Friday, April 22, 2011

Wholly Weak

This morning I tried to get my arms around all that Holy Week represents.  In many respects I am not ready for Easter.  And even thought this is Good Friday my whole being isn’t fully focused on that reality.  If anything, I sense that I’m occupying the Saturday between.

By most reasonable standards things are going well for me.  I am loved.  The work I do is rewarding.  I have friendships that are meaningful.  My health is good.  Still, there are moments when the press of life feels a tad bit overwhelming.  It’s that place where there is a to do list that looks daunting, critical questions need to be answered, and there’s a sense that I’m disappointing more people than I’m helping.  You can relate.  This is not a space that’s unique to my experience.  But it’s at times like this that I feel “wholly weak”, incapable of pulling my head out of the sand.

This morning I told God all of this.  In measured words we talked about the ‘land in between’ I seem to be occupying.  I yearn for Easter’s resurrection and the almost paralyzing emotion of the Cross but find myself a little stuck in uncertainty and ambiguity.  A.W Tozer prays what is often my reality:

O God, I have tasted Your goodness, and it has both satisfied me and mad me thirsty for more. I am painfully conscious of my need of further grace. I am ashamed of my lack of desire. O God, the Triune God, I want to want You; I long to be filled with longing; I thirst to be made more thirsty still. Show me Your glory, I pray, that so I may know You indeed. Begin in mercy a new work of love within me. Say to my soul, ‘Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.’ Then give me grace to rise and follow You up from this misty lowland where I have wandered so long.

Holy Week, I’m learning, will bring us to a place where we’re forced to come face to face with ‘wholly weakness’.  The events framed by Palm Sunday and Easter force us to face our wishy washy affections, to examine our habits of life and faith,  to deal with conflicting emotions, to delay gratification and to trust God in the midst of the mystery of it all. These are not easy things.  But they are necessary things to wrestle with.  The ‘misty lowland’ ultimately leads us to ‘majestic higher ground’.  That is the both the hope and promise of Resurrection.  Will we trust in that hope and live joyously into the promise?  May it be so.  May it be so.

Friday, April 15, 2011


We’re living in a culture filled with squabbles of various types.  Often, they revolve around important issues. Sides get declared, tension builds, and voila words start being written and spoken that are quite ugly.  Here’s my solution to it all.

It’s called an ATO.  That’s right, an Adult Time Out.  We make a pledge whenever we feel the need to say something particularly nasty to stop long enough to think, pray and ask ourselves one question.  Here it is.  “Is there anything I’m missing? You could replace that with “Have I considered why the other side is in such strong opposition to my ideas?”

Here’s my thinking. If I were at Tea Party Headquarters for instance. (I know, I know, they don’t have a headquarters but go with me on this for a bit longer . See, some of you were going to start writing a correction and getting defensive about using the Tea Party as an example ...weren’t you? That’s the time for your ATO) So, I’m at TPH spraying up some signs.  Wouldn’t it be great if someone said “You know, there’s some good people on the other side of this budget argument.  Are we missing anything?”

Or let’s say you’re in the White House and all hunkered down getting mad at that Ryan guy.  Wonder if anyone is saying “Is there anything in his plan we should be paying attention to?” 

Let’s take Facebook.  At the speed and fury that some people write I’m pretty well convinced they’re not considering the validity, even in part, of someone else’s argument. At the moment of fury wouldn’t it be nice if they took an ATO.

I’m thinking ATO would work around a lot of church board meetings.  Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone once in awhile one of the elders would say “Hey, I’m not going to react right away. What Helen just said kind of makes sense. What have I been missing?”  That’s an ATO moment as is it is for some of you who are mad that I just inferred a woman could be an elder at a church.

So, ATO is my solution for slowing down the world long enough for people to breathe and actually consider what the other side is thinking and feeling.  Wouldn’t that be nice?  In the process, we might have more measured responses to both issues and to other people.

For some people as they get practiced in taking an ATO they’ll be able to calm down relatively quickly.  Some might need to take day long ATO’s.  Others might need to refrain from speaking or writing for months or even years.  It all depends how long it takes them to be delivered from their self-righteousness.  For each of us it’s different.  For many it will greatly enhance their life and influence. It would certainly help take some of the anger out of this world of ours.  Now that would be a truly wonderful thing. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


Darrell is dead. He died back home in Flint, MI

I didn’t know Darrell well.  Don’t know what the issues were in his life.  Don’t know his history.  Don’t know how he got to Breakthrough or even why he left.  All I know is that I liked him.

Darrell was a short, slight man. He was one of those guys whose age was hard to determine. He talked in a whisper and I’m not sure why that was.  Our lives intersected on regular occasions but our jobs were not intertwined in meaningful ways.  Our interactions occurred most often because my need depended on his knowledge and wherewithal.  I’d need a door open.  He had the key. I’d be giving a tour. He had a piece of information.  He was always there. Always willing.  And I was grateful and always made a point to thank him.

