It’s Monday–An Enduring Good

Did you have a good week?

I was asked this question about my trip to Haiti more than a dozen times this morning but could never articulate an adequate response. On one level, the question seemed so normal, so everyday but my experience was neither normal nor everyday. I’m not blaming the questioner. It’s how we routinely engage one another in conversation about our favorite restaurants or afternoon naps or effective nasal decongestants or family cruises. But, there was nothing routine about this week.

Did you have a good week? No. I didn’t. To say it was good would delegitimize the lived experience of so many in Haiti who long for what I expect—a non-permeable roof over my head, three meals a day, and the leisurely possibility of hoping for something, anything different in my life.

I asked a 33 year-old mother of six children what she hoped for? The concept didn’t even register. “A good day,” she said, “is when my children get fed. A bad day is when they don’t.”

So, in some very important ways for this middle-class American, it was not a good week.

  • It was not good to sensually consume the sights and smells of the vast wastelands of trash and filth.
  • It was not good to be indifferent to the young children who were knocking at our bus windows while pointing to their empty stomachs.
  • It was not good to listen to the stories of kids who trek for hours to go to school only to be sent home because their family couldn’t pay the bill that month.
  • It was not good to watch child slaves enjoying the momentary freedom of a school environment that cares for them one day a week, knowing they will be sent home to endure the horrendous physical and emotional burden of their “masters” the other six days a week.
  • It was not good…
  • It was not good…
  • It was not good…

Paradoxically, though it was not good, it was essential.

How can we speak of God’s care for the poor from a distance? How can we articulate a global vision of God’s kingdom of love while only experiencing the suburbs? How can we rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep when we have no idea what gives rise to another’s joy or what breaks another’s heart?

It was not good, but it was essential.

For worship the final morning in Haiti, I used the quote from Clarissa Pinkola Estes that has been my guide for the past few months.

Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good.

What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts, adding, adding to, adding more, continuing…

 It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good.

There it was. In all that was not good, there were more acts—small acts of kindness, sacrificial acts of giving, transformative acts of compassion that, I’m convinced, are working to cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good!

Not good like the taste of a piece of chocolate, but an enduring good that tastes like hope!

  • The enduring good of a man named Maya who, once a child slave, now provides refuge and hope for a another generation of children in Haiti.
  • The enduring good of Erin who left her career in the for-profit world to lead the work of HTF and invite another generation of people to believe that change can happen even in a place like Haiti.
  • The enduring good of the caseworkers and teachers working tirelessly on behalf of the poorest of the poor.
  • The enduring good of a mother sacrificing everything so her kids can eat.
  • The enduring good of people of Peace who left behind work and school and family to have their eyes opened, their hearts broken, and their vision of God’s work expanded.
  • The enduring good…
  • The enduring good…
  • The enduring good…

So, did I have a good week? No.

Was I part of something that may work to tip the critical mass toward an enduring good? I think so. I hope so.

It’s Monday. Rather than hoping for a good day, do something, anything that works toward an enduring good! Peace. Kai

 

It’s Monday–Woe to Those at Ease

Woe to those who are at ease in Zion…

            Woe to those who lie on beds of ivory,

            And lounge on their couches,…

            Who drink wine from bowls, and

            Anoint themselves with the finest oil,

     But are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph! Amos 6: 1, 4-6

I have undertaken a new spiritual practice this year—I am re-reading the biblical prophets. The timing is right. Though separated from us by thousands of years, the enduring themes that weave through most of them—justice and concern for the disadvantaged, greed and the ever widening gap between those who have and have not, and a self-indulgent faith community that loses sight of who they are and what they have been called to do, are as challenging for us, in our time, as ever.

So I’ll be writing about what I’m reading and then letting you decide if and how the prophetic words and imagination comfort or challenge you.

“Woe to those who are at ease in Zion… But are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph.”

Notice the tension: In the same community there are those who luxuriate on the finest beds and couches and those whose lives lay in ruins. There are those who guzzle bowls of wine without thinking and those who hustle for scraps of bread without knowing where the next scraps will fall.

