Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Nouns in Perspective

I am sorry I am late getting this posted, but I decided it was important for me to spend some quality time with my daughter last night. It was not more important that this was posted on Monday rather than Tuesday morning, than to be able to spend some time with her.

We didn't do anything important, most of the really good quality time spent with our children isn't doing something important or even a learning experience - although I am all about those things as well. Most of the quality time spent with anyone, but especially our children, is generally those times without agenda or even a plan. We simply watched a favorite movie, did some simple craft project, and ate chips and queso and strawberry shortcake - yummy! The craft project wasn't pressing, just something I saw shopping earlier and thought we could do together. The movie was watched in the bedroom where we could curl up together and repeat every line in the movie word for word because we had watched it so many times before. The food was just the things we like to eat, but didn't take a whole lot of work. Little things - important time.

I saw a church sign yesterday that said:

"Love people
not things.
Use things
not people"

I thought of learning nouns - I learned that nouns are a person, a place or a thing. Taking out places - you are left with people and things - we get confused about these two, but this church sign seemed to put it in perspective. We tend to get things out of order with people and vice versa. We tend to rationalize the loss of perspective like, "I am working all this overtime to provide things for my family." When all your family really wants is you. We really do love things and the money that buys them. This isn't new, you want to know how I know that - Jesus talked about people getting money out of the proper priority with people.

Mary anointed Jesus' feet with expensive ointment or perfume. Judas (who we have the ability to know was a traitor) complained that the perfume could have been sold for a lot of money and...oh yeah, given to the poor. Yes, money is good, yes, being able to help the poor is good, but Mary was honored throughout the gospels as the one who put Jesus before money.

Do we put Jesus before our money? Do we put time with our family before money? Because really things is just what money can buy, especially in our time. We get confused, but just as when Judas was confused, Jesus has the answer. Jesus comes first, our family comes next, everything else comes in the proper perspective if we don't get these two confused.

Is your life in the proper perspective?

Monday, April 21, 2008

Planting and Pruning

It's that time of year! It's the time of year we crawl out of the darkened house, and bask in the sunlight. It's the time of year I sit on the back porch rocking in my swing which is my haven. It's the time of year I look around my back yard and say, "hmmm, needs plants." And it's the time of year I go buy lots of bedding plants and dig away in the dirt happily to my heart's content. I love planting. I really can't afford to plant as much as I would like. So, I have my typical areas and pots around my back porch. Basically, I think I like 'piddlin' in the dirt.

I like tending plants as well, not that I am very good at it, but I have had a few established plants that I try to nurture as best I can. One spring I had a very unruly Rose of Sharon. It was growing up all wild in a chain link fence around the driveway. It wasn't in a very good spot, and it had dead vines intertwined with the live ones. But in spite of, or maybe because of, the mess that it was in, it had some of the sweetest blooms. A few of my friends tried to talk me into cutting it down, but I liked the plant. Maybe it reminded me of me a bit, a little wild and unruly but surely there was something redeemable...

So, one fine Spring day I took a set of pruners and started to work on this poor plant. As I am trying to clean out all the dead branches, all the while being fought off by the rest of the plant, and as I am pruning back the wild and unruly vines, God is speaking.

John 15 speaks of God tending vines. These verses began to flood my brain, and I don't even remember committing them to memory!

‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. (John 15:1-7)

Meanwhile, I am plugging away and my pruning...snip, snip. And then, as my brain is prone to do, it begins wandering and thinking of some of the most peculiar thoughts...snip, "hmnnn, I wonder if it hurts the vine as I prune it." Snip, snip, snip..."why did all those branches die, while the rest of the plant looks pretty good." Tug, tug, "hmmmm, and all the dead branches are down around the base, near the root...they must keep the new branches pretty choked off." And on, and on the thoughts rolled as I snipped away on the long unruly branches and tugged the dead ones out.

Then, as only God can, I hear a still, small voice... "maybe the vine knows that what you are doing is for its own good." Snip, snip. "Sometimes you have to get rid of the dead stuff that weighs you down, so you can really grow!" Tug, tug. "Sometimes you need to prune away the unruly parts so you can produce prettier blooms." Snip, snip.

Then, I began to see! I was going through some interesting things at this time in my life. It would have been easy to see these things as a punishment from God, or trials to make me stronger, but that wasn't what was going on at all...I was being pruned. And over all the pruning wasn't painful. It was more painful to carry around dead baggage with me. I was more painful for my life to be out of control, especially running out of control and away from God. It was actually quite comforting to know that I was being pruned, because it meant that I was redeemable.

