The musical performance

“You are witnesses of these things,” Jesus tells his followers.[1]

What does it mean, ‘to be a witness’ to all that happened around Jesus over two thousand years ago? How can we be a witness to these things with which we haven’t had a direct experience, when we haven’t seen with our own eyes and met with our own bodies the living, Lord Jesus?

The weather this weekend is a joke. There’s no other way of putting it, to my mind. It is the season of baseball not snowball! But sometimes when things don’t go our way, humour can be a good antidote. So, here is a music joke.

Last week I gave an example of a double bass player to illustrate how we need to go from the head to the heart. But we don’t always trust that movement from head to heart because it feels like we are losing control.

Imagine a picture of several double bass players standing at the back of an orchestra playing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. The bass players are swaying to the majestic sounds and rhythms; their bodies are into it. It is nearing the end of the epic masterpiece, and the caption at the bottom of the comic strip says:

“It’s the bottom of the ninth, and the bassists are loaded.” Hmmm. Maybe too much heart?

How do we live a life of faith that is heart-centred? At same time, how do we deal with our performance anxiety, worried about how people will perceive us when we do our thing, as Christians? We do put a lot of pressure on ourselves to perform to perfection and make a good impression. Unfortunately, this kind of self-talk keeps us from being the best we can be. That’s why, unfortunately, too many musicians have too much to drink prior to a performance.

We need not be too hard on ourselves. Easily 50% of the population make decisions based on fear.[2]The annual “Back to Church” movement creator, Michael Harvey, claims that there is only one socially-accepted sin in the church today: fear.[3]

Yet, none of the Gospel accounts of the risen Jesus condemn the fear. It is to be expected. Jesus meets the disciples, and meets us, where we are even in our uncertainty. Jesus’ initial purpose, after all, is to bring peace. “Peace be with you,” are Jesus’ first words to his disciples after the resurrection.[4]

But Jesus calls us, as he called his disciples, to move beyond our fear, move beyond the fearfully locked doors of our hearts.

The ultimate purpose of the Gospel is not just to allay the fears of Jesus’ followers. It is not to convince us of the miracle of God. In other words, ultimately, who and what we’re about leads us beyond ourselves. The point of the bodily resurrection of Jesus is not the miracle per se, but that it becomes the engine of the proclamation of Jesus Christ to all nations.

Brother Curtis Almquist of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist noted recently that, “Jesus’ resurrection was indeed a miracle; however, Jesus’ resurrection needs to be more than a miracle. It needs to be normal, everyday, how we live and breathe: with resurrection power.”[5]

God’s grace finds expression in flesh and blood – in our bodies. First, as we experience it coming through the Eucharist, the presence of God is made manifest in humanity. And today, in the power of the Holy Spirit, that means, in us and all our brokenness and despite our imperfections.

How can we say this? Because in Jesus’ resurrected body, his scars were still visible. His humanity was still intact – in some mysterious way, in an mysteriously enhanced body to be sure. But the fact that Jesus bodily resurrection is so defended and argued by Paul and Luke and other early Apostles suggests, does it not, the crucial importance of the earthly, human manifestation, and receptivity, of God’s grace and presence.[6]

This is the power of the resurrection. That in the midst of our fear, Jesus comes to stand among us. In the midst of all that is wrong, broken, suffering in our lives, Jesus comes into the locked doors of our hearts and bodies. And then, calls us out.

How do we ‘proclaim’ Christ to all the nations? Again, nothing spectacular, here. Through our ordinary, simple selves, reaching out.

Leonard Bernstein, 20thcentury musician and famous conductor of renowned orchestras around the world – the Berlin Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic – once said: “The only way I have of knowing I’ve done a really remarkable performance is when I lose my ego completely and become the composer. I have the feeling that I’m creating the piece, writing the piece on stage … making it up as I go, along with those hundred people [in the orchestra] who are also making it up with me.”[7]

Working together, like in an orchestra, we are playing the music of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world, and in the world. Even though the music was first created a long time ago, we are making it alive and real for us and for the world, today.

We do so, using the gifts and grace and resources given to us from the Composer of the whole experience. We do so, through our own bodies, minds and spirits. At the same time, we let go of our ego, because it is not about us; it is about something much bigger than all of us.

Order of Canada recipient for his work in fostering Christian unity and inter-religious dialogue, Father Laurence Freeman said: “…grace works on nature. The grace of God that enters into human existence doesn’t come from out of space; it comes through nature. That’s why it is very dubious to talk about supernatural things. We are always interested in the supernatural, but what’s much more real and interesting is the real meaning of the natural. It is through nature, through the natural, through our own nature, our own psychology, our own physiology, our mind and body – through our human nature – that grace touches, emerges and transforms us …”[8]

So, it is our ordinary selves through which the grace and purpose of God works. What does this mean? First, it means we have to believe in ourselves. We have to trust that God has given us what we need to do God’s work, to be God’s instruments and vehicles through which God accomplishes God’s purposes.

Then, we need to perform the music, so to speak. And, it doesn’t need to be perfect, complicated or anything spectacular. Just simple, ordinary. We have to start somewhere.

One of our members asked recently a neighbor to describe what happens on and around our property on an average day in the Spring, Summer and Fall. And the neighbor reported that between 2:30 and 3:30pm every week day, about 30 kids on average, children of all ages, walk across our property from the bus stops along Meadowlands to their homes in the City View neighborhood. Thirty.

With presence of mind, our member asked the neighbor: What do they do when they walk across? Is there anything in particular that stands out in their behavior?

The neighbor said many of them like our benches outside the front doors. They like to sit and visit. They like to rest for a few minutes before continuing on their walk home.

When the member and I reflected on this, we realized there aren’t many, if any at all, public places in the neighborhood where people can sit awhile. Not only do we fill a need providing a place to sit, we encourage community-building, relationship-building right outside the doors to the church. How appropriate!

And for so many young people who are turned off the church, or at least afraid to enter into a church building these days, providing benches for children and young people to sit and visit sends a positive if subtle message about our identity and purpose as a church. It also sends a subtle yet real message of welcome.

This example is simple, ordinary, unspectacular. Yet, it is a first step in the right direction. As a community. Not as individuals doing our own thing. But, together, as a church, an orchestra playing together.

And isn’t that what the walk of faith is all about? We can only do what we are able to do, together. And then, when we take the first step, we watch as the Spirit of God can surprise and delight in us. All because we began by simply using what God has given us. Giving from ourselves, for the sake of others, for something larger than all of us.

