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Monday, March 26, 2012

Tricked

In the story, the disciples had just brought the donkey to Jesus and put some blankets over its back before Jesus got on to ride it into Jerusalem. I asked the middle school group, "Why do you think the disciples put blankets on the back of the donkey?"

"Ooooo!" one girl called out. "They tricked it out so that donkey be lookin' FINE! Jesus would really WANT to ride that now!"

Her words took my thoughts to the quite, stain-glassed chapel at my seminary. With its liturgical colors changing with the season, it statues, holy water, pipe organ, and ornate trim it certainly is more tricked out than the efficient multi-purpose cinder block room that is my spiritual home. It's a special place where He always seems to want to be.

In the hecticness that is today's world, creating a special space for Jesus is important part of keeping our relationship alive. Be it the chapel, lighting a candle at home during my prayer time, or the bouquet of flowers my wife cuts fresh from our back yard's rose bush to place in Sunday morning's worship center, having something to help signify the sanctity of the moment reminds me of each moment's importance.

And this ride through life, like His to Jerusalem and Gethsemane, will lead through places I don't really want to go. I'm glad we're riding together.

Lord, thank you for being true to your word.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Local

They say that you can tell how long someone's lived in my neighborhood by their response to gunshots. When bullets shatter our routine, newbies run away to take cover. The long-term folks run toward the horror to see what's really going on.

So I guess I passed the "local" test that hot August night when the sound of gunfire at the end of my block called me out of bed. I grabbed the nearest ratty T-shirt, slipped on my sandals, and headed to where the crowd was already gathering.

Help was just arriving from the other direction as the lifeless body lay in the street. I started to ask the couple dozen or so people around me what had happened. Before I got to hear from the witnesses and those who had arrived before me, a police car pulled up and parked next to us.

The cop got out and parted the crowd as he made a bee-line toward me, the one white guy on that corner. Looking me straight in the eye he asked, "Did you see what happened?"

"No, sir. I arrived after the shots were fired."

Without even acknowledging another person in the group, he left our corner to wait with the other officers for the ambulance, leaving a number of eye witnesses to eventually go home without being interviewed.

I wonder if this officer, himself African-American, was aware of his actions or how they played out in the community. I wonder how equally unaware I am of my own actions' racial bias.

I have a different perspective on racial issues than most of my white friends and colleagues. Intentionally living and working for nearly 20 years in places where I was clearly in the minority has shaped my beliefs, understanding, sensitivity, and actions.

Still, I caught myself a couple years back in my own biases while shopping at a store in the Midwest. I needed assistance and couldn't find anyone to help until I realized that there actually were employees all around --- they just happened to be pale like me. Pretty much all the store employees (and customers, for that matter) where I usually shop have a darker complexion than my own and I had somehow unconsciously warped that into a prejudice.

I'm glad I caught and repaired that one before any harm was done. Still, I wonder how much other bigotry lurks within me. I don't want to go around damaging people and I don't want to reinforce any potential biases others might already have against people who look like me.

Perhaps if I can hang out more in the Kingdom I'll recognize my own prejudices and be better able to respond whenever racial bias, either inside or around me, shatters my routine. Will I run away to take cover or will I run toward the horror to see what's really going on?

I want to pass the "local" test there someday, too.

Let me see people only as You do, Lord.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Hair

The blizzard winds promised a snug evening indoors until the knock.

It was him.

He seemed to have a mystical way of finding me though he had never was quite able to find the church in time for one of the services.

"Pastor, I need you to give me some hair."

"What?"

"Hair."

"What?!?"

"Hair. I need some hair. My daughter hasn't been to school in a long time and they say if she doesn't come tomorrow they'll send the police. She won't go to school because her hair is all nappy and so I need some braids to weave in."

Somehow he thought that this (nearly) bald guy would be able to help him just because I was the pastor.

I said no.

He told the story again more dramatically.

I said no.

He gave me the lovely option of driving him to the store in the blizzard so that he could pick out the braids I could then buy for him.

I said no.

Now crying, he started the guilt trip with scripture verses about caring for those in need.

He didn't get too far when I tugged on what's left on my head saying, "The Bible also says, 'You cannot give what you do not have.'"

He asked again, this time including the word "Please."

I said, "Good night" and closed the door.

When I take the occasion to look over my prayer journals, I see that some of my knocks on God's door aren't all that different from what happened that stormy night. Situations of cascading emergencies that were making me to pull out my hair caused me to seek strange things that I thought would be the only relief. Sometimes I even included the word "Please."

Unlike the request at my doorstep, though, these petitions were to the One who is wise. When I remember the wisdom of the Hearer of Prayers I can summon the faith to to seek and follow His lead through the raging storm rather than to just stand there waiting on my prescribed solution.

And my experience of how He answers the questions I was too frazzled to know enough to ask affirms that His leading is better than my petition. I know I will never be left on my own out in the cold.

