Missing Things

My concentration and ability to focus are slowly returning, and as I think and heal I have been struck by how much I was taught to despise myself. I grew up learning that I was depraved and only redeemable if God felt like it. That just by being born I was worthy of destruction. This wasn’t an overt message, no it was a very well packaged and incremental build up to what is called, in those spheres most influenced by Calvinist thought, total depravity. Total depravity meant that even the best that I did was unbearably evil to a Holy God, and that only by being chosen could I live. That God chose some to live and some to die, and that no matter what we were nothing. God didn’t love us really, he just pitied some. When I learned to hate myself, loving others was difficult, because even if I was chosen for God’s pity, those other wretches on the outside weren’t. If I wasn’t worth loving, “they” surely weren’t.

God, how screwed up is that?

As I studied and spent time in the scripture I saw a different message proclaimed. I saw a message that was truly good news. I saw that from the beginning we were created and acknowledged as very good: “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.” Genesis 1:31a Nowhere in the chapters that follow does God change his mind about the goodness of creation. Are there hard consequences to the way humanity has messed up? Of course, but nowhere did that change God’s love for us or the universe. What we see throughout the pages and writings to come is all the things God does to bring restoration of relationship, finally culminating in God’s own self-sacrifice to redeem and show as powerless the worst of what humans are capable of. Paul the Apostle goes further than I in saying that “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39 Wow!

I thought I did a great job of loving God and neighbor, but there was a love that was missing. When asked what the greatest commandment was Jesus said:

28One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” 29Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; 33and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’ —this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question. Mark 12:28-34 http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=359537346

There is a third love hidden here that is bound to the others. We must love our neighbors, yes, as we love our selves. This is where I failed for so long. I no longer beat myself up over this, but instead remind myself when those voices from my past rise up within me that Jesus came to demonstrate the love of God, that all are worth loving, even me. It is incredible that I still feel the need to add that qualifying “even”, but I am growing in the knowledge that God truly loves me exactly as I am, and that the same is true for all of creation. It is that reminder that enables me to love my enemy, even when that enemy so often is myself.

Peace With “Them”

From Pixabay, by Ksar El Kebir. Click photo for original.

From Pixabay, by Ksar El Kebir. Click photo for original.

There “They” are, walking down the street in my neighborhood. Who do “They” think “They” are? Coming into my place as if “They” belonged here, coming into my faith, my country, my neighborhood, my screen, my mind! Why can’t “They” go somewhere else, be someone else, or be more normal like me? Why do “They” persist in believing, behaving, and thinking so strangely? Why do “They” have to be so strange? Why can’t “They” just accept that “They” are wrong?

I call the above sentiments the voice of anti-shalom in my head, the voice of division and wholesale devaluing of the image of God that is borne in “the stranger.” One of the key pieces of Christian theology is that every human being bears the image of God, that there is no person that does not, in some way, reflect the divine image. In other words, when I allow myself to fear the strangeness of the stranger I miss out on the way that person can uniquely usher me into the presence of God.

So, who are “They?” Really, who are those others who we find the most difficulty in seeing the divine image? I suspect that for some of you, I am part of that “They,” or maybe you are part of my “They.” For some reason, we humans feel the need to place people into categories and define them by others we have encountered or heard about in that category. We have many names for this behavior that end in “ism”, and it has become more and more convicting to me that Jesus sees something very different when he looks at this person or group for whom I feel disdain or fear.

In 2001 I began to be convicted to practice a new spiritual discipline to start building the Shalom of God in my heart. This discipline radically changed me and has been painful at times, but it has enabled me to obtain some of the peace that passes understanding. After the September 11th attacks the Holy Spirit began convicting me to pray for those involved. I wrote down a few names like Osama bin Laden and al-Queda and began to pray for God’s image to be visible to me in them. This earned me some very strange looks and the opportunity to practice the discipline a little closer to home, but I felt a sense of peace I hadn’t before.

The love of God began to drive out the fear of those “scary” others, and opportunities opened for friendships and relationships that weren’t thinkable to me before the Shalom of God’s love began to be welcomed into my heart. I would love to tell you that the work of Shalom is finished in my heart, but since I am still breathing there is quite a bit of work left to do. Now though, when I read, hear, or feel that command to welcome the stranger I think “The stranger the better. Let’s do this.”

I would love to invite you to practice this discipline with me and share how it impacts you.

  • Take some time to pray and ask God to help you discern and write down the name of someone or group that is strange to you or that you have a reflexive distaste for.
  • Now that you have this person or group in mind take some time to pray and ask God to reveal exactly how the divine image is revealed in that person or group.
  • Put a piece of paper or sticky note with the names or group somewhere you will see it every day, and whenever you do ask God to help you see how the divine image is present in those whose name or group identity you have written.
  • Whenever you encounter someone in that group or that person ask God to help you see that person or group through the lens of divine love.

I pray that this will be as transforming for you as it has been for me.