That is, being faithful witnesses to these things.

[1]Luke 24:48, NRSV.

[2]Richard Rohr & Andreas Ebert, “The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective” (Crossroad, 2001).

[3]Michael Harvey, “Unlocking the Growth: You’ll Be Amazed at your Church’s Potential” (Oxford: Monarch Books, 2012), p.52.

[4]Luke 24:36; John 20:19-21, NRSV.

[5]Brother Curtis Almquist, Society of Saint John the Evangelist, “Brother, Give us a Word” on April 10, 2018.

[6]Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church is a testimony both to Jesus’ bodily resurrection, and to our bodies being the imperfect vessels for the transmission of God’s grace and wisdom.

[7]Cited in Barry Green with W. Timothy Gallwey, “The Inner Game of Music: The Classic Guide to Reaching a New Level of Musical Performance” (New York: Doubleday & Company Inc., 1986), p.95.

[8]Laurence Freeman, OSB, “Finding Oneself 2” transcript (Singapore: Medio Media, 2017), p.29.

Because it all matters to God

Last weekend, my family visited the Biodome in Montreal. Situated right beside the Olympic Stadium, it used to house the cycling competitions during the 1976 Summer Olympics. But in recent years it was converted into four distinct and self-contained eco-systems from diverse regions in North and South America.

My favourite was the eco-system from South America, for its lush, tropical environment: humid, warm, pungent air; broad leaf palm trees; and, a host of diverse animals – crocodiles, capybaras and scarlet ibis birds.

Our nine-year-old daughter’s favourite animal is the turtle. She spent a lot of time gazing down onto the mossy ground of the rainforest where the yellow-spotted turtle made its home.

When the guide asked us if we had any questions, my daughter wondered where the baby turtles were. The guide said that it was getting more and more difficult for them to obtain babies since they were very vulnerable in that stage of life; indeed it seems that natural selection is making the turtle an extinct species.

Without their fully developed shell in which the adult turtle could retreat to hide and keep safe from predators, the infant turtles are getting far too susceptible to a premature death and more difficult to protect. Who knows? Maybe the turtle with its shelled existence is going the way of the dodo bird.

The religious people in Jesus’ day felt they were up against a formidable predator in the Roman occupation of Palestine. The Gospel of Matthew was written about the time when the Roman legions were laying siege to eventually destroy the temple in Jerusalem in 70 C.E. and fetter out any Zealots who violently opposed the occupation.

With their temple under attack, the anxious people of God were asking questions of identity and purpose: Who are we and what are we to do? How can it be that God’s holy city and temple are occupied territory? What does this say about God’s relationship with us? How does God want us to respond to this dark and murky reality of life?

This is the social and political context to which Jesus spoke, on the hillside near Capernaum overlooking the Sea of Galilee. This Gospel text (Matthew 5:13-20) forms part of the famous Sermon on the Mount in which Jesus outlined the values and purpose of the kingdom of God “that is near” (4:17).

It is a situation not completely unlike our own. When you consider the history of Christianity over the past two millennia, we find ourselves today in a similar, challenging circumstance: the institution of the church is diminished to the point of demise in many quarters. Christendom, once mighty, powerful and dominant in the western world, is relegated now in our society to the point of obscurity and irrelevance.

Many are asking those same questions: Who are we, and what are we to do? How can it be that God’s nation is “occupied” territory? How does God want us to respond to this dark and uncertain reality of life?

It is a natural instinct for many who, when under stress and pressure and the burden of fear, retreat under the shell – as a turtle does. One response to the perceived threat is to strengthen the walls between sacred and secular. Against the wiles of the crazy, dangerous world ‘out there’ we escape into our private and safe domains of home, property and religious purity. And build a fortress. But is this the right strategy? Or, does it spell, like the turtle, possible extinction?

Amidst the threats against the practice of faith in first century Palestine and twenty-first century Canada, Jesus preaches another way.

Amidst these threats, Jesus challenged Israel to be Israel, just as he challenges us to be ourselves in faith today. Jesus did not say, “You must become salt of the earth by pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps.” Jesus did not say, “You must one day down the road when everything is perfect in the world again, or when you can somehow make yourself worthy of it, become the light.”

Jesus announced, to remind them and us: “You ARE the salt of the earth.” “You ARE the light of the world, right now, right here, in the world as it is, in your life as it is now with all its uncertainty, and in all its darkness.” We don’t have to hide nor retreat behind fortress walls. The solution is in somehow activating saltiness and brightness within us.

So, how do we do that? If there were to be only one way of doing God’s will; if there were only one way of being a Christian – then I’m not sure Jesus would talk in parables and present metaphors and images like salt and light – images open to a multitude of functions and capabilities. Jesus would just spell it out in the letter of the law.

But no. Salt and Light. It’s as if he is saying: Given all the uses of salt, and the various applications of light – how do you fit in?

When Jesus uses the image of light, he makes the point not to hide it under a bushel, but make sure everyone can see it (Matthew 5:14-16). But if others are to see the light, in what conditions do we let it shine? At the noontime of a bright, sunny day?

We will have to shine it in the darkness. After all, people don’t notice a light – whether a flashlight or candle – in the brightness of day. But at night. When all is dark. When you can’t see everything clearly. When the way is uncertain. Where shadows lengthen.

That’s where we are to go. Into places of darkness, in the world and in our own lives: Where people suffer hunger, homelessness and rejection; Where we harbor unhealthy secrets within our souls. This may not seem very religious. This activity may not be easy or make us feel good. But it is where Jesus calls us “to follow him”.

Annie Dillard writes, “You do not have to sit outside in the dark. If, however, you want to look at the stars, you will find that darkness is necessary.” (p.43, Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters, New York: Harper, 1992)

Why do we go into the darkness of the world? Why should we take these risks, and expose even our own weaknesses and vulnerability?

Because this world matters to God. All of it. Not some utopic fantasy of what it could be without all the stains of human sin splattered all over the place. But this world in all its complexities, challenges, difficulties, problems.

Just like the weeds and the wheat – what did Jesus instruct his disciples in telling that parable? (Matthew 13:24-30) – To leave the wheat and weeds together, and God will take care of separating out the two when the time comes.

