I wish…

I shared this on my Facebook feed this morning. I hope it might bless someone here too.

I’ve been slowly journaling through the early years of my life and for the past few days, I’ve been writing about middle school. I don’t have many positive memories from that time. This morning, I was writing about how mean kids are to one another.

In the 7th grade, I dressed differently. I had a rat tail, and I would wear an old Army jacket and sometimes a Harley cap (ironically, kids in my school thought Harleys were stupid back then). I vividly remember being chased for several blocks by a half-dozen of the popular 8th grade boys who always hated me, though I never knew why. I think it boiled down to the fact that they could not tolerate that I existed. They caught me near the football field and pinned me to the ground, pulled out a scissors, and told me they were going to cut off my rat tail. They didn’t, but the rat tail was incidental. The fear and pain I felt that day were damaging enough.

In the 8th grade, I was met at the end of my road by two Sheboygan County sheriffs. They insisted that they escort me home. When my mother arrived, they interrogated me for about an hour, demanding that I confess to stealing another kid’s wallet. I had left wrestling practice angrily that day and two of the guys, again who seemingly hated me, called the police and falsely accused me of stealing a wallet from one of them. The police were unrelenting. About 45 minutes in, my mom asked for a break. We went into my bedroom and I told her, “Maybe I should just tell them I did it so they will leave me alone.” She asked, “did you?” and I told her no. Thank God she told me to stick to my story. Finally, the police left and miraculously, those guys “found” the wallet the next day.

These were the two examples that came to mind this morning. There are many more. Yet I was not innocent. I bullied others as well. That same 8th grade year, I threw one of my classmates into a mud puddle because he refused to give me a piece of gum. I am loathe to think of how many people I hurt with my words or the inappropriate comments and actions directed toward the girls in my class.

I have no doubt kids are facing these same things today. Many of them suffer in silence. As adults, our bullying looks different. If you have spent any time on social media, you know what I am talking about. Twitter and Facebook are playgrounds, complete with bullies of every stripe. We demean one another. We call each other names. We delight in expressing our opinions, we don’t listen. We demand, we don’t ask. Self-righteousness prevails in every corner.

I wish gentleness and kindness were more cherished values. I wish we saw every person we meet as a divine image bearer, deserving of dignity and respect. I wish we would devote ourselves to building up rather than tearing down. I wish…

Normalcy Reshuffled

For a while, the reshuffling of normalcy may leave us out of center, askew. You may find yourself a man or woman without a country. That’s where I want you to be so that you can find the country of God. Our old “country” doesn’t make sense; we can’t buy it anymore. We really can’t believe it. We can’t worship it as we were trained to do. Actually, this pattern of falling apart precedes every transition to a new level of faith. If one is not prepared to live in that temporary chaos, to hold the necessary anxiety that chaos entails, one never moves to deeper levels of faith or prayer or relationship with God. Notice again that almost every theophany (revelation of God) in the Bible begins with the warning not to be afraid. The fear is totally predictable; but if we give in to our fear, we will never be able to move to the next level.

Whenever we’re led out of normalcy into sacred space, it’s going to feel like suffering. It’s letting go of what we’re used to. That causes suffering. But part of us always has to die.

-Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs

Request for Readers

Last week, I finished the manuscript for my third book. Over a long weekend, I took a couple of passes through the book and I read the first 80 pages aloud to Heather (she seemed to like it though, admittedly, I am her husband). I would like to ask for a few volunteers to read through the manuscript and offer comments about the content of the book before I pass it along for copy editing. Let me offer some basics about the book and then let you know what I am hoping.

SYNOPSIS: Notes from the Upper Room: Lessons in Loving Like Jesus (working title) is a non-fiction book about Jesus’s last supper with his disciples in the upper room before going to the cross, recorded in chapters 13-17 of John’s gospel. This book began when I “mind-mapped” these five chapters, wanting to identify core themes in Jesus’s teaching. The book, which is just shy of 57,000 words, has two sections. The first section, which is roughly 75 pages, is composed of 7 chapters discussing some of the themes I see. Following the introduction, the chapters are titled: Trinitarian Relating, Belonging, Sacredness of the Ordinary, Servanthood, Obedience, Peace in Suffering, and Jesus’s Prayer.

