Monday, October 12, 2020

On Columbus and Motives

It was 528 years ago today that Christopher Columbus first came ashore on the island we know as San Salvador. Happy Columbus Day.

He and his crew bravely set sail to find a new route to an Old World. But they actually found a New World. Columbus never knew what he had found. In fact Columbus made three more trips to the New World, always persuaded that he was exploring southeast Asia. 

For centuries Columbus has been celebrated in this New World. Today's his day. Countries and cities are named by him and for him. In recent times we have rethought his status as a hero. He seems to be a man of great contradictions.

On the one hand he wanted to claim his discoveries for Christ, bringing Christendom to savages. On the other hand, he and his crews took all the riches they could find and treated many indigenous peoples savagely. His discoveries ushered in a new age of colonization, in which European nations employed native tribes to harvest riches of resources.

So, was Columbus a good guy or a bad guy? It's complicated. Like all of us he was a complicated person. We may never know his true motives. His bravery and leadership led to important discoveries. His greed and cruelty led to centuries of exploitation. There is no simple answer to the character of Columbus. He was a complex person. We can't dismiss him as evil any more than we can hail him as flawless.

We also need to be careful when judging history. History is complicated, just as people are complicated. If Columbus had not discovered the New World, someone would have. How might have history unfolded differently? We can never know. Rather than harshly judging historical events, we ought to learn what has happened and recognize our own responsibilities today. Were wrong committed? Of course. Is there something we can do today to correct historical wrongs? Let's make appropriate changes today. 

More importantly, let's evaluate our own times--policies, practices, laws, traditions--and commit to do what is right today. Future generations will certainly find fault with us in the 21st century. Let's find those flaws in our systems now, and do what is good.

And on the issue of motives: I don't know what motivated Columbus. Often, I don't know what really motivates me.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Pandemic Observations

Yogi Berra said, "You can observe a lot just by watching." Here are some of of my recent observations.

Construction seems to be moving along just fine. I see road work, commercial building, and home construction everywhere.

From political ads, I now know that all politicians are alternately saints and Satan.

The COVID-19 statistics are almost worthless, because we don't really know what they mean. If our positivity rate is 5%, that's good unless we are testing a lot of people who don't need a test. Or it's a bad thing if we want to have herd immunity. But then herd immunity includes people who are not COVID positive, but have antibodies. What are we really measuring, now?

In some public places no one notices if you are wearing a mask or not. In other places, you get dagger gazes with a bare face.


Some industries are killing it in the pandemic, like Amazon and Netflix.

Other industries are struggling, like theaters and gyms.

Some people are making adjustments and finding a new normal.

Others are figuratively holding their breath until everything gets back to the old normal. Which it never will.

The current normal will not be the final new normal. But we don't know what the new normal will be or when we will get there. Or if we will even know it when we get there.

Life used to be more predictable than it is now.

The pandemic stress has shown where a lot of weaknesses are, in families, businesses, industries, churches, systems.

Sports seem less important than ever. Unless your kid plays. Then sports are very important and you miss them.

I'm going to keep observing. And I also want to jump in and get involved. Sometimes you can really make a difference just by doing something.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Knee on the Neck, part II

I’m doing a gut-check on how I would respond when faced with difficult moral decisions. Sometimes following the rules and norms is the wrong thing to do. See my previous post, Knee on the Neck, part I.

Here’s the next scenario.

Now I’m back in history. I’m in the mid-19th century, in the American South. I have grown up here and learned the culture, the way things are. There is nothing to question about our practices. Slaves are slaves. Whites are whites. It’s just how things are. Then I overhear a conversation. Someone from another state expresses sympathy for the slaves. Well, I feel compassion for them, and want to make their situation better, but there’s only so much you can do, right? You can help a one-legged man carry his load, but you can’t give him a new leg. 

As the situation led to the Civil War, I would have listened to both sides of the debate. I would have recognized that in this imperfect world, people have different circumstances. You must have followers and leaders. You have a whole way of life that has gone on for centuries. You can work to make it better, but you can’t undo everything. People have the right to their own opinions. I may dislike slavery, but you have your right to support it. 

Even if I stood against slavery, I could not go to war against my life-long friends. I certainly could not go fight with the Yankees. They want to oppress us Southerners worse than we treat our slaves. I hear from preachers and politicians that our way of life is right. And we ought to fight for it. No one can tell us what to do. God approved of slavery in the Bible, I’m told. I can have a clear conscience before God and men and fight for the Confederacy. That’s what all my friends are doing. 

Why do I think I would have acted that way? Because most of the South did just that. They went along with the prevailing wind of culture and common practice. They didn’t want to change. Even if they opposed slavery, they believed it could never be abolished. They had all the arguments from religion, politics, and economics. Nothing could really be done. All the solutions looked worse than the problem. How many ways can we rationalize evil? Plenty. 

I want to be the kind of person who can stand up and do what is right. I want to be the cop who would shove his boss off the neck of a dying man. I want to be the preacher who will come out and condemn systematic oppression, who will warn about blind patriotism, who will announce a calling higher than the U.S. Constitution and a two-party system. 

I can imagine my actions in difficult situations. But I want to do better now, make a difference today. I want to recognize when it’s wrong to do the normal thing. I want the guts to find the right thing: the loving, compassionate, merciful, challenging, difficult, honest, Christ-like thing. 

If this were easy, then everybody would be doing it.


Saturday, August 15, 2020

Knee on the Neck, part I

The murder of George Floyd rocked our country. It has reignited the movement for racial justice and (re)opened the eyes of many white people, like me. I now see that the battle against racism in my own heart must last a lifetime. That’s how distorted my perception is.

We can’t let allow ourselves gradually to drift back into complacency about our social systems and prevailing attitudes in America. Now that we’ve had a few months to metabolize the tragedy, search our souls, and begin to address our deep-seated societal issues, I have some confessions to make.

