It’s Monday November 24

My daughter arrived home from college for her Thanksgiving break yesterday. My son comes home for his break tomorrow. The holiday season has officially launched.

You now know the drill. Americans literally fall in line—getting swept away by the insane pace of the season, consuming platefuls of goodies that we don’t need, and being seduced into buying stuff that we have little use for that will likely find it’s way to Goodwill or garage sale after a lengthy stay in a closet. All the while being bombarded by the messages of a world fraying at the seams.

Let me offer a biblical preemptive strike as you begin to wrap your mind around the upcoming weeks. Do Not Be Afraid

Woven through the biblical stories for Advent and Christmas is this counsel and consolation—Do Not Be Afraid. It threads its ways through the generations binding together the prophet Isaiah’s words of comfort to those in exile, with the angels’ announcement to both Zechariah and Mary that what was impossible would be possible, and the ringing proclamation of “Good news of great joy for all people” first heard by lowly shepherds in the field.

We’ve taken it as our seasonal theme this year to provide a counter narrative to the prevailing narratives of our time.

Ebola—Be afraid.

ISIS—Be afraid.

Immigrants—Be afraid.

Democrats—Be afraid.

Republicans—Be afraid.

You don’t have enough time—Be afraid.

You don’t have the best gifts—Be afraid.

You can’t create the perfectly blissful holiday season—Be afraid.

Fear. Fear. Fear. Fear. Fear.

Though fear can be an effective motivator in the short term—rallying constituents around issues; dividing those who are for us or against us, alike us or other than us; creating anxiety in our lives about what we have and don’t have, need or don’t need. Only love invites us to capture God’s vision of what the world can be.

Love God.

Love your neighbor.

Love self.

Love your enemy.

Fear breeds division and hostility and anger and indifference.

Love births unity and harmony and kindness and active engagement.

It’s Monday. As you prepare to enter this new season, try viewing the world through the lens of love. See what a difference it makes. Peace. Kai

It’s Monday November 17

My wife, Patty, and I spent three days in the Hill Country of Texas at the end of last week. We were guests of friends who had decided that rather than spending their 20th anniversary alone they would invite three couples from around the country to join them in this momentous life celebration.

As the days drew nearer, the dread grew deeper. Could I really afford a day off on the heels of a sabbatical as I was merging into the busyness of the Christmas season? Would the days be filled with mindless chit-chat getting to know people we had never met and may never see again? Was it really going to be 40 degrees in Texas in the middle of November? Would the T.V’s in the airport on Saturday even play the Buckeye/Minnesota game or would they just be covering a local Texas rodeo or something like that? (I can be as superficial as the next person!)

Forced time. Forced smiles. Forced Conversation. And forced to wear a coat and gloves in Texas. Good times?

Well, what I ended up experiencing was quite the opposite. Nothing forced at all. Rather, the time was permeated with “the unforced rhythms of grace.” (Matthew 11:28-30 The Message)

The grace of history in old relationships.

The grace of future in new relationships.

The grace of laughter at a well-timed curse word.

The grace of tears over ill-timed, curse-worthy life events.

The grace of Texas ribs melting off the bone.

The grace of Texas BBQ sauce dripping through my beard.

The grace of a vintage 1994 Port during a dinner celebrating 20 years.

The grace of a new varietal wine at a wine tasting celebrating the moment.

The grace of the spoken words that offered assurance, companionship, and hope.

The grace of the unspoken murmurings of our hearts that long for assurance, companionship, and hope.

I learned something of the ways of God this past week. Or re-learned it. God’s Spirit cannot be forced or coerced or boxed in by my plans or boxed out by my calendar. God’s Spirit, and the grace it brings, is always present, always available, and always waiting for us simply to tap into its renewing energy and love.

It’s Monday. Open your eyes to the unforced rhythms of grace throughout your day. Peace. Kai

It’s Monday November 10

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out by religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I don’t lay anything heavy or ill-filling on you. Keep company with me and you will learn to live freely and lightly. (Matthew 11:28-30, The Message)

Throughout the month of November, we are using this text as the guiding text for our worship and preaching. Why one text for a month? Good question.

The short answer is this: It’s a great text and a beautiful translation.

