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

Loosen Your Grip

How easily, it seems, we limit our own growth
in becoming like Jesus
in becoming love.

We are gripped with fear.
What if we are wrong?
What if I am judged?
by others?
by God?

We cling with trembling hands
to the assurances of others,
but tight fists
leave no space for the blessing of doubt,
nor the humility of uncertainty.
There is no space to give or receive love.

Loosen your grip on your certainty
if only just a bit.
For it is only open hands
that God is able to fill.

“And did you get what

you wanted from this life, even so?

I did.

And what did you want?

To call myself beloved, to feel myself

beloved on the earth.”

– “Late Fragment” by Raymond Carver

For my son, on his birthday

He is one who has taken many steps
along life’s road
bearing witness
to the rhythms of time.
He has known the sun’s warmth
upon his neck
and the sting of winter wind’s bite
upon his cheeks.
He has felt the pain of loss
at autumn’s death
but stands in hope,
because he knows
spring promises rebirth.
Life lived in the flow
of days
and seasons
and years
has endowed him with strength.
In courage, he journeys on
protecting and providing
for those battered by life.

Along the way,
he hungers for truth
and forages for understanding,
wherever it may be found.
He was wired with
both reason and curiosity.
Although he knows the map,
he’s not afraid of exploring.
He drinks deeply from wisdom’s spring
and nourishes himself
by listening to others with humility
knowing that every interaction
is an opportunity for growth.

His footprints leave impressions of goodness.
He seeks to bless his fellow travelers.
As he walks along,
he leaves the road
better than he found it.
He tries to live
by the rules of the road,
yet in humility
he knows that he will fall
-repeatedly-
because he understands
the path of goodness
is more journey
than destination.

As he courses on,
he looks not only to the road ahead,
but lifts his face
to the heavens.
He is aware
that night brings darkness,
but he knows too
that heaven’s canopy
is dappled with beauty and light.
He lives with a present awareness
of the beauty of the cosmos.
He appreciates
that all of creation
constantly reveals
a beautiful Creator.
As he gazes in awe
at God’s magnificence
he cannot help but glorify God
with the beauty
of word, form, and song.

Son, my prayer for you on your 13th birthday is this:

That as you journey in courage,
you develop the strength
to pursue justice
and a clear voice for those
who cannot speak for themselves.

That as you journey toward wisdom,
you allow God’s truth
revealed in his word
and in his world
to equip you for a well-lived life.

That as you journey toward goodness,
you look to the ways of Jesus.
This road can be bumpy at times,
but Jesus showed us how to walk well.

That as you journey by grace,
you never forget that
you are one who was made
in beauty.
Whatever brokenness
or pain
or darkness you feel,
it cannot extinguish
the light
of the beauty
of God
that exists in you.

The Good & Bad of Proverbs

Have you ever taken the time to read through the book of Proverbs? The whole thing in one sitting? There are thirty-one chapters chock full of wisdom. In these pithy sayings is a storehouse of knowledge, contrasting wise or righteous living with foolish and evil living. In the opening lines, we read that these proverbs can help show us how to live well. Below, I have written out a series of descriptors of a fool, an evil person, and a wise person pulled directly from Proverbs. Take some time and think through these characteristics in terms of your own life, and in terms of the culture you see around you. To whom are you exposing yourself? What do you value in others? Who are you becoming?

What are the characteristics of a fool?

A fool despises wisdom and instruction (1:7); hates knowledge (1:22); delights in mocking others (1:22);  uses words recklessly (12:18; 13:3; 29:20); blurts out folly (12:23; 13:16; 15:2); delights in airing opinions (18:2); answers before listening (18:13), lashes out pridefully (14:3); refuses to be corrected (5:12; 12:1; 13:1; 15:5); believes his or her way is right/is wise in own eyes (12:15; 26:5; 26:12; 28:26); is boastful (27:1); lacks discipline (5:23); lusts after another’s spouse (6:24, 32); cozies up to evil (7:6-23); uses flattery (26:28); feeds on folly (15:14); often speaks poorly of others (10:10); enjoys wicked schemes (10:23); destroys his or her neighbors with words (11:9); ridicules his or her neighbors (11:12); places trust in wealth (11:28); chases fantasies (12:11); believes anything (14:15); is easily annoyed (12:16); is quick tempered (14:17; 14:29; 20:3; 29:9-10); and mocks attempts to make amends (14:9).

What are the characteristics of an evil person?

Take note: there is assuredly overlap between the evil person and the fool. This list simply extends what characterizes unwise living.

