Listen

Write 31 days, day 13

Writing prompt: talk

I chewed on this word several times today, looking for something clever to say. All I kept coming to was this:

Let your words come to a stop.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Then listen and keep listening.

Our world desperately needs our ears more than our mouths.

Reflection: sit in silence for ten minutes. Practice the spiritual discipline of not having to have the last word.

True Love’s Welcome

Write 31 Days, day 6
Today’s Prompt: Belong

Today, I wrote a brief reflection on the Trinity, inspired by the 15th century icon The Trinity by Andrei Rublev.

On a clear day, I saw them from a long way off. At first, I could barely make them out. From such a distance, I could not say whether there were three or one as they seemed to blend into one another. As I drew closer, they came into focus, the three seated around a small table. At first glance, I struggled to tell them apart; thankfully they each wore different robes.

Watching them kindled a longing I had never felt before. Intimacy flowed between them. There was no sense of posturing, no one-ups-man-ship. They genuinely delighted in being with one another. So often, with meetings of more than two, cliques begin to form. Two will buddy up tighter than the third. Not so here. They each reveled not only in the others, but even in the connection between the other two. I was seeing love embodied.

As I continued to gaze upon them from my safe distance, tears wet my cheeks. Never before had I witnessed something so beautiful. In that moment I beheld perfection. Oh, to be loved like that! To experience such divine intimacy. It touched upon every desire I had ever felt. Yet I remained outside, hidden.

I intended to sneak away quietly. To interrupt them would be to intrude upon perfection, and I was unwilling to disturb what they had with one another. As I raised up to leave, they looked my way. I expected irritation, but saw delight. I expected disappointment, but they exuded joy.

As one, they beckoned, “Come join us.”

“I couldn’t. I wouldn’t want to intrude,” but every part of me resisted my own words.

“We’ve been waiting for you. There is already a place at the table,” they said invitingly.

“But as I have watched you, I have witnessed perfection. I fear that if I join in, I will diminish perfection.”

“Friend, nothing you have ever done, thought, or said can diminish us. Rather, our love will envelop you. You belong. You have always belonged. You were created for no other purpose than to be in fellowship with us.”

And, hoping against hope, I took my seat and felt true love’s welcome.

My Grandma’s Table

31 days of writing, day 5
Today’s prompt: Share

Lately, I have been contemplating the church trend of life groups or small groups, which aim to function as spaces for shared life and faith. Like much that happens in the modern church, these groups often feel mechanistic and forced, though considering our frenzied lives, perhaps we believe it to be a necessary pressure.

I don’t remember anyone from my childhood participating in a small group. Instead, I recall people living in close proximity to one another. Their focus was not life groups, but simply life. Neighborhood kids played together until past dark. Men would gather at the Knotty Pine or at Hill Farm, to drink coffee and shoot the bull.

For me, my life group met around my grandmother’s table on Sunday mornings. It was a round wooden table, nearly always cloaked with a white table cloth, for the wood underneath showed the signs of age. There were more chairs situated around the table than its small diameter could reasonably support. First Reformed Church, just one block to the west, released at 10:00 and First Presbyterian Church, directly across the street, a half-hour later. Uncles and aunts, cousins and friends, would trickle in and out over the next couple of hours, bodies stacked two deep around the perimeter of the small dining area.

My grandmother never failed to provide the necessary staples—hot coffee, orange Kool-Aid, saltine crackers, soft butter, and cheese spread. Other delights also regularly found their way to the table–molasses cookies, blond brownies, or summer sausage. But without fail, there was always coffee and conversation. Sometimes, I would go the whole week without seeing these people, but come Sunday morning, we met for our “life group.”

I think we miss something precious when we live life by curriculum. I ache for those times around that table; we talked about nothing in particular, and in so doing, we talked about everything.

For reflection:

What do you remember about your childhood gatherings? Where do you see organic community occurring today? 

A Place of Gathering

Christ’s table is a place of gathering
a place where the broken find restoration
the lonely find communion
the empty find fulfillment
and sinners find grace.

