Getting your Hands Dirty

getting your hands dirty

Bearing good fruit into the world demands that we get our hands dirty. Creating something from nothing, or building on something to make it better, paving a new road, establishing a novel idea, are never easy or smooth…because life isn’t supposed to be easy or smooth. The dirt under our nails, whether it is metaphorical or actual grime, is a testament to what we are willing to sacrifice to bring something to fruition. When ministry became my chosen profession, God gifted me with many opportunities to get my hands dirty in ways that were humbling and well, sometimes even gross, like unwanted interaction with bodily fluids. Serving Christ demanded I roll up my sleeves and get messy. More than anything, I learned that bearing fruit in a sterile environment is impossible.

I know I’ve said this before in different ways, but you can’t skip the middle of cultivating any dream by bypassing the dirty work. Too much of the final product is predicated on the will, imagination and effort necessary to struggle through mire in order to achieve success. While frustrating, it is perfectly normal for people who are in the middle of any pursuit to wonder if the difficulty will ever end, if it is worth it, if the fruits of labor match the effort and expectation. The road yet traveled can be a daunting proposition. For me, that is why faith is so important to the process. We don’t have to be alone in our pursuits. God is the ultimate safety net, and is ever present even in the muck. And, it is often amidst the muckiest of muck where true revelation lies. Always keeping your hands clean, or the process sterile, kills growth and can mean you miss the best lessons life has to show you. The best fertilizer for the greatest fruit is sometimes noxious. It’s a testament to God’s great sense of humor that shit is one of the greatest ingredients for growth…both literally and figuratively.

So, I say, life is not sterile. Some of the greatest fruits come from mud, even seeing more clearly.

John 9:1-11

“As he passed by he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him. We have to do the works of the one who sent me while it is day. Night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva, and smeared the clay on his eyes, and said to him, “Go wash in the Pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed, and came back able to see. His neighbors and those who had seen him earlier as a beggar said, “Isn’t this the one who used to sit and beg?” Some said, “It is,” but others said, “No, he just looks like him.” He said, “I am.” So they said to him, “(So) how were your eyes opened?” He replied, “The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and told me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went there and washed and was able to see.”

A Model to Follow

flagThis Memorial weekend I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about sacrifice. To all the veteran’s out there, I thank you and words cannot express the deep gratitude I feel for your service. We are able to continue our great American Experiment due, in large part, to the great sacrifices of our men and women in uniform. I believe most Americans, regardless of which side of the fence they sit on, honor you for that. Regardless of the lowlifes out there who capitalize on this weekend to breed ever more hatred for their opponents, claiming “ownership” of being a real and true American, I believe all Americans shine with pride on this day for our brave men and women of the military. It does a disservice to politicize it…even if you are in uniform, you are not sacrosanct to vilify your fellow citizens either. No one gets a free pass to condemn anyone. It defeats the purpose of the sacrifice, which is to maintain freedom for all. I tread carefully here, because while I will never undervalue those who fought in war, there are also other ways to fight, to lead, to serve, to evolve our country into something even better that demanded the sacrifice of life too. Their sacrifices are no less valuable and I honor them on this weekend too.

While I have not served in the military, I have spent my life in service. The model I have used was the core to my vocation, from the Gospel of John 13:12-15:

So when Jesus washed their feet and put his garments back on and reclined at the table again, he said to them, “Do you realize what I have done for you?” You call me “teacher” and “master,” and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, master and teacher have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that I have done for you, you should also do. Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master and nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you understand this, blessed are you if you do it.

Throughout all my life though, as my understanding grew, this model Jesus set for us is so much more than humbling oneself to wash another’s feet. It is how we must look at each other…the master equals the servant. In one simple motion, Jesus disassembles one of the most embedded notions of cultural  hierarchy, that there are those who deserve privilege and others who don’t…and says that we are all the same, no one is better than the other. No amount of societal consequence, propriety, adulation or even condemnation can make any set of eyes looking into mine any greater or lesser. I can honor their gifts or challenge their flaws without placing them above or below my gaze.

So when I celebrate this day, I do so not only for those who have sacrificed their lives, but to honor that sacrifice by holding myself to the highest standard for what a real American looks like: a beacon to the rest of the world, while acknowledging my power as a citizen of the most powerful country in the world, I embrace the model that Jesus set for me, not lording over, or looking down on, but helping others to rise up to their greatest potential. Our greatness depends on an America committed to building the strengths of its citizens and on leaders who are not kings, but who model the example of humility and service and return our gaze with equality and respect.

