Circle of Hope

Ode to the Wildness in you

Last week when I preached about John the Baptist it snowed so much that you had to be pretty wild just to get out to the meeting.  It was a good night to talk about John.  The risks he took to tell the truth had such a radically life-giving effect on the world it made me wonder how he became that way.  

I presume that most of us want to have some life-giving effect on the world and are doing just that, so John is worth remembering too.  It wasn’t just that he was born special.  Yes, some excitement surrounded his birth because the time had come for God to reveal himself to the world in a new way, and it was foretold that John would be the announcer. But since God is not coercive, John had to keep making choices to move in the direction of his spiritual purpose or not, much like we do.  His spiritual purpose was not so different from anyone else’s, really, since the essence of it was to reveal God-with-us. 

So how did he get the guts to do it in such a memorable way?  I think he took time to listen to his soul.  Soul can be defined as “our spiritual awareness. Where we most deeply connect with God.  The life in us that transcends time.  The place of accountability.  The seat of sorrow, joy, and suffering.”   The Bible writers talk about loving God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and the soul is different from the rest of these centers because it’s beyond the realm of our ordinary awareness.  Many of my so-called agnostic and even atheist friends would even say that there is “something out there” that is mysterious.  I think that awareness comes from the soul.  

John had the courage to grow into his fullness because he respected nurtured that center of awareness with God.  He gave his soul some air-time, so to speak—-room to breathe and develop. One of the ways he did that was by going out into the silence of the desert.  

painted desertI highly recommend this practice.  One time when I felt particularly broken-hearted I was able to take a journey to some Arizona deserts to hear from God.  My friend had to pull me off the edge of the Grand Canyon after a few hours—not because I wanted to jump off—but because I wanted to stay with God there.  Something about the vast wilderness was illuminating my interior wilderness, and God was attending to my broken heart.  God’s beauty and silence surrounded and held me.  Later on the Painted Desert, more of the call of God in my soul was made clear. 

Now I know it is a week before Christmas and you might have a lot to do. And if you don’t, maybe you feel like you’re missing something.  Whatever the case, this may be a good time to listen for God in the wilderness of our souls.  God is there, calling us tenderly, calling us to explore his love in our deepest places.  It may require escaping some of the domesticated escapism at our fingertips—the shopping, the eating and drinking, the socializing.   Our consumer culture promises that these things will fill us but our souls are smarter.  We already know in our souls that we can’t be filled up by these substitutes.  Scientific rationalism may seem to satisfy a lot of minds, romantic/sexual/altruistic love may seem to satisfy a lot of hearts and bodies, but our souls cry out for the Living God.

young JTBJohn knew this.  His wildness was really about dependence and trust in God. It’s entertaining to just think of him as an agro, beastly character—eating wild locusts and such—but that construct falls short, kind of like turning a generous saint into a Coca-Cola product.  John calls us to union with God in our deepest places.  He was a vulnerable human being like the rest of us—one that barely lived to be 30—and that’s why I like this painting of him.  It was his trust in God and the joy of that union that gave him the fire and urgency to direct many people to the hope and freedom that was before them.  When Jesus finally approached him, John recognized Jesus.  He looked up and exclaimed, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” And then he helped to launch the Savior into the heart of his work.

The fulfillment of our hope is indeed here, in the midst of all we face.  May we be wild enough to recognize him wherever he shows up this Christmas.