Have we forgotten this?
Have we forgotten that Jesus
ate his last meal with
Thomas the doubter?
Peter the denier?
Judas the betrayer?

Not just that he ate with them,
but that he longed to eat with them?

By his words and actions
he communicated
“You belong.”

Do we?

The Hardest Thing…and the Easiest

And above all these, put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.-Colossians 3:14

An expert theologian once asked Jesus, “what is the greatest commandment of all?” Jesus told him that the greatest commandment was to love God completely, with heart, soul, mind, and strength. He also said that the second flowed from the first, to love others as well as we love ourselves (Mark 12:28-31). As I was pondering Jesus’s words this morning, I wrote in my journal, “This is the hardest thing in the world to do. It is also the easiest.” The difficulty in the command is that we live in a society of sinners who are at times difficult to love. We treat one another poorly. We act disrespectfully, if not hatefully. The easy part, if we are willing to see it as such, is that we aren’t really given exceptions, or situations where love does not apply. It always applies, but will I heed?

I have decided to stick with love;
hate is too great a burden to bear.
-Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sometimes, I think we lose sight of the reality that our battle is not against other people, but against evil. The devil specializes in creating discord. He isolates us from one another; accusations and temptations carry so much more weight when we have to bear them alone. Yet, we turn on one another. In Galatians 5:15, Paul says that we “bite and devour” one another. Meanwhile, the devil grins.

Are you angry about injustice? Love.
Are you confused? Love.
Do you feel misunderstood, misrepresented, or maligned? Love.
Do you disagree with how another person is acting? Love.
Are you afraid? Love.
Have you been betrayed? Love.
Have you been a witness to evil? Love.

Regardless of your circumstance, seek to put on love. You may fail. All of us do. But keep striving, day by day, to love better. In God’s economy, love is worth the effort.

And above all, love one another deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.-1 Peter 4:8 (NIV) 

 

Intertwined

Under the sun
disconnection,
isolated life
relational strife.

Oversized homes
lonely souls roam,
seclusion bred
intimacy dead.

Living private lives
independence thrives,
we never bother
loving another.

Who did God create?
People to relate,
intertwined souls
mankind made whole.

-October 2017, home

Our Love Has Grown Up Together

I can hardly fathom
the passage of years.
Is it truly two
decades since we vowed
to love one another
until death should part us?

It was a fairy tale day,
meeting the eyes of
my beautiful bride
walking the aisle
on the arm of her father.

When asked “who gives this woman?”
your dad responded
“her mother and I do”
through tears.

Then we stood before God and family
witnesses
to our promise
to love and cherish
each other.
No doubt, Pastor Ray had fine words
though twenty years later
I remember none.
In the presence
of your radiance
I was blind
to much else.

A lunch of cake and sandwiches,
prayers and well wishes,
Several crystal dishes,
and we were on our way.

Bright eyed and hopeful,
but the years have proven that
fairy tales exist
only in fantasy.
Reality is so much better.

In real life, we have encountered
pain of loss,
sorrow of unfulfilled expectations,
anger toward corruption,
fear of losing loved ones,
bitterness of betrayal,
confusion about God’s plan,
but in all things, joy.

In fairy tales, the couples
(allegedly)
live happily ever after.
Not so in real life.
In real life, we live joyfully ever after,
regardless of circumstance.
Fairy tales are static things
unchanging,
but real life matures
ever changing.

Amidst the years–
sorrows and the pains,
sunshine and rains,
joys and strains–
we grew
deepening roots
as we stretched our branches.

The years have been kind to me.
I left that church newly married
to a luminous bride
eager to make a home
and love her husband well.
She did.
But like a giant tree
her love for me has ever expanded
growing ever more solid
but new branches welcoming
children, friends
and some unknown,
a wise and welcoming beauty
whose love roots deeper into the dark
bringing light to people’s hurt.

A fairy tale it is not; it is better.
I am not fully myself with her, nor she without me.
To know me, you must come to know her,
and to know her, you must know me,
for our love has grown up together.

