community church in Fish Creek, far removed from big church suburban expectations. It was cozy and real and rural. In the long run it’s probably not my cup of tea but in the present moment I sensed the presence of God in the people and their worship.

I realize that I crave both variety and sameness. I need predictable patterns to tame my wanderlust tendencies. Perhaps that’s why I looked forward to set prayer times at the monastery. Perhaps, such times need to be incorporated into my regular patterns back in Chicago. Stopping long enough, at regular intervals, to remind myself of divine commitments, might prove helpful. Perhaps it is a partial cure to the ‘hurry sickness’ that plagues my soul. The truth is that ‘hurry’ must carry its own reward because I have mastered its every nuance. Could it be that I bore easily and when bored become dismissive of slowing down? That dismissive attitude is perilous to my well being.

But I love variety. I love the sights and sounds of something new, something that leaps up and surprises me with joy and delight. An introvert by nature I can draw too far into myself and lose the ability to embrace the wonder of all that God has created. When I allow myself to be released from my introspection I discover something fresh and new that breathes life into my rut strewn existence.

And thus the life-long tug of war. I am pulled in one direction to stability and a sense of sameness and pulled in another to whatever is over the next hill. Stability and adventure are not mutually exclusive although at first glance they may appear to be. They actually work well in tandem. Too much of one or the other leads to a precarious imbalance.

In my journal this morning I wrestled with this life struggle. It is a ongoing battle for me. How do I learn to be content with the ‘who’ God has created me to be without losing the vital ‘what next’ missional expression of my being? If truth be know, I’ve never been content with the ‘who’ that I am. Introverted, by nature, the shadow side of myself is too easily led into a never ending self-examination of sins and failing which often creates in me a haunting negativity. It is not a healthy pattern. It’s good to be aware. It’s not wise to live believing that my shadow side ruminations will bring the healing only Jesus can offer. He reminds me to be faithful to the present while He takes care of my past, healing its darker side and allowing the good memories to nourish me in the here and now. In the faith filled present He will also plant dreams that stir my missional desires.

The movement of faith is inward, then outward, and inward again for reflection, and then outward once more. In and out. Out and in. In this hokey-pokeyish dance of the Spirit life is found.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Older Friend

I’m rereading a book called Father Elijah. It’s my fourth or fifth time through. It’s written by Michael D. O’Brien. It’s apocalyptic literature from a Roman Catholic perspective. It’s well written. In some sense it is provocative. It draws me closer to Jesus. It’s certainly not written in the same predictive, prophetic form apocalyptic best sellers are known for. Instead there are subtleties of style and understanding that go far beyond what we’re accustomed to in evangelical writings of the end times.

Father Elijah is about good and evil. It is about God and His enemies. It is about friendship with God and wrestling with evil. It is about the people of God who slowly, but surely start unraveling the sure foundations of faith. And it’s about the whole notion of spiritual warfare. Some scoff at such things. I don’t for I see evidence of it swirling in and among us. Often, it is out of sight. More often than not it is quite evident but rarely acknowledged. Is there, indeed, a wrestling match going on for our heart and soul? I believe so for I bear the wounds of it. It is real to me.

Sometimes when I write or talk about such things I wonder if some label me a ‘religious fanatic’ or ‘pedestrian’ in thought and word. No one wants to be so casually dismissed and inaccurately labeled. Yet that is the risk we take these days.

It is not an exaggeration to state that we have an enemy who wants to rob and steal from us. Scripture is clear on that. The evil one is not a cute little cartoon character sitting on one’s shoulder whispering sweet nothing and evil distraction into our ears. There is nothing cute in him. He is the ‘father of lies’. And for some reason God allows him some reign in today’s world. I don’t completely understand it but I accept it. And because I believe it I must walk through this world with some degree of awareness of the different pulls on my life. God has my heart. God’s enemy wants to crush my heart.

We live in a world where belief comes hard to people. To believe in Christ, for example, comes at the exclusion of other things. We don’t like to exclude. We want to be inclusive, open, and accepting. We choose to believe in all things and in reality end up believing not in much at all.