 Acknowledging these personal reflections might help me overcome my racism. I am a racist, and I daresay that virtually everybody is. We all notice the outward appearance of people, and we tend to make assumptions about people based on their appearance. Maybe my definition of racism is too broad, but I’m sticking with it.

Here’s my first gut-wrenching question for myself. What would I have done if I had been one of Derek Chauvin’s rookie partners on May 25, 2020? I imagine I would have respected that 19-year veteran of the Minneapolis Police Dept. He has helped me learn the ropes. He seems to care about me. And, most of all, he knows what he’s doing.

When he puts his knee on George Floyd’s neck, I see that he’s doing his job. He’s effectively restraining this big guy. I take notes. Maybe I wouldn’t handle it that way, but I’m a rookie. What do I know? Then the knee stays on the neck. The suspect seems more cooperative. The knee presses harder.

Isn’t that enough? I believe in the rule of law, but I also believe in life, I believe in compassion. I care about the people of the city. “To protect and serve.” I say something to Officer Chauvin. I suggest letting the man off the pavement. I’m getting really concerned. Something doesn’t feel right. But Chauvin knows what he’s doing, remember? I must be over-reacting. I’ll ask questions at the end of the shift.

Here’s my fear: I’m afraid that I would have done exactly what those young officers did: protest mildly, and let it go. I’m afraid that I would assume that I was wrong about the severity of the situation. I’m afraid I would not have the guts to get in Chauvin’s face and tell him to back off. I’m afraid that I would never have shoved him off of Floyd in time to save the man’s life. I’m afraid that I would have been too timid, too unsure, too compliant.

I want to be better than that. I want to be more bold than that. I want to stand up and push back, in the moment, on the spot.

Next time, another gut-wrenching question.


Wednesday, August 12, 2020

The Church Con Job

I recently spoke with a friend about how church is going. This person attends a large church which has regathered outdoors for worship. She expressed disappointment that a lot of young families have not returned to worship.

These families have tasted guilt-free freedom on Sunday mornings. They now have whole weekends without the pressures and responsibilities of church activities. Apparently some families enjoy this kind of extended discretionary time. It will be hard, my friend said, to pull them back into church life.

My friend was well-intentioned, and I don't mean to distort her heart's concern. But it's time for churches and church leaders to do some soul-searching. Have we really conned people into giving up their free time so that we can count them in our numbers for worship and Bible study?

Now that virtually every Christian in America has tasted the weekend freedom of the nonreligious, have they really found something better than church? Maybe mere habit and social convention led many believers to gather religiously. Maybe most of us have never really known anything different than regular Sunday meeting rituals. Maybe something besides love for Jesus animated our Sunday routines.

And now the habit is broken. 

Or maybe the spell in broken.

If churches need to do a sales job to cajole the masses back into the pews, then count me out. 

This is a "come to Jesus" time about the real purpose of church. Is the purpose to gather a crowd? Or is the purpose to make disciples? Of course the word for "church" in the original language means "assembly" or "ones called out." But surely Jesus had more in mind than large groups singing songs and hearing speeches. 

The church is not just called out, but called together. The early church met daily, sold stuff to help the needy, and dedicated themselves to prayer. They cared about the poor and hurting. Their faith was a way of life. The world saw this love and dedication and longed to be a part of the fellowship.

The church stood up to bullies in government and religion. They announced the coming of the kingdom of God. They shared good news. God constantly shakes up the status quo with the power of Jesus.

Let's be a Church that cares about justice, intervenes for the poor, rejects rampant consumerism, challenges the people in power, and loves the unlovely. Let's help people find love and acceptance. Let's share the message of hope in Christ. Let's work together to end racism. Let's lift up each other when we feel discouraged. Let's help people find meaning and joy in daily life. Let's sacrifice our comfort to supply the needs of others. Let's introduce people to Jesus.

Then we will have something to sing about on Sundays: the God who transforms.

Monday, July 6, 2020

What Else is History Hiding?

No doubt, history is written by the winners. Who knows how many cultures have been eliminated or exterminated, without even a footnote in history? I suppose we will never know.

Winners write the history, but sometimes the other story gets told, even if it takes hundreds of years. In some cases, zealots want to rewrite history to support a specific bias. Other times, sincere students of history take a second look at the facts and find that important truths have been conveniently overlooked. 

  • The end of World War II looks much different from a Russian vs. American perspective. 
  • I wonder if anyone really knows what happened at the First Thanksgiving.
  • The great explorer Christopher Columbus had both noble and savage motives in his exploration.
  • The causes of the American Civil War included states' rights, but the rights in question were directly and indirectly tied to slavery.
  • The contributions of African Americans to the progress and culture of our nation are much more significant than I ever knew.
  • The treatment of Native Americans by the U.S. government has been horrifying and abusive: from taking land to massacres to forced exile.

These and other shameful episodes in American history don't need to be the lens through which we see America. But they also don't need to be entirely ignored or dismissed. Only when we acknowledge our mistakes can we begin to strive for real justice. We don't need to wallow in the muck of the past, but we dare not excuse it or ignore it.

I do wonder what else history is hiding. I have so much to learn.


Saturday, July 4, 2020

A Fourth to Remember

Our celebrations of freedom today will be remembered.

We have the freedom to assemble, but need to stay apart.

We remember our American heritage, but realize that some experience more freedom than others.

We have had weeks now to learn the history that we never knew: the coup in Wilmington, the massacre in Tulsa, the unfairness of red-lining, the countless stories of the justice system gone wrong. Actually the history has always been there, but we white Americans never wanted to look. I'm sorry that I waited so long to look and listen.

Last night my family watched the musical "Hamilton." It was an amazing blend of uncomfortable history, political drama, and enthusiasm for the American promise of freedom. This show gives me hope that there really are some ideals that all American share and that we can pursue together.

Our nation needs healing, but only after we face truth and care about justice.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."




Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Welcome to the Second Half of 2020

I don't need to tell you how bizarre 2020 has been so far. 