This world matters to God. Our human condition matters to God. Otherwise, Jesus would not have come the way he did:

  1. Jesus appeared in the dust of first century Palestine. Often throughout the Gospels, the writers take pains to indicate the time and place of the event they are recording. For example, the Gospel of Matthew opens with a detailed account, name for name, of the genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1:1ff). The Word became flesh. God entered humanity, in a specific time and place in history. Jesus fully embodied both human and divine. The incarnation was, and is, not some abstract notion removed from life on earth. Jesus was born into this world.
  2. When Jesus died on the cross, the veil in the temple ripped in half (Matthew 27:51; Mark 15:38), symbolically abolishing the distinction between sacred and secular for all time. No longer would religious life be divided into neat categories that separated the faithful from real life, from engagement with the world as it is.
  3. In the ancient (Apostles’) creed of the church we say we believe in the “resurrection of the body”; by placing value on our own bodies in following Jesus we claim continuity between this world and the next. That means that laughing, grieving, crying, caring, walking, working, making love – doing all those things that are part of regular living in our own skin – these are all sacramental activities. These activities, Jesus preaches, are the building blocks of the kingdom of God.

The stuff of earth matters to God. And that’s why we reflect the light of Christ in the darkness of it.

By going the way of Jesus to reflect his light in a dark world, we discover a great grace: that we already have and are all that we need and God needs, to fulfill God’s purposes for us and for the world, in this time and in this place.

Bane and Blessing

In the popular Brothers Grimm fairy tale, “Rapunzel”, that was in recent years adapted for the big screen in the movie “Tangled”, the main character, Rapunzel, has extremely long hair. This is her gift, it would appear.

But the evil witch has locked her in a room at the top of a tall tower without any entrance or exit except a window near the top. The witch and the prince climb up to the room where Rapunzel lives, by calling for Rapunzel to let down her long hair; they use her hair like a rope ladder.

But Rapunzel never uses her gift of long hair to free herself from her entrapment. While others recognized the gift she had, for better or for worse, why couldn’t she just cut off her own hair? Why could Rapunzel not use her gift, especially if it meant freedom? She had what she needed to be free!

Was it her strong emotional attachment to her hair that prevented her from living life truly, freely? If only she could let go and surrender that which was most precious to her….

In the famous Beatitudes, Jesus described the ‘blessedness’ of those in the kingdom of God. How can we understand this ‘blessing’? This Sermon on the Mount does not read like a self-help manual for the successful, in the twenty-first century. There is something counter-cultural going on here; something paradoxical, even radical.

It seems to suggest to me that to be followers of Christ we must also be able to see in ourselves what we see in others: the bane and the blessing, the good and bad, both/and. It is, on the one hand, to recognize the sinner in ourselves, and to forgive – let go, surrender – ourselves of that sin. And not let it rule us.

To recognize, embrace and confess the poverty of spirit within us.

To explore and acknowledge places of grief and loss in our own lives.

To practice humility with others, a stance that recognizes God as the “source of our life” (1 Cor 1:30).

To identify and name our own hungers, longings and thirst for righteousness.

To be merciful unto ourselves, to begin with.

To search after the purity of our own heart.

To share the gift of peace that is within us.

And to endure the persecution and suffering we all encounter in whatever form, for Christ’s sake.

It’s easy to point the finger, and see it in others, and preserve our own sense of self. It’s easy to do nothing and ‘wait’ for someone to come and save you from your problems (like Rapunzel), without noticing the resources you have yourself to do the right thing, even it means starting by confessing your own sin.

The Gospel of Jesus, while being simple is not easy. Therefore, we need not shy away from seeking after the ‘blessing’ of God upon our lives in our honest, simple, vulnerable selves. We need not hold back from coming to God in all our sinfulness, because God won’t hold back his love to us.

“Consider your own call …: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not…” Paul writes (1 Cor 1:26-28).

Spiritual greats over the centuries have recognized this truth of God. St Augustine says, “In my deepest wound I see your glory and it dazzles me.” Julian of Norwich put it, “God sees the wounds, and sees them not as scars but as honors … God does not blame us for them.” Paul wrote elsewhere, defining God as one “who creates life out of death and calls into being what does not exist” (Romans 4:17).

On the cross, Jesus reconciled all these divisions in himself (Ephesians 2:10). It was, and is, the pattern of his life with us, as the Scriptures testify: Jesus himself was crucified between a good thief and a bad thief, hanging between heaven and earth, holding on to both his divinity and humanity, expelled as a problem for both religion and state.

His dying – his absolute letting go – upended any religious program that said, ‘You need to earn your worth and favour with God.’ Letting go is the nature of all true spirituality. Letting go is the nature of any genuine reconciliation. Letting go is the engine of meaningful and lasting transformation. And these are all, admittedly, a mystery – a paradox.

For Rapunzel, we cannot blame her for being attached to her hair; after all, it was a gift. Why would she want to cut it off – for any reason? Why would she want to give that up? It was such a deep part of her identity.

When we see Jesus on the cross, we see that our faith is about being ‘attached’ in love. Jesus instructs his followers in the Golden Rule to “love your neighbour as yourself” (Matthew 22:39, Mark 12:31, Luke 10:27).

But there’s a price, a cost, to pay for it. When you love someone, and act out of love for them, there is always the risk of pain and we will suffer for it. If we love, we give ourselves to feel the pain of the world. Love will simply lead us to the cross.

Sometimes the worst possible circumstances in our lives turn out to be the greatest gift – and vice versa. Because our greatest gift can be the source of our downfall; or, at very least, keep us from become the people God called us to be. Yet, it is in the collision and letting go of these opposites, where the blessing is realized.

Listen to the witness of a Catholic priest who visited the Philippines:

“I saw so many shining eyes in the Philippines, yet these are souls who have been eaten up and spit out by life. The Filipinos are a people with so little. I celebrated a Sunday Mass in a squatter’s camp. Shacks all around. Yet they were so excited that ‘Fodder’ was coming. The kids met me to lead me into the barrio. Out of these shacks came kids in perfectly clean clothes. I don’t know how the mothers kept them so clean. They were all dressed up for Sunday Mass. The boys all got their guitars, and it was the big event of the week. They have something we have lost.

“I felt like telling them, ‘You live in a dump by our standards, but do you know what you have? You’re not cynical like we are. You’re all smiling. Why should you be smiling? You don’t have any reason to smile. You live in a shack! It smells like garbage. But you have father and mother and clear, simple identity.’”

