perspective

Panem & Pennsylvania

The Hunger Games was a wildly successful trilogy of books that was adapted into 4 movies. They were so successful that a brand new prequel novel is/has been released this month – wildly successful things aren’t ever left alone to age gracefully, every cent must be ruthlessly squeezed from marks whose only crime is appreciation. They were so successful that I protested their popularity and avoided them at all costs. I imagine I would be avoiding them still if it wasn’t for the woman who lives in this house. You make all sorts of compromises when you get married, right? Watching movies you would never watch under any other circumstance is just one. (Letting your sweet bride hog all of the covers is another, but that isn’t really the point here.)

We are spending the quarantine watching lots of movies, and my lovely Angel has been wanting to see the entire Hunger Games series, so we spent 4 days with our heroine Katniss Everdeen. I won’t go into any reviews or explanations here, but I will potentially spoil the ending. 

(Incidentally, I did like it a lot, as it turns out. But I like everything. Except the band Coldplay, I don’t like Coldplay.)

So stop here if you care, if 5 years just wasn’t enough time to see it.

If you’re still here, it’s your problem now. Anyway, the last lines of the movie are spoken to her baby: “ Did you have a nightmare? I have nightmares too. Someday I’ll explain it to you. Why they came. Why they won’t ever go away. But I’ll tell you how I survive it. I make a list in my head. Of all the good things I’ve seen someone do. Every little thing I could remember. It’s like a game. I do it over and over. Gets a little tedious after all these years, but… There are much worse games to play.”

It’s an awesome moment, but why am I writing about it? There are many, many awesome moments every day. (Hugs, kisses, magic tricks, chocolate, pushups, walks, People’s Court, when my boys wake up, when my special lady comes home, great songs…so many awesome moments.) This one, though, was particularly relevant. We have nightmares. We’re caught in a global nightmare in addition to the nightmares we face every day. Broken relationships, broken hearts, broken bones, lost jobs, divorce, war, anger, bitterness, fear, inadequacy, illness, headaches, anxiety, fear, and on and on… and what we all want to know is how do we survive them? How do we move through them? How do we keep waking up and getting out of bed in the morning???

And Katniss has the same answer that the apostle Paul had 2 thousand years ago. He writes in Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” Now, Paul has been through much pain, suffering, an almost endless string of trials, and he says he knows how to be content “whatever the circumstances.” I think this is the why and how that Katniss has figured out.

I know we are all dealing with so much – whatever our specific nightmares are – and we are all desperately searching for a why and a how. And we have been looking to contemporaries for answers. Maybe our search is too limited. Too often, the Bible gets mistaken as outdated, ancient words for ancient people in ancient times that has no use for us here, now, today. But this Divine wisdom might be exactly what we’re looking for, if only we have eyes to see it wherever it shows up. Maybe it was the answer in Philippi & Jerusalem then, in Panem & Pennsylvania today.

Catfish, pt 2 (or 3 or 4)

COVID-19 is now a fully political issue. Of course, it has always been a political issue (alcohol- and smoking-related illnesses kill far more than this virus could in any worst-case scenario, but they have much better public relations, more effective lobbyists, so we’ve decided we don’t care too much) but now we have straight party-line protests and “Republicans are now pro-choice” memes. Ah yes, the meme, an ultra-modern genre that feeds on generalized oversimplifications. This particular meme obviously goes both ways but the point of politically generalized oversimplifications is to ignore all that doesn’t support the opinion of the writer. Our hopes that this was a human issue that would bring us together and not a left/right issue have been dashed on the rocks of partisanship, replaced with the usual political maneuvering and more of the same acid-tongued sniping. It’s super depressing and has driven me to posting Red Hot Chili Peppers and Billy Idol album covers on Facebook just to break up the vitriol – I am now that guy. I swore I’d never be that guy, yet here we are.

