Most everyone heard the story of the tortoise and the hare when they were young – the brash, fast-running hare and the slow, plodding tortoise. Not only was there the idea that the hare was much faster, but a sleek-looking furry animal seemed to most to be much more appealing than a chunky-footed animal carrying this huge shell on its back. Our parents, teachers, whomever else told us that story, set us up pretty good in most cases.
Of course, there are multiple lessons in the story. There is the one that appearances don’t always tell us the whole story of a person or situation. There was the work-ethic lesson that the slow and steady person will usually win out over the person who bursts on the scene but has no stick-to-it-ness. And, there is the lesson that the serious person will outlast the carefree, lazy person.
The story certainly found life in its time, at least in my time of growing up, because values such as hard work and a serious approach to life were always emphasized. A studious scientist was to be more highly valued than an artist, for instance, because an artist just lounged around and did a little drawing and painting now and then. If you have ever taken the time to draw or paint anything, you know that being an artist takes as much hard work and dedication as any other profession.
But while we today tend to value artists and other creative professions, and in that respect at least would tend to let the story of the tortoise and the hare go its way, we nevertheless still hang on to the idea that fast is better than slow, that sleek is better than clunky, that the way of the hare is the best way despite the wisdom the storytellers tried to impart to us.
And this has become one of the greatest frustrations of our times – that so often we get slowed down. It can be due to traffic – “rush hour” is an absolute oxymoron. It can be due to being on hold with customer service for interminable amounts of time. And you can add your own slow down moments.
Ironically, some of the people most admired are usually those who know the value of slowing down. It can be your meditation guide, or your yoga teacher, or even the minister who dares to include times of silent prayer among the other activities of a worship celebration. We watch these people, see their actions, notice that there is something peaceful about them, and tell ourselves that we would like to be that way too. But first we have to get to our next appointment, or to soccer practice, or to wherever it is that you hurry to in your life.
But if you like the idea of being patient and peaceful, and yet find it difficult to meet with the meditation guide or the yoga instructor, go find a fast food restaurant and get in their drive-through line. Most of these lines are set up so that once you get in, you can’t get out until after you have paid and received your food, no matter how long it takes. Of course, in those times when the lines are long, the inclination is to grumble and complain about the slow service, or about the person who has ordered twenty-five of whatever item, or about the person in the car ahead of you who just seems to be taking his or her time. But stop and ask yourself, “Do I really want to be so impatient, when there is absolutely nothing that I can do to speed up this line?” Certainly, next time, you could just avoid the line. But right now, stuck here, you can choose to either get more and more frustrated, or, you can choose to learn something about patience. Either way, the line will only move as fast as the orders come out. Either way, you are stuck there. Either way, it is your choice. For like it or not, everyone in line is a tortoise.
So, next time you are in a slow line like that, think about your choices. And, if you really want to embark on a course of patiently learning patience, then head for one such line after another. If fast food isn’t your thing, maybe a drive-through coffee place will do it. If you don’t drink coffee, then try getting in the longest line at the supermarket. Even the post office usually provides opportunities to learn patience.
It isn’t required that we learn patience, of course. But if you are one of those who admire it in others, then give the learning process a chance. If nothing else, you will discover important things about yourself and how you work with life.
April 22, 2016
Touching the Soul
I enjoy writing. I find something in the act of writing that touches me deep within my soul.
There are times, to be sure, when the words flow onto the paper or computer screen, and there are times when either nothing comes, or what emerges seems pretty uninspiring. But I enjoy that process nonetheless. When the words seem to write themselves, and I can hardly type fast enough, there is something special about feeling the flow of what is happening. When I struggle to write, to draw thoughts together, to discover the words that fit best or communicate best, I still walk away at the end of the time with a satisfaction that is palpable.
I write sermons for most Sundays of the year. I admit though, that there are those times when so much else is going on that the thought of finding time to write the sermon, and to write a sermon that will be meaningful and not just fill that Sunday time with some words, is frustrating. How and where am I supposed to fit in the time to do this?
But, of course, we have all been there in one way or another. Things are so busy this week that you can’t find time to spend with that novel that you are reading. Things are so busy that getting around to watching the three movies that you recorded last week just isn’t going to happen. Whatever it is, it is difficult to find the time to do that particular thing that feeds your soul.
Of course, I do find the time to write the sermon. I carve the time out of all the other time demands. And then, in the writing, my soul is refreshed.
So find that time to do what brings joy and renewal to your soul. If you are anything like me, you already know how deeply it will touch you when you do so.
April 15, 2016
Conflict is usually seen as a negative thing. Conflict at work is uncomfortable. Conflict in our personal lives is unsettling. Conflict at church is just not the way things are imagined to be.
At work though, sometimes conflict helps stir thinking, and results in a better way to approach a problem or a situation. In relationships, conflict often helps us identify growing points, either in an individual or as two people work to shape a deeper and more meaningful relationship. In church…well, it feels like we should just all get along with one another…love one another.