So, here are some hopes for the next six months.

I hope there is a football season.
I hope public schools can operate without traumatizing children.
I hope an effective vaccine for COVID-19 is developed by year's end.
I hope that people can gather at concerts, even indoors.
I hope that public places will stop feeling like pathogen breeding grounds.
I hope that families hold onto a greater sense of closeness.
I hope that we can leave behind some of the distractions that we have done without.

And, I hope that we can see better now what really matters.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Anti-Racist Education

Sometimes I'm a slow learner. I can't afford to be now. I've got so much to learn.

I want to thank my black friends for talking to me openly about this issue. I want to thank my daughter for posting a video by Nicole Walters that opened my eyes. I want to thank Chief for sending me videos that got through to my white mind. My friend Earnest opened up about his experiences through life as a black man in America. I'm sorry that I had not really asked him about it until now.

I have also had friends share with me a podcast that offers a different point of view, and one that I need to hear, even if I disagree.

It is not enough not to be a racist. I need to be anti-racist. I need to speak up. I need to notice injustice and do something about it.

I'm learning how the justice system and laws have worked to marginalize African Americans.

I have prayed and cried a lot this week.

I want to thank my black friends for being patient with me and loving me, even though I have no clue what they experience every single day.

I am so blessed with friends. They remind me that Jesus loves me, even when I'm ignorant, even when I am blind and deaf. It's Jesus in them that allows them to love me.



Monday, June 1, 2020

Riots and Power

Some say that power solves all problems. 

A heavy hand of brute force can bring the masses into submission. Just ask Stalin, Mao, or Pol Pot. Their power came from brute force. Millions were executed in pursuit of their totalitarian visions.

I want to contrast the American experience with that. In our Declaration of Independence, we acknowledge that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are gifts from God. They are not rights bestowed by an all-powerful government. We cannot sustain American ideals at the point of a gun.

The unrest of today, although polluted with violence and looting, began in protest for justice. George Floyd became only the latest of black men to be murdered by law enforcement. This pattern must stop. Justice is the rallying point.

To point guns at American protestors is asking for trouble. The threat only escalates the tension and possibility for violence.

Please, let's not stop the fight for justice. Please, let us tone down the rhetoric. Let us vow to love and listen. Let us unite behind the truth that all men are created equal. 

Force is not the answer. Not the violence of riots. Not the fire power of the military. 


Thursday, April 30, 2020

Investment or Future Regrets?

The longer this pandemic goes, the more we miss doing normal things. We are waiting for the time to travel, shop, get haircuts, have reunions, and have funerals.

We want to eat out, go swimming, play sports, enjoy concerts.

The normal things of life bring comfort, hope, encouragement, balance, and joy. We miss these touchstones. In their absence, we must find other things to keep us sane.

We lean so much now on family, neighbors, phone calls, and faith. We are reading, walking, praying, resting.

Let's try to think of these months as a time of investment, not a season to be endured.

What are you investing in? In 12 months, you may find yourself thinking: "I wish I had spent that quarantine time doing ___________." Let's try to think of those things now, and really invest. This time is hard enough without creating future regrets.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Zooming by Me

I really miss meeting people in person. I have been Zooming up a storm lately, for all kinds of meetings. But I have to say that I get distracted so easily with that computer screen.

Oooh, I wonder if I have a new email.

Was that my phone vibrating?

Why not have a quick look at Facebook?

What's the stock market doing?

I'll have a look at the news headlines.

Wait...what were you saying? I was paying attention...mostly. I just missed one key thought. Or did I? I'm not sure. I think I can chime in with something appropriate. At least I can make you think I was paying attention.

I need to get a lot more disciplined with this virtual connecting stuff.

Let's get together when we can. When will that be?

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Saying Goodbye

Goodbye. God be with you.
Now, you are with God.
So many laughs, so many stories.
You were a magnet for children.
People knew you cared.
Your presence brought peace, assurance.
Rooms lit up every time you walked in.

Now heaven lights up.
It's your stories, your smile.
Now you can hug again, even if we can't.
You paint those word pictures, effortlessly.
You delight in the reunions.
You can finally ask Jesus all those questions.

You have left our hearts full.
But you have left a hole in our lives.
No one can fill your cowboy boots.
May we embrace life with your joy, exuberance, abandon, hope, and faith.
Most of all, may we shower the love of God on all we encounter.
You showed us how.


Monday, April 27, 2020

Designing Your Life

Tomorrow we start a Zoom group that could change your life. We will be working through Designing Your Life, by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. These guys teach in the Stanford School of Design, where students learn about the design process. Students learn about design theory, and apply it to engineering, urban layout, automotive design, manufacturing systems, etc.

Evans and Burnett realized that design theory could also be applied to people's lives. So they introduced a course at Stanford called, "Designing Your Life." After years of teaching this course to full classrooms, the profs decided to write a book, so that everyone could access this life-changing process.

I read this book three years ago, but have not yet worked through it with others. And that is the key ingredient to design: enlisting input from others. You see, the design process is a team effort. No one person invented the iPhone. It took a team. And it still takes a team to tweak it and update it.

With our own lives, others can see our blind spots. They can help us think outside the box. They can put pieces together that we overlooked.

So, I invite you to jump into this study with us at noon on Tuesdays, via Zoom.

Shoot me an email, if you would like to get in on it. david@crossroadsnc.com

Can't wait!

Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life ...

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Hope

What brings you hope? Hope comes from belief that something good may happen.
We can hope in circumstances: I hope it won't rain.
We can hope in people: I hope she remembers my birthday.

Hope in people is based on relationship and character.

Hope in circumstances is based on experience, history, and probability.

We need hope today. We can hope in the U.S. economy, our employer, our skills, the stock market, the medical community and all kinds of circumstances. That may be hope well placed.

But our hope in God is much different. We hope that God will show up, that he will redeem the losses we have endured, that he will walk with us through this trial, that he will bring resurrection from the death of COVID-19.