I love to meet other people from other faith backgrounds. I love diversity. Inclusiveness and diversity spice up life. Coming to grips with common understanding and finding common ground is essential. I’m all for it. But I believe in Jesus. He is not Buddah nor Krishna. He is not the Muslim prophet. He is more. Much more. And when I state that in even the most loving ways I can feel people distance themselves from me. Even Christian people. We live in a world where inclusiveness actually excludes. Can one live in today’s world and still live with conviction and a sense of life changing truth?

The Jesus I know is not an ideologue. He is a strangely mysterious yet very personal presence. He has a particular style that invites all to His table but challenges assumptions about life and belief. We all love the invitation. We struggle with the challenges, don’t we?

Perhaps we live in a world that is so tired that it doesn’t want to deal with the challenges of good and evil. Oh, we’re more than willing to point fingers at others but are less adept at looking deep inside to see the battle waging within. And so we don’t look deep, or spend time wrestling with our own personal demons, or wade into the exhausting world of ideas and dialogue. Do we choose a personal purgatory in a world called ‘whatever’ and call it a day? If so, do we actually become one of the building blocks of an apocalyptic age and unwittingly choose sides in the cosmic drama? I think so. And the side where ‘whatever’ dwells is not the side of God.

Good books are a treasure. Father Elijah is one I mine frequently enough. It is becoming an older friend inviting me into the deeper things of God.

Friday, June 11, 2010

On Monks and Monasteries

I took a trip with Anita to a special place in my memory. Many moons ago I left my hometown in search of an education. I ended up at a college, in central Minnesota, run by monks. That simple decision began to open up the world to me.

We stayed in the Abbey Guesthouse and luxuriated in simple Benedictine hospitality. During our visit we walked into the church with a monk who had long hair and a beard, looking much like an ageing rock and roller. He looked strangely familiar. I introduced myself and inquired whether or not we knew each other from our college days. He said: “If we did we probably got drunk together.”

At college I studied some, partied some, learned a fair amount but also squandered opportunities. It’s a story not unlike some of yours I’m sure. The monk certainly was alluding to a past that led to his present reality. Although I doubt I ever drank with this monk I certainly might have ‘smoked’ with him in an early 70’s kind of way. Such was my mindset and practice in those days.

It’s interesting that my fellow partier is now a member of a monastic community and I have spent years and years in full time ministry. Out of the ashes of misspent youth comes clarity of soul and purpose I suppose and/or perhaps penitence for wrongs done and opportunities ignored. Clarity and penitence seems to be compatible and necessary bedfellows.

For four days Anita and I prayed with the monks at least once a day, sometimes twice. We began looking forward to the prayer rhythm and the reminders it provided.

Many of the monks I knew well are now dead. They are buried in the monastic cemetery overlooking the lake called Sagatagan. Other monks looked vaguely familiar but time has blurred my memory and matured once youthful faces. Looking for the ‘young monks’ I once knew was somewhat an exercise in futility. Those once young have become the elders. Even so, I recognized a few. Two were classmates. One, still a bit rude and aloof. The other, known for scandalous sin. I saw a professor or two who taught with both excellence and Godliness.

In my evangelical tradition monks are celebrated more and more. They represent a lack of ‘hurry’ and spiritual discipline. I believe that is true. At times, they are made to be more than they are. If truth be know they are not unlike us. Monasteries have their saints and sinners, introverts and extroverts. Monk can be all those things that we on the outside still are.

As I sat in the choir loft praying on our last day I felt myself thankful for this monastery. I am part of their legacy I suppose. They have created deep memories and treasure in me. Since the mid 1800’s they have tilled the soil and educated young minds. I am thankful for their faithfulness, their eccentricities, and their giftedness. And I am thankful that despite their individual pasts and sometimes haunting sinfulness that they come to be shaped and transformed, in and through their community, by the living God.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Random Stuff Running Around in My Head

Poor Obama. Did you know he personally caused the oil leakage in the Gulf? You have to just laugh at the folks blaming him for everything under the sun.