It’s a bit disconcerting when someone dies and you know them but realize that you know nothing about them. Sometimes that is what it is.  It’s a combination of the pace of life, roles and responsibilities, and a willingness to stop long enough to engage another human being.  There are people you get to know and others you don’t. But when someone dies I sometimes want to wonder aloud about why my pace of life keeps me from at least being inquisitive about someone else’s story.  Why do I allow some relationships to remain friendly but utilitarian and others to blossom into real friendship? 

My sense is that Darrell had a story and I missed out on it.  Of course, I realize that there’s only so many stories one can listen to and there’s only so much time in a day, and…I know all that.  But what if my priorities are misplaced and the only true agenda I need is the one God places before me each and every day?  Maybe Darrell was a missed opportunity.   

Working in an urban ministry and for that matter a suburban church are remarkably the same.  Lives cross, opportunities exist and possibilities are set before us.  Everyone has a story. Some appear to be very interesting. Some look quite sad.  Some are bursting at the seams with meaning and others point to a squandered life.  But we never know for sure do we until we enter into that story with that person? And as we enter in we discover the real truth about that life and perhaps even our own.  

So, I mourn Darrell. I’m thankful our lives intersected.  His kindnesses to me had meaning.  Hopefully, my kindnesses towards him were also satisfying.  I wish I had learned more of his story but maybe all I was supposed to know is what I currently have. It’s fascinating that Darrell’s death causes me to stop, reflect and write.  Perhaps that was one of God’s purposes for his life, huh?  Maybe God is using Darrell to help produce a better Mike. 'Tis a good thing if that's true.

To Darrell. Nothing can stop you now.  

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Budget Squabble to Impact Internet

Buried deep  in the bowels of the Department of Homeland Security the office of Internet Management and Wiring maintains all things ‘internet’.  Shortly after Al Gore invented the world wide web IMW was established.  It’s budget is substantial but because of the threatened shut down of the government the internet as we know it is in jeopardy of going down.

According to unnamed spokespeople decisions are being made that will impact how, when, and where information is delivered.  A secret task force is meeting this morning to determine whether Facebook or Google will be axed from receiving services.

Calls to the White House have not been returned but there is indication of ‘above normal’ activity in the West Wing.

A Republican senator admitted that ‘tough cuts’ are coming and people better get used to living without the internet.  The Senator, a Tea Party sympathizer,  said that internet access was not one of the original intents of the framers of the constitution.

President Obama’s campaign staff, it is rumored, has hunkered down in Chicago and are examining options for waging an alternative campaign, one without world wide web capability.  Word on the street has it that no one on the current staff has lived in a world without internet and thus there are discreet inquiries being made to campaign pros who have actually worked with pen and paper.

A spokesman for Apple said that they will have a surprise announcement next week about an IPad app which will allow their systems to operate without the internet. The app is called 'Big Imagination'.

Wall Street appears skeptical and there was no big run on Apple stock early in the trading day.

The author of  the popular blog ‘Geek Rumor, Romance and Technology’ said today that he has “seen the Apple app, and that it’s amazing but frequent users in test labs  developed a severe rash and lost 40 points off of testable IQ. That could end up being a huge downside and perhaps even scare away early adapters.”

Apple’s competitors say they have a similar app in test laboratories but will not be able to release what they have until they examine Apple’s product so they can tweak it with slight differences so that it looks like something original.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011


There’s something about affirmation.  You know, that kind word that lifts you up and makes you believe in yourself again.  Today, someone wrote me a very kind, affirming note.  ‘Twas a good thing.  A blessing actually.

We all need affirmation these days.  There’s plenty of reminders out there of the ways we don’t quite measure up.  It’s a wonder that anyone holds there head high anymore.  We’re pushed, pulled, prodded, and pigeonholed all day, every day.  Ads tell us we’d be better off if  ______________________.  Fill in the blank, huh?  If only we were skinnier, stronger, younger, hipper, wiser, better educated, more in touch with our feelings, used the right deodorant, drove the best car etc., then we’d be worth something.  Whew!!  Who does measure up? My guess is there's a whole lot of folks who are thinking that life is pretty much a fairly arduous uphill climb and don't get a whole lot of encouragement.

I wonder what it would be like to be someone important. I think if I was the POTUS, for example, I wouldn’t want to get out of bed in the morning unless I had some designated affirmers around me.  I certainly wouldn’t want to read the newspaper or turn on the news.  It seems no one has anything good to say about anyone trying to lead these days.  Free speech is a wonderful thing but there’s times when ‘ya wonder about some people’s internal blurting monitors.  What ever happened to self-control and self-discipline?