So may your hope be in him.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Love Your Neighbor

It looks like this pandemic is helping us love our neighbors. I met some of mine today, as folks were outside, greeting each other, catching up, and even celebrating a birthday. It's hard to love your neighbors if you don't know them. I have to start somewhere.

If we don't practice better loving-of-our-neighbors, then I think we are really missing one of the main lessons of this plague.

I saw today that the city of Miami has gone seven weeks without a homicide. It's the first time that has happened since 1957. That looks a lot like loving neighbors. Or at least not hating neighbors.

How has your neighbor-loving improved this spring?

Friday, April 24, 2020

Long Hair

Yes, it's been over four weeks since I got my hair cut. Actually I lucked into perfect timing with my last shearing on March 23. When I walked into the barbershop, the governor had just announced the closure of all such establishments in two days. My regular appointment happened to land two days before the order took effect.

It has been interesting to see what my hair does as it grows. I'm finding cowlicks and waves that I never noticed before. I may end up parting my hair again. For years I have not paid much attention to my hair, and virtually never had a bad hair day. But now, I need to make sure it behaves. Of course, there's nowhere to go but the grocery store and Zoom meetings, so hardly anyone gets to see my hair anyway.

I'm sure that most folks have much more issues with their hair. I don't mean to complain. I just want to get a nice trim before I need a ponytail.

Or maybe I'll just shave my head.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Book Review: Reframation

I just finished reading Reframation: Seeing God, People, and Mission through Reenchanted Frames. This book was published at the end of 2019, but I believe it is eerily prophetic of our current reframing of all of society. The authors, Alan Hirsch and Mark Nelson team up to show how the Western version of Christianity is smaller than what God actually communicates through the scriptures and the life of Christ.

We in the West believe that we have fully captured, categorized, and communicated the gospel. But our analytical framework leaves out key ingredients of the good news, including mystery, wonder, and astonishment.

The authors contrast three major perspectives in understanding the Good News. In the Western "frame," we see the gospel in terms of guilt and innocence. Thus our explanations of the gospel center around legal terms and personal accountability. Jesus takes our guilt and proclaims us innocent.

In the Eastern "frame," the good news is seen in terms of honor and shame. We can't share another person's guilt, but we can share their shame. For example, a child could be ashamed of a parent's crimes, and be damaged by that shame. Jesus also frees us from shame and restores our honor.

The authors find that in South America and Africa, there is a third perspective of the gospel. In this "Southern frame," cultures are wrapped up in the tension between the powerful and powerless. Those with this life perspective often need to move from bondage to freedom. Jesus can bring us more freedom than any army or emperor.

If we see the gospel through only one point of view, our gospel is too small. We need to stop reducing the Good News to points that matter most to us. It includes all of the above. Jesus' life, death, and resurrection bring us freedom from guilt, restoration of honor, and freedom from wicked power.

Further, this book calls us to a fresh, growing sense of awe and wonder in the presence of God. Our imaginations can be inspired by the Spirit and lead us to greater depths of love for the Lord.

I heartily endorse this book and thank Hirsch and Nelson for collaborating to bring this provocative work to the evangelical world. Our gospel has been too small.




Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Seeing Clearly

I keep hearing stories of the clear atmosphere around the world, the result of limited burning of fossil fuels. The Himalayan Mountains can be seen hundreds of miles away. Towns in China see the blue sky above, for the first time in generations. The air in New York City smells sweet like spring. The canals of Venice run so clear that people can see down to the depths.

The stillness of the internal combustion engine yields the clearness of the sky and water. Being still helps people see.

And we can also experience another kind of clarity. We can see our culture more clearly. We can see that we had such a dizzying pace of life that few could keep up. We see that we can survive without sports on TV. We can survive without going to the movie theater. We can survive without gathering for worship. We can even survive without haircuts. (Would it be a crime to cross state lines to get a haircut?) We can survive without classroom instruction.

We have the historic privilege and responsibility to add back to our lives, when this is over, only those things that we deem worthy of our time and resources. Some of us have been so busy all our lives that we never took inventory of our schedules. We sure have now.

Make sure that you take this opportunity to see clearly. See the story of your life. Do you like the story? If you want to change the story, there is no better time than today. See clearly where you are headed. See clearly where you have been.

Now envision where you want to go. This is the moment. Prepare now for the new you that emerges from the 2020 pandemic. This is your chance.




Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Personal Magic

I'm all about flattening the curve and keeping people healthy. But I miss being with people. Zoom meetings are better than nothing, but it's not the same.

I believe there is real, noticeable energy in the presence of people. Sometimes personal energy is positive, sometimes negative. But there is energy emanating from people. I'm sure you have noticed the presence of someone you could not see or hear. Maybe the energy is infrared heat. Maybe it's the electrical impulses of the neurological system.

To me, the science of it is almost irrelevant. People bring energy. We need that energy. Now we long for that energy. It doesn't translate well over computer screens.

It's almost like magic.


Monday, April 20, 2020

The System

So much has changed in just two months. And the system is trying to cope. Name the industry, and they are now scrambling.

The higher education industry realizes that their world will never be the same again. Some colleges have robust online offerings already. Now that's the only game in town. No one knows if colleges can allow students on campus in the fall. Some students are considering alternatives to traditional college.

The system of higher education is reeling. All their sources of funding are also struggling, including their endowments. Enrollment will surely be down in the fall. And it may never recover. If high school grads begin learning on line, they may opt out of college. Could there be a YouTube U?

And this is just one example of the system shaking. It may be crumbling. Similar tremors are felt in the worlds of sports, transportation, politics, and justice. Enough of their foundational pillars are damaged or temporarily removed.

We can now see that the system is rigged. Billion dollar corporations are cashing in on the multi-trillion dollar stimulus. Universities with billion dollar endowments are cashing in. Obviously the powerful want their cut. Meanwhile, the exploiters in the system are gaining hearts, and offering to help the exploited.