Band of Brothers

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.–Proverbs 17:17

A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.–Proverbs 18:24

True friendship is a rare gift, especially among men. In a culture that promotes rugged individualism on the one hand, and allows people to have thousands of “friends” through social media on the other, we have lost our way regarding what friendship means. We read stories in the Bible about friendships between men and the closeness they have may seem surreal to us because they are so different from our everyday experience.

We may have buddies, but often we don’t have brothers.

We may have men that we like doing stuff with, but often we don’t have men whom we love deeply.

I am grateful that for me, at least, results have not been typical. I want to tell you about two of my friends.

Several years ago, our church held a men’s ministry event where “accountability groups” were encouraged. If you’ve never heard of an accountability group, it is essentially when a group of men get together and confess their sins to one another and pray for one another, usually guided by a list of questions (e.g., did you look at porn this week? Have you managed your money well?). My friend Brad was moved and reached out to a bunch of guys about starting a group. Eric and I, even though we didn’t attend the men’s ministry event, were the only two that responded. We didn’t even really have relationship beforehand, other than a time when I offended Brad. The three of us began meeting at 6:00 on Thursday mornings at Randy’s Family restaurant.

We are an unlikely trio. Let me tell you why. Brad runs an office–several actually–that sells bearings and transmissions. He is a whiz at math, has great spatial skills, has administrative capabilities that most only long for, and is a neat freak (perhaps even obsessively so).  Eric is a locksmith by profession, but also has an eye for beauty that many people lack in today’s culture. Whether from resin or wood, he is able to craft things that amaze. Eric is also driven and visionary. I am a neuropsychologist and poet. I love words more than anything requiring spatial skills, something both Eric and Brad would be quick to tell you. I am also decidedly not a neat freak.

Brad likes bikes. Eric likes Dungeons and Dragons. I like books.

As I said, we are an unlikely trio, yet these two men are my brothers. The love I have for them runs deep.

When we began meeting, we used ” the list.” Each week we would walk through the questions. Some weeks, I would hope that we wouldn’t get around to me because I didn’t want to tell these guys what a mess I was am.  Week after week we persisted, bonds of friendship forming. Eventually, we put away the list. We didn’t need it to guide our conversations any longer because we had developed enough trust in one another to discuss whatever was pressing. We began to understand what it meant to encourage, admonish, help, and love one another. We were willing to dig down with one another and to allow the others to dig beneath our false veneer we put up.

But don’t get the wrong impression that deep friendship is always easy. It’s not. Every one of us have said something stupid for which we have needed to apologize. Every one of us has been confronted and wounded by the others. We have repeatedly had to apologize and forgive. Every one of us has sinned against the others, often unknowingly.

It would be so easy to live on the surface, to talk about the weather, but never get down to what is beneath. It would be so easy to walk away when conflict arises. It would be so easy to live behind our masks and never let one another see our true selves, but then we would never be truly known and honestly, then we would never grow. My friend Larry says “true growth happens when you look bad in the presence of love.” I have that with these men and I regularly thank God for them. In a society that says when things get tough you are totally within your rights to walk away, a brother who sticks close by when things get messy is an unbelievable blessing.

In John 17, perhaps my favorite chapter in the whole Bible, Jesus prays for his brothers. At the end of the prayer, Jesus tells the Father that his desire is that these men would love one another the way that He and the Father love one another and that we would be one in the way that the Trinity is one (verses 21-22). This is not love like the world defines love; it is a radical other-centeredness and commitment to one another’s good. Jesus wasn’t just praying that this might happen in heaven, but that we might manifest this in our relationships now. I am grateful for two brothers with whom I am able to strive for that goal.

Perhaps as you read this, you are thinking to yourself “yeah, that’s unrealistic,” but what if it’s not? How do you stretch toward this end? First, pray. Ask God to help this type of relationship develop. Second, persist. As I said above, when things get hard, our sinful predisposition is to cut and run rather than persevere in love for one another. Third, patience. Change happens slowly. In our instant society, we need to become people who take the long view, who trust the process of growth and relational sanctification.

Brad, Eric, and I are far from perfect, but we are committed to loving one another over the long haul.

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