Everybody knows I loooove the tv show Catfish, about people employing fake profiles online. They do this for any number of reasons (from romance to revenge) and the hosts/detectives track them down and expose them. The show began as a movie, also called Catfish, where the soon-to-be host of the tv show was himself “catfished.” He had fallen in love with a woman that turned out to be a married, middle-aged mother of 3. She had created several fake profiles to interact with each other on Facebook to add depth and reality to the deception.

When you watch the movie (or the show), as the ruse begins to unravel, you’ll feel some level of indignance – “How could they do that????!!?” – decide they are “monsters” and wish for their just desserts. You will get angry at their inhumanity, their vicious callousness at breaking another’s heart. They are the villains in the story, and we along with the victims are the righteous innocent.

In the movie, the filmmakers show up at her door and she continues to lie, as my mom says, like a rug. Finally, she is forced to come clean and the narrative transforms, as do our easy characterizations.

Earlier, I wrote that they do this “for any number of reasons,” and that’s not really true. They mostly do it to find a personal connection that has been lacking.

That sounds familiar, doesn’t it? We’re created for personal connection – this is undeniable, especially now.

But why have they decided that who they are isn’t good enough for this connection?

Well, why have we? Think of all the ways we compromise or cultivate an image that might be more appealing to him or her…because we aren’t satisfied with who we are, because we have believed that we aren’t good enough.

This woman, the “monster,” is a talented artist, 2 of the 3 children are severely disabled. In fact, they are step-children, she chose to marry a man and care for those 2 boys for the rest of their lives. She is intelligent and soft, empathetic and funny. She is terrific. She made a very poor catfishing decision out of loneliness and disconnect that she will regret forever, but it is something she did and not who she is.

I think Catfish should be required viewing for every human being living on earth. We easily fall into the trap where we think those who believe differently are dumb, inhumane, ignorant, misinformed, heartless, but they’re not. (Well, maybe they are, but not always;) Usually, they are exactly like you and me, formed by experiences, wounds, mistakes, ideas, environment, education, suffering, and on and on.

Every Catfish follows pretty much the same arc. Fingers crossed that the person is actually the person we think it is. This wish melts into broken-hearted sadness that what was hoped for, isn’t the reality. Finally, we rebound into a deeper understanding, where we see the other as they are, not an idealized picture on a screen and not the 2dimensional generalization based on their behavior and our fear. This last space can also be called love, where it’s not about control or our wants and desires, not about us at all. Love because it is free of our fearful boxes and labels, free of The Other, free of the desperate need to win (and for someone else to lose.)

Maybe this COVID-19 crisis is like that, too. Maybe this IS a human issue, a global act of grace, but we first have to get past the fearful grasping for what we want, what we think, what we need, before we can discover the love that has been there all along, just waiting for us to arrive.

Guidance/Approval

I’ve been reading the book of Jeremiah for a while now. Usually, we only read Jeremiah in 1-verse increments where the verse is always 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” It’s SUPER famous and perfect for bumper stickers and tattoos. Of course, it follows a 70-year exile and continues with some instructions to seek God with our whole heart, but that doesn’t play as well in a sound bite. We prefer to think about all the ways we want God to “prosper” us, which don’t always include exile.

In chapters 42 and 43, a military officer named Johanan calls for Jeremiah and asks for guidance from God. He promises to do whatever He and his buddies say, “May the Lord be a true and faithful witness against us if we do not act in accordance with everything the Lord your God sends you to tell us. Whether it is favorable or unfavorable, we will obey the Lord our God, to whom we are sending you, so that it will go well with us, for we will obey the Lord our God.” I do that, too, sometimes when I pray. Just save me, heal me, take this (whatever) away and I’ll do anything You ask.

Apparently, Jeremiah has heard all of this before, (for at least 42 chapters,) so when he gives the message from God to “NOT GO TO EGPYT,” he follows it up with, “And today I have told you exactly what he said, but you will not obey the Lord your God any better now than you have in the past. So you can be sure that you will die from war, famine, and disease in Egypt, where you insist on going.”

And of course, they DO go to Egypt, and it doesn’t go that well for them there.