For environmental justice

I’m headed to city hall to support the passing of the Philadelphia Land Bank Bill.  The Coalition to Take Back Vacant Land (a diverse group of community organizations) has been working for a land bank we can trust, one that could open the 44,000 + vacant/abandoned properties in Philadelphia to urban farms, green spaces, and affordable housing.
I’m hopeful for the bill because it’s painful to see the waste of our city’s natural resources, and to see the less-wealthy (and statistically more black and brown-skinned) brothers and sisters among us suffer the most blight.  Many people keep working for restoration in creative ways, including Circle of Hope, and we’ve tasted it’s fruits (literally) by farming urban land and sharing the food and beauty, living communally, rehabbing buildings, planting trees, paying down one another’s debt, valuing biking over driving, starting thrift stores and buying from them, and trying to practice simplicity.  There is much left to do, of course, but it’s a good life.
urban farmsThe problem of environmental injustice—that U.S. greed and consumption is damaging the earth’s habitat and consistently placing the less-wealthy in the least-healthy environments—is systemic.  It is not coincidental that factories and power-plants are placed in regions that less-wealthy people live.  It is not because less-wealthy people enjoy poor health that they suffer more asthma, obesity, infant mortality and lower life spans.  It is not because less-wealthy people don’t like fresh food that corner stores don’t always carry it.  It is not that our people lack the ability and the desire and the resources to steward the land around us.  It is, rather, that we’ve been influenced by classist and racist policy and philosophy for generations.

Environmental injustice also has spiritual roots, as most problems do.  When Circle of Hope met recently with our friend Lisa Sharon Harper, who works in public policy with Sojourners, she encouraged us to identify the lies that perpetuate environmental injustice in our city.   She reminded us that movements of goodness are unlocked when people confront spiritual lies with spiritual truths. 
I recently posted some of the conversation on our Circle of Hope list-serve but it might be worthy of repetition in our pursuit of wholeness.  Below in color are the lies that we identified with Lisa, as well as some spiritual truth and suggestions from me.  I’m grateful that we are already part of the great restoration movement that Jesus is leading, and that the brokenness we experience is not the end of the human story.
-It’s your fault if your living conditions are bad.
-Without a commitment to profit, we won’t survive.
-God gave some humans the right to be masters over others.
-Big business profits trickle down.
-Resources are scarce; we have to compete.
-The American dream: everyone has equal opportunity to clean air, land, water, success.
-We are worth what we own; whoever has more is better.
-Your happiness is determined by where you live.
-Climate change is a hoax; environmental concern is for hippies.
-Offsetting our carbon footprint is enough to cure climate change.
-Affluent people deserve to feel safe.
-Poor people trash neighborhoods and don’t take care of things.
-Poor people don’t like healthy food.
-The only reality is here and now.
-The earth is self-sustaining; it’s ours to use (up).
-We’re entitled to thermal comfort no matter what the cost.
-We’re doing enough.
-We are powerless to make a difference; the problems are too complex; nothing will change. (I think this hopelessness and resignation may be the core spiritual lie at work in Philly/Camden. What do you think?)
Manifestions of the LIES:
-Consumerism; debt.
-Poverty and polluted land, air, and water, disproportionately in less-wealthy communities
-Increased racial tension and judgment
-Natural resources go to the highest bidder
-Factories and power-plants located in underserved communities, consistently throughout the U.S.
-High rates of asthma, obesity, infant mortality, and shorter life span among those less affluent
-False urban/rural divide
-Under-supported farmers, farmers “owned” by big business
-Not enough study and press about the climate change crisis
-Fresh food less available in less-wealthy communities
-Affordable housing not built with environmental components
-Disconnection from nature and the consequences to nature, reliance on technology
-Littering and trash; city sanitation more likely to ignore less-wealthy neighborhoods
-An education system that serves the powerful
-Not enough support for bike transit
Spiritual TRUTH:
-All human beings are created in the image of God.
-The earth is a gift to be nurtured and shared.
-God laid out some guidelines regarding Sabbath rest, economics, and creation-care in the Old Testament that are worth considering through the lens of Jesus. 
Trust in God is at the heart of a generous culture.  Jesus invites and enables us to co-create with Him now when he says “The kingdom of God is at hand.”
What we can do:
-Invite everyone to your cell meeting and to your public meetings.  A community that is centered on Jesus and filled with the Holy Spirit has more power to restore the earth and its people than anything else I know.
-Care tenderly for the poor among us, as you can.  Note: that includes you too. We all live in some measure of physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual poverty and here in Advent we’re reminded that God keeps coming to us.  Humility helps us receive.  Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall see God.”
-Share your resources as you can.  Contrary to what our advertising culture tells us, we will be radically unlocked by this practice.  
-Find out about a vacant lot near you and let yourself imagine a communal place of peace there.  We hope that our efforts for a Land Bank in Philly will soon make vacant land development more accessible.
-What else?  

