Sunday, January 29, 2017

Uniting the Scarecrow - the Tin Man - the Lion

How does someone like the Wizard of Oz take over the land of Oz? In such a time as that, the people of the land live in fear and anxiety - though some prosper as they go along with the wizardry of the pronouncements of greatness.

Today I wondered if those three characters - the Scarecrow - the Tin Man - the Lion - are meant to be one character. I wonder if they are meant to show me who I am - who I can be - who I must be - in a time of a golden road leading to a bejeweled city of power.   I then wondered if it takes something like Dorothy to be that Lady Wisdom who brings these three together into a odd force able to topple and transform the ruling power of deception. Hmm.

That Scarecrow didn't know one way from another. How can we get there? Well, follow that way - or no - maybe you better go that way.  In a land that has learned to treasure pronouncements and claims to power and visions of grandeur, it can be easy to become like a Scarecrow who seems to be without a brain - seems to not know how to critically evaluate that which is deemed to be powerful and grand. The Scarecrow simply hung around and let the world go by - this way or that way. Nothing was being said - no comment was brought forth - the lost were left to go their lost ways - the advice that was being given was misinformation-  that kept people not knowing the way, the truth, the life.

Too often, the Scarecrow in me attempts to lead a life of non-involvement claiming, "Well I'm not sure what way is the way to go?" Mostly it is when I am a lazy, limp scarecrow unwilling to investigate and critically evaluate that which is happening right around me. It is much easier to listen to one opinion than let that one lead and guide me even if it is supported by nothing but air - or worse - hot air - or worse - bought air time. It takes a bit of work and time to look at the world around us and the mechanisms that seem to rule the day and then to evaluate how those mechanisms impact the world of which I am a part. Having a brain means being able to think outside of myself and my situation. It means being able to note how those around me have to live, so that, I am not consumed in a pattern of thinking that keeps me hung up on a poll of my own musings.

Dorothy disrupts the poll dancing of the Scarecrow and introduces a dilemma that this self-consumed, poll dancer never dreamed was an issue of the day. We need Lady Wisdom to confront our limp thinking and pull us away from the polls in order to start walking down the road that leads through a whole world of thoughts and insights and disagreements and new notions of reality that just may make us more fully human - But not completely.

That Tin Man was frozen in the middle of his swing. He could not follow through - he could not put his heart into what he was doing - there was no organizing center from which his life was shaped. He chopped wood - but why? Was he simply an instrument created to do that which someone in control did not want to do anymore. Therefore there was no connection to the rest of life. Chop. Chop. Chop. That is all his existence was. His life was so much so, that he didn't even know to get out of the rain because that is all that counted - Chop - Chop - Chop. What if he thought about others? What if deep in his heart he knew of those who counted on that wood? What if the welfare of others were a part of each piece of wood he split? The Tin Man had one purpose - chop wood. That was life that could only lead to death - worthlessness - expendability. Simply saying and thinking, This is what I do is one way to stop living. It is one way to become divorced from the community. The world will go by and I will simply keep chopping wood.

I must keep aware of the Tin Man in me. The one who goes about the day doing what I am asked or told to do - doing only that which is in my box - waiting for the next piece of wood to chop. Oh, it happens every day - chop, chop. Yet, I know that I am connected to a story that instills in my core values that make me look up and consider that which I would usually ignore. The heart of this story draws me into the plight of the neighbor - lifts my head so that I can see more than a routine that keeps me going. All of the sudden, the stranger - the ones at the edge - those who are quite contrary to my way of being, are taken to heart. Ha! Taken to heart. When that happens, there is no longer the routine of taking care of the business right in front of me. There is now a whole world to which my heart has become engaged and that is the oil that loosens up my life to experience more.

Dorothy disrupts all the heart-less chopping of the day. She steps into the life of the Scarecrow and becomes that which will enable a turning of the head - a loosening of the grip - a smooth movement out onto the road that will lead the Tin Man's heart to engage and embrace and take to heart a world in need of the life skills of this well-disciplined, determined ax man.