Then, this priest confesses: “I don’t know who trained them to do this, but you constantly feel your hand taken by the little Filipino children. They take your hand and put it to their head. They don’t ask you to bless them. They take it from you. It made me weep. For they have their souls yet! They have light, they have hope. The little children call you ‘Fodder, Fodder,’ and I think when they pull blessings out of you, blessings really come forth.

“They are ready for the blessing. They believe in the blessing, and you are not really sure if it was there until they saw it, expected it, and demanded it. These are the blessed of the earth,” he concludes.

These are ones who don’t need to be taught the faith. They live it. They live the mystery of life and death, blessing and loss. They’re okay with paradox, even if they can’t articulate it as such. They don’t need everything explained to them. They just love. And bless. And are blessed.

They, indeed, have the light of Christ. And they know it, deep down, in their souls.

Apart from the reference to Rapunzel and the film, Tangled, most of this reflection is adapted from Chapter 6, “Return to the Sacred” in Richard Rohr’s book, “Everything Belongs”

On the path of hardship tempered with grace

I suspect that some of you really like John the Baptist, while others would feel intimidated and back off from his forceful energy. Similar to the way two very different recruits into the Canadian Armed Forces reacted during the first days of regular duty.

A friend from Petawawa who is a sergeant and has put many years in the Forces told me last week how very differently some personalities react to his dissing of discipline. When boots aren’t polished, collars not ironed, and back-packs not kitted properly, he would lean in on the rookies and set them straight.

The one young recruit began to well up in tears when my friend started criticizing him for not being prepared. The other, being disciplined for the same problem, smiled, and was energized by the confrontation: “Wow, this is just like the movies, when the sergeant major yells at the recruits, spitting inches from the other’s face, turning the air blue!” Just loving it! The first recruit didn’t last long in the army. The other, was spurred on and challenged through his mistakes, to have a successful career.

John the Baptist is the ultimate reality check for Christianity. In the best of the prophetic tradition, he epitomizes the no-nonsense, truth-telling, going-for-the-jugular style not often associated with a more sanitized approach to religion.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “If you want religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.” Is this how you feel about belonging to the church today? Many stand in the line of John the Baptist tradition. Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon — influential theologians of the last century wrote: “There is not much wrong with the church that could not be cured by God calling about a hundred really insensitive, uncaring, and offensive people into ministry” (p.45 Feasting on the Word Year A Vol 1). What do you think about that? Would you like that?

John the Baptist’s hard words to the religious leaders of the day call them to repentance. Judgment underscores the tenor of this text assigned for Advent. And that’s why some of us would rather read scriptures and sing songs about sheep softly grazing in fields during these weeks leading to Christmas. Because you may know people in your life who have been hurt by the judgment of others — many of those doing the judging from the church. Even as we in the church have been warned NOT to judge others (Romans 14).

God calls ALL of us to fall on our knees, confess and repent — especially those of in the church.

The original Greek word for repentance, metanoia, literally means — “moving beyond the mind.” We need to have a change of mind as much as a change of our heart. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds,” argues Saint Paul (Romans 12:2). He goes on to say that this change of our mind would happen, “so that you may discern what is the will of God — what is good and acceptable …” Our changed minds, our renewed way of thinking about things, will then affect how we behave.

“Moving beyond the mind” means that we need, at first, to have our fundamental assumptions questioned. Fundamental assumptions about God and the ways of God in the world. Is it true that we don’t have to do anything more in the church because we were baptized and confirmed here and our grandparents and great-grandparents were Lutheran? Is it true that God hates us and is only out there to catch us breaking a rule in order to punish us?

John the Baptist might have a field day in the Christian church today. John the Baptist is here to remind and recall us to a faith that only makes sense when embraced in the desert, in the wilderness of our lives. John the Baptist is here to remind and recall us to a faith that makes sense only when we have learned to weep at our faults and let go. John the Baptist is here to remind and recall us to a faith that makes sense only when we are called out of our complacency, selfishness, and self-righteousness to a greater cause, a greater good.

Barbara Marshall wrote this prayer poem cited in an Advent devotional for the season (Lutherans Connect); in it she describes the times of her life when she was truly invigorated, motivated and inspired in faith:

“… It was never the turbulent waters that raged and tore through my life that left me floundering, helpless adrift in the surging tide. But rather the lulling beauty and lure of familiar shores that fashioned my days with indifferent thought and compelled me to stay where I was. So, Father, give me a yearning for the valleys shadowed and steep, for deserts that breathe their fire and dust, for waves that crash at my feet. And surely then I’ll accomplish much …when inspiration is fueled on the path of hardship tempered with grace.”

So you can see why I suggest that nostalgia may be a great enemy of Christianity. For it keeps us stuck in apathy and inaction. But, ironically, looking to the past is an essential ingredient in faithful living. John the Baptist himself quotes directly from Isaiah when preaching his sermon: “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight …” (40:3). In writing about John the Baptist, the Gospel writer Matthew uses descriptive words right out of the Hebrew Scriptures originally describing the prophet Elijah who was “a hairy man with a leather belt around his waist” (2 Kings 1:8). John the Baptist may breathe fire into a soppy nostalgic faith — but he certainly doesn’t dismiss the past.

Remembering the past is important. But there’s a difference between nostalgia and remembering. Biblical commentator David Bartlett writes that “nostalgia is memory filtered through disproportionate emotion. Faith is memory filtered through appropriate gratitude” (p.48, Feasting on the Word, Year A Vol 1). In Advent we re-member, we reconnect. The word “religion” literally means to re-unite, re-align, ourselves out of isolation and into a holy union. In Advent when we remember, we embrace the good God has been and done for us in our past. In Advent we remember, together, as a family, as a church, as a community — what God has done for us in Jesus. We do this remembering at the Table — we remember that in the night in which he was betrayed …. We do this remembering singing out loud together our seasonal songs so precious to us.

We pray. We sing. We remember. Doing this, NOT to a disproportionate emotional longing for a time gone by. No. But rather, to embrace an occasion for re-affirming the good God has done for you in the history of your life, and to affirm our on-going hope and belief that God does care about us and our behavior this season, and beyond.

This Advent, know that we are cherished by God not only for who we are, but that we are responsible for what we do. This is good news, because if God does not care about what I do, I may begin to question whether God actually cares about me. If God loves me enough to welcome me into the family, then God loves me enough to expect something of me.

