Friday, January 23, 2009

the reality of words

In the beginning was the Word.

I'm by no means the first to note that Barack Obama is very adept at putting words together.

In her gift of words at the inauguration, Elizabeth Alexander concluded: "In today's sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun."

At work, a small group of colleagues is trying to come up with a few words that aptly describe the heart and soul of the campus--the nature of its culture and community.

At the beginning of the term, a professor reminded all the student leaders to "tend the talk" on campus because what we say defines our reality as much as reality grounds our talk.

But in the midst of these unsettling times, do words really matter? Do words change anything? Can talk really effect reality?

Elizabeth Alexander again: What if the mightiest word is love ... Love that casts a widening pool of light. Love with no need to preempt grievance."

I don't know if Obama's rhetoric will effect our reality. But these words surely do:

God is love.

In the beginning was the Word.

Indeed, the Word who is love is the alpha and omega of our reality.

Thanks be to God.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

modest expectations

Just over a year ago, we moved to a suberb of Chicago, Illinois.

This year, Chicago is ranked first (possibly second) for the most murders in a city in 2008. And the state's governor has been accused of trying to sell his appointment to replace Obama's senate seat. This, in the midst of national and global financial meltdown. What a great place to be, eh.

I was reflecting on this as I began to think about the New Year.

In many ways, my expectations for the new year seem quite ordinary and unexceptional. I hope and pray that we'll be able to visit with our children and grandchildren, despite that fact that they are scattered to the four corners of this country. I hope and pray that our daily work will continue, investing in the next generation of Christian servants and seeking to reduce homelessness. I hope and pray that our lifestyle will be simple, but marked by generosity, prudence, and delight. I hope and pray that we will grow in grace and fellowship with God and our neighbors.

And then it occured to me: in a world of financial meltdown, political chaos, and killing violence, if we could stay focused on modest expectations like these, our lives would in fact shine like stars in this, our local universe.

How extraordinary.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

the armour of reality

At the beginning of the semester, students complained about spiritual apathy and a kind of blah atmosphere. We prayed for a stirring. For renewal. For something that would awaken us to a more vital and vibrant life in Christ.

Things have changed. The election bubbled up some ugly sentiments. Most of it occured virtually, in text messages and facebook chatter. That chatter, though supposedly cavalier and not intended to be significant, was. People started to avoid each other. They began to view each other with suspicion. Deeper issues were exposed into the light of day.

So where's the reality? How deep or superficial is the reality of virtual chatter and embodied behavior?

Last week a student dropped in to tell me that he had witnessed an apparition. He went on to describe the appearance of the visitation. The image was like the ghoulish figures of a bad horror movie. He reported that as he lay in bed, the apparition reached out and touched his leg and he felt the chill move up both legs and arms. As this happened the apparition called him back to the old ways, to the good times he used to enjoy. He said he rebuked the apparition in the name of Jesus and after doing this several times it went away.

This student has a history of playing on the dark side. Seances, wikka, black arts, etc. He is a recovering addict and is trying to live in Christ. He admits it's hard and he stumbles a lot. He also admitted that he struggles with whether or not he really wants to give up the old ways ... because there was something strangely seductive and powerful about them, even if destructive in the end.

Is the apparition a projection or real?

A few days ago another student told me of a dream. Christ appeared to her as a lion. The lion affirmed God's love for her, then warned her of danger. She would be attacked by the evil one. Soon thereafter, in the dream, the devil beckoned her to come over to the dark side. The devil assured her it was much more fun, more exciting.

She asked: what should I make of this? It's not usual for me to dream like this. It is real?

Colossians 2:15 Jesus disarmed the powers and authorities ... triumphing over them by the cross.
Ephesians 6:12 Our struggle is ... against the powers of this dark world and against spiritual forces of the heavenly realms. So put on the full armour of God...

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


On Sunday, I'm scheduled to give my inaugural sermon in our new church community. That's right, two days before the American election, a fellow who's spent more time in Canada than in the US over the last 30 years gets to offer a final word from the pulpit here in Chicago. I doubt that I'll be able to match the rhetoric ormedia interest of Jeremiah Wright. Nonetheless I have been looking forward to this opportunity, working hard in hopes that my "inaugural" would somehow be noteworthy.

The lectionary text is Joshua 3:7-17, Israel crossing the Jordan. God instructs Joshua to have the priests lead the way, carrying the Ark--the place of God's presence in their midst. The primary point seems pretty obvious: it's not about Joshua or his leadership, it's about God opening up the way before his people come what may (in this case a very flooded river).

One might think I'd have taken the lesson to heart, realized that my goal should be to stay in the background so that the Word could be foregrounded, etc. Alas and alack ... many of us, and certainly I, am a vain creature. Thinking ahead to the event I regularly found myself imagining my presence, voice, leadership in this "first exposure" event.

God thought otherwise.

Over the past few days, I've been struck down with a bad head cold/flu. I'm full of mucus. My nose drips incessantly. It's ugly and off-putting. Even if I wanted to, I shouldn't shake people's hands, embrace them in greeting, or get near them.

By Sunday, I hope to at least be able to preach without coughing too much. To accomplish that, I'll need to forego pulpit theatrics and passionate vocal outbursts and just voice the Word in more ordinary tones and speech. All I will be able to do is let my voice carry it out there.