That Lion had a mighty roar - but no substance to it - no life that emerged after the initial burst of roaring wind. It is not as though the Lion did not see or hear things. Instead, the Lion would not, and maybe could not, move in and participate in all that life. It was too frightening to say something - what might people say back, Oh My. It was too frightening to confront others - how will they respond, Oh My. It was too anxiety producing even to think about raising a voice or making a move - what if they respond back, Oh My. The Lion lost the ability to draw up the power of being that makes all life worth its place no matter how the situation at hand reacts. The courage to be a beloved creature with power that could be used to disrupt other powers that attempt to rule had left him out in the woods - alone.

I often introduce myself as a coward - I am like the Lion in the woods. And yet, I keep learning that my voice - as small as it might sound in a world of booming voices - must be used. This is a voice that needs to be lifted up despite the consequences - it has a place - it is a part of how things change. It may not be a voice that roars - but it needs to be used to counter those voices that care little or nothing about the voices of others. A simply meow may be the voice that turns heads and changes the course of how things are going.

Dorothy disrupts the dis-couragement of the Lion by running into the woods to confront the Lion. The Lion sees in this one who usually would be food for the Lion's day, a voice of courage and action that faces down that roar that is meant to frighten her away. Then, she encourages that voice to have a bit of life behind the roar.

It is the power of the Spirit of God that unites that who we are (the beloved of God) to display ourselves as that Beloved one in the wildness and among the threatening agents of the everyday world. Dorothy (along with Toto) is that uniting power - that power that shakes up what is and helps it become that which it is meant to be. We are to be fully human. That means using our minds to face up to all the voices that try to lead us here and there and then discern which way we will go. And then, to listen again after we  think we have found the way. Our minds become united with hearts that avail ourselves to the world of others - their joys - their desperation - their challenges - their gifts. So now, with mind and heart - we begin to see how our humanity does walk a common path and our thoughts can be changed when we entertain a dialogue instead of a monologue. But then there is always the need for the Spirit to get us off of our asses - out of the woods of our self-contentment. - and begin to act. That usually is the part of the power of the Spirit of God we like to keep contained for we cannot control the events into which we walk - and therefore, we let fear and anxiety are left to rule us and guide us.

The Spirit of God - Lady Wisdom - has this ability to skip into our lives and invite us to face up to our calling to be truly and fully human. Yes, it may look like nothing but some straw and tin and mangy hair, but it promises to take us into the humanity we are created to be. In that place, we can each begin to face the beasts that attempt to rule us and distract us and leave us lost alongside the road between here and there. As that Spirit whips around us and leads us beyond the worlds in which we are willing to remain stuck, our true humanity may be seen in the simple move of Toto when that little dog pulls back the curtain as the great and powerful Oz goes on and on - even after being exposed - trying to convince everyone of the power and greatness that should be able to control everyone and anyone.

Sometimes in our imaginations and in our whimsical stories there is a bit of truthfulness we let ourselves miss as we move through the day-to-day realities that attempt to frighten us and control us and leave us less than that which we are: The Beloved of God.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

A Bigger than Life Lost Boy

It is difficult to pray for people with whom you want no contact - those who you might consider vile - those who you would rather sidestep and be with others - those who have the ability to suck the air out of a room. I suppose I may be that kind of person to some folks. Therefore, I realized it might be difficult for you to pray for me. Having said this, I must turn to our new President - Donald Trump.

I was listening to the song "Lost Boys" as I was driving yesterday. It is about someone who becomes one of Peter Pan's lost boys. Within that whimsical piece in mind, I thought of President Trump - a lost boy. In the midst of his wealth and bigger-than-life persona and bombastic defensive self, there is a lost boy. That is not bad. That is the reason for my prayers. I would say all of us are lost and attempting to make it through life in the midst of the world around us. We all do that differently. Sometime being lost enables people to become gentle, kind, and aware of the needs of others. Sometimes being lost helps people live with eyes wide open to any who may appear to be lost and those who definitely are quite lost. Most of that which I am referring to here has to do with feeling lost in the midst of the crowd. But today, I felt compelled to pray for President Trump because he appears to be lost within himself.

Just so I'm not dumped on too heavily here, let me make a note as to how I see this predicament and how I am drawn to comment on it. I try to understand the common confessional words that say, 'we have all sinned and fall short of the Glory of God.' That is so us. People falling for the temporary. People falling for the divisions of the world. People tripping over our privilege by not being able to see it. People so self-concerned we cannot be concerned about anyone but those in our own world. In other words - people falling short of what it is to live and breathe as the Beloved of God. For as we stumble and fall we, too easily put on armor we think will keep us save - preserve us - make us victorious soldiers in a brutal world.  That armor - as much as we think it saves us and protects us - actually accentuates the degree of our lost and damaged lives.