Clearness Committee How to

I was asked by the folks over at QuakerSpeak.org to collaborate on a video about pulling folks together to find clarity on a decision. Here is a very well put together video:

Ongoing Recovery

I still have no memory of my accident other than brief memories of an ambulance and flying in a med-evac chopper. My wife still is dealing with the trauma of seeing me injured, as are my kids. My body is still slowly traveling the path to recovery, and I have learned more about the aftermath of concussion than I ever wanted to. I will begin writing again soon, but am still pretty hit or miss in terms of mental energy and migraines. I have begun getting my mental process flowing again by editing the Godspace Blog, and am enjoying the diversity of perspective there. I recently recorded a video for Quaker Speak that I will link to when it goes live.

It might be another couple of months or a couple weeks, but thank you for your support thus far.

Gil

Video

Lament In Recovery

I am trying video blogging since the broken finger makes typing hard and slow.

Blank Spaces

I just discovered some blank spaces in my perception. I began a gorgeous bike ride from The incredibly beautiful rim of Crater Lake Oregon. It was beautiful, downhill and everything was going smoothly. It was going to be an 87 mile ride through a beautiful chunk of creation. I vaguely remember awakening in an ambulance waiting for the med evac chopper.I remember pieces of the ride in the chopper. I don’t remember landing. There are many holes in my recollection of last Saturday. I am told that my life was saved by my helmet, the ranger who found me on the side of the road, and that most of the damage is focused on one section of my face. 

First of all, let me thank that ranger. My wife was the second person on the scene and the ranger was giving the bloody mess of my face CPR. Whoever you are I owe you my life and I am deeply grateful for your hard work in saving me. I know you were just doing your job, but your exemplary performance of your job means that my girls got to give me hugs today. 

EMTs: You don’t get nearly the credit you deserve for the work you do. The trauma you face every day means that people like me who can’t even remember any of your faces are here to read bedtime stories to their kids. Your professionalism got me transported stablely to the surgeons who could put me together again. Kudos friends, I owe you my life as well. The ER surgeons did an amazing job of putting my face back together and while I still look like a bloody mess, at least the blood is mostly scabs.

These holes in my memory are scary things. When I look at my bike, I know that something serious happened. I know that: that is indeed my shoe jammed in there like that, but somehow my foot is only lightly bruised. 

I know that yes, those forks are bent backwards and have no idea what kind of force would be needed to cause that degree of bend in metal. While these holes are explained with the word concussion, I still wonder what is in those gaps. I want to know what caused this so I can avoid that in the future. I really, really never want to regain consciousness in the back of an ambulance wondering how I got there. 

I have a long way to go towards health, and this will probably be a bit more than $10,000 out of pocket for the dental work and hospital stays. If you would like to help you can contribute at YouCaring.

Listening to My Daughters Pray

In a recent blog post (Dear God Time) I shared our family bedtime ritual. The key pieces of our bedtime prayers are in asking my kids who they want to thank God for, who they want to pray for, and what part of the beautiful creation they are thankful for or want to pray for. This has become a time of holy listening for me as I get to hear my daughters’ perspective on what is important, who really needs prayer, and to hear their words of faith and wonder.

One key practice in listening well to their faith is not to put words in their mouths, but to allow them to direct these pieces of prayer. By asking them to initiate I get to hear who the really special people are. My girls have a very short list of people who they are especially thankful to God for, and I have not yet made their list. What I have found is that they list off the people who have gone out of their way to build connection, not the default family members, but the people from outside who have especially invested time and love into them. I have learned through listening to my girls who the treasures are in their lives, the surrogate aunts and grandparents and surrogate grandparents who they know love them. I have come to treasure these friends above and beyond because they love above and beyond.

My girls’ “pray for” list is equally illuminating to me. I get to hear about the bullies and the bullied, the pieces of hurt that I miss, but my kids see. I hear them pray for friends that have moved away, old church folks from my previous call, and I get this incredible window into the compassionate heart of my children. By listening to their compassion I have learned who I might have missed, and how often I miss. I also get to hear them wrestle with things they have heard about that they don’t quite grasp and are confused about in others and by listening to their confusion I can begin to wrestle with my own. Given free rein to bring anything or anyone to God, my girls do, and I have learned a lot about the childlike faith of lament and bringing “owies” to be kissed by the presence of God.

The last piece of listening really taps into childlike wonder at things we adults stopped noticing a long time ago. During our prayers for the beautiful world there was a six month period of time in which one of my girls was thankful for the clouds that give us rain, snow, sleet, hail, and shade from the sun. For how the clouds turn pretty colors and make fun shapes. Six months of wonder at something I occasionally swear at. What a perspective shift it is to be given the gift of listening to wonder and awe. Over time there were thanks for dogs, mountains, waterfalls, dogs, forests, sheesh dad take a hint dogs, beaches, and any body of water larger than 3 inches. Pacific City

We tapped into that wonder when at her first time to the ocean our youngest looked out with wide eyes and shouted “Puddle!” and prayed for that huge “puddle” for weeks.

I have found that listening to the prayers of my children has opened my eyes to a joyous wonder in being a child in God’s loving arms. Sometimes I even get to model that love, but most awesomely, I get to rest in that love as I listen to the prayers of my children.