The Bible happened, and the Bible happens. I think this Johanan is an imbecile, obviously, and could’ve saved himself all the trouble if he had only listened! God had plans for him, plans to prosper him and not harm him, but nooo, he had to do things his own way. I shake my head until my neck is sore at this prideful ignorance. And then, after I sit with this for a moment or a day or 20 years, I remember how often I ask for advice, or guidance, or direction when what I really want is approval. I want to be told that yes, my plan is just right. If I’m not told exactly that, then I move on and go to Egypt anyway. I am Johanan more times than I’d ever admit to you.

I want God to prosper me (but maybe prosperity means something different in God’s economy), to bless MY plans, to give me a hope and future as long as they’re the hopes and futures for which I’ve been praying (but maybe His idea of a hope and a future is different from mine.)

I want the control, I want to be right, I want to know, I want to go to Egypt. I used to think I had all the answers. Probably Johanan did, too. Probably going to Egypt sounded like a smart plan.

29:11 begins, “For I know…” Maybe I don’t have to know. Maybe it’s just enough that He does. And maybe that’s the point.

Patricia’s Blog – Living Water

[This post has been written by Patricia Snyder – Enjoy!! Love & Peace. Chad.]

John 4: 4-41. Living Water

When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.[a]) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

At the well, Jesus meets the Samaritan woman and offers her living water. It was a place He shouldn’t have been, according to the culture of the day. It was a place where she went alone, away from the morning crowds. She went alone, maybe because in her culture she was considered immoral. Jesus doesn’t mince words when He points out her past. He speaks only the truth. It is this particular person that Jesus chose to approach. This is possibly the longest interaction, between Jesus and another person, that we read about in the Scripture. He asked her for water. He spoke truth to her about her life, a painful truth. He brought the truth from the places of her heart and from the voices of public gossip into Divine light and grace.

In the time of Jesus, living water also referred to water that flowed and moved as opposed to water that was still and stagnant. It was considered the most pure of waters and also used to cleanse oneself before entering the Temple. Living water cleansed and purified. This is what he offered her and offers us. With this water, not only will we never thirst, we will be cleansed and purified.

13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”17 “I have no husband,” she replied. Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

No matter what she did in her past or present, He chose to meet this person on that day. The water he offered could not be earned by any action or non action in her life. It could only be given.

This story has always struck a chord for me. It is one of the most powerful stories in the life of Christ. Christ met this woman, exactly where she was in her life. The truth of her life comes out of the mouth of the Savior, and in the very same encounter, He offers her everything her soul needs, truth and living water. He chose this woman to meet and carry a testimony of grace and love to others. 

Christ also meets us exactly where we are. Right now, many of us remain physically distant from those outside of our homes. Some folks are the helpers, going out, and with their servant hearts, they face the frontlines in a war zone. Some are the helpers behind the lines, doing what can be done to support others. Some of us are at home with others; some of us are alone. Some are ill. For some of us, this will be the most painful time of our lives. For some of us, this will be a revealing time. For some of us, this will be a growing and healing time. For some of us, this will be a time of great thirst and for some, a time of cleansing. For most of us, it will be a bit of everything.  

Every single one of us, Jesus will meet exactly where we are. He will meet us alone, and He knows every bit of our story.  He brings truth to Light. Our stories never stop Him. Nothing from our past or present stops Jesus. He offers us this living water, that purifies, cleanses and takes away every  thirst. 

Jesus will meet us in the fear, the aloneness, the togetherness, the loneliness, the growth, the despair, the grieving, the pain, and the joy. He will meet us in the desolation and the recovery. He will meet us with consolation and grace.

The other day I felt the warmth of tears come down my cheek.  They come more easily during this time. I remember the woman at the well and how Jesus asked her for water. She felt so inadequate. The weight of her culture and her life was upon her.  She asked Him, “How can you ask me for water?”  It occurred to me that sometimes all we have to give Jesus is the water of our tears. All we have is the water that carries part of our souls. The tears are so sacred in their journey from our heart and souls to the flowing of tears. There are times our soul overflows. It is sacred and holy water. I believe that Jesus asks us for that. He comes to our well, when we are alone, meets us where we are and asks us for water and sometimes tears are all that we can give. He takes our offering and reminds us that He has the water that quenches our souls for eternity and lifts us into the grace of God.  