 

Ask and Receive

law and prophetsI’ve always found comfort in these particular words of Jesus: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”  And yet…really? my bank account hasn’t changed.  Let’s go back and read verses preceding the one I just mentioned. They are an admonition against judgement and pointing out the flaws in others while unable to see our own.  The offer of receiving whatever we ask for comes only after we stop our judgy behavior and look at our own flaws first and foremost.  While that may seem depressing, Jesus doesn’t leave us wallowing in our wicked imperfections…he says, “which one of you would hand his son a stone when he asks for a loaf of bread, or a snake when he asks for a fish?  If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him?”  While he chastises our behavior, it still won’t prohibit God from answering our prayers.

Of course there are qualifications…God responds to our requests with “good things”  God would never give us anything harmful.  I suppose asking for something bad would never qualify.  So how then, do we know what good is?  What follows gives us a clue.  Jesus highlights the golden rule: “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.”  He also encourages us to enter through the narrow gate that leads to life, and not the wide and easy gate that many will follow to destruction. He warns of false prophets whom we will only know by the fruits they bear, followed immediately by “for a rotten tree can never bear good fruit”.  The lines are drawn clear: good tree, good fruit…bad tree no fruit. Goodness can only be known by good fruit.

So what is good fruit?  Is it success, wealth, fame, popularity, prowess or power?  I suppose it all goes back to what each of us sees when we pull that humongous plank out or our eye. We can never see goodness while our vision is clouded; there are too many false prophets out there that exist in obscured vision to lead us astray.  Only goodness can perpetuate goodness, rotten trees never can…and we all know what happens to trees that bear no fruit whatsoever (remember the fig tree).  It doesn’t need to be complicated, we simply start by not judging and pointing out the flaws in others before we can even see our own, treat others exactly how we want to be treated, pray to god in secret with faith, and he will respond with goodness, from which we continue to bear good fruit.  Pretty much sums it all up.

Getting my Sparkly Back

bodyglitterYes, I do know that it has almost been a month since my last post.  Plagued by a very late starting spring, resulting in compressing all the things that should have been done by now into the very shortest measure of time before the 5 minutes of summer comes, I was in danger of shedding my sparkly Pollyanna skin to something more dark, sinister and leathery…hence the silence.  I discovered, that I can handle the major stuff in life with relative ease, that is where my problem-solving, common sense super power kicks in.  Those irritations like: lost keys, wallets, glasses, bikes, forms…none of which are mine but somehow fall into my purview of responsibilities; broken things that interrupt the flow of the day, like the computer my son just built that shuts down 10 times a day…of course he’s only finished his freshman year in computer engineering, or the eroding land that may cause our pool to fall into a ravine; and those never-ending tasks of life that you swear you just took care of and like going through a time warp, there they are again demanding attention like running out of toilet paper, kitty food, dish soap, laundry soap, razor blades, etc…; and lastly, all the man things that I live with every day too numerous to list here.  All these irritations have worn my sparkly skin down to paper thinness, so I can see the serpent skin underneath.  What’s worse are the responses I get from the men in my house: “I didn’t touch it”, “Just dump some dirt on it”, “Just turn it back on”,  I’ll do it later (loose translation, NEVER) or my least favorite, “Just buy a new one”.  It is just not acceptable…I almost died…of irritation.

So, that explains the silence.  I saw my weakness and got help, not the psychological kind, but someone who will clean my house and organize the chaos, so those other irritations don’t kill me.  Now, I don’t have to worry that the fire coming out of my mouth will burn everything in it’s wake.  My sparkly skin is coming back…even through the gob of flem I just cleaned out of the many used glasses that the men in my house love to spit in…I will survive.

Mastering Ordinary Love

The song “Ordinary Love” by U2 sparked a notion in me that substantiates a belief that I’ve had for a long time.  Here is the link:

These particular words strike a chord:

“We cannot fall any further if we can’t feel ordinary love, and we cannot reach any higher if we cannot deal with ordinary love”

It seems all too often, that many Christians bypass mastering the skills of ordinary love to claim expertise in the extraordinary love of God… in reality, if we can’t master the basics, if we bypass the difficult process of learning to love as Jesus taught us, the simple everyday expression of patience, kindness, slowness to anger and judgement, walking in another’s shoes etc., we can NEVER comprehend the extraordinary love of God, and love as God does.  In a sense, it is like bypassing all that comes before any high achievement and claiming entitlement to the prize anyway.