There is a song that I have found especially meaningful for many years, written by pastor and songwriter Jim Manley, entitled, “The House of Our God.” In large part it is about the church being a place of welcome for all people. But then, at the end of the third verse it says, “…and conflict is better than calm all alone.”
“Calm all alone” sounds pretty nice, and yet the songwriter says that conflict is better than such calm. That phrase still stops me every time I hear or sing the song. “Conflict is better than calm all alone.” And I hear in that the wisdom that even in the church conflict can be a positive thing.
Now I am not here thinking about the sad state of things when a conflict over the color of the new choir robes causes a split in the church. There is nothing positive about such a disagreement. But conflict that happens as people try to discern the best way forward, the best ways to be faithful to God’s calling to the people of the church, such conflict helps us to sort out our feelings and thoughts and emotions so that when we move forward we can feel good about where we are going and with whom we are walking.
Such conflict can be over theology, over church structures, over issues of authority and more. The defining part of such an occasion of conflict is how we approach it and how we engage in the conversation. It is then that we need the reminder, “Love One Another,” but as a way to approach conflict, not to avoid it. For conflict, in the church, provides an opportunity for growth and change, and that is what Jesus and God ask us to continually be doing.
Conflict is not something that we want to live with continually. But when conflict comes it provides us with the opportunity for new things to emerge - if we accept that conflict, see the possibilities that stand before us, and work things out together.
April 8, 2016
We have a plant at church that has its home among the rocks of a waterfall. It is a beautiful, hardy plant. I believe it is called a Creeping Fig.
This beautiful plant, however, would cover the entire church with its tentacles and leaves were it given enough time. As it is, it tends to cover the waterfall, the wood around the waterfall, and the wall behind the waterfall, all within a short time of having been trimmed back. We do trim it occasionally, but there is no regular schedule, and then suddenly someone will notice how it has once again taken over that entire space. Even that wouldn’t be too distressing, but this plant attaches itself to everything, such that when one removes it from the wall and the wood, it leaves evidence of its having been there. The paint comes off with the removal of the tentacles, and the wood has marks showing where the plant has been.
This beautiful plant can become an insidious plant. It can overtake and overwhelm everything around it. It reminds me of the human tendency to have things become insidious and overwhelming in our lives. It can seem harmless to allow ourselves the pleasure of doing something that deep down we know is not healthy for us. It is just one time. But then we allow ourselves to indulge again, telling ourselves that we won’t do this thing regularly. But we slip into a pattern, a habit, of doing this very thing, and it becomes an insidious habit, and begins to overwhelm us.
It can also be things that we don’t necessarily choose, but that in reality we do. We get angry at a driver who cuts in front of us. We mumble and complain to the person riding with us, who agrees about the rudeness of the other driver. And, we go on. But the next time we honk our horn, and, go on. But then we move to hand gestures, or rolling down the window and yelling, or any other manner of responses. The anger becomes insidious and our responses become more intense.
Now trust me, I have my own difficulties with rude drivers. But do we really want to allow someone, who in reality either couldn’t care less about us or who has just been very careless, do we want to allow that person, those persons, to invoke such anger within us? They prompt the response through their actions, but we choose the response, we choose the anger. It becomes insidious, and it changes who we are at our core.
We can of course also choose to allow positive qualities to become insidious in our lives, although we likely wouldn’t use that word to describe it. We can choose to have true joy become more and more a part of all that we do. We can decide to be encouraging with all whom we meet, not just with our own family and friends. We can choose a positive attitude even when circumstances try to dictate otherwise. We can choose anything we want, and we can allow those positive qualities to shape our days. It is our choice.
April 1, 2016
When I was young, I dreaded this day. Sure, it was okay if I could fool someone else, but I didn’t want to be the fool, the target of someone else’s joke. I know, that isn’t very fair, but who really wants to be seen as the fool?
Historically, court jesters were those who did want to, at times, be seen as the fool,
although much of their function was as entertainers. Their actions and even their garb provided a context for their foolishness. Interestingly, in Shakespeare’s King Lear the court jester is the one person who can criticize the king, precisely because of his foolishness.
Paul the Apostle also writes about foolishness and fools. In his first letter to the church at Corinth, he speaks of God’s foolishness being wiser than human wisdom. Paul then later says that the apostles are fools for Christ. The whole idea is rather counter-intuitive, and yet it also makes sense. We indeed have to set aside our own wisdom to grasp the truth of Paul’s words.
There is a sense too in which the church engages in foolishness, in the way that Paul uses the word. We gather believing in a God whom we don’t see, in the resurrection of Jesus when it goes against common sense, in the ability of the church to touch lives in a world where the church is often not welcome. And yet, we in the church do also choose to be fools for Christ.
I can do that because I experience the presence and love and power of God in my life in ways that transcend the usual seeing and hearing of things. I can and do believe in the Resurrection, because I trust the testimony of those who were there, and I know deep within my being that it is true. I have spent my life engaged in the work of the church because I believe that the church has gifts to offer to the world. By Paul’s definition, I am a fool. Hopefully in living that out I also have some of the characteristics of the court jester.
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