Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Let Your License Plate Speak...

Sitting at the lone traffic light on my way to the freeway this morning (ah, the joy of country life), I could see a car coming up the road on my right pause, wondering if she could turn right on red before the light changed for me. I motioned her through and then the light went green for me. Immediately the yahoo behind me honked -- upset, I guess, that somebody got in front of us for our last 1/2 mile to the Interstate. She moved right along, not holding anybody up, but this guy in his Mercedes sat on my bumper the whole way. As we moved onto the ramp, I sped up ... 50 ... 55... 60... it's not like I'm known for driving slow... 65 ... 70... C230 right on my bumper. Then he pulled out on the right, zoomed past me, and entered the freeway a car ahead of me. As he flew by, I noticed his shiny new Indiana specialty plate -- "In God We Trust."

You'd better trust God, I thought, because the way you're driving, to quote an old Harry Chapin song,"He's the only one who can you now."

Uncharitable, I know.

It's not that I have anything against specialty plates. I have one myself, touting protecting the environment. For the rest of the trip in I pondered what bugged me about this guy and his vanity plate. And it's just this ... it's me. Besides being a Quaker type who eschews outward symbols of faith, I'm adverse to "In God We Trust" plates, fish decals or chromed symbols, clergy badges on my car because I know I wouldn't live up to the advertisements. My license plate would proclaim my trust in God, but my driving would, at times, reflect less than Christian values implicit in such a claim of trust. Just like Mr. Mercedes did this morning.

There's a Quaker saying that we are to let our lives speak. I have hard enough time making sure that my life is saying something positive -- I don't need to add my license plate into the mix.


Monday, March 26, 2007

The Art of Living

Living is an art. It calls for imagination and spirit. One thing that shows it’s an art, not a science, or even a craft, is that there is no one way, no set formula to follow. Living into “as way opens” is understanding that the “way” that opens is unique to each person. God uses our life experiences to open the way, a way that we can perceive as we move through life, if we believe that our lives are more than our own and that we are moving through life with a holy purpose and safe in a Divine promise.

Yes, we may be flawed and confused. In that case we have good company in the Bible – David and his lusty heart, Noah and his getting falling down drunk after docking the ark, and others. But these were all folks chosen to do God’s work. God’s funny that way – choosing the goofiest of those among us to accomplish His purposes. In doing God’s work in spite of their shortcomings, these people stand as symbols of the holiness to which each of us is called. They encourage us to see that way opens to follow God in life’s messiness, including our self-made messiness.

Learning to see the ways of our life opening means that we need to be authentic people who live life as fully human, not as perfectly pious professional religious persons. What will then make our faith genuine for ourselves and others is that we are aware of the circumstances through which we have passed. We, and they, see our flaws and frailties, and still know that we are people who hunger after, and are loved by, God.


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Signs of Spring

Ah, the first day of spring! It feels like it here in Indiana -- sunny, bright, mid-50s, muddy. And all around are signs of spring and signs of God at work. The former are fairly obvious at Ploughshares -- crocus creeping up through the mulch, the bald eagles adding to their nest as they get ready for (hopefully) another hatchling or two, buds popping on all the saplings we planted last summer, the normally sedate, meandering creek at times a raging river whisking huge logs and other debris downstream (or leaving it littering our field).

The latter -- signs of God -- are usually a little less obvious, although those of us who attend worship services will hear lots of (mostly children's) sermon allusions to seeds sprouting et al as spiritual analogies of the resurrection. While those are good, and true, the signs of God I'm speaking of are obvious only if we pay attention in love, obvious only when we let our hearts and minds be open to the mysterious workings of God around us. I tend to notice those signs by using my senses. When I see the eagles soaring on the windy days, held aloft by the strong spring breezes and their mighty wings, I'm reminded how God sustains us -- "they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles" (Isaiah 40). When gather up broken branches from the many thorny locust trees and a thorn pierces my glove or shoots up through my boot, I'm reminded of a crown of thorns worn in love and agony thousands of years ago -- and it becomes real today. I could go on with smells, and sounds, and taste, but you get the idea.

I hope you'll take this time to "taste and see that the Lord is good." To savor the "sweet smelling sacrifices." And to listen with your ears and heart for signs of spring and signs of the everliving and everloving God. For, as poet Gerald Manley Hopkins, says "Christ plays in ten thousand places." Where is He playing around you?