“One December afternoon … a group of parents stood in the lobby of a nursery school waiting to claim their children after the last pre-Christmas class session. As the youngsters ran from their lockers, each one carried in his hands the ‘surprise’, the brightly wrapped package on which he had been working diligently for weeks. One small boy, trying to run, put on his coat, and wave to his parents, all at the same time, slipped and fell. The ‘surprise’ flew from his grasp, landed on the floor and broke with an obvious ceramic crash. The child … began to cry inconsolably. His father, trying to minimize the incident and comfort the boy, patted his head and murmured, ‘Now, that’s all right, son. It doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t matter at all.’ But the child’s mother, somewhat wiser in such situations, swept the boy into her arms and said, ‘Oh, but it does matter. It matters a great deal.’ And she wept with her son.”

It does matter to God. God is that mother who embraces us when we weep after making a big mistake and mess up. God doesn’t punish us, but rather holds us, and cries with us.

Perhaps the church can give up on judgment, but we cannot give up on responsibility. We can continue remembering and being faithful to our calling in Christ, especially in the desert, because we know God does care for each of us.

So, let’s sing on and re-member!

Your Word is true, on letting go

When I spent a year in Germany during my seminary days, I struggled in the first half of that year with feelings of being lost, without guidance, and without my usual supports in place. I was lonely: For the first time in my life, I wasn’t able to rely on my parents, and I didn’t have my twin brother close by to share a life experience. I felt depressed, rudderless, cut off, a ship floating aimlessly in the stormy ocean.

I was reminded of this turbulent time in my life after reading the Gospel text (Luke 21:5-19) for today. Jesus points to those external ‘structures’ in the lives of his disciples, structures that they have come to depend on for guidance, for a sense of purpose and identity – and tells them basically that they will crumble, that they will have to learn to do without the usual dependencies, that they will have to ‘lose’ these. They will be no more.

First, it’s the massive and impressive temple that Herod was building, adorned with decorations; the temple presented a glorious architectural masterpiece to the world. At the end of the text, Jesus mentions family – even those closest to us will be cut off from the path we are on. There is a profound losing that imbues this scripture today, not unlike what the Israelites had to experience when they were exiled from their land, their homes, their precious Jerusalem temple, some five hundred years before Christ. It is a pattern that is repeating again.

The first part in the path of faith – of true spirituality – is one of letting go, of releasing, of surrendering. If anyone has experienced even a margin of what that means, it’s never easy. It’s hard, especially when for most of your life you’ve placed so much energy and invested your emotions and stability in a building, a place, a person, a family – and then you have lose it.

Luke wrote this story in the Gospel some forty years after the life of Jesus. Remember, all of what we read in the Bible was for the longest time first shared by word of mouth – stories told to the community and from generation to generation. In the latter half of the first century A.D. these told stories about Jesus began to be written down in the form we see them today.

It’s important for me to mention this because Jesus’ prediction that the temple would be destroyed actually happened. In about 70 A.D. the Roman armies laid siege to Jerusalem to try to subdue the radical Jewish insurrection who were rebelling against Roman occupation of their land. The victorious Romans eventually toppled the impressive stone walls of the temple, leaving only what we see today – the famous western wall, or the “Wailing Wall”.

All this is to say, that Luke wrote these words of Jesus at a time when the rebellion was reaching its peak: “… the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” These written words carried extra emotional weight, it would seem to me, to those who first received them in the late first century. Because it was actually happening.

Early Christians were encouraged to trust Jesus, because what Jesus says is true! What Jesus promises will come to pass. This truth is consistent with the tradition of earlier scriptures, first echoed in the poetry emerging from the exile – “The grass withers, the flower fades – but the word of our God will stand forever” (Isaiah 40:7-8).

Though the path is full of suffering, one thing remains: the presence and purpose of God. This may give us a clue as to the meaning of Jesus’ closing words in the text: “By your endurance you will gain your souls.” Some translations have it, “by your patience”.

Since I opened with a personal story from my seminary days, I’ll bring here another story I heard from a seminary class studying ‘the end times’. For you to get this story, I need to remind you of how a liturgical church, such as ours, organizes our reading of the Bible. We follow a lectionary, which means that there are assigned readings not only for every Sunday of the year but for every day, even. You can find these assigned readings at the front of our worship books. The point is, after a three year cycle of following this ‘lectionary’, we will have basically read through the whole Bible.

So, these seminary students were engaged in a discussion of what Bible text they would choose if they had reason to believe that this was the Final Day. Some suggested John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that whoever believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.” Others suggested Psalm 23 – “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want, even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil …” Still others suggested the very last verses of the Bible from Revelation 22:20-21 – “The one who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon. Amen! Come, Lord Jesus (Maranatha). The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the Saints. Amen!’”

But, the winning suggestion was – “I would preach on whatever Bible lesson was appointed as the Gospel for the day.”

A homeowner hired a gardener to plant a certain kind of tree. “But that kind of tree takes many years to mature,” the gardener protested. “Then get started with the planting,” the homeowner replied. “You do not have a moment to lose.”

If the first difficult part of the path of faith is surrendering, letting go, not identifying any longer with those structures on which we have come to depend heavily, the second part is the motivation to endure in the regular, daily task. It is full of promise, and new life.

Because those endings and beginnings in Christ are not our doing. We do not control our destiny, contrary to what so much of our culture preaches. We are called only to be faithful in our daily service, doing that which is set before us this day. We don’t know exactly how things will turn out. But we can take the risk and take the first step because we have the true promise of God:

Being aware of God’s faithfulness to us, being assured in the Word that what Jesus promises is true, we can be buoyed by a vibrant hope on the stormy ocean of life. We live every day as if it were the last, doing all that we can, doing the right thing, in the moment. And we cling to the assurance that God will not only do the rest, but much, much more!

In the last few months of my year abroad in Germany, I finally found my stride. Maybe it was because I knew ‘the end’ was coming; my time in Germany was coming to an end, and soon and very soon I would be returning home. Being aware of and confident in my returning home coming closer with each passing day, I was able to enjoy and fully enter each moment: I travelled with my friends, visited my families in Poland and Germany, breathed the air deeply, and went about finishing the tasks set before me.

In engaging my life fully, doing what I was called to do there – even though it wasn’t always easy – I now remember that time as one of those crucial, pivotal and cherished learning moments of my life. For, a true letting go yielded a wondrous new beginning.

Enneagram Soccer

The U12 boys soccer season came to an end yesterday. As a parent watching all four games of the concluding tournament, I couldn’t help but notice how varying personalities engaged one another on the pitch — consistently.