The prophet is undoubtedly grieved by the gaping chasm of wealth that separates the two. But, he is also devastated by the yawning chasm of indifference for those who don’t grieve the disparity at all. “There are always winners and losers, makers and takers.” That’s just the way it is. (Words almost always spoken by “winners” and “makers.”)

But, is that true? Does it have to be true? Is it the vision God has for us and for the world?

I wonder if the prophet’s cautionary woe rises out of a deeper knowing, a communal wisdom, a Godly vision that understands that, in the end, we rise and fall together; that individual blessing means little if it doesn’t translate to communal benefit; that a community can be fabulously wealthy in material ways and deeply impoverished in spirit; that a bowl of wine was never to be consumed alone, but savored by friend and foe alike—all who long to drink in the goodness of life.

It’s Monday. If you filled up a bowl of wine (or your favorite drink), who would you share it with? How can your blessing benefit someone else today? Peace. Kai

 

It’s Monday–Exercising Your Hope Muscle

I broke out of my workout routine last week and regretted it, for the moment, yet in the end it reinforced a simple principle—use it or lose it.

I try to work out four times a week, forty-five minutes at a time, primarily lifting weights. When I feel guilty not doing much cardio work, I’ll run a lazy-paced two miles just to say I did something. Then, it’s back to the weights.

Last week, I sensed it was time for something different. So I created a focused workout with just two exercises–.25 mile sprints on the treadmill (mind you, I’m a 53 year old guy so the word sprint is a relative term) on ascending speeds followed by lunges around ½ of the indoor track. Sprint/lunge. Sprint/lunge. Sprint/lunge for thirty minutes.

It was exhilarating and exhausting. I loved it… until the next morning. When I stepped out of bed the pain neurons in my brain lit up. I hurt in muscles I didn’t know I had and wasn’t even aware I had exercised. In your physical body, it’s true—if you don’t use it, you lose it.

I wonder if that isn’t also true for your spirit. I wonder if hope is a muscle that needs to be exercised regularly or we lose it.

For a few weeks following the election I was numb—emotionally spent and despondent from listening to story after fretful story, primarily from young people fearful for their future. I heard from a Muslim friend of my son who was anxious for himself and his family. I had three gay students in their teens and early 20’s directly contact me because of their fear for personal safety. I was sent a photo of a handwritten note shoved under a student’s dorm room door threatening physical violence if they don’t go back to their “own” country.

Now, I’m a white male in his 50’s. Chances are whatever the administrations look like in the remaining few decades of my life, I’ll figure it out. But, I found myself leaping down the rabbit hole of despair when I thought about my kids, their friends, and particularly those who have already been disenfranchised based on their ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation.

Let me tell you, when you don’t exercise the muscle of hope for any period of time, you feel like you lose it.

Then, a strange thing happened at the exit ramp off of 270 at Morse Road. As I exited I saw a carelessly dressed man, shivering in the damp cold, holding a barely legible cardboard sign. My first thought was “I hope I hit a green light and can drive past quickly.” As dumb luck would have it, the light turned red and I was forced to stop right in front of him and confront both his present life circumstance (whatever it was that brought him there) and my present state of heart.

The red light was interminable, giving ample time for the cash in my wallet to burn a hole in my pocket. And then, the nagging internal question, “You are despairing for a world that seems to be increasing concerned only for itself, what are you—not everyone else—what are you going to do?”

So, I rolled down my window and we talked for a few seconds while the drivers behind me honked their horns frantically so the could make the light (or not get stuck in front of this man). I handed him the cash I had and drove off.

Now, I’m not suggesting that I’m such a great person for giving that man some cash or that you should stop and give money to everyone on the exit ramps. Was I getting scammed? Maybe. Maybe not. In the end, that’s not the point.

What happened for me is this: In flexing a hope muscle for the first time in many days; in breaking out of my routine of just driving by and not noticing; I felt more alive, more connected with the plight of humanity, more convinced that small acts of generosity, of kindness still matter in this world.