My Rose of Sharon flourished and was there when I moved away from the house. It was still in an inconvenient place, so I don't know if the next tenants cared for it or not. I remember that the blooms that I thought were so sweet before were even sweeter after it had been shown some attention and care.

Aren't we all that way...a little unruly at times, in need of pruning...maybe even need to clear out some dead branches. But don't worry, pruning hurts less than carrying around all the garbage.

Just a lesson I learned from the Gardener of Life.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Touchstone

Do you remember the legend of the touchstone? According to that ancient legend, if you could find the touchstone on the coast of the Black Sea and hold it in your hand, everything you touched would turn to gold. You could recognize the touchstone by its warmth. The other stones would feel cold, but when you picked up the touchstone, it would turn warm in your hand.

Once a man sold everything he had and went to the coast of the Black Sea in search of the touchstone. He began immediately to walk along the shoreline picking up one stone after another in his diligent and intentional search for the touchstone. However, after several days had passed, he suddenly recognized that he was picking up the same stones again and again. So he devised a plan...pick up a stone, if it is cold, throw it in the sea. This he did for weeks and weeks.

Then one morning he went out to continue his search for the touchstone. He picked up a stone, it was cold...he threw it into the sea. He picked up another stone...cold! He threw it into the sea.

He picked up another stone...it turned warm in his hand, and before he realized what he was doing...he threw it into the sea!

This parable is a good example of how we routinely going about our Christian lives. We might have something come along and warm us and we too quickly toss it aside. Absentmindedly, mechanically, nonchalantly...we toss aside that very thing that we are searching for, craving, that one moment we are willing to give everything to gain.

Don’t let your Christian life become rote. Live in the moment. Dwell on the experience. Endeavor to understand the symbolism. Savor the journey.

Christians often complain of the lack of spirituality in their lives, all the while they are blindly missing the opportunities presented to them. They become too caught up in the argument of time, by wasting time arguing. They fuss over the funding of programming and missions, and miss the bountiful reward which comes from giving. Christians even plead with God to reveal himself in their lives and miss the opportunity to see him present in the worship service in the way of service, word, sacrament, and giving.

Are you missing the warmth, because you too quickly threw away the gift?

Monday, April 7, 2008

Interesting Juxtaposition of Thought

This morning an interesting juxtaposition of thought happened to me. It went this way:

Last evening I had a friend from out of town stay with us, and after spending the day with her yesterday, this morning we had more great conversation. (Thanks Lala!)

I also read in my daily devotional this sentence: "The Christian faith is community. The invitation of the community of faith is to learn of Christ and to implement that learning." (Dorothy Watson Tatum)

Later that morning I attended a funeral for a well-beloved woman from our community.

Now, you may be asking me what does one of these have to do with the other. I sometimes ask myself a similar question when these really strange thoughts come up.

I was sitting in the funeral listening to the preacher talk about how this woman always called everyone "kid" and he often wondered when he would reach grown-up status. Personally she called me "sugar" all the time. He talked about the smiles she always had for everyone. She worked at the local grocery store/diner for a week shy of thirty years. She knew everyone, and according to the preacher, always found something good about everyone, she just had to dig a little with some!

As I was listening to the stories of community, friends and family (what a huge family!) that surrounded this woman, and how love was a theme in her life, my mind started to tie these things together. We who claim the name Christian often forget that important part of our faith. Jesus tells us that we will be known (as Christians) by our love for one another. Of course it is easy to love the "Lalas" in our lives, those we love to share time and stories with, those whom we welcome into to our homes and hearts. But what about those people we do not know as well? Do we live our lives in such a way that God's love is shared with all we meet? And then what about those that we do know, and quite frankly, do not like? Maybe they do not think like us or maybe they (as my Aunt Ludy would put it) have been 'ugly' to us. Do we live our lives in such a way that God's unconditional love is shared with all we meet? Then there are those who are fellow Christians...fellow travelers on the journey of faith...but maybe we have theological differences. Can we agree that we see things differently and be known as followers of Christ because we show love and acceptance despite our differences?

As Dorothy Watson Tatum put it, we are to invite others to learn about Christ and then facilitate that learning. Are we inviting others (seemingly to mean all others) to "learn about Christ?" Or are we only inviting those that are easy, those like us, those with similar socioeconomic status or those we feel we can 'rescue?' Are we facilitating their learning, or promoting our own agendas?

Of course, we are to be known by our love for each other and we feel that we exemplify this Christian quality, but I would invite you to look deeper, to question yourself as this interesting juxtaposition of thought has invited me to do as well.