And some now see that the continued state of shutdown is an existential threat to the system. Our consumerism may not come back. Our way of rewarding greed may no longer be embraced. We may not crave entertainment or sports so much. We may not dash away to vacation spots so readily. We may not travel for business as much.

Those who worship the system realize that their god is threatened. And they are fighting back.

But the system has never been fair. It will never be entirely fair. But maybe with this restart it will be better. More compassionate, more caring, more relationship-oriented, more local, more giving, more peaceful. Less greedy, less materialistic, less shallow, less selfish. Slower. Motivated by meaning.


Sunday, April 19, 2020

Something to Lean On

Our society is built on touchstones--events, places, and people that we count on to be there for us.

There are touchstones on the calendar: holidays, birthdays, seasons, sports events, celebrations, days of the week. We count on certain things to happen at certain times. When our personal lives are chaotic, we can count on the familiarity those times and occasions. They are all part of the cadence and rhythm of our lives: Easter, Christmas, Memorial Day, football season, graduations, vacations, Sunday church. These touchstones help us reset and regroup. They help restore us to normal. We lean on them and count on them as never-changing. We never thought we would lose all these predictable points of reference. Most are gone for now, and we wonder when they will return.

There are also touchstone places. We can return to a house, a city, a park, a college and it brings back memories. Right now these touchstones are not removed, but we are removed from them.

People are also touchstones for us. We are also separated from them more than ever. Nearly everyone is hunkered down at home.

So, what touchstones are left for us now?

Nature
We have the natural changes of the days and seasons: the sun rises, spring comes, rain falls, gardens grow. The natural world continues as if there were no virus. We can find peace in the predictability and surprises of creation.

Family
Hopefully the people we love the most are at home with us. Or they are making an extra effort to connect. We are turning to the people we can count on. Call on those people who matter to you. Be there for family. Think about Bill Withers' "Lean on Me." We all need somebody to lean on.

God
There's nothing like a loss to turn our thoughts to the deep stuff. For many of us, this ruthless interruption may be a godsend. Without distractions, we can hear what God is saying. He has to be our foundational touchstone. He truly never changes.

It's time to do a gut-check on our touchstones.


Saturday, April 18, 2020

The Next Virus

We never thought this could happen. But it did. The scary thing is that it can happen again. We can create a vaccine for COVID-19. But there could be another virus, another new one that we have no immunity for.

At least we now know how to deal with it. We need lots more medical equipment, systems for dealing with economic disruption. And now we now know how to "social distance."

But with the possibility of harmful germs easily transmitted in public, our lives are forever changed. Even when the coronavirus is completely eradicated, we will always know that it could happen. And that knowledge will affect our attitudes in ways we cannot predict.

We will look back at our pre-pandemic lives with nostalgia, longing for the times of innocence when we could freely gather in public spaces, without a second thought.

This is just beginning. It will never be the same.


Friday, April 17, 2020

Brain Vacation

I have begun practicing daily centering prayer. Centering prayer, as I understand it, is coming before God in silence, just to be in his presence. This sounds so easy. But I find it very difficult.

My mind constantly churns on things--plans, people, ideas, regrets, dreams. It's hard for me to stop all those trains of thought. I never realized that mental silence is so difficult, until I began noticing my thoughts. I live with a torrent of mental activity. It's often chaotic. Sometimes it's like a loud buzz in my brain.

So, centering prayer is a brain vacation for me. It is time when I don't have to be solving problems, making plans, justifying my behavior, evaluating my work, worrying over whatever, regretting mistakes. I can just be before God.

I find him welcoming me. He's always glad to "see" me. He looks into my eyes with joy and approval. He reminds me that he likes me as I am. I can rest in him.

My brain vacations put life into perspective and keep me from being so overwhelmed. I still find centering prayer challenging, because my mind always wanders. But when I can rein in my mind, Jesus is always there, waiting to greet me.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Hopes for 2021

What will our society look like in April 2021? Here are some of my hopes:
  • A vaccination for coronavirus has been developed, and there is no significant risk of interaction in public.
  • Families are spending more time in meaningful interaction.
  • People are working more from home.
  • Traffic is much less congested in cities.
  • Churches are gathering for worship, but emphasizing serving in the community.
  • People have more margin in their schedules.
  • Children enjoy some organized sports, but have more time for unstructured play time.
  • Corporations pay more to their currently underpaid employees.
  • Corporations care about the well-being of their consumers.
  • College and pro sports continue as diversions, not big business.
  • People know their neighbors better than ever.
  • Many grow their own food in their own yards, and share with neighbors.
  • Food shoppers prefer food that is locally grown.
  • People value the privilege of ordinary life not hindered by germs.
  • The pace of life is slower.
  • People take more time to think.
  • People prioritize what really matters to them.
What do you hope for?

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

A Global Experiment

Countries around the world are coping with the COVID-19 pandemic as best they can. Some are severely curtailing any human interactions in public or private spaces. Some countries are less severe in their restrictions, allowing people to continue their lives more normally.

Authorities have to work through some grave cost-benefit analysis. If everyone avoided all human interaction, the spread of the disease would virtually cease. Lives would be saved.

But limited interaction obviously harms economies. We all know people who cannot work because of social distancing restrictions. At what point does economic deprivation also cause death? Some cannot afford food. Some cannot afford medicine. Some sink into depression because of money problems and loneliness. Economic hardship can also cost lives.

What is the right balance of social distancing and allowing economic transactions? This is such a difficult calculation with a new, highly contagious, deadly disease.

Which country will choose the best course of action, the course that saves the most lives? May we all seek wisdom and bravely try to do the right thing.




Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Capitalism’s Finest Hour

Our economic system has its flaws. Capitalism is based on property rights, enlightened self-interest, and freedom. But it can go wrong. Greed, abuse, and selfishness taint the system. The rich have the freedom to exploit the poor.

