Category Archives: Lent
Yesterday I stopped at a gas station, went inside and was confused. I have been in this convenience store several times because it has the cheapest gas in town. I go in, take a left to the counter, and pay. However, when I went in, there were drink coolers where the counter used to be. I looked around, saw the cashier on the opposite side of the store, walked up to her and asked; “Did the store change?” “No,” she replied. I took a few steps back, looked out the window to make sure I was at the correct station. It appeared the same but it wasn’t. I heard a chuckle behind me, looked at the woman working the register, and she confessed the store had been flip-flopped. She laughed, I faked a smile, told her; “thank you,” and went outside to fill my tank. Driving home I reflected upon the experience.
Life gets upended at times and some of us don’t do well with change. We try to accept and adapt but it takes time, lots of it. The convenience store becomes a manifestation of our mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. We’re discombobulated and we don’t like it. We wait for someone to start laughing, tell us it’s all a joke, no harm, no foul, but that’s not usually how life works.
Your Best –
A new employee was given an assignment and then handed in a report to his boss. Without opening the report the boss asked this new employee; “Did you do your best?” The employee thought a moment, requested the report be returned and went back to his desk. The employee came back to his boss, report in hand, and before he gave it to his boss he heard the same question; “Does this report reflect the best you’re capable of doing?” The employee turned around and went back to his desk. The third time the employee approached his boss’ door he asked himself; “Is this the best I can do?” Without hesitation he answered; “Yes.” After telling his boss the same thing the boss said; “That’s all I’ll ever ask of you, your best.”
This story. told by the pastor this morning, is of Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and a subordinate. We often conflate our best with perfection. They are not the same thing. Perfection is both unattainable and transient. Perfection to one is not perfect for the other. Our best, however, is more manageable. If we are self-aware, have an accurate understanding of our strengths and weaknesses then we are able to give our best and that will be good enough.
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I attended a webinar today discussing the topic of conflict. The main emphasis was conflict in the workplace but it could be applicable to many other situations.
The presenter shared the following story…a boss and an employee needed to talk about the amount of pay the employee was making and the amount of work the employee was putting in. In the boss’ opinion, the employee was overpaid. The conversation needed to happen but neither one wanted to have it. There was tension and suspicion from both parties. They went out to lunch and the way back to the office, walking on a street in a busy downtown city, the boss brought up the topic. “Boom!” The employee lost it as soon as the boss mentioned the subject and they both ended up yelling at each other while countless passerby’s watched in stunned silence.
The presenter, a conflict specilaist, was called in to try to get the two parties to resolve the conflict. She spent time with both the employee and the boss individually trying to understand their point of view. When she felt she had a grasp of who they were as people, what motivated them, why the argument happened, and how far both were willing to go for a fair settlement, she brought them together and they resolved their conflict.
Conflict with other people is going to happen. Each of us as individuals come from a unique natural and nurtured environment. We have different life experiences, preferences, sets of morals and values, fears, goals, strengths, weaknesses, ideas about life and what is and isn’t a part of it.
We forget too easily the other person is coming from a distinct place separate from us. It’s only when we take the time to get to know each other, build relationships, be willing to accept what we understand and don’t understand regarding the other that true intimacy and understanding can take place.
Have a Seat –
I had a follow-up visit to the dentist today for an evaluation from my oral surgery back in July. I don’t like the dentist. The combination of claustrophobia and a severe anxiety disorder mean it can be quite the ordeal. The dentist I have, however, is aware of my mental health issues and is good at making me feel as comfortable as possible. The procedure took about an hour, was mostly painless and not nearly as difficult as the July visit.
I got home from my appointment and went straight to sleep. Dentist’s visit have an impact on me and the meds I take to ease my claustrophobia and anxiety can relax me but also make me very tired. I woke up and thought about my two visits. One was hard, difficult, incredibly painful and took me a few weeks to get over. The second one was much easier to get over. Same room, different results, and reactions.
Wisdom teaches us that life isn’t about holding on to parts of the past which traumatize us but being able to let them go and nurture inward peace instead. Even when we “return to the scene of the crime” or encounter one who has injured us grievously we should let the present experience be, not allowing what has happened the past to poison the present.
Bullets and Breaks –
I saw my first bullet hole in a human body this week. Well, what it looks like with a thin bandage over it anyway. The leg and the hole belonged to one of the men I teach in my incarcerated father’s class. I had noticed last week he was limping and when he came in on Wednesday I asked how he was doing and what had happened. I had no idea the story which would be told.
The tale included drugs, friends pulling guns on one another, a high-speed car chase, resisting arrest, guns on all sides and finally an arrest and a charge of nine felonies. Whew! By the time he finished I was worn out! The most important detail he shared was before everything fell apart, when he was sitting on the couch with a friend and things began to escalate, he said; “If I would’ve stopped for thirty seconds and thought about what I was doing. If I would have just walked away, none of this would have happened.”
