Monday, September 29, 2008

Preparing for the Journey

This is not a picture of my transportation for my sabbatical journey! It is actually a picture of a boat on the Sea of Galilee taken by my friend, Blair Both, on her journey to Israel earlier this year. Journies, whether by land, air or sea, seem to take a long time to plan. In less than a month I will leave New Harmony for three months of travelling, studying, exploring, and resting. In the next few weeks until I leave things will undoubtedly get hectic. I am trying to make this preparation time a part of the whole experience. It is the work I need to be involved in right now and it is important. It is not just about making sure I have the right clothes for cooler weather and that I have all the various accessories I will need for travel; it is more about preparing my mind and heart to receive this time. If I don't do that work this adventure will slip away in a fog of busyness. Preparation is part of the journey. It may be the part I least like but I want to invest myself in doing it well. So it is on to the next task...

Saturday, September 6, 2008

I just finished reading "The Shack" by William P. Young (Windblown Media, 2007). It is an unusual book. It has a "fantasy" feel to it, not unlike Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" or Lewis' "Chronicles of Narnia." It is a very appealing book. It contains lighthearted dialogue between a man named MacKenzie (Mack) and the Trinity (as in Father, Son and Holy Spirit)! The theology worked out in this encounter is for the most part quite "right on." I am sure that not everyone would agree with me on this and that's okay. As a friend of mine used to say, "We all have our own heresies."

The book does many things well, but perhaps the most important part of what it does is giving voice to the problem of suffering in the world. Why do people, especially children, suffer? Why doesn't God intervene and stop evil from happening? These questions are as old as humanity and if we are not struggling with them then we are probably in denial. But the book is larger than this problem. The Shack gives us a picture of how much God loves us. I said to someone after reading the book that it made me fall in love with Jesus all over again! And in some ways it did. I have been recommending the book to lots of people.

The gospel lesson (Matthew 18:15 - 20) for this Sunday (September 7) is about Jesus' instructions for conflict in the church. They are uncomfortable words - words that challenge me to do better at "speaking the truth in love." Going to the person who hurts me or betrays me or gives me a hard time, and telling them how I feel is way more vulnerable than I want to be most of the time. Forgiving those same folks means looking deep inside myself. It means confronting my own dark desires and not just once; but over and over until they are exorcised from my heart.

In The Shack God helps Mack come to a point where he can forgive the man who murdered his young daughter, Missy. After he says the words, "I forgive you" over and over, he turns to God and says, "So is it all right if I'm still angry?" God does not hesitate with his answer, "Absolutely! What he did was terrible...But don't let the anger and pain and loss you feel prevent you from forgiving him and removing your hands from around his neck." God continues with this wisdom, "Son, you may have to declare your forgiveness a hundred times the first day and the second day, but the third day will be less and each day after, until one day you will realize that you have forgiven completely." (The Shack, page 227)

Madeline L'Engle was fond of saying that love is not always that wonderful warm feeling rather love is a decision. Love is an act of the will, not of the emotions. Forgiveness is so much the same way. There are times when I don't want to even consider forgiving someone. My feelings are no where near forgiveness. At times like that it is best to just stop and turn around completely - face a new direction and make myself walk into forgiveness. The world is a hard place and life gets more complicated each day. Someone said to me many years ago, "Keep life simple...keep short accounts." Keep the emotional baggage down to a minimum by not letting those accounts of anger and unforgiveness get out of hand. Settle the accounts quickly - or as Jesus would say, "Go to your brother or sister and work it out." I will pray for you in this challenge if you will pray for me.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

This Sunday's lections included the story of Moses and the burning bush from Exodus. I had written a sermon on the Gospel lesson from Matthew and I wound up scrapping the written test to talk about Moses. The gospel was the story of Peter's confession of Jesus as the Messiah and Jesus' rebuke of Peter. In the gospel lesson is Jesus' call to us to "Deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him." I'm not sure when I have lately "denied myself" anything! I tend be able to rationalize giving myself what I want, whether its things or thoughts. Part of denying myself is to make myself turn aside from the path I am following, whether mentally or physically and turn to face what God wants for me. That's certainly what Moses had to do when confronted with the burning bush.

Moses was tending his flock, actually his father-in-law's flock when out of the corner of his eye he saw a bush burning but not being consumed by the fire. Moses, who had killed one of Pharoh's soldiers, probably did not want to face into that fire. We all know deep inside when something has "the odor of holiness" about it. Perhaps it's the way the sun comes through a window or a sudden and unexpected breeze across our skin; we know that God is present and we know it deep within. Whether we stop to acknowledge the "holy" or simply wait until the shivering in our belly ceases so we can continue to do the next thing, we know that temptation to "turn aside" into the holy moment. Moses could have kept on tending the sheep; perhaps he had already passed by several other "burning bushes" before this one. God might have continued to pursue him or moved on to find another person to deliver his people. Moses did turn aside. He denied himself the pleasure of remaining a simple shepherd. He denied himself the safety of hiding from Pharoh. He faced into the burning bush and in doing so he faced his greatest fears with God's help.

Perhaps this is one way that reconciliation happens. We face into our worst fears, into the burning bush and we deny ourselves the pleasure of staying angry, or cynical, or filled with hate. There is pleasure in keeping those feelings alive. Turning away from the path of anger and face into God's love burning brightly for us opens up a new opportunity for action and for forgiveness. I wonder how many burning bushes I pass by each day? I wonder how many opportunities for turning aside to face God's love I walk past each week? Oh for the grace and courage to deny myself and turn aside.