The Tuesday after Easter

26 04 2011

So what difference does Easter make – this Tuesday after the most Holy day?

I got up this morning and made lunches for the children just as I have done on past Tuesdays? Creation seems the same –flowers blooming, trees budding, critters scurrying like last Tuesday. The schedules of people around me seem consistent with pre-Easter schedules – busy. Could it be that Easter is just another day? Just another day set aside for eggs, bunnies, and stories? Could it be just a blip on our annual calendar? I mean…we’ve heard the Easter story plenty of times. Maybe it becomes just another story. It’s just a story isn’t it? Just a blip?

But what if…what if we believed this story? What if this story is true? What if this story is more than a blip? What if Jesus experienced a “passion week”: died and resurrected?  Would this make a difference in our living…really? Would we see each other in a different light? Would our appreciation for life be affected? Would the way we go about loving others and creation be transformed? Would the way we love ourselves include more light and less darkness? Would the way we accept love take on a new perspective? Would we view ourselves as lovable?

It’s easy to vote for the “blip” candidate…routine is easier. I know what to do…I know what’s expected of me. I don’t have to change. Keeping the Easter story at “just-a-story arms length” seems less risky…safer. The question is am I willing to live with all this choice means? Am I experiencing the fullness of all life has to offer? Am I really living? Do I want to be loved fully and fully love?

It seems like more often than not, we try to go in the back door to grasp onto love…to make sure we are loved. I’ll say what I think you want to hear…I’ll do what I think you want me to do and in return you will pay me in “love.” Deal? Let’s not talk directly but in oblique conversations…just in case. Too, we believe we must give something in return for what someone gives or does for us. We feel we have to pay for the love someone bestows on us. Some of us believe that we are loved because someone is supposed to love us…the other has no choice. Always some kind of string attached.

But if this story is true about Jesus, then a new reality of love is suggested. There doesn’t have to be any bartering…no back doors. This reality says we are loved not because God is supposed to love us but because God wants to love us. No strings attached. There is freedom here…no chains of shoulds and ought tos.

And if love implies relationship, let’s then take a look from the other side – in what form does God desire our love? Does God want our love in the form of “supposed to?” Does God require our love because God “does things” for us? If we are truthful, I suspect these are our modes of loving God most days. But I imagine that God would desire from us the kind of love we most long for – unconditional…(we are made in the image of God).

Radical, isn’t it, how the Truth of a story can challenge us…invite us…Love us…on this Tuesday after Easter…everyday after Easter (which eventually becomes before Easter too).

Defining Moments

16 04 2011

It’s not how we act, or react, in those spotlight moments – from dinner out with friends in a public place to presenting a project for work – that defines who we really are. We are masters at knowing what mask to wear in a given situation. It’s how we live in each present moment that adds to the sum of who we are…who we are becoming.

I met Dr. Griffin Henderson during the summer of 1987. I only wish our first meeting had not been so jarring…or maybe it was just the right way – my life would not be the same if I hadn’t.

This particular summer I worked at a conference center in the mountains of North Carolina as the Day Camp Unit Leader for first and second graders, provided for parents attending weekly conferences. Tuesday was our hiking day for our unit. The college students I supervised would leave with the children soon after Day Camp began – heading toward Kitzuma – a relatively small mountain not far outside the conference center’s gates. This particular Tuesday, I got word that two children would be arriving late. I sent the hikers ahead – knowing I could drive the latecomers to catch up.

With the children buckled in the back seat of my roomy VW bug, I started down the hill toward the main gate.  As I stopped to turn left onto the frontage road, I became very aware that this particular week’s conference was a popular one. There were cars parked outside the gate along the frontage road obstructing my site-line of oncoming traffic from both directions. As I strained to see any oncoming traffic, a person turning into the center motioned me to pull out. I appreciated their kindness but their non-verbal message did not include, “wait for the car coming from the other direction”. As I proceeded, I experienced that brief gut-sinking moment of seeing the other car, I heard the squall of tires on pavement, I heard the crunch of metal crushing metal, and I felt the jolt from a small car being pushed around by a much larger one.

I checked the children…they were fine – eyes wide open…but fine. Then I turned to the reality of what was next – I had to get out of the car and face the man whom I accidently, unintentionally wronged. I was ready to face his wrath. I do not remember him saying very much. He did not call the police…we just exchanged insurance cards then he asked me to come by his house that afternoon so we could work out the details about costs. Shaken, not too aware, and not familiar with car accident protocol, I agreed. We both drove away in our damaged cars. I took the children to catch up with the rest of the group.