Although there was much in his story I couldn’t relate to I certainly know the harm of acting in haste, not taking time to think before I said or did something harmful, in the heat of the moment, only to regret it soon after. The difficulty is that once we do anything good, bad, positive, or negative the consequence will follow. We can’t take it back. “When we pick up one end of the stick, we pick up the other.”
One of the most difficult yet important disciplines wisdom teaches is the; “space in the middle.” It is that place between the event, the action and our response, our reaction. Usually the less space we allow the higher possibility of making a bad decision and dealing with the results of our choices.
The young man with the bullet hole in his leg is looking at a long sentence in the state penitentiary. I hope that he, all the students and their teacher will learn and put into practice the lesson of; “the space in between.”
It floated effortlessly in the air across the opposite lane of traffic. It caught my eye as it passed over the left lane of my side of the highway and a gust of air lifted it up just enough to get over the hood of my truck and became stuck on my antenna. “What are the odds?” I thought, “that this plastic bag and my truck antenna would meet at the exact time and place where it would be snagged and now dragged?” It made an awful noise flapping in the wind. There were too many vehicles on the road to stop and of course a traffic light or stop sign was nowhere to be found. The antenna bent abnormally and because of it’s style the bag was gripped and not going anywhere. Finally, I arrived at a red light and when the truck came to a halt the plastic bag slipped from the antenna and blew away to aggravate someone else.
After the light turned green I made my way to an appointment and reflected upon the way life brings both good and bad things into our path. We aren’t expecting, nor could we arrange the blessing or perceived curse coming our way or manipulate the circumstances to embrace or avoid what we encounter. What we have the power to do is move forward, accept what comes and hope for the courage and humility to deal with the things which float into our lives and attach themselves to us.
I arrived early at the rehabilitation facility this morning where I was scheduled to deliver a lecture. The door was open to my room and I sat down and listened to the end of a session being given by a woman facilitator to a group of men. Most of them left after the lesson was over but one gentleman stood and seemed genuinely vexed by their topic for the day; “Forgiveness.”
“I just don’t know where to start with my family and friends.” he said. “They’ve heard it all before and they’ve seem me mess it up all over again! Why would they give me forgiveness, believe me?” The instructor told him the forgiveness must start with himself and then flow out toward others from there. “When you’ve come face to face with who you are and what you’ve done you must decide to forgive yourself, not claim anything about the future, just being repentant for the past. What you do, who you are moving forward will help others decide whether or not to forgive, to trust, to give you another chance.”
The lecture was over and most of the attendees had exited the room. One stayed seated finishing up his notes and another loitered near the door. I knew he wanted to ask me a question but wasn’t sure how to get started so I looked at him and inquired; “How’s your day going?” It was enough to break the ice and we chatted for a few moments until he found the courage to vocalize what was on his heart and mind. “I have someone in my life who is important to me. I love them but they aren’t good for me. If I go back to them I’ll follow them down a path which will lead to my eventual destruction and death.” I followed up; “So, what do you think you should do?” He sat down and sighed; “I have to leave them. They can’t be a part of my life.” I could tell this was a difficult choice and his heart was hurting. I looked him in the eye and said; “It’s a tough decision but you have to choose what doesn’t harm you and will allow you to live fully.”
One of the most painful things we’ll do in our lives is saying goodbye to someone we care about but whose influence upon us leads us away from peace, wisdom and purpose. It may be a family member or a long time friend. This person may have been a sounding board, supporter, provider, even at times a protector but they also bring troubles, trauma and temptation into our lives. Because of our history with them, the bond that exists, its hard to let them go and walk away but inside of us there is a growing realization that separation is the only option which leads to our survival.
The young man and I spoke a few minutes more. He thanked me as I packed up my things and headed toward the door. I turned and looked at him as I walked through the doorway; “Make good choices.” I told him. “I will.” he assured me. Walking down the hall and exiting the building I hoped he had enough strength and courage to say; “Goodbye.” to the things and people in his life who would stop him from continuing to move in the right direction.
The culture and religious wars found a new battleground this week in the small town of Walkerton, Indiana. At a little Pizzeria joint, named Memories Pizza, the religious right and the progressive left dug trenches, set up barbwire, and declared the opposition as intolerant bigots, amoral and immoral, self righteous hypocrites and absolutely un-American.
Into this morass stepped Ann Coulter, a conservative author and speaker, who felt Republicans and Christians were getting a raw deal. She boldly stated; “Christians would rather get praise… for changing bedpans of Ebola patients in Nigeria, rather than stand up to the New York Times and fight against abortion and fight against these bullies!”
This statement struck me as interesting and odd to make on Holy Week. As Christians across the world are solemnly remembering the days Jesus was unjustly accused, beaten, tortured and ultimately killed without any protest, demanding of rights, or fighting against the bullies who would ultimately take his life.
“He was led as a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb is silent before the shearers, so he opened not his mouth; in his humiliation, justice was denied him; and who can express the wickedness of the people of his generation? For his life is taken from the earth.” Acts 8:32
So, changing bedpans or fighting against bulllies? Shouting, lobbying for rights or showing love and kindness to others, even those with hate in their hearts?