I love Israel. Would go back in a minute. Love the land and the people. Still don’t understand, however, why so many get upset when others question Israeli judgment and/or motivation. I wonder if some ‘end times’ biblical paradigms cloud the judgment of many regarding Israel. It’s almost like Israel can do whatever it needs or wants to as long as biblical prophecy is fulfilled. That just sounds goofy and unbiblical.

The whole BP/Gulf thing is heart wrenching. It's another dagger to the heart of that region. I haven't prayed enough for them and that whole situation. Makes you appreciate the environmentalists who have been 'warning' us about this kind of thing for years.

Former Governor Blagojevich is on trial. I’m wondering how many famous people are squirming in their seats knowing that he lack impulse control.

I’ve been thinking that if all the really angry people get elected in the fall we’re going to have an even worse mess in Congress than we do now. Angry people have to stay angry in order for their constituency to keep supporting them. How do you get anything done in an environment of ‘rage’? How do you build coalitions?

Sorry to hear about the Gore’s ending what looked like a fulfilling marriage. Of course we never know what goes on behind closed doors but this saddened me. I think they are good people.

I just read an article that said that “the world's mega-cities are merging to form vast "mega-regions" which may stretch hundreds of kilometres across countries and be home to more than 100 million people according to a major new UN report.” Whew. I wonder what that means for political, economic, religious and social thinking.

More and more I’m seeing the good things ordinary people do. People all over are ‘paying it forward’ and making a difference.

Sometimes I listen to really conservative Christian radio and I understand why so many people write people of faith off. Don’t try to call in and disagree either. You won’t be treated well.

Do you think God likes systematic theology?

Why do I want an ipad so much?

Do you think anyone ever sits Rahm Emanuel down and inquires why he deems it so important to be so foul mouthed?

The ‘Tea Party’ movement scares me. For sure, they’re part of the corrective process in our political system but whew …

Walked into a pizza place in an urban neighborhood and saw volunteers from a suburban Christian school loading up a truck, met African-American staff people who are from that neighborhood, and was introduced to 15 people from Kosovo who are all Muslims. Gotta love the diversity of this world of ours. Began thinking that those who can’t embrace and deal with diversity are going to be ill-equipped to make an impact going forward.

I’m very excited about a lot of my friends who have been given the spiritual gift of making lots of money and deal making. They can help make dreams come true.

Ted Haggard is starting another church. Things that make you go hmmmm.

Watched Hotel Rwanda again the other night. I couldn’t help but think deeply about the genocide that occurred in that piece of Africa. We either didn’t know or didn’t care. How much of that is still going on in other places in the world? Do I not want to know?

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Vacation, Inspiration and the Blackhawks

Vacation. One of the most beautiful words in the English language. I am going to vacate one world and place myself in another quite soon. Yes. How sweet it is.

I make vacation decisions on a variety of factors. Cost plays a role. Weather certainly. Adventure can play a factor. There are times when what I’m looking for is a ‘place’. I’m looking for a ‘place’ that’s familiar, where God has met me in times past.

My wife’s place is Ross Lake in northern Maine. She’s flooded with great memories when she’s there.

I have several places. Door County for sure. Beautiful. Unrushed. There’s a camp in Northern California called Woodleaf. It’s a Young Life property. Haven’t been there for years but it beckons me. The college I went to is called St. John’s. 2400 acres of forest and lakes. It was the doorway into the rest of the world for me.

Vacation 2010 is about a sense of place. Going to visit St. John’s and then to beautiful Door County.

I need a fresh breath of God’s spirit flowing into my life. Pray that I open myself to all the possibilities God will set before me.

Last night was inspirational. I was invited to attend the end of the year banquet of a group called Link Unlimited. Every year five or six dozen young people are chosen to be part of a four year odyssey designed to help them succeed. Sponsors mentor and help pay for a private school high school education for motivated but poor African American young people.

Last night the Seniors became alumni. Everyone of them is going to a four year college. 55% are getting full rides. Together they earned over $6,000,000 in scholarships over the next four years. They are going to some of the nation’s best schools …Stanford, Vanderbilt, Bowdoin, Illinois, Smith, and Willams.

It was hard not to get choked up watching these young men and women grab hold of their future. It was way cool.