It is painful to see people who have been crushed by the experience of being lost. Not only do they withdraw into the depths of being lost, they often experience being pushed more deeply into their lostness - by others. Little do those lost ones realize that those who are doing the pushing may be just as lost or even more lost. Being lost can be a brutal experience. It is brutal for those being  pushed out to the fringe or out beyond the boundaries or simply down into the pit. It is also brutal for those who somehow sense that they must push others out because they themselves are lost and afraid of becoming more and more lost - isolated - powerless.

Then  again, those who know what it is to be lost and left out and not sure how the day will go for them can also be the ones who become more vulnerable for the sake of others who they find to be lost. It is an act of solidarity. It is an act of healing. The lost who become vulnerable to others are healed of the temptation to crush others. The lost who are embraced by other lost ones begin to sense of light of worth being ignited within them. So, being lost may be seen as the beginning of the healing of the world. Thus the importance of self-examination and communities of truthfulness.

Unfortunately, it is my experience that when we are lost - we lose our ability to be creative. Rather, we merely attempt to create everything in our own image. Maybe we do this in the hope that we will not have to feel the pain of being lost. Maybe we let ourselves trust an illusion that says 'when the world in which I live is created my way - I will be safe'. At that point, we relinquish the gift of creativity that is ours from the creation story that is meant to instill in each of us an immutable character of worth. When we have to find or develop or make up our stories of worth - we are simply lost no matter how we make ourselves appear to the world. We become more deeply turned-in-on-ourselves. Therefore even as we appear to thrive and succeed we become more deeply possessed by our own image. Maybe that is part of what it is to suffer from a narcissistic personality (which infects all of us when we live as ones turned-in-on ourselves).

As the Trump children were walking out to the dais for the inauguration I could have wept. At the very end of the group was Barron Trump - by himself. A 10 year old boy, left behind - looking lost. At one point his older brother turned to him and seemed to tell him to stay back a few more feet. When one realizes what it is to be a lost person, that person will turn to others who are lost and pull them forward into the group. Oh how I wanted Barron to be pulled forward and embraced. It would have been a touching moment for all of us. And yet, when we are lost and do not realized that we are, we don't really know how to bend and bow and serve and take on the condition of the lostness of others.

Someone once told me always to try and picture the bastards and beasts and hard-hearted ones around us as a three or four-year-old child. What a vulnerable age. What a time in which it is so easy to be crushed and pushed down. What a time to feel and believe that we are lost. Maybe then, we will sacrifice ourselves for their well-being - their healing. To be able to see the innocence in the other may give us the ability to see how wounded and lost this child in front of us has become. Lost is the bright smile - the fun-loving spirit - the twinkle of hopefulness - the peace that passes all understanding -the eagerness to share - the thrill of what might be next - the hope for that which there is no present evidence at all.

President Trump is a lost boy. He may never be able to see it. He may never be able to name it. He may never know that there is any other kind of life. He may never be able to see a life of worth outside the one he has created for himself. He may never be able to stop trying to build an empire and settle for being a part of the beloved Community with all God's Beloved. For in that Community no one need be lost for we have been claimed and made whole - in the image of God's creativity that wraps us all within the blessed assurance of our worth.

It may be that this lost boy will continue to spiral downward into the self-consuming lifestyle that is treasured in so much of the world of power and might. I pray that he will instead be led by a vision of healing and wholeness that sees the worth of all others. That has to be part of my praying in the next years. That has to be the way I act to help this lost boy experience new life. Sometimes that may be through resistance and sometimes that may be with words of encouragement. That may be how this lost boy holds the hand of another lost boy.

Monday, January 16, 2017

There is no Midas touch in the Beloved Community

I wonder how big the golden calf was. You know, that golden calf made from the gold rings and things that Israel brought with them as they were liberated from Egypt and were being led out into the wilderness in order to be born again as a people unlike any people the world had ever known. Usually the picture is one of a great big calf around which the tribes could dance. Then again, the story never tells us the size of that golden calf.