Coming back to the center (this one’s for parents)

eye of the stormI was in trouble on a weeknight recently.  If your kids have ever all needed help with homework at the exact same moment, and started teasing each other, and you don’t know what’s for dinner, and you’re worried about something at the office and the systemic injustice in your city, and you look at the pile of laundry that’s STILL on the dining room table, and you realize that you’ll have no time to catch up this weekend, then you know what I mean.  Maybe you are more chill than me, but my head was nearly popping off in a moment like this last week.  I didn’t know where to start, and so I sat down on the couch to just breathe.  I thought of all the beloved parents I know and care about who are also juggling and struggling to do the best they can with what they’ve got.  And so I share these lessons with you, in the spirit of coming back to the center when we feel overwhelmed.

1.  Know what’s going on with you.  Of course we always have limited understanding—even of ourselves—but it was helpful for me to recognize what I was worried about most in that moment.  Chances are it’s not really about the laundry.  It’s good to know what’s going on with us because otherwise it’s too easy to overreact on our kids for their relatively normal shenanigans.

2.  Ask God for help.  This doesn’t have to be complicated.  Anne Lamott says that “help” is a perfectly theologically-sound prayer, and I agree.  God is gracious to come to our aid in these moments, with the patience and humour that we need. This is my lifeline to come back to the center where I’m reminded by Jesus that “You are always with me, and everything I have is yours.”

3.  Look at your kids. Of course you do this all the time, but a longer second look helps me consider what’s really going on with them.  Pausing to *see* them again usually helps me become more aware of the kind of guidance they might need, and the motivation to provide it.  You might be surprised to notice how vulnerable they are. (We all are!)

4.  Keep it simple.  I really like to cook fresh delicious meals every night.  But there are times when we need to take a meal to someone else, or something like that, and we’ve fallen back on a box of Kraft mac and cheese with a can of tuna added.  It’s true.  I figure that maintaining a preferred level of “health” that doesn’t have room for caring for others is really not so healthy.

5.  Don’t give up on story time.  Whenever possible, we’ve learned not to skip this—even when it’s late, or when certain behavior warrants otherwise.  Faith-filled authors like C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Madeline L’Engle, and Penelope Wilcox have been rich sources of imagination and education and dialogue for us.  On rough days, or busy days, this time together before bed helps to put things back into perspective—that we are all so loved.  Even us parents.

Making the cut, or not.

When my cell met last week, my friend Mike brought this story that Jesus told:

“The master of the house had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any, again.  So he said to his gardener, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down!  It doesn’t deserve to live.

“‘Sir,’ the gardener replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it.  If it bears fruit next year, great! If not, then you can cut it down.’”

Mike said that this story cross-referenced another story that implied that “unfruitful” trees would be “cut down and thrown into the fire” and he thought that might be Jesus’s point.  Most of us sat there immediately assessing our own “fruitfulness,”  wondering if we are like that fig tree and assuming that God is like the master of the house.  We looked at one another grimly, worried and practically convinced that we wouldn’t make the cut (or that we would be cut, as the story goes.)

But then we started to talk.  We remembered out loud what we have been learning and experiencing of the character of God, (which was usually quite different from many of our family and religious experiences!) I sensed the presence of Jesus in the room with us as we shared our insight.

Eventually a solid truth became clear to us:  Jesus is the gardener.  He’s stepping in on our behalf, pleading our cause. He sees something in us—even in our barrenness—and wants to save us, if we’ll cooperate with the fertilization. The master of the house is like the oppressive powers of the world that use and enslave and judge people harshly based on what they can produce.  Sometimes we internalize the worldly master and judge ourselves.  (And then we think that God is sick of us, but that’s usually our own fear!)