I’m still aware of how much work there is yet to do. But, by exercising the hope muscle, I felt…more hopeful.

It’s Monday: The season of Advent is about expectant hope. How can you exercise your hope muscle today? Peace. Kai

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Monday–Breakfast with my Daughter

So, I had a few options in front of me this morning: 1) Write an insightful, inspiring It’s Monday to all of you as we enter the Advent Season or 2) Take my daughter out to breakfast before she flies back to medical school after this short holiday break.

I’m going to breakfast!

It’s Monday: Make the meaningful moments of life your priority this season. Peace. Kai

It’s Monday–Give Me Hope

With this short week for many, amidst the preparations and travel, and the anticipation of all the delightful and dreaded family gatherings, I simply offer this prayer for the season from Ted Loder:

Give Me Hope 

O God,

this is a hard time,

a season of confusion,

a frantic rush

to fill my closets,

my schedule

and my mind,

only to find myself empty.

 

Give me hope, Lord,

and remind me

of your steady presence

and gracious purposes

that I may live fully.

Renew my faith

that the earth is not destined

for dust and darkness,

but for frolicking life

and deep joy

that, being set free

from my anxiety for the future,

I may take the risks of love

today.

It’s Monday. What risks of love will you take this season? Peace. Kai

It’s Monday–Is God in Charge?

God is in charge. God is in control.

I’ve read many variations of those sentiments in the last week and, I’ll be honest, I’m not sure what they mean.

Is this:

  • An honest affirmation of someone’s faith in a God who ultimately has this whole crazy world under control in ways that don’t seem apparent to us now.
  • A way to avoid investing in the process of making anything better or different. If God is in control, I’ll let God work this one out.
  • Something we just say when we don’t have much else to say.

I’m uneasy with any of those responses these days. If they work for you, I certainly can’t take that away from you. But, they don’t work for me. I just don’t know what they really mean when we get down to specifics and how they provide comfort to:

  • The three gay students who contacted me last Wednesday, anxious and fearful about their future.
  • The freshman student at a local university whose personal space and safety was violated with a pencil scrawled note shoved under their door that threated his “kind” of person in this “new” America.
  • The Muslim women accosted in her car by people screaming at her to get out of their country.

What does it mean to them to say, “God is in charge.” “God is in control.”?

Help me out.

And if you stick with that line of reasoning do we backtrack through human history and offer the same balm to all victims of threat or violence based on their race or creed or orientation? I don’t know that I have a right to say that.

So what does it mean? I don’t presume to have the final answer. But, let me offer a few guiding insights that I use to frame up my response in times such as these:

  • God created the world in love, for love. That is my starting point. If you don’t agree with me on that, we will necessarily come to different conclusions. It’s simply my starting point.
  • Love cannot be coerced or manipulated. For love to be love, it cannot seek to control the other person. In fact, love gives up a sense of control, of being in charge. And love does so for the sake of the other person’s freedom.
  • Therefore, love can be rejected. Hatred and indifference and division can be chosen in relationship to others. They are not God’s desire or God’s intent for the world. But, based on a world designed in love, for love, hatred and indifference and division are possible. We see this being played out in myriad ways throughout history and certainly in our time.
  • The presence of hate doesn’t diminish the promise of love. God, in my mind, has not chosen and will not choose a different path than love just because it doesn’t work out in all times and in all circumstances.
  • God, in God’s wisdom or foolishness (I wonder sometimes), chose for that love to saturate a love-starved world through people like you and me.

 What that means for me is simply this: Yes, God is in charge. God is in charge of the design of the world, the intent of love planted within us, the redemption that comes when we stumble and fall, and the decision to make us co-creators of a more loving world. Again, sometimes I wonder about God’s wisdom or foolishness in that decision. But, I believe the invitation stands.

Therefore, in the words of American poet, Clarissa Pinkola Estes,

Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good.

 What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts, adding, adding to, adding more, continuing…

 It’s Monday. What movements of enduring good will be part of your charge today? Peace. Kai

My Vote

My vote.