But something is changing. The big corporations seem to be showing genuine compassion for the little people. Companies are offering services for free. Utilities are forgoing shutoffs for power and water. Manufacturers are repurposing their plants (sometimes under duress) to make personal protective equipment and ventilators.

TV commercials are offering comfort and help from the big, rich companies.

So this could be capitalism's finest hour. This could be the time that big business demonstrates a motive other than greed. They can show compassion, mercy, and genuine caring.

God envisioned a society where there would be no poor among the people. While that's idealistic, I pray that our society might now be headed in the right direction. May this be a real paradigm shift for our economy and culture.

Love is more powerful than greed.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Anticipating Resurrection

Today we celebrated the resurrection of Jesus. He could never have risen from the dead if he had not died. Death leads to new life. When Jesus arose, his body was new. His resurrection body was curiously like and unlike his old. He had strange abilities to appear in locked rooms. He often was not recognized by the people who knew him best--until he revealed himself. His life was at a whole new level, after his resurrection.

We also anticipate the resurrection of normal life, here and around the world. When humanity rises from this economic and social hibernation, we have the opportunity to rise to a whole new level of humanity. We can care about what matters. We can express compassion to the hurting. We can move beyond greed and selfishness.

What an opportunity!


Saturday, April 11, 2020

Last of Lent

Today is the last day of Lent, the 46-day portion of the Christian calendar leading up to Easter. Many Christians celebrate this time with some sort of  fasting, giving up something to help them focus on Jesus' suffering on the cross. The last of Lent is Easter Saturday.

This Lenten season has required all people, Christian and non-Christian to give up more than we could have imagined. And this year's season of self-denial doesn't end with Easter.

The good news is that our efforts to stop the spread appear to be working. As infection curves flatten, we begin to consider when we may go back out in public.

Will it be a sudden release to all normal activities? Or will we be allowed gradually to resume our regular lives? We still don't know.

But we do know this: God uses death to bring new life. The death of Jesus allowed him to defeat death. Without his death, there could not have been a resurrection. The death of our normal way of life may give rise to a resurrection to new, better way of living.

That's my prayer.


Friday, April 10, 2020

Pandemic Good Friday

On the day that Jesus died, many felt the loss. The disciples lost their friend, their leader, their hopes of Jewish triumph. They lost their sense of direction and purpose. They lost their nerve, too. They holed up, hiding from those who pushed for Jesus' crucifixion. Everything was out of balance.

Maybe we have a better sense of Good Friday than ever before. We are holed up. Everything is out of balance. We wonder what's happening and when things will return to normal. We wonder what the new normal will be. We know it will be different.

Like the disciples, we have to trust God, in spite of a situation we could never imagine. We feel the loss of normal life, the loss of contact with friends and family, the loss of so much that we took for granted.

It was through loss that Jesus identified with humanity. He lost his friends' support. He lost the cheers of the crowd. He lost his trial. He lost his life.

And so in our loss, maybe we can feel Good Friday.

But we know that God brings resurrection!

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Evaluate Everything

When has everything in your life been different? Only now. Everything we do has been changed, all at the same time. This is the perfect time for reevaluating everything. And, as a bonus, most of us have time to do it.

How to evaluate:
  • Make time. To get started, set aside at least an hour, without distraction, alone.
  • Ask God to guide you. Pray for wisdom.
  • Be creative. Think big. Disregard limitations.
  • Take notes. Write down your thoughts. Make lists.
  • Take a break. Do it again.
  • Share your insights with someone you love.
  • Plan next steps.

What to Evaluate
  • Ask yourself: What kind of person am I? What am I like?
  • Consider your life in big categories, like Health, Relationships, Work, Play.
  • Make lists under each category. (For health, think physical, emotional, spiritual, social, etc.)
  • Think about where you have been, what you have done.
  • Consider what your experiences have prepared you for.
  • Think about those things you have always wanted to do or accomplish.
  • List things to stop doing. Were you too busy before? Drop some things.
  • List things to start doing. (Praying, writing, exercising, reading, playing music, etc.)

These are just some suggestions of ways to make the most of our season of stillness.
Let me know what you think!


Wednesday, April 8, 2020

A Holy Week to Remember

This year's Holy Week will be one we will always remember. Nothing is ordinary. Every action is intentional, from trips to the grocery store to online meetings to church virtual worship.

Since everything is intentional, we get to think about it.

So, let's think about Easter.

Think about Jesus' entering the heart of the religious community, at great peril.
Think about his teaching about love, sacrifice, and resurrection.
Think about his confrontations.
Think about his friends, and their reaction to his teaching and actions.
Think about the false accusations made against him.
Think about the way the authorities stirred up opposition to him.
Think about Judas' betrayal.
Think about his beatings.
Think about Peter's denial.
Think about Jesus' bleeding and suffering on the cross.
Think about his love and forgiveness for you.
Think about his rising from the dead.
Think about his resurrection life flowing through your life.

You want to remember this week!


Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Standoffish Distancing

I believe that social distancing is helping to flatten the curve. I try to keep my distance from folks, whenever I have to be in a store.

This week, at the suggestion of the White House, more people are wearing masks. With the masks and the 6-foot rule, we are distancing in more ways than we bargained for.

I have noted that as people keep their distance, they also avoid eye contact. In the South, folks are friendly and speak to people they don't know. I'm seeing less and less of that. We can't see each other's faces, except for their eyes. We are suspicious of everyone, because they may be infected.

Yesterday at Harris Teeter, a woman offered apologies as she asked me to reach a cereal box on the top shelf. When I agreed to help her, she offered me a sanitary wipe--I guess because, you know, coronavirus. I declined the wipe and fetched her cereal. She was very grateful and told me how her son (?) was a doctor in NYC. Wow.

So, maybe we just need to be ready to help, and love each other, from 6 feet and with masks. Maybe personal contact will seem more significant when the air is cleared.

In the meantime, I don't want to be standoffish.