An evil person delights in wrong doing (2:14; 6:19; 17:11; 21:10); listens to liars (17:4); gloats over disaster (17:5); is devious (2:14); pours out lies (6:19; 12:20; 12:22; 14:5; 20:23; 25:18); speaks corruptly/mouth gushes evil (6:12; 15:4;15:12); stirs up conflict (6:14; 6:19; 10:12;15:18; 16:28; 18:1); like a maniac, lies and then says “I was only joking” (26:18-19); plots evil (16:27; 24:2); lies in wait for blood (12:6); is cruel (12:10; 15:1); his or her teeth are swords (30:14); is hot-headed (14:16); has an appetite for violence (13:2) gulps down evil (19:28), loves to quarrel (18:1), is duplicitous (11:3); looks down upon others (6:19; 16:18; 18:12; 21:4; 30:13); mocks others (9:7; 21:24); is proud and arrogant (8:13; 11:2; 21:24); ignores and resents correction / refuses to do right (10:17; 15:12; 21:2); is selfish (18:1); exalts him or herself (25:6); makes him or herself a stench (13:5); closes eyes / shuts ears to cries of the poor (21:13; 28:27); oppresses the poor (14:31; 22:16; 30:14); acquits the guilty while condemning the innocent (17:15; 17:23; 18:5; 22:22; 24:23); accepts bribes (17:23); detests the upright (29:27); and builds a high gate (17:19).

Conversely, what are the characteristics of a wise or righteous person?

A wise person applies his or her heart to gaining understanding and insight (2:2-3; 14:8; 18:15; 20:18) and acts according to knowledge (13:16); shares knowledge (15:14); heeds discipline (10:17; 12:1; 13:18; 15:31); does not trust his or her own cleverness (23:4); seeks out and listens to advice (12:15; 13:1; 13:10; 15:22; 16:20; 24:6; 27:9), yet chooses friends carefully (12:26; 20:19; 22:24; 23:9; 23:20-21); trusts in God’s wisdom (3:5-6); shows discernment (17:24), humility (3:7;11:2; 15:33; 18:12), gentleness (15:1), even temper (17:27), integrity (11:3), honesty (16:11; 16:13), trustworthiness (12:22; 25:13), prudence (16:22), patience (15:14; 16:32; 19:11), perseverance (24:16), and generosity (3:9; 22:9); is kind to the needy (14:21; 31; 19:12); feeds the hungry (25:21); cares about justice for the poor (29:7); speaks for those who cannot speak for themselves (31:8); stands up for the rights of the destitute (31:8,9); does what is just and right (21:3); does not plot harm against another (3:28-29); does not withhold good from another (3:28-29); promotes peace (12:20); brings calm (29:11); rescues those being led to death (24:11); keeps lips from corruption and perverse speech (4:24; 13:3); guards/holds his or her tongue (10:19; 12:12; 17:27; 21:23); has a healing tongue (12:18; 15:4); uses gracious words (15:26; 16:24; 22:11); overlooks insult (12:16); avoids strife (20:3); turns away anger (29:8); sees danger and takes refuge (22:3; 27:12);  hates wickedness (8:7; 13:5);  hates dishonesty (29:27); shuns evil (14:16); and shows a strong work ethic (10:4-5; 12:11).

You are the beloved

In his essay, The Path of Living and Dying, Henri Nouwen asked “Who was Jesus?”

“There was that voice, that incredible voice: ‘You are my beloved son and on you my favor rests.’ That’s the voice at the Jordan River, where Jesus heard and believed that he was the beloved of God on whom God’s favor rests. It was as the beloved that Jesus lived his life even in front of the demon. The evil spirit said to him, “Prove that you are the beloved by changing the stones to bread and becoming relevant. Prove that you are the beloved by being spectacular and throwing yourself down from the Temple to be saved by God’s angels. You’ll be in the news and on TV so everyone can see how wonderful you are! Prove that you are the beloved by having power and influence so you can control the situation.’ But Jesus answered, ‘I don’t have to prove anything. I am the beloved because that’s the voice I heard at the Jordan River. I know that I am the beloved. I have heard the words, “You are my beloved. You are my beloved.”‘ Jesus believed the words and he knew who he was. He lived his whole life as the beloved of God. He was imbued with Love.”

Nouwen goes on to ask “Who are you?”

“This vision is not just about Jesus. It is also about you and me. Jesus came to share his identity with you and to tell you that you are the beloved sons and daughters of God. Just for a moment try to enter this enormous mystery, that you, like Jesus, are the beloved daughter or the beloved son of God. This is the truth.”

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