I cast my vote early because I can in this country. My voice can be heard and counted. I’m grateful for that right and privilege.

I won’t tell you specifically who I voted for I will tell you directionally what I voted for. This is certainly my opinion—but it is my opinion based on years of studying the ancient scriptures, listening to what the Spirit of God is saying now, and living, as best I can, in a way that reflects not only what God has said but also the direction the Living God is moving.

Let me explain: I am guided by a simple interpretive principle when I read the scriptures. Sometimes we need to do what God says. Sometimes we need to head the direction that God is leading.

Sounds simple. Not so much. The process includes hours of intentional work, discernment, prayer and action. For that reason, I am convinced that all too many in the Christian community don’t want to or choose not to do the work. So we fall back on what we learned when we were growing up, we don’t critically reflect on or ask what God might be saying today, or, in a worst case scenario, we blindly follow leaders who often are corrupted by the seductive impulse to power over the lives of those in their care.

Maybe that sounds a little harsh. But, it’s real. I know it because I’ve seen it and because, as a leader, I’m tempted to succumb to the voices in my head that say, “Just tell people what they want to hear.” Or even worse, “They won’t ask questions anyway, so just tell them what to do!” It’s easy to be seduced by those voices. I live in that tension all the time.

So, back to my interpretive principles: Sometimes we need to do what God says. Sometimes we need to head the direction that God is leading.

 Sometimes we need to do what God says. In this case I look for consistent, unchanging themes throughout scripture. A simple example is: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. Love your neighbor as yourself.” The theme is woven throughout the history of the people of Israel and the early Christian community. Another example is God’s decided heart motivation toward the “widows, the poor, and the orphans.” In other words, anyone who, because of circumstance, needs to rely on the community, the community is obligated to extend help and care. Christian communities and any community that desires to reflect Christian values should be known by how it cares for and includes those who are easily excluded, have no voice, or face discrimination and injustice at the hands of a dominant culture. These themes are threaded throughout the fabric of the biblical narrative. Sometimes we need to do what God says.

Sometimes we need to head the direction that God is leading. A specific example: In Deuteronomy 23:1, eunuchs are excluded from the worshipping community. Later in the biblical story, the prophet Isaiah imagines what the world will be like when God’s kingdom is realized. In Isaiah 56, the prophet proclaims that a sign of the emerging kingdom will be that eunuchs and foreigners will be invited to participate in the kingdom life. In Acts 8, when the early church is going out to announce the kingdom is at hand through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, one of the first to hear and receive the call is an Ethiopian eunuch.

Look at that:

Deuteronomy: Eunuchs no.

Isaiah: Eunuchs, maybe, in the future.

Acts: Eunuchs, yes.

See the direction! The direction of God in the scriptural narrative is expansive and inclusive. God’s desire is for more to be welcomed and given a chance to participate fully in community, not less. Yes, there were times when the community became isolationist and resisted. But, God’s Spirit has always been prodding us forward. Two steps ahead. One back. Two step ahead. One back.

We make a move toward a more open, inclusive community, then the forces of fear and perceived scarcity become threats and we shrivel in retreat—regressing rather than progressing.

Diminishing one’s humanity because of race—regression.

Diminishing one’s humanity because of gender—regression.

Diminishing one’s humanity because of sexual preference—regression.

Diminishing one’s humanity because of creed—regression.

Sometimes we need to do what God says. Sometimes we need to head the direction that God is leading.

 I voted today to keep heading in the direction that, I believe, God is leading the entire human community, not just the Christian community. Yes, it’s a stumbling, scratch your heard, can’t believe we got ourselves into this place, kind of journey. Two steps ahead. One step back. In then end, it has less to do with the flawed candidates. And I’m certainly not saying God has a candidate in mind.

But, I do believe God has a direction in mind. God is always calling us forward to a more inclusive vision of human community—more loving, more compassionate, more hopeful.

That’s just me. I’m glad I had a chance to vote today.

Peace. Kai