Monday, April 6, 2020

Feel the Tension

These are strange days. Everything is cancelled. 

We have more time with our families. We have more time in our yards. People are thinking more locally. Seed companies report record sales as folks plan to grow their own food. 

Live is slower. Neighbors are meeting. 

At the same time, tech is coming front and center. Could tech actually make our lives simpler? Maybe.


I have to confess that the technology learning curve has been a challenge for me. I had never heard of Zoom three weeks ago. Now I have multiple Zooms every week. 

So these are strange days. Back to simplicity with the help of technology.

We are learning to be still and learning technology. Meeting our neighbors, and having meetings on computers. 

Feel the tension. Grow in it.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

How Priorities Change

One month ago politics stood front-and-center in the news cycle. After all, it is an election year. But now America is dealing with an actual crisis. This is not some argument about the size of government or foreign interference in American politics.

No, this is a real issue. A life-and-death issue. People are dying, and healthcare workers are meeting the challenge head-on, at great personal risk. Businesses are dying, while many proprietors are working to make payroll for employees who must stay home. State and local governments are suffering because tax revenues are way down.

This is a real issue, and it has brought America to its knees. We are praying like never before. This crazy situation brings out our creativity and our humility.

It turns out that we don't have all the answers. We have not completely tamed nature. There are limits to human strength. There's no app or pill or legislation that can fix this situation. At least not yet.

So our priorities are changing. As they change, let's remember what really matters. What's that, you ask?

We need to be asking God what really matters.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

A Falling House of Cards?

So much depends on everything else. Consider the surprises of the COVID crisis:

Newspapers have little ad revenue, because no one has anything to advertise. Shops are closed and events are cancelled. At the same time, people want the news more than ever.

State governments have little money to spend because sales tax revenue has tanked. No one can make purchases on which to pay taxes.

Hospitals are stretched to the limit, but their revenue is down. Elective surgeries have been cancelled for weeks, and payments for those surgeries bring in millions in revenue.

Police forces get sick, navy ships become infected, soldiers need face masks to protect them from germs.

Parks and playgrounds are closed.

Then there is the falling stock market, the $2 trillion stimulus paid for entirely by government borrowing, sports leagues on hold, festivals and concerts cancelled, small businesses struggling, schools closed, graduations postponed.

Everything depends on everything. The economy is a complex ecosystem, all intertwined. Let's hope it is an ecosystem, not a house of cards. Something invisible has invaded and threatened the whole thing.

And we are learning to depend on people again. If the whole house of cards falls, we will really need each other.

Friday, April 3, 2020

The COVID Generation

I have known a lot of people who grew up during the Great Depression and World War II. These events shaped folks for the rest of their lives.

Both the Depression and the War created scarcity. And this scarcity changed the way a whole generation operated in this world.

I wonder if the youth of today will be shaped similarly by this pandemic. They may always avoid large crowds, and carefully wash their hands. They may remember wistfully the days before the virus when people would hug and shake hands without a second thought.

If the social distancing lasts for months and months, we may see a lasting imprint on culture and habits. We are witnessing history. We just don't know yet what that history will be.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Materialism and Worship

Nothing strikes at the heart of the American soul like a challenge to consumerism. Every politician says that he or she will grow the economy. It's not enough to sustain our level of production and consumption. We must grow. There's no such thing as "big enough" when it comes to our economy. There are no limits. The faster our economy grows, the better. Our civic duty, then, is to keep the economy growing, to consume, to spend, to purchase.

Suddenly the ability to produce and consume has been virtually cut off.

We Americans are raised to be consumers. Even before our children can walk or talk, we tell them about Santa Claus, the one who can give them whatever they ask for.

Ours is a consumer culture. Everything is related to consumption. Consumerism shapes our worship. Shopping is a sacrament.

But now suddenly we can't consume. No one ever thought this could happen. But here we are. No longer can we serve materialism. The god-of-the-growing-economy has be knocked off the throne.

We have no choice but to stay home. Even if we want to flout the rules, the stores are mostly closed. We have space to think. What have we been worshipping? Consumerism? Materialism?

The treadmill of economic growth has stopped. We've been forced to get off. Now we can step back and have a look at it.

Some can't wait for it to crank back up, so they can climb aboard and resume the race. But some of now see that treadmill for what it is: a tiring, relentless, unwinnable race to nowhere. Even the winners don't win. Maybe now we can see it for what it is.

Priorities are changing. Let's rethink this.




Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Longing to Return

Some of us never knew how much we liked gathering with friends for worship. Or gathering with friends for anything, really. I believe there can be supernatural power when God's people come together to worship and honor him. Somehow God speaks to me profoundly when I am in his presence with others.

Sometimes I experience God's presence when I'm alone, and sometimes when I'm with my family. Now those are about the only times I have. Those moments of clarity before the Lord take me deeper in my love for him.

But I still miss gathering with friends as we turn our hearts together toward Jesus.

In the Old Testament, we learn about the Jewish people who were removed from their homeland and relocated to Babylon. While in exile, the people longed to return home. They ached, even while they knew they must make the best of their situation. God instructed them to settle in, while in the foreign land. They pined for what they had lost. They knew more than ever how great home was.

And so we today, Christians confined to home, long to be together to worship. We don't know how long it will be. We don't know how bad it will be. The germ storm is creeping into our hometowns. And we pray, and wait, and watch.

Maybe now we can realize how deeply we need each other, how deeply we need to raise our voices together in praise to God, how profoundly God speaks to us in worship.

Our longing is really for him. May we seek him, right where we are. He's ready to meet us.


Friday, March 13, 2020

Social Distancing


They might be contagious. I might be contagious.
No handshakes. No high fives. Certainly no hugs.
No toilet paper. Really?
No one would believe this movie script.
The memes were funny. Now they are unsettling.
It doesn't make sense. It can't happen like this. Not here.

Trapped. Checking the news.
Making decisions. Planning for undoing plans.
It's like a snow day without the promise of melt.
Normal is gone.
Forever? No one knows.