The longer response connects with the way we learn and confronts the counterproductive leaning of our culture toward the superficial.

We have become informational grazers. Every day, our conscious and sub-conscious minds are under siege by the mass of communication we receive, each message battling for our attention. We are, at the same time, people who long to be perceived as culturally competent so rather than diving deep into a few areas that may be more life-giving for us, we skim reams of information for salient talking points.

Though we may appear widely knowledgeable, the presence of deep wisdom seems almost non-existent.

Scientists are continuing to discover how the brain functions and the process it uses to filter information. Shawn Achor, in his book The Happiness Advantage, tells us this, “Scientists estimate that we remember only one of every 100 pieces of information we receive; the rest effectively gets filtered out, dumped into the brain’s spam file.”

The question then is, What gets saved and what gets dumped?

Achor goes on. “We see what we look for, and we miss the rest.” He then introduces his readers to what psychologists call “inattentional blindness, our frequent inability to see what is often right in front of us if we’re not focusing directly on it.”

In other words, if we are not looking for or thinking about something, we probably won’t see it. Conversely, if we are looking for something, we see it everywhere!

Let’s go back to our one text for one-month philosophy. Rather than skipping from story to story, concept to concept, we are using one text for this month to focus our spiritual attention. We want you to, as the text says, “Learn the unforced rhythms of grace” not just by listening to the words once or twice but by making them part of your conscious interaction with the world.

What you focus on you will see.

So, take that phrase, “Learn the unforced rhythms of grace” (or another phrase in that text that resonates with you) and put it in your mind’s eye for a month.

  • Memorize it.
  • Post it on your refrigerator or bathroom mirror or dashboard of your car.
  • Make it your screen saver.
  • Put two or three calendar reminders in your phone per day with those words and then reflect on how you are experiencing or expressing God’s grace.
  • Find other creative options that work for you.

It’s Monday. What you focus on and do, you see and become! Peace. Kai

It’s Monday November 3

This weekend we celebrated All Saint’s Sunday in the congregation I serve. Once again, I was overwhelmed by the waves of mourners lighting candles for loved ones, the flood of tears cascading down their faces, and the wellspring of God’s grace flowing through their lives providing courage to face each new day and strength to walk toward the light. Hope.

Following the service, I dove into the mindless task of raking the leaves in the fenced in corner of our yard—the corner possessed and owned by our one hundred pound Bernese Mountain dog. With the new rhythm of my return to work after my sabbatical, that portion of the yard had suffered from conscious neglect. As I stepped onto the patio I was greeted by a blanket of beautiful fall leaves many inches thick. Leaf blower in hand, I exerted my will over the accumulating mounds of leaves corralling them into a massive pile. Walking to the garage to grab a dozen or so leaf bags, I noticed a faint smell of doggy doo. Looking down at my shoes I realized that cleaning off the leaves had exposed many days worth of crap, a few of those days now clung to the bottom of my shoes. Crap.

Later that afternoon, our neighbors stopped by on an afternoon walk with their new granddaughter. A brief conversation turned to an hour of delightful surprise. It’s amazing how you can know people for many years and not really know them at all. It’s also amazing how a life transition and turmoil, in this case an unplanned pregnancy and some anxious early days of the child’s life, which my wife helped guide them through, can provide a pathway for a deepening relationship, a new level of knowing. Surprise. 

Good friends joined us for a light dinner and a few glasses of wine to draw our day to a close. After the normal catching up, we dove in to the chaos they are experiencing in their relationship with their daughter. No blanket of beautiful fall foliage could cover this amount of crap; desperate sadness, confusion, anger, present fears for the moment, lingering fears for their future. Crap.

For me, the evening ended with full awareness that we mourn both the loss and the change of relationships, that tears can reveal sadness and be a source of healing, and that saints come to us in myriad ways—gathered in a community and singing songs of hope, walking through neighborhoods, and sitting on couches. Hope.

So, here’s a summary of my All Saint’s Sunday. Hope. Crap. Surprise. Crap. Hope.

It’s Monday. Whatever happens in the middle of your day, remember it begins and ends in the hope of God’s presence and light and life. Peace. Kai