It wasn’t a matter of ‘one shoe size fits all’ personalities. It wasn’t even true to say that each player behaved in a variety of ways in response to changing circumstances. No.

It became clear to me that each player demonstrated a consistent, dominant, style of play throughout the tournament regardless of the character of the opponent.

Below is a summary of the three main styles of personality evident in the play of these young boys. Of course, the names are fictional.

First, there is Derek. Derek has ‘presence’ on the field. His body language communicates a relaxed confidence. When you look at him, you know you behold someone who feels good in their skin. He moves well in his larger-than-life body. It doesn’t hurt that he’s rather tall.

Derek is not afraid to go places many of his team mates don’t want to go. In fact, Derek gets positioned all over the field — from defensive ‘sweeper’ to front line striker — depending on the team being played. Opposition can be intimated by Derek. That’s why we like him so much.

Derek is a true leader. His team mates admire him. And his swagger is the envy of all. His power can turn the momentum of a game around. Derek’s initiating energy can make all the difference in a close game.

Derek can take physical punishment in a game. He walks-off any injury in no time, without drawing attention to his discomfort.

In recovering from a foul he will not try to break his fall prematurely, which might lead to injury. Instead, he will allow his body to move in whatever direction the momentum of the hit takes him — sometimes doing cartwheels and stunning the spectators and parents alike with his on-field acrobatics.

Derek can dish out punishment as well. And this sometimes will get him into trouble. Always offering a hand to the immobilized opposing player lying on the field after a hit — thus revealing his soft heart — referees will often card him for unnecessary roughness.

Then there is Barry. He usually gets picked to play on the front line, at center. He wears the colorful cleats and stands out despite the uniform. In fact, some unique quality distinguishes him from the rest of the pack.

Barry is not the tallest boy on the team. But his speed is most noted. He can run very fast. Which also often gets him into trouble since he forgets the off-side rule and thereby oversteps his bounds.

He is all heart. A likeable guy, Barry often goes the distance with his team mates socially. He’s right there after the tournament in the ice cream shop, sitting at the table surrounded by all the rest of the guys. He asks his Dad if he can go and represent the team at the awards ceremony at the end of the day when everyone else has already gone home. When taking leadership, it’s the social game Barry’s really good at.

And there isn’t a game day that goes by without both teams ‘taking a knee’ for him as he writhes on the soccer pitch in pain form an injury (not usually serious) sustained in a passionate play at the top of the box. Attention, no matter how it’s won, is the name of the game.

Finally there is Kyle. He is literally light on his feet. He almost dances around and with the ball. His primary interest is in technique. And in the heat of the moment when surrounded by oncoming opponents, he can get off a good strike – fast. Threading the needle with an impossible pass is his bailiwick.

For Kyle, most of the game gets played in his head. He imagines the play unfolding and can anticipate reasonably well. When taking leadership, he directs his team mates on the field during set plays as he envisions the play unfold.

On the downside, Kyle can hesitate. When setting up a play, he sometimes waits too long to make that pass. He also avoids getting down and dirty in digging out the ball from the feet of an opposing player. Despite Kyle’s formidable mental game and technical prowess, he holds back fearfully from being assertive and even aggressive — sought after qualities from any position on the field.

Three types of players. Three centers of intelligence: body (Derek), heart (Barry) and mind (Kyle). With which one do you most naturally and easily relate?

God gave you a special gift — an indelible imprint on your life. Your unique personality is an aspect of the divine character reflected in you (Genesis 1:27). Knowing what that gift is would help a lot as you make a positive mark on the world.

When we are healed – window panes

People who have it all together — what does that look like? What do you see in someone who, apparently, is healthy and in the prime of their life? Nothing major is wrong. Everything seems perfect and proper and good. What do we expect to see?

I don’t think I’m the only one who as witnessed this social phenomenon of being completely surprised about people you’ve known, when their lives fall apart. These can be your neighbours, regular acquaintances at church or the soccer field, they can be family members. The shock comes when everything seemed normal, even perfect, on the surface; But then the floor falls beneath them, and suddenly they are mired in terrible circumstances. How could that happen to THEM? And we shake our heads in disbelief. And lick our wounds. And covet a life we don’t have.

We live in a culture that tends to place a heavy onus on ‘image’ and ‘making good impressions’ and ‘conformity’, according to a perceived criteria of good living — a house in the ‘burbs, two cars, a nice little family, great jobs, perfect health, financial security, etc.

But who are we, really? And do we recognize our authentic, true selves? Do we have the courage to be who we are, even if it bucks the norm? And how do we discover that ‘true self” without getting totally self-absorbed and self-centered?

The Garasene man filled with a host of demons didn’t know who he was. The word, ‘Legion’, in the Gospel text from Luke 8:26-39 suggests a multiplicity of forces pulling him away — distracting him — from his true self. This is evil. He is literally beside himself.

And people knew that, and chose to collude in separating him from the community, to live in the tombs. They saw in him the broken, dirty window pane. And what the city folk people wanted was the stained glass window (see post, “Window panes”).

This was the famous Decapolis region on the other side of Lake Galilee. Among the Gentiles, the culture here was attractive and industry was prospering. This region of a secular society looked very good, on the outside. People aspired to its economy and riches.

The people of the Decapolis rejected Jesus and his healing gifts. They were afraid, and sent him away. They, too, didn’t know who they truly were. Because when Jesus turned the tables on their lives and restored the man they once knew as the outsider, the crazy, the broken — they were scared to see what life can be about for them, should they let Jesus shine in them.

The stained glass window is not, in the end, about the beauty of the stained glass. The broken, dirty window is not, in the end, about the distractions that lead us to sin and woundedness. There’s something more, something essentially simple. Yet, seemingly so difficult.

The healed man, at the end, was tempted once more, to be something and someone he was not. He asked Jesus if he could go with him. But Jesus sends him back, to “return home”. To be who he was created to be, among his own people and in his own community. Restored human relationships is a first sign of healing.

Our restored relationship and intimate communion with our Creator God, is our ultimate healing and wholeness. This is the place of our true selves. Jesus calls the man to “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.”

Are we not called, in the end, to be that clear and simple glass pane, reflecting what God has done in our lives, and for the sake of others? When the focus is neither so much on what we think is so glorious about ourselves, nor obsessively on our brokenness and wounds, but on the work and presence of God in our lives — are we not healed?