Wednesday, March 07, 2007

A Lenten Thought -- or Two

“What is happening?” That’s what Peter had to have been wondering. Just a few hours earlier Jesus had called Peter his rock, upon whom his church would be built. Now he’s calling him the Devil. Not even the son of the Devil, but the Devil himself. Peter may have pushed his way gruffly through the crowd. Maybe he’d had enough of this nonsense, Jesus always speaking in riddles. Peter had been faithful. He’d worked as hard as anybody of the disciple band to usher in the kingdom. He had walked upon the water -- well, at least part way. Until he forgot to forget where he was and keep his eyes fixed on Jesus. When he remembered that he was walking on the water and that men, even brave Galilaeans, can’t do that, then he began to sink.

Perhaps he shook his head in wonder. Everything he had ever thought or believed in had been turned upside down by Jesus. Men don’t walk on water. But Jesus showed him they could. Five loaves and two fishes are a nice meal for a young lad or two, but Jesus fed 5,000 with that meager meal. And had more left over when he was finished than when he began. The impossible was not the impossible with Jesus. It wasn’t even just possible. It was the norm. It was what was expected.

Preposterous. Unless… unless… unless, perhaps Peter thought, Jesus was right and my interests really are on man’s interests instead of God’s.

You just have to love impetuous Peter. At least I do. He tries so hard to be a person of faith. And frequently fails. Because his idea of faith is what he wants, not necessarily what God wants.
I find Peter’s life with Jesus’ an encouragement to my own spiritual walk. He reminds me that when I am surest about having a handle on the things of the spirit and God’s will, that that’s when I best check my leadings and make sure it is God’s voice I’m hearing and not my own. That is God’s side I’m on, not my own.

Perhaps Peter, while reflecting on Jesus’ words, found himself struggling with confusing his will with God’s? And wondering how he could learn to tell the difference between the two – between his interests and God’s. How could he determine if they were one and the same? Can anyone know the will of God? Or do you just have to act in faith and step out and try the path that seems good? But that’s hard to do when the Son of Man turns your notions of possible and impossible, power and poverty and everything else on their heads.

Certainly the life of Christian discipleship is difficult at times. Sometimes the stuff Jesus talks about seems crystal clear. At others, though, it muddles our mind.

Peter needed to learn to let go and relax a bit into God’s will, to trust that God had a better idea of what needed to happen than did he. When Peter quit striving and trying to force the outcome of things, he found himself turning into the Rock that Jesus had called him.

That’s a hard lesson for me. I am, by nature, a striver – and a worrier. I have a hard time letting go and letting God do God’s work. I feel much more comfortable letting God know what God’s will is than I do waiting and listening. And sometimes, I must confess, I hear Jesus’ words on the wind -- "You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men." Actually, not “men” but “man” – Brent.

I hear Jesus rebuking me as he did Peter. Which is a good thing. We all need correction every now and then – some of us more often than others. And when we hear those chastening words, we need to remember that God said “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent.” If you’ve not heard God’s rebuke lately it may be because you are doing exactly what God has called you to do. On the other hand, it may be because you have stopped listening and grown spiritually smug . Even those, maybe even especially those, of us who haven’t heard God’s voice for a while and certainly feel that there is nothing we need to seek repentance for.
Repentance is a word we don’t bandy around much in our common lives. And yet we often put it into to practice in our relations with others. When we do something that hurts someone we love, we say we’re sorry and resolve to not do it again. We go a new direction with our behavior. And that’s what repentance is – turning a new direction. For Peter, and for many of us, it means turning from our direction (our will) to God’s direction (God’s will). Especially during those times of spiritual clarity in which we hear Jesus’ voice whispering down the Spirit wind, “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”

The Lenten Season is, for many Christians, a time of reminding us to be penitent, to be sorry for missing the mark, for reflecting the folly of man rather than the glory of God. Today’s scripture lesson reminds us that our spiritual ears may need unclogged so that we can hear the voice of the one who calls us through all time and eternity. As Jesus himself urges us “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

Peter heard. The playful wind flew up the hillside, tousling his hair and beard. He grinned, ruefully remembering other words of Jesus. “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” In the breeze he heard two questions. Satan or Spirit? God’s interests or man’s?
His mind made up, Peter gave the rock one last kick, headed back into the crowd, threaded his way back next to Jesus side and set his face toward Jerusalem.

Toward what will we set our faces – during Lent and our lives?