By the way, they’re looking for more sponsors and mentors. Check it out at http://www.linkunlimited.org/


The Bulls weren’t so good. Neither were the Bears. The Cubs and Sox are mired in mediocrity or worse. But not the Blackhawks. They’re fighting for Lord Stanley’s Cup.

It’s interesting what happens to a city when one of their teams is succeeding. Spirits are buoyed. Hope is restored. There’s something good to talk about. We need the diversion from other stuff going on around us.

There’s lots I don’t like about big-time sports but it’s hard to be a cynic when your team is in the thick of things.

So, Chicago is thinking hockey big-time in June. Go Hawks.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Three Verses

I’ve been reading Hebrews 11 and 12. Chapter 12 starts.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (TNIV)

Those three verses are killers. Read it. I did and it’s like God is saying, “The ball’s in your court Mike. I’ve surrounded you with support. Now, go and live in such a way that your life means something. So don’t mess with sin, run a good race, and keep Jesus locked in.”

Easy huh?

It’s not. I have people who have deeply influenced my life. They have not been perfect but they have been faithful. And to a person they’ve understood what sin does, how important it is to stay the course, and they seem to know Jesus, not just about Him.

Have you ever thought of becoming a student of your sin? We all should. We need to know how sin entraps us, where it happens and why we’re so susceptible to it. When we know our sin and what it does to us we’re more willing to do whatever it takes so it doesn’t ensnare us. It’s the business man who asks for accountability on any overnight stay in a strange town. He knows where he’s weak. Too much free time, too much expense account, and too much temptation creates a perfect storm for sin to take root. So, accountability keeps him locked in. A mark of true maturity is to be able to identify and deal with the sin in our life, not explaining it away or justifying it.

What race are you running? We’re all called to run the race God wants us to run. My race isn’t yours. It’s not a comparison game. The common thread is that God wants us to persevere. Perseverance is about commitment, hard work, patience, and endurance. When we persevere we bear difficulties calmly and without complaining. It becomes a habit. I read recently abbreviated excerpts from the diary of John Wesley.

Sunday, A.M., May 5 Preached in St. Anne's. Was asked not to come back anymore.

Sunday, P.M., May 5 Preached in St. John's. Deacons said "Get out and stay out."

Sunday, A.M., May 12 Preached in St. Jude's. Can't go back there, either.

Sunday, A.M., May 19 Preached in St. Somebody Else's. Deacons called special meeting and said I couldn't return.

Sunday, P.M., May 19 Preached on street. Kicked off street.

Sunday, A.M., May 26 Preached in meadow. Chased out of meadow as bull was turned loose during service.

Sunday, A.M., June 2 Preached out at the edge of town. Kicked off the highway.

Sunday, P.M., June 2 Afternoon, preached in a pasture. Ten thousand people came out to hear me.

I guess you could call that perseverance, huh?

But you won’t be able to run the race unless your eyes are fixed on Jesus. He’s the author and perfector of faith. Eyes fixed on Jesus. Ever see a man in love with a woman? He’s locked in. She shows up in a room. And he can’t take his eyes off of her. Anita was like that with me. She met me and she was locked in. It was ‘Mike’ 24/7. :)

When I served on Young Life staff stories abounded about Jim Rayburn, the founder of that ministry. Once when faced with an important strategic decision key staff came together to talk about the issue. Rayburn said, “Let’s climb up the mountain and start talking to Jesus …and for three days they locked into Christ, pleading with Him to show up, to give direction to their decisions.

That’s what it’s like, I think, to have eyes fixed on Jesus. It’s that firm belief that He is the author and perfector of our faith. Acts 17: 28 says it well. “For in him we live and move and have our being.” Is that true for you?

I’ve still got a ways to go. Sometimes I embrace my sin. I’m prone towards ‘giving up and making excuses.’ And, if truth be known I seem to know more about God than really knowing Him. But there are times when I do sense that I’m in the right groove. That sin is being dealt with, that the race is being run at the right pace, in the right direction, and that I am locked into Jesus. Those are the good days. That’s when life feels good even if circumstances take their toll. I’m aiming for more good days. More and more of them.