It became clear to me again that the best way to read the Bible is with others, in community.  Doing that can get us out of our self-absorbed mind traps.  We need to be saved from our self-judgement, and from the powers of the world that would enslave us.  We need to be fertilized by the gardener in order to produce any good fruit.

fig tree

If you look at the roots of a fig tree, like this one, it is no small task to “dig around it and fertilize it.”  Jesus is saying He is up for that.  He is so committed to our new life and hopeful about the fruit we can bear in Him that He planted Himself in our soil and confronted all the powers that be.  He is willing to work with our dirt and give us the nutrients we need, again and again. 

You probably know that it is not painless to get dug up a little—to face the parts of ourselves that are not bearing good fruit.  But we’re safe with the gardener—who is love—and this is how we grow. And we were made to grow! “For we are God’s creation, made in Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has prepared for us to do.” This was the last piece of revelation my cell received last week:  could it be that we are called to be the gardener in the story, too?  Yes.  We partner with the gardener to cultivate each other’s soil.  And we tasted the fruit of that partnership.

figs (For some more fertilization, see our daily prayer blog today.  “Consider the farmer who waits patiently for the coming of rain in the fall and spring, looking forward to the precious fruit of the earth.)

Don’t read this on your phone

At a birthday dinner party last night, I was sitting around the table with friends (one of my favorite things to do) and the topic of technology came up.  Someone described their observation that many “young kids nowadays” seem to be having trouble listening to and receiving guidance from grown-ups who care about them, and this seems to be at least partly connected to their increased absorption in TV/video games/iPads/smartphones and other hand-held devices.  It appears that some kids are not learning the subtleties of relating: having thoughts and feelings that they can express to someone else, active listening, empathizing, and responding in a conversation based on critical thinking or conviction.  It’s too common to see kids looking up from a screen with a blank stare.

It was a good discussion, and none of us around the table were all that old or immune to the problem ourselves.  I don’t think human nature has gotten any worse over the past century, but the moment-by-moment opportunity to be distracted from our own hearts certainly seems greater now.  Just like the kids, we grown-ups need to be receiving guidance, love, and wisdom from our heavenly Parent on a daily basis.  But are we too distracted to connect and listen?  I know I’m distractable, so here are three daily practices that help me stay centered with the One who knows me best and keeps saving me:

1. Don’t make looking at your phone/computer the first thing you do in the morning and the last thing you do at night.  Those are precious minutes to be alone with God in the palace of your soul as Theresa of Avila would say…to get centered, to be directed, and to reflect.  Protect them and be nourished; read the Bible and pray, even if it’s only for a few moments.  I bet you’ll be more likely to approach the day with a sense of who you are and what you’ve been given to do, rather than just reacting to circumstances or being led around in other ways.  You’ll probably have less anxiety and get better sleep too.

2.  When you’re not traveling, put your phone down somewhere instead of carrying it around on your body.  At home it’s in my kitchen, in the office it’s on my desk.  This reminds me that I am not part of the machine, shockingly, and it is not part of me.  I can check it thoughtfully, when I’m really available, instead of it checking me with every new tweet.  

3.  Look around at your physical environment.  I hope that sounds dumb to you because you do it all the time already.  Look up at the vastness of the sky and pause at the trees you pass.  You’ll be reminded of the loving Creator in all this beauty.  Notice the people around you and consider what they might be going through. We don’t want to miss opportunities like this story Jesus told because our heads are stuck in our phones.  

This word from a Spirit-led ancient challenges me to take the long view with my smartphone habits:  Don’t love the world’s ways. Don’t love the world’s goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father. Practically everything that goes on in the world—wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important—has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him. The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out—but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity.  —-I John 2:15-17, The Message.


Yokes and the wonders of this generation

A lot of my friends have been talking about a recent online article that describes why generation Y “yuppies” are unhappy.  The author contends that for a perfect storm of socioeconomic and cultural factors, many American young people born between the late 1970s and the mid 1990s have drastically unmet expectations about how their lives are supposed be turning out.  Their hard-working baby-boomer parents told them that they could do/be anything they wanted to be and so they expected to embark on wildly successful careers that fulfill their passions.  They are depressed when this isn’t the case and are unconsciously taunted by facebook image-crafting of other people’s lives.