Priorities changed.
We give up sports, concerts, conferences.
No Disney? No Broadway?
How long? How long, O Lord?
A germ does what hijacked planes cannot.
Our never-stop culture stops. It has to.
Can we see what matters now?

Community health trumps personal health.
Is this enough? Will it make a difference?
There is no routine now.
There is hope, but it's hard to see from here.
Maybe it's faith.
Can we believe in God's goodness?


Sunday, February 23, 2020

"Confessions" Confessions



I just finished reading Augustine's Confessions. It took me 35 years to finish. No kidding. I bought the book at a used book store in 1985 at the recommendation of a mentor, Mark Corts. I may have started reading the book right away, but I'm sure it was over my head. Much of it is still over my head.




So I have some confessions to make about this book. A classic, it has endured for 1600 years, being called "The Greatest Spiritual Autobiography of All Time." Clearly a worthwhile read.

I confess, first of all, that it took me approximately forever to finish it.
There were many parts of it that I really liked and understood. He expresses his heart with all his doubts and questions. Some parts were repetitive and tedious.

I confess that I wonder how anybody had the time, centuries ago, to write so voluminously.

I confess that I must be lazy. I like to write, but can barely hack out a blog post occasionally--with electronic word processing. Augustine, sure he had fewer distractions, but he had primitive writing tools. Maybe he had a scribe, but even dictating his works would be a major feat.

I confess that finishing Confessions became more about checking it off my list than really gaining wisdom from it. I did gain some wisdom, but mainly I just wanted to get it off my partially-read list.

I confess that I remember very little of it, especially the parts that I read decades ago. But it still counts. I did read it, whether I remember it or not.

I confess great admiration for Augustine. He boldly expressed his struggles, doubts, ideas, and insights. He left a great legacy of Christian thought, and he has shaped Western thinking more than we realize.

I confess that I wish I were more dedicated to writing. Nothing endures like writing. Through writing we can communicate directly into the ages. I confess that I hope that I have something worth communicating to someone else, today or tomorrow.

But I doubt that I'll ever have a species of grass named after me.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Twenty Amazing Years

As our church celebrates its twentieth anniversary this Sunday, nostalgia pulls at my heart.
So much has changed in 20 years.

My heart is softer. I cry a lot more these days.
My children have grown and married, fully embracing adulthood.
Stokesdale is growing. There are many more homes and neighborhoods in our community.
While people are more digitally connected, many feel more relationally isolated.
The good news about Jesus still hits us right where we live, bringing us wholeness and well-being.
More people are more anxious. The good news is really good news for the anxious.
Anxiety plagues younger and younger people.
Technology has grown exponentially, and it is changing our lives more than we expected.
There are lots of new buildings, new roads, new businesses, new schools, new parks and trails.
Stokesdale has more than doubled its number of stoplights (from 2 to 5).
I count four new shopping centers in the NW Guilford area.
We moved to new house in Stokesdale.
Little pine trees along the road now tower over fields and highways.
Stokesdale now has a new town hall and town park.
Churches in the community work together more closely than ever.
Genuine love in the church lets people experience God's presence.
Worship music breaks through all the clutter of a hurried life, bringing us into Jesus' presence.
I really need reading glasses now.
I don't feel like I have to fix the world any more.
I believe that Jesus transforms us when we surrender to him.
I can trust him more now to use imperfect people (like me and you) for profound purposes.
I can now let go of a lot of attitudes and preferences that I thought defined me.
God is building his kingdom, and it's fun to step back and marvel at all he has done.


Sunday, January 12, 2020

Meghan, Harry, and History

The British royal family provides pop culture with a look at real-life royal majesties. While it looks like a storybook way of life, Harry and Meghan appear not to like the story.

The Royal Couple has decided to opt out of responsibilities associated with the British monarchy. I have always wondered how conscience works in the mind of a prince or princess. From infancy these heirs are addressed as "your royal highness." Most, it seems, come to believe in their own highness. Some take this belief to such an extreme that they believe they can do no wrong. Others use their highness to bring about justice and hopefully prosperity.

But the British monarchy has been built upon untold generations of exploitation. The subjects have always been in service to the crown. And the British empire has reached to every continent on the planet, colonizing along the way. The little people of the undeveloped lands have been organized for their own improvement, and, of course, for the benefit of the empire. Everybody wins when the empire exploits.

As an American, I can see how colonialism can have desirable long term results. But, unfortunately, we Americans have taken too many pages from the imperial playbook. While we have no king, we understand the advantages of building empires and exploiting others.

So, Harry and Meghan sit on the top of the heap of history, enjoying benefits of royal oppression. What is one to do? We can speculate about how much influence the now-princess had on the life-long prince. But I wonder if Harry has experienced pangs of conscience for quite a while. It certainly looks like he has found a soul-mate in Meghan. We may never know if they plotted their defection from royalty all along.

I suspect that Meghan's egalitarian perspective has helped to open Harry's eyes to some absurdities he has always questioned. Why is one family to be so revered? Why must royals adhere to such arbitrary rules, such as the way one crosses her legs? Does any of this seem, well, silly to you, Harry? Do we have to keep playing along?

Does the royal role of highness really bring more justice? Is there any way to correct the wrongs of colonialism? Can monarchy truly be reformed, or is it a lost cause?

If Harry believes that the monarchy is a lost cause, how miserable he must be. To follow his conscience, he would have to turn his back on his family. What a wretched choice he must make.

It seems that Harry's relationship with his brother William has become quite strained. This saddens me the most. As a casual observer, I have always thought that the brothers shared an unbreakable bond. But the tension in Harry's heart seems to be pulling the brothers apart.

What a grave responsibility has been given to these men at birth. May they find wisdom to do what is right.

Maybe it is time to ask some fundamental royal questions. And maybe the empire can really set people free, all around the globe. Meghan and Harry are boldly stepping out and away to experience that freedom.