The paralysis of analysis

When I was in university some years ago now it seemed to me that if I wanted, it was possible still, at that time, to read everything that had ever been written about any particular topic.

This sounds like good methodology. After all, in order to write a research paper on some subject you must first master the material and know all there is to know about it, right? Before developing your thesis you need first to gather and consume all the data and information out there.

Today, however, that strategy is impossible. With the democratizing effect of the World Wide Web over the last decades, you can no longer pretend to have all the information you need before acting on a plan. Because there’s always something more that someone has written.

A couple of weeks ago I sat around a table of a group of local Lutheran pastors talking about some of the things being planned for the Joint Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada and the Anglican Church of Canada this summer in Ottawa.

We were considering the suggestion of the national bishops of both churches to act boldly. One afternoon during the Joint Assembly, both church bodies would be invited to walk together peacefully to Parliament Hill and make public witness of our unity and mutual support of some pressing social justice issues of the day; namely, showing our support for First Nations people and for social/affordable housing initiatives — given the growing disparity between rich and poor and the escalation of child poverty rates, even in our city here.

Well, that was interesting. Some raised concern that before we can act on something like this, we need to have all the information: we need to see both sides of the issue, to gather all the opinions and data and perspectives which exist among our diverse membership — to be sure.

This position, I must admit, appealed to me impulsively. You see, I grew up in a family where, in order to do something together, it felt like we all had to agree on the course of action. I mean, each one of us had to agree to it for it to be okay. Our unity of action depended on conformity. Unless we were all like-minded on a position, we held off acting on it.

Now, there are times in the life of a family or community when waiting to act on something is appropriate. Other times, not so much. And when we hesitate, when we look the other way, because we need more information, we may miss out on experiencing something wonderful from God. And that’s tragic.

At root of this paralysis of analysis, I believe, is fear. Fear of the unknown.

In my life as a pastor I’ve also witnessed families sitting around a dinner table where they argue passionately against each other, expressing with loud words and wildly flying hand gestures their divergent opinions. And yet, each and every one of them around that table could never imagine NOT remaining part of that family. They work it out — together, and openly. They’re not afraid of baring their souls, being vulnerable to one another, laying it on the line — lovingly, firmly, respectfully. They are family no matter their disagreements. And, those disagreements don’t hold family members back from acting on their convictions when those opportunities present themselves.

Notice the action of the father of the Prodigal Son in the Gospel text for today (Luke 15:1-3,11b-32). A younger son leaves home with his inheritance and squanders it. Destitute, he decides to risk going back home hoping he will be received.

You can imagine Jesus’ listeners expecting — as in other parables where rebels are dealt with harshly — that this young son will be severely punished. If the steward who failed to invest was cast into outer darkness (Matthew 25:26-30), how much more will a greedy son suffer!

We may be so familiar with this story that we overlook something that would have surprised its original audience: the father hasn’t even heard his son’s expression of remorse. The father doesn’t first hear what his son had to say for himself. The father doesn’t first demand an apology from the lips of the wayward son. Jesus says that the father was only “moved with compassion” simply upon seeing him. Actions speak louder than words. There’s no analysis going on here.

The father does something wondrous — something that might very well have struck listeners as odd. He runs, undignified, and puts his arm around his son and kisses him -uncalled for. Who could not feel confused by the father’s apparent approval of sin? (thanks to Fr. James Martin, SJ, for this insight). What’s going on here? The father even throws a party for his lost son that has come home.

I find it interesting that the end of the story in Luke’s Gospel does not say how the resentful elder son responded to the father’s invitation to join the family celebration. Perhaps this question mark at the end of the story was intentional – as now each and every one of us is invited to reflect on whether or not we will act.

Will we act, first out of compassion and mercy? Will we join the new thing God is doing in our family in the church? Despite disagreeing on some things, despite feeling miffed or frustrated by something, despite not having gathered all the data and information on something, despite our desire first to feel justified in helping people in need.

But as we must make that decision on our own, remember who is inviting us. And, remember that our Father God desires the healing not just of individuals in our own private worlds. But ultimately, our God desires the healing of the whole family of God. And God promises to welcome each of us around that table, in this world and in the world to come.

What a party that will be!

In Plain Sight

We were making too much noise.

So our youth leader shooed us out of the large room for a few minutes as he ‘hid’ an ordinary, blue ink, Bic pen somewhere in the parish hall. He assured us that he would place it in plain sight; that is, not underneath, behind or in something that would impede us seeing the pen out in the open. That would mean the pen would be lying on the fire place mantle, shelf, chair, table, floor — somewhere clearly visible.

The rule of the game was once all of us were back in the room, we had to remain silent — not say a word or indicate by our body language where the pen was, once we spotted it. It took me a while of scanning the room for the pen. At first the silence was unnerving as I was self conscious, and preoccupied with what me peers were doing and whether or not they had yet found it.

Then it was a matter of settling down inside of myself and spending my energy not on comparison and competition — which only distracted me further on my quest to find the pen. It was an exercise in observation and practicing the art of seeing what is there.

Afterwards I reflected that the game “In plain sight” required important life skills — to practise mindful presence, to be quiet, to acknowledge that which serves only to distract myself from being, to have the courage to settle down inside of myself, and to pay attention to what is actually in front of me.

I also learned that the answer often lies in the ordinary, the simple, the common. Our world seems to place value only on that which stimulates our senses, makes a lot of noise, and is rife with frenetic movement, speed and action.

But often what we need is exactly the opposite and “in plain sight”, if we choose to see it.

Oh, by the way, the youth leader walked silently around the room with the rest of us, looking around quietly. He put the pen sticking out of the heel of his shoe. It was right there for all of us to see.

The truth will make you free

“You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:32)

This text citing Jesus from the Gospel of John is the chosen text for Reformation Sunday. I wonder why? Is it because in every age the church needs to re-discover the truth for itself?

When you think about it, isn’t this the question that seems to surface time and time again for Christians living in the world today? It does for me: When tragedy strikes. When controversy splinters groups. When conflict erupts. What is true? Who is right? Who speaks the truth?

After watching the presidential debates on TV last week, one of the US networks had a segment where a reporter examined a few of the statements made by the candidates. By appealing to the facts and the official record we could judge whether or not the statements were true. Kind of like a truth-meter. The result wasn’t always clear-cut, either-or – for both candidates.