I like the article because it is sympathetic to how young people have been set up, in many ways, for this kind of let-down.  The let-down is real, as I see it, and gen-Yers high expectations and delusions of grandeur aren’t the only problem.  We no longer live in a baby-boomers economy where hard work can almost guarantee worldly success.  Most gen-Yers are saddled with significant college and consumer debt.  The 40-hour work week is becoming a thing of the past; many gen-Yers work around the clock.  They got sold a promise by the American media that isn’t panning out.  And the evils of racism and cycles of poverty still plague us, perhaps more than ever before.  

In the midst of this perfect recipe for disillusionment and paralysis, our church is led by gen-Yers.  Let me tell you what they’re doing.

They’re not putting too much hope in the government or even in their career identities.  Instead they’re using ancient Bible wisdom and experience to discover that we are eternal and God is the reliable Source of life, liberty and the pursuit of “happiness” that abides.  They’re discovering that love–the power of God—is strong enough to change and enable us to make a difference in the world. The journey is fraught with danger and struggle, of course, but they’re going for it.  

In what ways are they escaping the disillusionment and paralysis of their generation?  These gen-Yers start thrift stores that give away hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to relief and development efforts here and around the world. They start compassion teams that connect that care for the sick, homeless, and those in prison.  They put libraries in public schools that don’t have any books.  They clean up and farm empty lots.  They raise awareness about gun violence and work for peace.  They pay down one another’s debt.  They start businesses that put money back into their neighborhoods.  They take care of their families and open their homes and their lives to others.  They are normal people who are taking their disillusionment and paralysis to God, and being transformed.

Jesus says, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am humble and gentle in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

yokeTruth!  I’m so relieved to trade my lonely yoke of self-reliance for Jesus’s shared yoke of love.  It’s so much better than the slavery to unmet expectations and delusions of grandeur.  I see my gen-Y friends finding peace and joy in humble service to God and it is actually grand.  We are plowing up neglected fields and watching things grow.  

Jesus, the party host

Our congregation at Broad & Washington is planning to throw a feast this Sunday evening.   Although I love a good party (the more, the merrier!), the reality of Syrians and others being gassed and the U.S. government making a case for another “humanitarian” military intervention makes me want to crawl in a hole.

So I’ve been drawing inspiration from Jesus, who is good for that.  Not only does he have the final word in all of these matters, he understands suffering and death (see Isaiah 53 fulfilled today on Rosh Hashana) and resurrection.  Not only is he present to our suffering, he is actually throwing a party in the middle of the mess. It’s audacious.

supper with JesusHere are a few party tips I’m learning from Jesus:

1. Expand your guest list to include those you might have pre-screened before.  Jesus says, “go out quickly into the streets and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.”   (Couldn’t that be me or you on any given day?)  If some people make excuses, don’t worry; party on. (Luke 14)

2. Honor the guests.  Do the serving and let everyone know they are welcome by giving out the best seats and the tastiest morsels.  If people get vulnerable (like Mary who dumped the expensive perfume on Jesus’s feet), make it safe with acceptance.  Honor the lavish gifts that each of us brings.

3.  Draw attention to the reality that Jesus is here.  In the middle of the recorded parties throughout the gospels, and now in the Church, Jesus keeps articulating this comfort:  I am here.  Here I am.  You don’t need to vie for attention or worry about running out of good wine.  Here I am, poured out for you.  It’s OK to celebrate.

This is my experience all over the world among God’s people.  There’s a mysterious magnetism, because Jesus is where his followers are—-as lovely or as messy as we may be.  So I’ll be celebrating this Sunday—hopefully with you— in spite of all the reasons not to.  The table is heavily-laden with necessities like grace, hope, and joy.