I did what I needed to do – called my director and later talked with the parents. On the inside however, I was being eaten alive by worry, guilt and shame…I have always been a very conscientious person – taking my responsibilities seriously, never hurting anyone…never putting anyone in harms way; taking care of what has been entrusted to me. I worried about the conflict I would face in my later visit…that this man was storing up his rage…that I had made a huge mistake in not calling the police – I was going to get taken. I felt guilt and shame that I had done something wrong…I had endangered others (children!)…I had messed up. When the appointed time came, I looked at the card he had given me – Dr. Griffin Henderson (great a doctor!), got into my pitiful banged-up bug and headed for the address printed under his name. As I pulled into his drive, I felt a sinking feeling. My stomach churned as I lifted my finger to press the doorbell…ready to walk into the judgment chamber.

I was greeted by Mr. Henderson’s wife, a kind person, who asked if I would like some tea…“they’re setting me up”! I declined as she escorted me to Mr. Henderson’s office. In reality, I could not tell you the size of his office, but at that moment it felt like I was being swallowed whole. Mr. Henderson – sitting behind his desk – invited me in and asked me to sit down…here it comes – so I thought.

Then things seemed to change. Mr. Henderson stepped out from behind his desk, sat in the chair beside me and asked about me…my story. I told him a little of my history – about attending seminary and about my summer job. He told me to call him Dr. Griff as he told me a bit about himself – a retired pastor now living in the Ridgecrest area. In my wildest imagination, nothing could prepare me for what happened next. Dr. Griff began to talk about the accident – tears welled up in his eyes as he told me that he would pay for the deductible…on both cars. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing – I was being forgiven…I was being baptized in grace and love. I did not know what to say…all I could do is cry. So two grown men sat crying, embracing and I became distinctly aware of one more present – of one that had been there all along…waiting for me – God.

I left Dr. Griff and his wife with a full heart. I had a new story to tell – life-giving. Dr. Griff had imparted the greatest Love…I suspected that’s the way he lived his everyday life.

Mr. Griff and I stayed in touch after I left Ridgecrest that summer. In my position after seminary, I ended up taking Woodbrook’s youth to camp at Ridgecrest for many summers…and I would always make time to walk over to visit Dr. Griff. We would have tea and talk. Over time, we lost touch but I still have a story to tell. On that day in the summer of ’87, I didn’t know anything about Dr. Griff. – his past…the wonderful things he had accomplished. I didn’t need to know those things. For me, what defined Dr. Griff was the man I met one particular moment in 1987…how he was open to God’s Spirit that day…how he related to me…how he did not hold over me the power he had, but used it for redemption’s sake. And because he was in that moment long ago, I now tell you and many others of God’s grace I experienced through one man in a closed office, in the mountains, in a small town, on a hot summer’s day.

It’s not about how we are “in front” of others – it’s not a performance. It’s not about making sure we have it all together – when we attend church…when we are at school…or in our social groups. It’s not about knowing everything or making sure we act the right way so others will like us or so we won’t be judged. It’s about being true who we have been created to be each moment. It’s about being open to and aware of the relationship the One who loves us best wants to have with us each moment of each day. It’s about living each moment like it’s a gift…because it is.

Invitation to Wholeness

10 04 2011

Opportunities to move toward wholeness rise from the most unexpected places, in the most unexpected ways…but if we would pay attention to the counter-cultural way Jesus lived, the way the Spirit speaks, to our past experiences with God – the unexpected becomes the expected…

New Mexico is a beautiful place with an array of beautiful ecosystems and landscapes. The Well for the Journey’s southwest pilgrimage provided a wonderful opportunity to learn more about desert and Native American spirituality…and to feed my new passion for photography! As the pilgrimage went along, my fellow pilgrims began to kid me about my addiction to my camera…but I didn’t want to miss a thing!

One beautiful day, our pilgrimage took us into a beautiful, remote, sacred space – Chaco Canyon. Chaco Canyon embraces pueblo ruins that date back a thousand years. My camera started buzzing as soon as we turned down the ten-mile dirt road to the park and continued all day long, wanting to capture what I saw and experienced…I wanted to take it all home. And the bonus…because of our long day, we anticipated a spectacular high desert sunset!

My day was going well: wide open sacred space, new friends, my camera, and a hike on top of a mesa. That’s when it happened…my camera battery light began to flash! “This can’t be!” I thought. I shuffled through my morning memories: fresh batteries from the charger; made sure I turned the camera off after each use; extra batteries…my stomach sank…I forgot extra batteries! I began some serious strategic planning about how to conserve the batteries I had when I became aware of this voice from within, “It’s okay. Just enjoy the experience…the day.” Now, this voice could have come from one of two places: from subconscious, trying to rationalize and prepare myself for what was inevitable; or from the Spirit encouraging me to listen…to just be in creation…to engage in a Holy conversation. By the time I rejoined my fellow pilgrims, my camera was dead and I was trying my best to lean on the Voice calling me to “just let this camera thing go and to be with the Creator in this sacred place.”