Lord, lead me in Your peace.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Guest Post

A post from da 'votions from da 'hood is featured this week on Janet Oberholtzer's blog Because I Can. Check it out by clicking HERE.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Highly

She went on and on for a full 45 minutes, rarely, it seemed, taking a breath. And our walking simply encouraged her to follow us up and down the streets continuing her ramblings.

The president of our denomination was in town that Sunday afternoon so we spent the time between the end of our youth activities and the start of the evening service by walking around the neighborhood. We visited with people and I pointed out different places where the impact of the ministry was showing tangible results.

She accompanied us on the whole tour. Throughout she walk she told of all the wonderful things I'd done for her, her children, her grandchildren, and the whole neighborhood. She told elaborate stories in graphic detail. Never more than a few inches away from our church's leader, he got quite an earful of how wonderful I was.

And not one syllable of it was true.

Yes, the whole congregation had invested in this family for several years and in a variety of ways: funerals, camps, emergency food assistance, hospital ministries, baptisms & confirmations, baby blessings ---- the list goes on. They had been active in the church and were grateful for it's presence.

But the stories! They weren't even close to accurate. That's a good thing, too, as some of what she said I did was in clear violation of the church's basic policies & procedures and, for that matter, questionably legal. It's not exactly what I want being told about me.

Still, it was her testimony and her praise without ceasing that was clearly on display that afternoon.

When we finally stepped into my house and she went on her way, the President turned to me, smiled, and said, "Well, she certainly thinks highly of you."

Based on the previous hour, that was the day's understatement.

I so wish I was more like her. Not in the "creativity" of her stories but in her unabashed thankfulness.

God has invested a lot in me over the years in such a variety of ways: temporal, eternal, spiritual, physical ---- more than I can even begin to recognize. Yet my praise pales in relation to who He is. His blessings are so abundant I hardly know what to even be thankful for.

Plus I'm quite certain that I've been oblivious to the vast majority of blessings, too. My testimonies of Him probably miss the point of what He was doing more often than not and may not be exactly what He wants said about Himself to others.

I hope as I try to follow Him around I can do more than just asking Him about what needs to be done or for blessing for myself and others. I hope through my praise and thanksgiving He will know that I certainly think highly of Him.

Lord, Your are worthy of all praise!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Robbed

He phoned to offer me some consolation.

Word had gotten around that when we were setting up for the month’s youth fellowship night that we discovered some items missing. Our video game system had attached to sticky fingers and gone out the door of the church.

Again.

It’s frustrating when things are stolen, especially when you’re counting on using them. Not having the money to replace them makes it even worse.

So it was kind of him to call and I appreciated it.

In the conversation he was much more upset about things than I was. It wasn’t so much that he was stuck on the fact that the thing went missing. He just couldn’t get past that someone stole something from a church.

Getting worn down in his despair, I finally said, “You know, if things don’t get stolen from the church once in a while then were probably not working too hard at reaching the people who need to be here the most.”

Because, oddly enough, there was real victory in the robbery. It wasn’t a case of breaking and entering. Rather, someone who didn’t know how to operate under the most basic of Christian principles and ethics had actually been to church! The game’s absence proved it.

I’m not saying we should be foolish by leaving the doors unlocked or not follow appropriate safety and security measures. Rather, we need to be able to see through the pain and frustration of the crime and see it as a sign that we might just be doing something right.

Really, this shouldn’t be too foreign of a concept for us. After all, we have giant cross on the wall.

God, in all things we give you the glory!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Free

She stepped away from her booth during a lull in traffic and made a bee line to me. I was sitting just a few yards away registering people as they came into the church for health fair.

Her organization had been invited by one of the university's health fair planners. Her focus was on HIV and AIDS ----- awareness, prevention, testing, counseling, and the like.

And I had noticed her work. Focused, passionate, professional, compassionate care emulated from her as she provided absolute dignity and respect in each interaction with everyone who came to her booth. She was clearly working in the center of her calling and giftedness.

So as she came up to me she said, "I want to let you know how much I appreciate this space and the atmosphere you folks at this church have created here. I set up booths in churches, community centers, schools and lots of places all over this city and this is the only place I go where I feel completely free to do my job. No one here is judging me or the people who come to my booth. Lots of places get squeamish about me talking about condoms or hypodermic needles and, I mean, sometimes I know people need our services but they're afraid to stop by because of what others might think. That just isn't a problem here. I'm actually free to do my job and the people who come here feel free to let me do it. I'll come back here any time you want."

I responded in kind about how much we appreciated her work, but as she left I was hit with utter shame.

Here she was working for healing and wholeness in peoples lives. Here she was moving people toward greater righteousness. Here she was desperate to serve those who are often considered among the least in our society.

And yet day after day she only found hostile environments in which to she could operate. For that matter, she probably came to our building that afternoon expecting to be restricted in her service.

I hope her experience gave her some strength to carry on. I hope even more that those of us who are " . . . really and unquestionably free" (John 8:36 (AB)) will generously share that blessing.

Lord, let us be sanctuaries of life and freedom.