Only lovers read Friday blog posts

True confession:  I got choked up during the season premiere of Duck Dynasty.  The Robertson children & grandchildren threw Miss Kay and Phil a surprise wedding ceremony since they had been married by a JP 49 years before.  Kay’s matter-of-fact vow was the thing that got me: “From the time I was 14-years-old, I loved you.  I loved you when we were poor, and you were not so nice. Now you’re really nice and kind, and all I can say is I’m not going anywhere.”

Phil responded, “”We been runnin’ together since we were teenagers. You have cooked me many a good meal; from your loins came four healthy, godly men; you are my best friend, and I love you dearly. And I’m gonna be with you for the long haul, ’til they put me in the ground.  Deal?”

Their large, bearded children were weeping in the presence of 4 generations that had been created and/or nurtured by this one union, and I was pondering what the “deal” of marriage really is.  Most of us don’t have this kind of legacy to brag about, or haven’t found the person to build one with. Or we feel stuck with someone, and wish we felt differently.  Either way, there is hope—beyond the relationship or the lack of one.

Here’s what I notice about the not-on-TV long-haul marriages I know and admire:

1. Partners are married to Jesus first.  That may sound weird, but there’s eternal wisdom in Jesus’s call to “Seek first the kingdom of God, and all these things will be added to you.”  Couples that agree to seek God first, then each other, and then kids are anchoring themselves in a love that will sustain the whole enterprise. When each partner knows themselves as beloved by God and attends to that primary relationship, I see good things follow for the marriage relationship and the parenting.

2. Kindness is like glue.  In long-haul marriages I notice a gentle undertone in how partners greet and communicate with one another.  There’s a respectful consciousness between them that reaches down to the seemingly ‘small’ things.  The relationship is always developing, and tenderness builds it.  There’s an acceptance that none of us is ever so actualized, tough, or self-sufficient that we don’t need grace gently-delivered.

3. Touch is not withheld.  Everyone is uniquely wired, so partners who are invested in understanding how the other physically receives and expresses love seem to reap the harvest of easy-looking affection.  In our hyper-sexed culture,  it’s easy to get unconsciously messed up on this point and have unclear understandings around desire.  Sex is not the meaning of life. Pornography can be a killer.  So can expectations of Hollywood romance.  Giving and receiving affection (sex and otherwise) with a real person is a gift to be tenderly explored.

4.  Agreements can be made (and usually kept).  Moving in some common directions requires communication.  Partners who work on talking with one another and listening in order to make agreements (instead of assumptions) seem to bear good fruit, even as individuals.

5.  Hanging out is fun.  Partners who seem to enjoy each other’s company have usually been intentional about spending time together throughout the life-span.  In modern life, this can take some planning.  But it doesn’t require a lot of money, contrary to popular belief.  Intentionally making conversation over the dishes or on a common project can grow intimacy.

6.  They are part of a community of faith.  “We can’t do this alone” seems to be a theme in long-haul marriages.  They are not an end unto themselves.  Being part of a missional community where covenant love brings people together informs and takes unnecessary pressure off of the marriage relationship.   Partners don’t have to figure everything out on their own.  It’s impossible to get all of one’s social needs met in one relationship, too.  We all need a larger context in which to serve and grow into our fullness.

7.  This is not the end of the story.  Long-haul partners seem to have a hopeful understanding that all people grow and change throughout the lifespan, and that we are part of a bigger—and yet just as personal—redemption plan that God is working.   We don’t need to fossilize one another at our worst stages.  We can laugh, a lot.  The graciousness of taking the long view of ourselves and each other—like God does for us—makes room for growth and development.

heart candies

The real thing

This weekend I’m retreating to the woods with 85 women. We’re going to talk about one of my least favorite subjects: vulnerability. But I’m expecting great things because these are great women and I know that God will be present to us.  We are carving out time from busy lives to rest, play, and care for our souls.