21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” 26 Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”

Imagine that. The Messiah revealed Himself to this particular woman and chose her to give testimony to her community. She is any one of us.

39 Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. 41 And because of his words many more became believers

This encounter with the Samaritan woman is the same encounter that we are offered. He meets us where we are, and reveals Himself to us.  He is the Messiah! On Good Friday, we will be reminded again of the gift that our Savior gives us. From the cross, water from His side poured out; the gift of living water that “wells up to eternal life.”

We have more alone moments now. Maybe more than we did before. We may have more tears than we did before. The invitation remains. Christ will meet us exactly where we are with living water and grace. The only question remains is what we do with the gift that is offered.

Isaiah 12:2 God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. For the LORD GOD is my strength and my song, and He also has become my salvation.” 3With joy you will draw water from the springs of salvation.

Angel’s Blog – 10 High 5’s

[This has always been a space that was conceived to not only be a vehicle for me, but for the entire community.  So, with that in mind, it’s a perfect time to expand so that we can hear different perspectives, different voices. This is the first in what I hope will be many more. It has been written by my wife, Angel, and I know you’ll love it! Love & Peace. Chad.]

After working at home for 13 years, going back to work was a bit of a challenge.  It meant not being with my boys after school, not being able to prepare dinner every night for my family, not taking care of them like grocery shopping, cleaning the house, keeping up with the laundry, among other things.  My love language is acts of service, and quality time, so those 2 things were dramatically altered by working outside of the home.

Now I’m a person who loves people, so it was at the same time amazing to go to work every day and be around people, especially kids, and to take care of them in a variety of ways.  I love giving a kind smile to a kid who I know has an unstable home life.  I love that I have one student who comes into the office at the end of every day to give me, not 1 but 10 high 5’s, because that’s the kind of love and support we show each other.  I love that I get to share in the lives of our staff, weather they are celebrating something going really well for them, or walking quietly beside them while they are having a number of difficult and painful situations.  I really love my job!!

It’s funny how, being off for a period of time, it has not been easy to settle back into the “first” life I lived for many years.  It has been really nice being able to make dinner almost every night.  For my family to be able to eat dinner around the table almost every night, and have great conversations and then watch a nightly movie together.  It’s been awesome to have conversations with my boys about so many different things, and to go on long walks with my husband.  It has also been sad that I can’t give my co-worker a hug, who just lost her mother -in-law.  It’s been very sad that I can’t give another co-worker an encouraging look when I know he’s stressed and doing the very best he can to make everything right.

All at the same time, I can’t help but feel SUPER sad for those people who are not in the same boat as we are.  There are people who are struggling and who might not be able to pay their rent, or they might not have enough food, or they may not have a job to go back to because their small business will not be able to reopen when this is over.  I was very happy to hear that all school employees will be paid while schools are not in session.  That gave me some relief that at least many of the people I love and care for, will be taken care of.

Now let’s keep those others in our prayers and thoughts.  Let’s reach out where we can to love them, like we were called to do.  I loved it when the school was on the car parade, there were so many older people outside, soaking up others loving others.  Find a way to do that today.  Make a card for a neighbor and leave it on their doorstep, bake someone cookies, call a friend you haven’t talk to for a while, something!!  Think of a way to love someone.

I miss being around people and can’t wait to go back to work.  But I will NOT take for granted this precious time I get to have with my family.

Angel

Unicorns

I have a very good friend who said to me, “You know, I’ve noticed you do a lot of things out of a reaction to past experiences.”

Or I should say “I used to have a very good friend who…” because when he threw such a mean-spirited, judgmental hand grenade at me, I did exactly what we’re all supposed to do: run like crazy in the other direction. He should’ve known better, we don’t have time for this sort of closed-minded attack. He’s obviously a bad guy, right?