In a world that likes to tear down we need people who will build up. And we need more of them. Sometimes I need to be reminded that I am an unrepeatable miracle of God.  I’m one of a kind. So are you.  And that’s a very good thing.

Maybe we need to be on the lookout for folks who take it on the chin all too often.  How about that waiter or waitress who gets dumped on far too many times during the day?  What could we do to make his/her day?  Or that cab driver? What affirmation could we throw his/her way?  Good tips work.  Add some well chosen, affirming words along with it and you’ll make someone’s day and maybe more.

The truth is that I don’t know anyone who doesn’t appreciate a heartfelt thumbs up, a look in the eye thank you, an appreciative nod, and/or a written acknowledgement of kindnesses done and effort undertaken.

Thanks to the affirmers of this world who in word and deed help make this a better place to be.  May your tribe and influence increase.

Sunday, April 03, 2011


When I read through scripture it’s pretty clear that God wants to use me as a conduit of His many blessings.  Often, my obedience to that divine assignment  is a little sketchy.  I have a tendency to want to hold onto God’s blessing and not share it.

Of course, if God did that to me I’d be furious.  I want God to be at my beck and call and blessing me at His every remembrance of me.  I don’t want Him to hold back.

Bud I do hold back.  And when I refuse to give usually one of these three  things is at work:  Selfishness, Pride, and a marvelous little something called Sloth.

Selfishness compels me to hoard my time, talent, and treasure.  Pride always attempts to make me famous...not God.  And sloth keeps me  from doing anything much at all and keeps me consumed with only thinking about doing God’s will.

A few years ago I read a story that, frankly, got to my heart.  It speaks to the ‘heart of generosity’.  My hope is that in sharing it you might be be more willing to go to war against the sins that so easily entangles and get on with being all God is calling you to be.  We desperately need generous people in today's world.  The needs are great.

The author is someone by the name of Edy Ogen. Enjoy.

In 1946, a month before Easter the pastor of our church announced that a special Easter offering would be taken to help a poor family. He asked everyone to save and give sacrificially. When we got home, we talked about what we could do. We decided to buy 50 pounds of potatoes and live on them for a month. This would allow us to save $20 of our grocery money for the offering. When we thought that if we kept our electric lights turned out as much as possible and didn't listen to the radio, we'd save money on that month's electric bill. Darlene, my sister, got as many house and yard cleaning jobs as possible, and both of us babysat for everyone we could. Every day we counted the money to see how much we had saved. At night we'd sit in the dark and talk about how the poor family was going to enjoy having the money the church would give them. We had about 80 people in church, so figured that whatever amount of money we had to give, the offering would surely be 20 times that much.

We didn't care that we wouldn't have new clothes for Easter; we ended up earning $70 for the sacrificial offering. We never had so much money before. We could hardly wait to get to church! When the sacrificial offering was taken, we were sitting on the second row from the front. Mom put in the $10 bill, and each of us kids put in a $20. As we walked home after church, we sang all the way. At lunch Mom had a surprise for us. She had bought a dozen eggs, and we had boiled Easter eggs with our fried potatoes! Late that afternoon the minister drove up in his car. Mom went to the door, talked with him for a moment, and then came back with an envelope in her hand. We asked what it was, but she didn't say a word. She opened the envelope and out fell a bunch of money. There were three crisp $20 bills, one $10 and seventeen $1 bills.

Mom put the money back in the envelope. We didn't talk, just sat and stared at the floor. We had gone from feeling like millionaires to feeling like poor white trash.  I knew we didn't have a lot of things that other people had, but I'd never thought we were poor. That Easter day I found out we were. The minister had brought us the money for the poor family, so we must be poor. I didn't like being poor. I looked at my dress and worn-out shoes and felt so ashamed--I didn't even want to go back to church.

All that week, we girls went to school and came home, and no one talked much. Finally on Saturday, Mom asked us what we wanted to do with the money. What did poor people do with money? We didn't know. We'd never known we were poor. We didn't want to go to church on Sunday, but Mom said we had to. At church we had a missionary speaker. He talked about how churches in Africa made buildings out of sun dried bricks, but they needed money to buy roofs. He said $100 would put a roof on a church. The minister said, "Can't we all sacrifice to help these poor people?" We looked at each other and smiled for the first time in a week. Mom reached into her purse and pulled out the envelope.  My sister put it in the offering. When the offering was counted, the minister announced that it was a little over $100. The missionary was excited. He hadn't expected such a large offering from our small church. He said, "You must have some rich people in this church.”Suddenly it struck us! We had given $87 of that "little over $100."  We were the rich family in the church! Hadn't the missionary said so? From that day on I've never been poor again.