In my faithful imagination, I cannot see anything more than a paper weight. Oh, it is a sizable paper weight - don't get me wrong - at least enough to hold down nice stack of paper. But really, when Karen and I were going to get married, we handed our previous wedding rings to the jeweler who melted them down - it was a little puddle of hot gold - a very little puddle. If we had brought thousands of rings with us, our jeweler could have made us a paper weight - like a calf - a little paper weight.

The people out in the wilderness gave up all that they had - all the wealth they had - all the stuff considered valuable - their gold. For what purpose? Did they really think this little bit of a golden paper weight would rescue them and provide them with prosperity and new life? Did they really think that they could create a god that would serve them and honor them and give them whatever they wanted?

In this biblical storytelling, remember that they already had been let in on a story etched in stone. It was the story of a people whose life together was to be something to which the world would turn because it would not be like anything the world had ever seen. Those ten words spoke of a beloved community in which no one was outside - even strangers would have a place. They were words from which the people heard that love of God and love of neighbor was one love - one life - one truth - one adventure. It was to be the end of violence against others. No longer was the many-sided antics of violence - that are stirred up by the desire to have or possess that which other seem to have - going to shape the day at hand. Those ten words would be a vision that creates a people called the beloved of God. It was all to be an adventure in which God's love - the kind of love that endlessly seeks the well-being of others - presides over a humanity learning to be truly human. No gold necessary for this life.

Yet, when we become anxious and not able to live within an unfolding promise - we fall for power we think we have and power we want to be able to say we have created. Objects become more valuable than human life. Rather than seek to serve and care for the other because we are all one people of God, we begin to believe that the things we create are meant to save our lives and no others. Unfortunately, that is the common sense of a world that has only known warfare - bitterness - rivalry - jealousy - and eventually, hatred of others who want exactly what we want. Our little bit of gold makes us think we are now like gods who can rule over others. Look at our gold - Look at our self-made worth - Look at all we have - Look at how much better we are than others.

Within the beloved community, this golden paper weight is always seen as that which it is - a lie. It is a lie that demands the sacrifice of others in order to keep golden lies alive. That trust in ourselves - that trust in that which we have - that trust in that which we have come to think of as our creation - is never creative for it never seeks the well-being of others. It is always the death of us and our neighbors for we are fooled into believing that we must sacrifice our lives for our little bit of a golden life. Then, it fools us into believing we must sacrifice others to keep our lives golden.  Therefore, in the face of death's golden claim on humanity, the beloved community walks across bridges of division and damnation - stands with those who have no gold to pay their way - risks death when the life of others are threatened - engages in act of mercy in the face of unjust antics - advocates for the forgotten and those pushed aside.

You will find no gold in the beloved community - it is not necessary for life. You will find - lives willing to raise up even the least among us. That is the treasure of the beloved community that no power can take from us.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Sometimes, prophets jump and smile like a little girl

Between now and then - jump and smile.

Yesterday a little girl - about that age when they are thrilled with their ability to walk and especially thrilled with a flat out run - decided to start jumping. The coffee shop was full and there was quite a bit of traffic flowing from the front door to the barista's station. Well, that meant nothing to the jumper. She was going to do what she was going to do and she was going to do it with gusto. In addition, she was going to jump up and down right in front of everyone - making sure to visit this table and that table. Then, to top off the jumping, there was this smile filled with delight. Obviously the jumping was something new for her. If it wasn't, she sure was able to keep the excitement and thrill of this movement painted all over her face and making her smile shine and grow all the more.

As you might expect, I wasn't the only one who noticed her antics. Her jumping was making people at various tables jump to attention and look on. Her smile coaxed smiles and laughter from even those table that were previously caught up in serious, adult conversation. She never said a word. She just jumped and smiled. Again and again, she was greeted with words of encouragement and broad smiles. I found it sweet that her two older brothers were also caught up in her antics. There was no move to quiet or restrict her - they simply grinned. If she caught your eye, you became her next audience and without wasting a moment - a new pattern of jumps came to life. She knew how to work the crowd and bring about change.

Jump and smile.

In the face of whatever is attempting to rule the day or own the time at hand, jump and smile in one way or another. I wonder if that is a good way to take on the days ahead. There is so much conversation about how the direction of our country will go under a new administration. On many fronts there is anxiety and fear that usually breeds more anxiety and fear. When that becomes the mood of the room, people become reactive - people often stop moving - people turn and run away - people pick fights. All of these reactions to the things at hand do very little to instigate the kind of creativity that might have a good chance of bringing about the well-being of all. So, for now all I can offer is the vision of that little girl. In the face of what is, do not become another part of what is. Instead,  jump and smile. Never let go of that life - that vibrancy - that freedom - that imagination.