OK, that’s not true at all. I mean, my response isn’t true. What he said is absolutely right on. I do. It didn’t feel nice to hear.

My posture as a man, husband, and father began as a Costanza-esque commitment to “do the opposite” of my dad. [My perspective has since changed with age, maturity (which is clearly not the same as simply being alive longer), understanding, and grace.] I bristled at the Bridge being called a church for years, so much baggage comes with such a small word. I wouldn’t allow anyone to refer to me as its pastor. Again, a word that carries such heavy baggage from those who have done such damage and misused the position and influence. And the biggest sacred pillar for me was money. The business of God was always so gross to me, it’s the primary reason I ran from God for the first 20 or so years of my life. If you’ve had your eyes open, you’ve heard stories of churches placing dollars before people and buildings before God. I never even wanted to take an offering at all! We don’t mention our orange box and certainly don’t “pass the plate.”

There are a thousand things to find in this small interaction between my friend and I, outside of what he actually said.

I am thankful that I have a friend that is so committed to my growth that he would take the risk. It’s a vulnerable and frightening position that can (and has, as I can personally attest) result in a broken relationship. As we talk so often about, what weighs more; the relationship, superficial and suppressed, or each other’s growth, honest and accountable? I am thankful that he chose me over some watered down and ultimately dismissive version of me.

I am also thankful that Jesus has taken my hand and led me, kicking and screaming, with the help of people like my friend, into a space where satisfying my ego and pride, selfishly protecting the status quo in my own life, isn’t my first priority. It is still sadly a priority I cling to, I’m sure, it’s just not the first anymore. But He has pursued me until I could run no longer and is inviting me daily into a brand new reality.

That’s 2, 998 more to go. Maybe next time.

It’s difficult breaking down patterns in our lives, whether they’re patterns built to expand our arrogance and/or hold fast to the past experiences that we have chosen to define our present and future. This breaking down is terrifying, and nothing that should be done alone. I pray we all have friends like mine, and I pray that we recognize these unicorns for what extraordinary creatures they are.

Rev. Lydia

Yesterday, in the message, I spoke of the concept of alchemy that I heard from Rev. Lydia. Today I want to share her post that deals with that. (If you want to follow her, it’s revlydia.com, and she’s AWESOME.) I changed the format of the poem at the end to better fit this space. I hope you love all of this like I do.

“During this season of Lent, a discipline of not gathering with others has been imposed upon all of us. Regardless of whether or not some of us are introverts, humans are pack animals in that we are most happy when we are connected with others. And for a lot of my congregants for whom Sunday morning church is their one weekly opportunity to see and touch others, isolation is more dangerous for their health than any disease. 

But many of you who’ve been reading my writing for a while know that I believe we need to learn the art of alchemy to experience continual joy in our lives, especially in the most dire of circumstances. I share about this in my blog post here, in my marriage essay here, and in my workbook, Elevate Your Joy and Purpose here.

So if I ignite my powers as an alchemist, I can already see the base metal turning into gold by recognizing the following gifts within this situation:

• We have to slow down.

• We get to spend more time with our families. My friend told me that this lockdown has facilitated such good conversations with her husband, reminiscent of their dating years before the chaos of children and careers rushed in. 

• We realize how deeply connected the entire globe is to one another. 

• We travel less, hopefully making less impact on our environment by reducing our carbon footprint. 

• We can get our house in order by doing some organizing, cleaning, etc. 

• We can reach out to one another in creative ways. 

A congregant sent me this moving poem along this exact theme. 

Pandemic What if you thought of it as the Jews consider the Sabbath— the most sacred of times? Cease from travel. Cease from buying and selling. Give up, just for now, on trying to make the world different than it is. Sing. Pray. Touch only those to whom you commit your life. Center down. And when your body has become still, reach out with your heart. Know that we are connected in ways that are terrifying and beautiful. (You could hardly deny it now.) Know that our lives are in one another’s hands. (Surely, that has come clear.) Do not reach out your hands. Reach out your heart. Reach out your words. Reach out all the tendrils of compassion that move, invisibly, where we cannot touch. Promise this world your love– for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, so long as we all shall live. -Lynn Ungar 3/11/20”

Word Offering

After a desperately needed week off – though it wasn’t a week free of drama and chaos, it was a week off from this space. I do love this space (the imaginary blog space and the psychological space of work, as well as this actual physical space of chair and computer) but stepping away gave me the opportunity to respond quickly and without reservation. It gave me the opportunity to answer the phone and quickly say yes, and that is something we (at least that I) don’t get the freedom to do nearly enough.