Let me be clear, mastering ordinary love is different from sharing in the grace bestowed on us by Christ’s great sacrifice.  That gift isn’t earned, it  is free to all, but mastering love only comes with often painstaking practice and experience.  Grace is the conduit to an endless source, which only is as powerful as our ability to master ordinary love and infuse it into the world.  That is what Jesus meant when he said: “they will know you are my disciples by how you love one another.”  It doesn’t have to be complicated…it’s all laid out in the Gospels.  It is putting it to work every single day, as strenuously as we would an exercise program, with no shortcuts, that creates a Master.

 

 

The Subtly of Grace

power of emotionThis picture represents a simple idea, we can change a single molecule by our thoughts and words.  For more info on the picture check this link: http://www.whatthebleep.com/water-crystals/ But his ideas led me to what I had to say about the growing darkness in this world on a past post:

I remember teaching  moral issues long ago, when I tried to impress upon the sophomore class the subtleties in making a moral decision.  Right and wrong, good and bad are never really black and white, rather exist in often the subtlest shades of grey.  I don’t think they could quite get their heads wrapped around the concept, perhaps it was that the examples I gave weren’t very good, like distinguishing between taking a pen from someone’s desk or locker without asking, or the last piece of pie when you’ve already had your share.  Most scoffed at how stupid I was being, and rationalized quite sensibly, that a pencil is only worth a couple of pennies, or the person would never miss it, or justify that the person excluded from the pie really didn’t need it after all and they were just doing them a favor.  What I was unable to convey, even after I thought I stated it pretty clearly, is that moral behavior, in large part, is built by developing an ability to distinguish between shades of grey….and the way to do that is one decision at a time, regardless of how simple or inane they might appear.  What can I say, I was young…and wanted them to understand that as adults, we are an accumulation of choices just like these.  If the first impulse is to justify in your mind why an action is morally ok to serve any “want” at the time then it is a clear indication that your gut is telling you that it may not be.  I learned throughout the years from very wise people, to simply take a moment to weigh my options…which in truth most often takes a few seconds.  Asking before borrowing something or choosing not to be greedy only increases our souls acuity to recognize shades of grey.   Our brains also help us continue on a moral path by creating neuro-pathways, or shortcuts to respond to situations like the ones mentioned automatically after we repeat a certain behavior after a while.   I guess that is why bad habits are so hard to break…just ask my family…it’s to the point that whenever I even open my mouth to speak their eyes roll back into their heads, and I guess I can’t blame them.  For now it is safer to opine in cyber space. 

I fear in this time, we may be losing the ability to distinguish between shades of grey and the world is growing darker.  I don’t know if it’s because there is so much corruption, rationalized behavior, and greed that we’ve accepted that the growing darkness is inevitable (or its someone else’s fault), or if it’s because  up against such darkness it is easier to look so much better in comparison.   We do live in morally dubious times, and I think the place to start cleaning up all the pollution begins with our own choices…not necessarily the ones involving pencils and pie, but the ones that trigger the rationalization response.  I know I’ve had a hard time taking my own inventory when there are so many who don’t, but it has to start somewhere.  And I know that I am in no position to throw stones, but do hold myself obligated to develop my own moral acumen…because too many of our leaders and movers and shakers in our world don’t…and why the saving of the world may very well be left in the hands of  us ordinary folk…one choice at a time. 

So it is with Grace.  Sometimes I think we believe that real power lies in those who stand in the light of infamy and fame, those names that we are familiar with, who are known by the masses.  I think that is the greatest illusion of all, perpetuated by darkness to seduce us from recognizing our own power.  How many are looking for a savior on a white horse, fearless and strong with endless power and ability to slay any adversary?  There is a reason God chooses great leaders from the simplest and most ordinary people…it is within every heart to do great things.  Each of us has the ability to use the subtly of Grace and change even water…even if we aren’t around to see their impact in the future.  Never underestimate a single gesture of Grace…the darkness never does and that is how it grows as well.  The good news is that even the subtlest of light can cast away the darkness.  Be a light.  Change the world

By an Imperceptible Degree

baby scars 1baby scars 2Each day when I wake up and while I sit in my bath…(the only quiet time in my day because the testosterone at my house is unconscious…except for the new man kitty who dive bombed the bubbling water and totally freaked himself out and is lingering in the corner of my house somewhere soaking wet and hopefully thinking twice about messing with my zen time again…picture to prove my scars…) and think how I can make this day an improvement over yesterday…especially given that my yesterdays have developed a pattern of , well, let’s just say in terms of GPA, I would totally be dropping out right now.  So, I have taken a broader and more realistic view, and will hone my observation skills to view the almost imperceptible.  By the end of the year I will totally have x-ray vision…and said man cat will be claw-free and testosterone free.  Booyah!