As always, it's best if God does the rest.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Getting Out and Wading In

These are times of great turmoil.

At the time of this writing, world stock markets have plummeted 30%, a $700 billion dollar bail out plan--more money than I could hope to comprehend, seems a bit trivial for being too little too late, presidential candidates are "taking off the gloves" and getting nasty at one another, Al Quaida and other extremist groups are growing, gas prices have sagged a bit but are still way higher than we would have imagined even a couple years ago, pirates are seizing ships (not in the movies but out on the high seas again), hurricanes and floods have wiped out homes, towns, counties and whole regions, the almanac is predicting a very cold winter!

So what better time than now to get outta town!

For some, of course, the best way to get outta town is to escape to some sheltered resort, where the sun shines on white beaches and glistens across azure waters. In times like these, there's deals to be found for escapades like this. And for people who are in need of sabbath rest and renewal, gettaways like this just may be the right ticket about now. I've never done that kind of holi-days, though I hope to some day.

In the midst of the turmoil of these times, I'm just as excited about another reason to get outta town. This weekend, my wife and I head out for a quick trip to Austin. We probably won't stroll down 6th ave, take in the night life, or dine on the cliffs overlooking the scenic waterways. No, we're all hyped up about going to church.

On Sunday our granddaughter will be baptized. We--individually and communally--will claim the promises of God on her life, witnessing her descent into the turbulent waters of the deep and God's raising her to life everlasting. I don't know if the tradition of the local church is to dunk people or sprinkle them; and I don't really care. What I do care about is that this little girl, along with all the rest of us, will once again dare to wade into the waters of our world with all its chaos and destruction and death because we know that God's saving promise is sure and we will live with him forever.

This weekend, we're gonna get outta town, and with a group of God's people once again wade further and deeper into the promise of God amidst of the turbulence of our world. And I reckon that we'll return both exhausted and refreshed.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

a stinger

I suppose I should have known better.

In my last post I mused about peace and panic, the lingering peace of summer as it begins to mix with the rising panic of all that must yet be done to launch the new academic/ministry year. I left the blog short ... so I could enjoy more of the summer's sabbath.

But truth be told, that didn't last long.

Instead of enjoying the three days of scheduled holiday (holy days), I found myself back in the office, writing sermons and devotionals, interviewing candidates, joining in new faculty orientation, and so on and so on. In it's own way, it was a good week. I worked hard, accomplished some good things, and eased the panic--even if only a bit. But I also ended the week feeling like I had missed out on something ... something holy.

I resolved not to continue my mistake, and so, even though there remains a pile of stuff to do, more details to chase, final edits to make, more interviews to conduct ... I was adamant that I would take this saturday as sabbath.

I woke early, and since I enjoy the quiet of morning, it was a treat to sit outside in the cool dewey air and slowly sip my way through a really good cup of coffee (thanks again for the beans, Bob!) The sun rose, I carefully watered some new plants I've started for next year, picked a few veges, and then hauled out the hose to more thouroughly water the vege garden and perennial flowers. And that was when I spotted a wasp hole. A couple wasps were just emerging, waking, as was I to a bright sunny day.

You know I should have left them well enough alone. I need those wasps. They help pollinate my plants. There aren't enough bees around here, so these little honey wasps are critical to the garden. But before even thinking through all this I just trained the flow of water on the hole to see what would happen .... Duh.

I don't really blame the wasp that stung me. After all, I had just mortally threatened it's home with catastrophic demise. And I don't even think it was trying to "come get me." It just so happened that in it's panicked flight to flee the flood, it flew up my shorts. I don't know just how far it got before it turned around but apparently I inadvertantly blocked it's way out as I shook my leg--the cloth of my shorts rubbing up against my leg closed off the wasp's escape.

The sting itself lasted only 10 minutes or so. But the swelling and itching and tightening of my skin continues. He must have got me pretty good because the swelling is about the diameter of a baseball.

I should have known. When we mess with creation, we inevitably get stung. And sabbath is as much a part of creation as anything else. If we mess with sabbath, one way or another we'll feel the sting.


Thursday, August 7, 2008


I haven't blogged for a while.

'Twas a kind of sabbath ... just letting go. Just as importantly, I wasn't sure I had anything to say that merited a blog (which of course now prompts the question: on what basis does such merit get evaluated? ... and I'm not sure I know, but it felt so).

This fallow, sabbath season is fast drawing to a close. In less than two weeks, the rush of the new (academic) year begins. Panic. But today, it's still summer. Peace.

What odd space this is. Panic and peace. Peace and panic. Beautiful summer days, destructive and deadly storms. Already, but not yet ... the kingdom come/ing.

Knowing when to rest in the peace that still lingers, and when to kick into gear to address the swelling panic is, I find, a matter of deep spiritual discernment. Believing that God will provide is a challenge when the panic swells; but failing to enjoy the peace and quiet that God uniquely provides through the gift of a cool summer breeze seems equally wrong. It is of course paramount that some preparation is done prior to the end of summer, and what better time for careful reflection and imaginative probing is there than the quiet of summer? The need for spiritual discernment is clear.

Soon enough, I will blog again. But that's it for now. There's a cool breeze blowing outside...