I’ll touch on last week soon enough, but I do want to dive into the Visio Divina poem from 2 weeks ago. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, please take a second to read my last post, ‘This Branch.’)

So. This branch – “This branch is blowing, sometimes gently, sometimes violently, moved, led, a dance of differing tempos. This branch, before the cool gray shy and behind the jarring, out-of-place power lines, connected to the tree, (the Vine), healthy, crisp, bright, refined, bending, swaying, it is beautiful, an extension of the tree, it’s very nature is, here, now, lovely. As it is.” – is me. You. Him. Her. Us. We are beautiful, lovely, at our deepest essence. Exactly as we are. (Despite the lies we believe distance us and make us something less, we remain made in the image of God, after all, made in, by, and for, love. As Rise Against sings, “We are far from perfect, but perfect as we are. We are bruised, we are broken, but we are ** works of art.”) Exactly as we have been created, joined, connected to the Tree that gives us life and vitality. We are acted upon by our environments, consisting of the world around us. This takes many forms, none intrinsically good or bad, like neighbors, work, viruses, winter, pizza, sex, money, the ocean, etc. The environment that blows us, weathers us, and threatens to sever us from the Tree that sustains us as it reminds us again and again that we are these amazing works of art.

Now, the condensation: “But a stripe from the window, a separation, condensation (cold meeting warm leaving unwelcome evidence of the battle on the glass) cuts through the branch, blurs, dulls, smears, makes the concrete abstract, changes perception, confuses, redefines the branch, the branch loses it’s essence, unrecognizable.” As the environment simply exists, it can engage with itself or other environments in many ways, some of them in conflict, which can change the perception we have of ourselves. We become unrecognizable (I mis-typed and was corrected to “unrecognized” but that is no correction at all, it’s 100% wrong. The Tree recognizes us, no matter where we are, how far we go, or how much condensation separates us.) and confused. We own the notion that we are re-defined by this blur, so we re-define ourselves, which encourages us to re-define others, as “sinners,” or some other broad-sweeping generalizations that reduce the beauty of the branches and the Tree for one unfortunate aspect or behavior.

I don’t have any idea how coherent this explanation of this Visio is…probably not very. Maybe it’s so difficult to convey because any revelation, any truly soul-altering experience, is ultimately a personal exchange between you and the Divine. An intimate moment beyond words… that we try to use words to catch and maybe in the attempt to capture, loses its nature or its heart.

Maybe I should delete this whole thing, maybe sharing it profanes it’s purity. But you already know I won’t. I won’t delete it because maybe its purity is instead magnified in the overwhelming goodness of a God who would meet us in a branch and smudge on a window. So, on that chance, I will post it gladly, in all of its jumbled inadequacy, His goodness displayed in my weakness, as a Word Offering (like a drink offering of the Old Testament) to the God that so thoroughly provides.

This Branch

At our contemplative retreat last Saturday, we engaged in a practice called Visio Divina (Latin for “Divine seeing,” or a phrase I loooove, “praying with your eyes.”) We find a picture or an object or, maybe, anything at all and we focus on that object and ask the Spirit to guide our thoughts. We have spent quite a bit of time in a sister practice called Lectio Divina, where we spend time with a Scripture passage and ask for the same sort of guidance of the Spirit. This was our first time with the Visio part.

(I wasn’t sure I would be ready today, that I had lived with and processed enough, to share this, but maybe that’s the point. Maybe it should feel immediate and unfinished. Maybe that is part of the journey, and a valuable part.)