However, as we packed up for our return trip, I felt the call of my camera. Out of nowhere I heard my voice blurt out, “Does anyone have extra batteries?” No luck…(sigh). Then again I heard, “Greg. Just let it go…be with Me. Nothing you take home can capture the grandeur and mystery that is in this place at this time.” Deep in my soul I understood what I was being invited to do – to move toward wholeness, but with the sweet afternoon light painting the canyon walls, my stubborn spirit did not hear the Truth that my soul understood. Just when I thought I had dealt with this issue, out of nowhere that stubborn spirit broke through my seemingly calm surface of self-control – the Chaco’s National Park store! “Surely they will have batteries…saved!” As I entered the store, I walked confidently…righteously…up to the cashier and asked, “Where are your batteries?” Devastation swept over me as I heard his reply, “We don’t carry batteries.”

You would think that I would finally get it and rest in what was at hand…to take time and enjoy the gift of nature around me, but driving out of the canyon, with the sun anticipating a kiss with the western horizon, I had one more fleeting, desperate thought – the store at the intersection with the main road…maybe. But disappointment was a loyal friend, staying right by my side – we were behind schedule and stopping was not an option.

Then the late afternoon Light kissed my heart – I had missed the point of everything the day had offered. In trying to “capture” creation…the spirit of the place, in trying to hold onto images and take them home, in being distracted by my “wanting” and the pursuit to get my hands on materials (batteries), through my unawareness of God’s attempts of engaging me in conversation, in not letting go, in trying to make Chaco Canyon “mine” – I missed the true beauty of the day. I missed a deeper communion with God. I missed out on true freedom and bound myself with worries of things I did not have and with fear that I might miss a “shot”. I missed out on deeper community with my fellow pilgrims. At the end of the day, when I was looking up into the star, spangled sky, I realized the lesson of the day…“creation is not mine.” All that I saw and experienced was a gift. And if I love the Creator, I will carry the Creator’s creation with me always.

I do not tell you this story so to bore you with this particular day in my life. I tell you this story because I trust as fellow pilgrims you too have experienced such struggles. So questions come…What are you holding onto? What is binding you? What conversation with God is waiting at your door? How is your listening? What is distracting you?

The good news is that at the end of the day, God’s continually pursues conversation with us…helping the unexpected become expected…always inviting us to wholeness.

Dances with Light

6 04 2011

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“Light gives of itself freely, filling all available space.

It does not seek anything in return;

it asks not whether you are friend or foe.

It gives of itself and is not thereby diminished.”

Michael Strassfeld

From Well for the Journey’s Daily Faith quotes

Light intrigues me. It’s the light of early morning and late afternoon that hypnotizes me most often – takes me to thin places…where the air between the physical and spiritual world is separated only by a sheer veil. I love to watch the light slowly bathe the earth…joining all of creation, coming out to welcome the light’s warmth. And I love how light slowly withdraws from the day, touching the earth as a lover – gently pulling away until only fingertips touch, longing for the next time to embrace one another. I love to watch the light play, creating shadow art on earth and painting the sky with unbelievable hues. I love to watch light dance with clouds and mist, gracefully moving and bending…humbly highlighting its dance partner.

And there are endless discoveries within light…about light: from my artist brother – helping see the beauty of light within an object instead of objects as just object; from my photographer friend – to do my par to be ready for the light…to be in place…to be alert and then to wait on the sweet light of dawn and dusk; from my chip carving friend – how to cut away what is not needed so that light may wash over…mingle with what has been cut to reveal beautiful designs. I have learned much from reflected light and awed by billions of lights flung in the dark sky – seemingly so small to my eyes but larger than my imagination can fathom, reaching through light-years to touch me.

I love the mystery of light – surprising me…gifting me with displays of unexpected beauty. Even when nature (or we) tries to cover light…to conceal it…light seizes the opportunity to play and dance with obscurity…to color the sky with designs I could never imagine…to inspire.

Then there are those times when we think Light has left us…when there are unending days of cloud and rain…when it seems there’s no way Light can or will sift through…when light is illusive. Even in these times, somehow…from somewhere… something calls us to reach deep within and draw from the Light that burns in our core…the Light we’ve known…the Light that knows us and knows us. And even when our gaze cannot look that deep, the warm glow of community gathers round us…those who walk the way with us. We see the Light reflected by and in others, giving us hope in our deepest darkness. For even in darkness, what Light has touched incubates…cradling life…making preparations to give birth – for what incubates in darkness longs for the Light.

The Word was first,

the Word present to God,

God present to the Word.

The Word was God,

in readiness for God from day one.

Everything was created through him;

nothing—not one thing!—came into being without him.

What came into existence was Life, and the Life was Light to live by.

The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness couldn’t put it out.

John 1:1-5

The Message (Eugene Peterson)

My artist brother – Dale Cochran

My photographer friend – Joye Durham

My chip carving friend – John Ballenger

(links can be found in the margin of this page)