If things become intolerable for us - if the forces around us seem to be demonic and controlling - if name-calling and bitterness is the sport of the day - if death seems to have a bigger grip on the world than life, we do not need to go along with the flow. We can jump and smile. That is, we can live within a hopefulness and joy that will not be ruled by an unacceptable status quo. A vital part of any resistance to how the world is turning is to live within another reality - without compromise. To jump and smile in the face of brutality may interrupt its violence. When hate appears to be prevailing among us - jump and smile so that hatred is befuddled by its inability to control everything. When viciousness fills the rooms of our lives - jump and smile to show that imagination is able to fill us with loving-kindness and mercy.

I have this little girl in my mind. She may be the saving grace that carries me through whatever the days ahead may bring. So if you see or hear me jumping and smiling when it is quite inappropriate to do so within the present setting - feel free to join me. And when I am lost in the crap of the day - please, jump and smile right in my face.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Gratitude and Humility - One way to walk through 2017

Gratitude and humility.

Kevin Schroeder used these two words as he talked about the transformation that was taking place in his life. Briefly, before I go on, Kevin was the bare-chested - very heavy - quite obese guy - who was front and center as one of the biggest fans dancing at Columbus Blue Jackets games. I read the article and was amazed at how his life was being changed - on all fronts. There are many ways to measure how a person moves through the long and trying process of weight loss and he was able to verbalize the various changes. Yet, as I was reading the article, I pulled out my iPhone to make a short message to self - gratitude and humility. In the middle of all the changes he said he feels gratitude. He then said that everything good comes from gratitude and humility - it is a journey that just keeps getting better. What an amazing insight while on a journey that could so easily be caught up in only the issue of weight.

These are good words to carry into 2017.

Gratitude does not depend on that which I am able to do. Gratitude seems to be how we see the world around us. Most often I hear people talk about someone in their lives for whom they are grateful. It may be that someone did something or said something. I have heard people express gratitude for simple acts of kindness. I have heard people express gratitude to someone for picking up a piece of rubbish on the sidewalk. I have seen people nod or smile in a silent gesture of gratitude to a stranger's action. When we are grateful for the presence of others, we are looking beyond ourselves and able to see the worth in those around us. It is then so important to let that gratitude be known. Many people cannot do that. Some never even think to express gratitude to others.

I know that I can be so turned-in-on-myself that gratitude is not shared with others. I just don't take the time or energy away from my own life to see the beauty and wonder in the acts of others. Maybe I cannot feel or share gratitude when my life is self-absorbed. Maybe when the world or the day or the moment is so devoured by my needs and greeds, I simply write off others - I don't see the wonder and beauty around me. How can I express gratitude when I am unable or unwilling to open my heart to the way others make the world a better place - somehow.

Kevin's use of humility is key to this ability to experience gratitude - maybe that is why I was drawn to the connection he made. To be humble, a person needs to see the way we are all connected and how we are on a journey together. It is so important to note, though, that there is no self-negation in humility. I find that humility is quite the opposite. Humility comes within a person's understanding that s/he is a person of value - power - worth - substance. From that insight - that vision, we are free to see others in the same light. I know that when I am unable to see the worth in me, I am quite unlikely to see the worth in you. In fact, you may look quite like a threat to me. But when I am confident in the fact - yes, the fact - that I am beloved - that I have worth, I am more likely to bow and bend and serve - you.

Humility nurtures a vulnerability in which I am able to see how we will be much better off as we share ourselves with one another. It is quite like that part of Philippians that is called the Christ hymn. It notes that though (Jesus) was in the form of God - he did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited - but emptied himself - humbled himself. Wow, that is a contrary notion to how the world seems to run. Yet, as humility nurtures vulnerability, we become available to others - all others - and, I would suggest, we learn a bit about gratitude for the way we are on a journey with a whole world of people who just may be making the day better than expected.

I know 2017 is a year that many expect will be unbearable. Yet, it cannot control us. We can be a part of a journey in which we - with even a small measure of humility - may find many reasons to act out of gratitude. That just may change how we take part in how 2017 is embodied among us.