My object was a branch seen through a window of the Bridge, and here is a poem that I wrote about that branch:

This branch

is blowing,

sometimes gently, sometimes violently,

moved, led,

a dance of differing tempos.

This branch,

before the cool gray shy and behind the jarring, out-of-place power lines,

connected to the tree, (the Vine),

healthy, crisp, bright, refined, bending, swaying,

It is beautiful, an extension of the tree,

it’s very nature is, here, now, lovely.

As it is.

But a stripe from the window,

a separation,

condensation (cold meeting warm leaving unwelcome evidence of the battle on the glass) cuts through the branch, blurs, dulls, smears, makes the concrete abstract, changes perception, confuses, redefines the branch,

This branch

loses it’s essence, unrecognizable.

It could be a million other things, none as wonderful as the branch itself…

It feels good to simply leave this here and return to it next time.

Congratulations!!!

Here is a too personal story. I often need to re-focus on Rest (mostly at the gym) because it disappears so easily. The voices in my head kick up in noisy violence screaming that if I take the day off & sleep in, I will gain ALL of the weight I have lost, lose ALL of the strength I have gained, and instead of rebuilding my mind and body while I allow me to recover, I will spend today shopping for new, much larger clothes because mine have become shrink wrap overnight. Before you even say it, I know that this is ridiculous nonsense with absolutely no bearing on reality. That it is the exact opposite of reality. That it is an avalanche of lies. I know this, but old habits die very hard and I usually end up working out anyway.

These lies are also tied to other, deeper seeded untruths like “I am lazy,” “I am undisciplined,” “I have no self-control,” “I never follow through with anything,” so to prove them wrong, I end up working out to chase those demons away. However, the things I do to chase the demons actually reinforces their existence. As I work out, I perpetuate this myth and its pseudo-solutions, giving the loop the energy to continue.

Now. At this point, I can see my participation in the violence I inflict upon myself, so I begin the tearing down of my very essence, “stupid…flawed…hypocrite,” and on and on. The clouds grow thicker and the darkness gets heavier, and my thoughts twist into tornadoes until I can’t tell the difference between the truth and a lie.

At the gym last week, I was physically exhausted and emotionally drained. This happens, and is manageable, but the condition of my spirit is the thing that is alarming to me.

My friend Rick (who is awesome, and wonderfully odd) came in, walked right to me, and asked if I was ok. He referred to my wounded aura (see what I mean? Strange) and asked again.

In the outside world, when we ask, most of the time we don’t mean it, we just use all greetings as synonymous for “hello” and keep walking. Any answer is useless and an honest answer is worse: aggressively counter cultural, obstinate, rebellious.

I told him the truth. He had heard much of this battle before, but this time he brought up how this circle used to be, used to feel, used to carry on, and how much it used to steal from me. Then he said, “So I guess this is Congratulations!” with a huge smile as he shook my hand.

And he’s right. These episodes don’t last long, aren’t even constant – more like bring dunked in a swimming pool instead of drowning on the bottom. I am much quicker to say what my buddy Jason says, “That is a lie. So what’s the opposite of that?” I might hear the words “stupid” and “hypocrite” in my head, but I don’t receive them anymore, like I did years ago.

This journey of faith includes some shocking leaps and heartbreaking falls, but mostly is a long-play, where our growth is lived out in baby steps and 2 forward and 1 back. Today probably doesn’t feel vastly different from yesterday, or last week, but if you would meet the you from 10 years ago, you would hopefully roll your eyes and shake your head at all the things you wish you had known then. You might not even recognize you, your beliefs, your values, your hands or feet.

This is why we need each other, why we need Ricks in our lives, right? To call us back when we lose our way. To pull those tornadoes in our head apart, exposing the venomous deception. To congratulate us when we have mistaken our trial as failure. To ask if we’re ok and wait for an answer, even one that is true. To point out that we are New Creations, even if it takes a while to forget all of the habits we’ve held closely (as if the habits were who we were) for so long. To remind us where we are going and how remarkably far we’ve come.

Congratulations, indeed.