A new study by the University of Michigan reminds me why I retreat with others—beyond the promise of the spiritual discipline and beyond the love of my community.  The study discovered what most of us already know:  that “direct interactions with other human beings lead people to feel better.”

facebook eyeThe researchers in this study were interested in finding out how Facebook use is affecting people’s well-being.  They tried to measure levels of anxiety, loneliness, happiness, and satisfaction and found that “Facebook use led to declines in moment-to-moment happiness and overall life satisfaction.”  The researchers suspect that the results might have something to do with the ills of social comparison, and found that face-to-face or phone interaction had the opposite effect on participants:  they felt better after direct interaction with other people.

soccer ballI felt better too, on Monday, when I put aside my phone and online-work to interact with my kids.  My son and his friend wanted to teach me a header drill they had learned at camp.  Truthfully, I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to do less than go to the park at dusk with thousands of mosquitoes and hit a muddy soccer ball with my head.  But I did, and it was good for all of us, even when my daughter (accidentally?) whacked my son in the face and everyone squabbled over the last Nutty Buddy at the corner store.

We don’t have to look too far to recognize the problems that technology use is causing in the midst of its vast benefits.  Our capabilities often exceed our vision.  For example, this week the Trayvon Martin shooting was re-enacted in a gun control PSA. The NSA is embarrassed that it can’t identify which information Snowden took and shared.  Goldman Sachs faces the loss of 100 million dollars over a technical glitch (no worries; it will probably be OK since they are among the President’s top campaign contributors.)

women's retreatI’m not going to cancel my Facebook account today, but I know that there’s no substitute for the real thing, and I’m going for the real thing:  connection with God and others.  I’m going for peace and transformation and mission with God and others too.  Since none of these things can just happen virtually,  I’m looking forward to this weekend with my sisters.


Wanting it all

metal detectorThe last time I was getting ready to board a plane, I waited in line to be checked for weapons and explosives.  As my luggage went through the scanning machine, I wondered how much one of those machines cost.  (One hundred and fifty thousand dollars, I discovered.)  When I spoke later at a high school in North Philly, I was met by the same expensive machine and procedure.   And these machines are being installed in more and more places.

Apparently we want it all in America, and it’s costly to maintain.  We’re entitled to all the weaponry we want, but we also want to make sure that these weapons don’t get into “the wrong hands” in schools and airplanes and courts.  (Never mind the police and government agents who carry there—they’re keeping us “safe.”)  My Dad tells me that now the Walmart in his rural town sells out of ammunition on the same day it comes in.  (Does that really have no connection to the record-high homicide rate in my city?)

In some ways, I want it all too.  I used up my vacation time this year to take an epic road trip.  It was filled with some of my favorite things:  canyons, rivers, campfires, starry skies, tribal lands, the open road, my funny and handsome husband and two adventurous kids, and no email.   What a gift.  And yet, the discoveries of this grand time didn’t totally eclipse my disappointment that I’d miss out on that annual trip to the mountains with my in-laws this year, and that week at my friends’ cottage.

You may think that I’m comparing apples and oranges by talking about gun control and vacation choices in the same breath.  Probably.  But the common denominator is that we human beings generally want to have our cake and eat it too.  Even grateful people have a lot of capacity for wanting.  And instead of ranting about national/corporate greed here like I often do, I’m noticing that the wanting is good.  (It’s the unexamined taking and eating that causes problems.)  We’re born with desire, and we get it from the Creator.

Jesus was known to ask, “What do you want?”  And he also said, “I have come that you may have life, and have it to the fullest.” (John 10:10).   I don’t think “the fullest” is really about endless vacations or whatever promises to bring us protection, power, or escape.  I think he’s talking about what many of my friends and I really want:  to make a difference in the world, love and belonging that’s not based on our accomplishments, looks, or bank accounts, peace with God and others, and actual joy—and Jesus is acknowledging himself as the Way.   Incredibly, what we really want is free; it just requires our ongoing openness and will to show up.

My friend Lauren wrote a song/prayer to God that states “I will grow in Your growth; I will long in Your longing.”   That’s good news.  Our longing can find a home in God’s great longing—the One who wants it all for our sake, and offers it up.   Our desires don’t need to unconsciously run us around or be repressed/controlled out of fear that we’ll be continually disappointed.  They can be known and touched by the Spirit who “intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.”