The question isn’t; “what would Jesus do?” but; “what did Jesus do?”
A blessed Holy Saturday,
What a fantastic quote…
I have heard people say, been told explicitly, with condescension; “you’re a dreamer, you don’t fit in, people don’t understand you, you’re not one of us.”
Being a wannabe saint, a contemplative, a dreamer, a poet, one who most folks don’t get nor care to, can be lonely. But what do you do? Do you ignore the calling? Do you try to fit in? Do you act, talk, think, as others would like so they, you, can be more comfortable?
I tried that, it doesn’t work, and everyone ends up miserable. Hearing the beat of a different drummer, marching, dancing, to its rhythm, is a blessing though others might tell us it’s a curse.
Easter Sunday, Resurrection day, end of Lenten season, most celebrated Holy day of the Christian faith.
Yesterday it rained all day. It was cold and wet, a good day to stay inside. Today the sun is shining, the breeze is soft, the birds are singing, the flowers blooming, there is a different, new feeling in the air.
At Easter worship this morning the pastor said; “all things are new!” Most responded with an; “Amen. ” My response, “tell me something I don’t know.”
Everything is always new. Nothing is ever the same. Life is nothing if not always changing, transitioning, shifting, transforming. Wisdom teaches that acceptance of this truth is paramount to peace and contentment.
However, new is not always better, nor does it mean all things are set right. In the Christian story of Jesus, the Christ, and his victory over death, Jesus’ students, following his resurrection, aren’t suddenly living in a new world, where everything is wonderful. They still have difficulties, tragedies, hurt, and pain.
After worship my wife and I visited a friend in a rehab facilitiy. While we were there we talked about how different all of our lives are than a year ago. None of us knew how hard the previous 12 months would be.
We spoke of bodies failing due to age, the church body failing due to misplaced priorities, homes no longer able to be lived in, those who lost their homes, friends and family members that have passed and people we love being taken away from us.
Divorce, strokes, estranged families, dementia, homelessness, abandonment, affairs, abuse. We are in a new place but it is certainly not a better one.
What we desire, what we need, what we long for in the deepest parts of our souls, is not just newness but wellness, wholeness.
The promise of Easter is not just about newness. New is nice but all things being made well is better, in fact it’s the promise of perfection.
Across the road from my parent’s house a neighbor has had a plumbing issue. I am not sure what’s going on but for the last two days there have been multiple vehicles at multiple times in the driveway and in the backyard. When I took the Husky for a walk this afternoon there was another plumbing van from the “Rescue Rooter” company down the road. I guess this is get out the gunk week.
Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. A day when millions of people around the world make the choice to sacrifice something for 40 days (not counting Sundays) until Easter. Maybe they give up favorite food, a habit, a grudge. Lent is my favorite time in the Christian calendar year, a time to get rid of the gunk that builds up all year long. It is a time of focusing on what’s important and what’s not. A time when we are reminded there are many things we can live happily without if we are willing to do so.
However, what Lent is not is a diet, a self improvement program. If our idea of going 40 days without chocolate cake is about losing weight, or giving up a habit to impress others we’re missing something. Whenever I have practiced Lent with others, taught the basics of these 40 days of letting go of comforts and crutches we have in our daily lives, I also teach the importance of NOT filling the void. When we take something which we enjoy, depend on, make allowances for, allot time to, and sacrifice it, what we do in the void left behind is just as important as the letting go. We must be careful not to substitute one entertainment, habit, food, grudge with another.
Wisdom tells us seasons of simplicity and sacrifice, learning to live without, giving up our dependencies on things which do not matter so we can depend on that which does is not only important but necessary and needed.blessings, bdl
There is confidence everywhere in Ash Wednesday, yet that does not mean unmixed and untroubled security. The confidence of the Christian is always a confidence in spite of darkness and risk, in the presence of peril, with every evidence of possible disaster. Let us emend for the better in those things in which we have sinned through ignorance: lest suddenly overtaken by the day of death we seek space for repentance and are not able to find it.
The last words are sobering indeed. And note, it is the sins we have not been fully aware of that we must emend. Once again, Lent is not just a time for squaring conscious accounts: but for realizing what we had perhaps not seen before. The light of Lent is given us to help with this realization.
Nevertheless, the liturgy of Ash Wednesday is not focussed on the sinfulness of the penitent but on the mercy of God. The question of sinfulness is raised precisely because this is a day of mercy, and the just do not need a Savior.
Nowhere will we find more tender expressions of the divine mercy than on this day. His mercy is kind. He looks upon us “according to the multitude of Thy tender mercies.” In the introit we sing: “Thou hast mercy upon all (Misereris omnium), O Lord, and hatest none of the things which Thou hast made, overlooking the sins of men for the sake of repentance and sparing them, because Thou art the Lord our God.”
How good are these words of Wisdom in a time when on all sides the Lord is thought by men to be a God who hates. Those who deny Him say they do so because evil in the world could be the work only of a God that hated the world.