The second section, about 120 pages, is a series of devotional thoughts, verse by verse, through the upper room discourse. In light of the two different sections, you will notice overlap, but I hope they are unique enough to be of benefit.

In light of that brief synopsis, I am hoping that a handful of people will be sufficiently intrigued to do a read through with an eye toward the content. It is certainly not academic, so I hope it is accessible. If you are familiar with the general flow of John 13-17, if the chapters sound interesting, or if you have a general interest in books about the Christian life and Trinitarian relating, all the better. I will probably limit the number of early readers because “too many cooks spoil the stew,” but if you are at all interested, please reach out. I will send out a Word document, so you can track changes and offer comments. If it is something that seems interesting, but you don’t have the time to spend with it, I would ask that you wait until the book comes out.

Regardless of whether you read it now or never, would you please pray for this book and for my nerves as I move forward?

Speak to us of clothes

And the weaver said, speak to us of Clothes:

And he answered:

Your clothes conceal much of your beauty, yet they hide not the unbeautiful.

And though you seek in garments the freedom of privacy you may find in them a harness and a chain.

Would that you could meet the sun and the wind with more of your skin and less of your raiment,

For the breath of life is in the sunlight and the hand of life is in the wind.

Some of you say, “It is the north wind who has woven the clothes we wear.”

And I say, Ay, it was the north wind,

But shame was his loom, and the softening of the sinews was his thread.

And when his work was done he laughed in the forest.

Forget not that modesty is for a shield against the eye of the unclean.

And when the unclean shall be no more, what were modesty but a fetter and a fouling of the mind?

And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.

-Khalil Gibran

Powerful others will try to make me conform and live up to their expectations. I may have to run the risk of being defiant, of standing up to, and of going against powerful others. I am called to stand on my own 2 feet and to develop the ability to say yes or no in making decisions for the emergence of my life. To be seduced from following my path is to be controlled by others, to become a people pleaser, and to be ruled by the tyrannical demands of others. Failure to stand up to others and to assume responsibility for the direction of my life and the promotion of love and light of God’s design for me should engender healthy guilt.–Vincent Bilotta III

Speaking About the Sun

Joy is contagious, just as sorrow is. I have a friend who radiates joy, not because his life is easy, but because he habitually recognizes God’s presence in the midst of all human suffering, his own as well as others’. Wherever he goes, whomever he meets, he is able to see and hear something beautiful, something for which to be grateful. He doesn’t deny the great sorrow that surrounds him nor is he blind or deaf to the agonizing sights and sounds of his fellow human beings, but his spirit gravitates toward the light in the darkness and the prayers in the midst of the cries of despair. His eyes are gentle; his voice is soft. There is nothing sentimental about him. He is a realist, but his deep faith allows him to know that hope is more real than despair, faith more real than distrust, and love more real than fear. It is this spiritual realism that makes him such a joyful man.

Whenever I meet him, I am tempted to draw his attention to the wars between nations, the starvation among children, the corruption in politics, and the deceit among people, thus trying to impress him with the ultimate brokenness of the human race. But every time I try something like this, he looks at me with his gentle and compassionate eyes and says: “I saw two children sharing their bread with one another, and I heard a woman say ‘thank you’ and smile when someone covered her with a blanket. These simple poor people gave me new courage to live my life.”

My friend’s joy is contagious. The more I am with him, the more I catch glimpses of the sun shining through the clouds. Yes, I know there is a sun, even though the skies are covered with clouds. While my friend always spoke about the sun, I kept speaking about the clouds, until one day I realized that it was the sun that allowed me to see the clouds.

Those who keep speaking about the sun while walking under a cloudy sky are messengers of hope, the true saints of our day.

-Henri Nouwen, Here and Now

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