Pilate’s question to Jesus (“What is truth?” John 18:38) right before Jesus’ death is actually answered by Jesus here: “The truth will make you free.” Okay, so we have a connection between truth and freedom. It’s a good start.

This is the texture and character of what God’s truth is all about; that is, it leads to freedom, to expansion, to a kind of un-shackling, un-binding, un-raveling, un-caging of our lives. This is how we will recognize it – that’s the litmus test: whether it frees us, or not.

In the last couple of weeks you may have noticed the new paint on the walls in the narthex and adjacent rooms upstairs. Repainting the walls is a cleansing act of sorts – a confession, you might say. Because we now look rather critically at what was on the floors – the furniture, and what hung the walls – the plaques and pictures. We revisit the very assumptions of why those things were put there in the first place. In this evaluative process we ask: Why?

Painting the walls was sacramental in that it was an outward act that points to an inward reality. What about taking a look at our inner lives, asking ‘why?’, and begin renovating that space? What about confessing the truth of who we are? What is hanging on the walls of our hearts? And why is it there? Does it need to be? Is it counter-productive? Does it say something about our lives that is not really true?

At the spiritual retreat I attended last weekend the participants were asked the question: “Describe how you know something to be true.” The question was intentionally left to be wide open, and in our small groups we were encouraged not to be judgmental in what others said and with what came to our own lips in the moment. So, how do you know something to be true?

It wasn’t an easy question to answer, truth be told, especially among strangers. My small group comprised of three people. And you might have guessed it: three different kinds of answers.

The first person said she knows something to be true because she trusts her gut instinct; for example, she just knows in her gut that someone her teenage daughter hangs out with is not a good friend for her. Her gut tells her this is true – and often it turns out to be true!

The other person said she relies on what other people around her say and do. She trusts her friends and family, what they teach her, tell her and by the example of their lives – this is how she knows and discovers the truth. Not so much her gut, but in her relationships.

I was the third person. The first thing that came to my mind was: I trust ideas and from where they come – the scriptures, the doctrines, the books I read, the traditions, the work of the mind. This is how I know the truth.

I realized after our discussion that it boiled down to what you trust – your instinct, your heart, your mind.

Was someone wrong? Was someone right? The experience of the exercise to listen and then to share honestly taught me that in various ways we were all right. Each of us shared an important perspective on discovering the truth.

If it wasn’t for Martin Luther responding in the moment to his conscience and gut: “Here I stand!” before those who accused him of heresy – I wonder if he and we would have ever received the truth of God’s grace in the way Luther eventually articulated it.

If it wasn’t for Martin Luther’s loving, caring and trusting relationship with Johann von Staupitz, his superior and mentor in the Augustinian monastery, he would not have made a critical step in his journey to discover the truth of justification by grace alone. In Luther’s own words: “If it had not been for Dr. Staupitz, I should have sunk in hell.”

If it wasn’t for Martin Luther’s dedication to the written word in translating the New Testament from the Latin to the language of the people, German, during his exile in the Wartburg castle, if not for his scholarship and knowledge of the scriptures, he most certainly would not have been in a position to stand with credibility and conviction.

On the other hand,

If it were only his instinct that he trusted, he could have barked up the wrong theological tree altogether, without recourse to the people in his life and the traditions of his church, good and bad.

If it were only his relationships that he trusted, he could have easily lost himself, his integrity, his own conscience by trying to please everyone and respond to their demands and expectations, becoming in essence a chameleon.

If it were only his appeal to right ideas manifested in the laws, the scriptures, the words on a page and other such abstract authorities, he would have missed the gift of Jesus to the world, a gift – like peace – which surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7). In other words, what is true is more than merely the understandings of our minds and intellectual intelligence.

Martin Luther’s conscience, his trusted relationships and his mind – all three – were part of the journey of discovering truth. I think we can say that in many ways his influence in the church expanded and freed many to embrace the truth about God.

By trusting only one facet over the other leads us to live life as if we were pushing a plane down the runway. We want to be free. We want the truth of flight. But we’re not getting into the plane and trust all of what the journey means.

It’s hard work. It isn’t easy – both to be honest about yourself, and to accept the other whose answer might be a little different.

It was for Martin Luther. For someone who was so convinced that the truth was found only in serving penance for his sins and slaving away to earn favor with God; for someone who felt deeply remorseful for his sins but who believed the only way to get it right with God was to work even harder at doing good works ….

The truth indeed set him free. For what was his eureka moment in that monastery in Germany? That it is grace that puts him right with God. Not anything that his ego could produce – his energy, his work, his endurance, his good intentions. But a free gift of God’s love, mercy, forgiveness – the doing of God in Jesus un-did the requirement for Luther to earn God’s grace.

So this grace as gift is the truth that sets us free. But it is a freedom FOR something, not FROM something. This is key. Freedom that is grounded in God’s grace is not a freedom from restraints and limits so that we could do anything we want to do. (see Richard Rohr, “On the Threshold of Transformation”, p.123). Here we go pushing that plane again. It is not Jesus’ understanding of freedom.

Instead, what Jesus embodies is a freedom FOR the good, the true, and the beautiful. It is a highly moral approach to freedom. This movement gets us flying. Gets us free. When we have nothing to lose except our egos. We seek justice, we are gracious and understanding, we are compassionate and work on behalf, not of ourselves and our own myopic realities, but of others in need. Why? Because it is the right thing to do. Because we are free to do this! Someone once said: There is no truth without compassion, and no compassion without truth.

I suspect when the world sees us engaged in this kind of approach, they will see Jesus and therefore see God. They will see the truth, they will bear witness to it in our behavior, our decisions and our actions.

What is truth? Each of us needs to personally struggle with that question – as Luther mightily did, as anyone who has grown in their personhood.

The truth is – the Son still shines above the clouds. Discovering this truth is like taking off on a stormy day: We may know theoretically that the sun is still shining. But to experience the Son personally we need to fly through the turbulence of the clouds before we break through and reach the heights where the sky is blue and the sun’s rays warm our bodies, our hearts and our minds.

A seminary prof once told my class that the song should really read: “Jesus loves me this I know for my mother tells me so” – pointing to the truth that for many of us, before we could read any words on a page we were in relationships with loved ones who showed us God’s love and talked to us about it.

The prof got it partially right. For over the span of a lifetime, I believe that Jesus loves me this I know, for my gut, my Mom/Dad/loved ones, and the Bible tells me so.

That is how I know.