Saturday, May 30, 2009


Our granddaughter has been here for the last two days. She turned one yesterday, and we took her and her parents to the zoo in Waco, TX. Today my parents drove down with my sister from Dallas and we had a bit of a party. Of course, she was more taken with the wrappings than the presents, and she fell asleep in the middle of the meal. These two days have been a delight with her. I've noticed that apparently grand-parent malady that her smile addictive. I will gladly do more and more silly things just to get that little ray of sunshine to brighten our faces.

The thing is, at one year old she's able to respond, and takes delight in doing so. At earlier ages (and we all went through this with our kids, but mostly too anxious and burdened with responsibility to even notice) she was a whole lot more just a loud noise at one end and no responsibility at the other. But as she matures and grows the intensity of life within her takes on the shapes and contours of her own budding personality. It's like watching a butterfly emerge from its crysalis and unfolding its marvelous wings. Sometimes the picture isn't the brightest or the most rewarding, but it's all just marvelous and wonderful and brings joy to a grandparent's heart.

Maybe that's the way the heart of God is. Maybe our ruts have a way of making us spiritually infantile, hiding our true nature beneath layers of carefully laid inattentiveness. Maybe as the vagarities of life strip away the layers of pretense and pride, of insecurity and even presumed nobility we begin to emerge as the beings we truly are. Maybe as the intensity of life within us expresses itself in the shape and contours of our souls that God takes as much pleasure in us as we do in our grandchildren. Maybe.....

Thursday, May 21, 2009

I just got back from a CREDO conference in Virginia. It's a week-long clergy development conference hosted by the Church Pension Fund for Episcopal clergy. We had priests there from 22 different dioceses around the nation. I've been in gatherings of clergy before, and generally left with the feeling that we're a bit like manure. Spread us out and we do some good, but pile us up and all we do is raise a stink.

Not so this time. Because the focus of the conference, and hence the purpose of the relationships built, was personal professional and spiritual growth, we took time to listen to one another deeply. My small group became a quiet haven where I could share what was really bugging me, what I really thought about things, and what I think I knew and didn't know. It was especially poignant because we were theologically quite diverse.

The experience confirmed for me something that I have thought for some time. The role of clergy in society is to open the eyes of the general public. This function is shared by education and to a degree, law, but in the matter of religion it takes on a dimension none of the other two can really address. Clergy invite people to look deeply into their experiences of the world around them and the relationships in which they participate, to draw out wisdom, to kindle compassion, and to become more authentic, more real, more holy.

To frame it in a different metaphor, we hold up lenses in front of the eyes of a myopic public bent on rushing from one obligation to another and bid them read the charts. Some lenses work better than others, and each person's prescription ends up a bit different from anyone else's. Christ is not a particular lens so much as the whole set of lenses, inviting us to perceive the truth in the midst of the blurr of living. So ours is to walk more slowly, talk more genuinely, and gently pry your eyelids a bit wider open to see the wonder of God at work in your world.

If there is any hope for transformation, surely it has something to do with this.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

I'm at a CREDO week in Roslyn, VA, just outside of Richmond. It's a beautiful setting, and in spite of Texas, it's still Spring here. While running this afternoon I spied a bunch of wild strawberries encroaching on the manicured lawns of this campus.

The week is about reflection--looking deeply into one's life, taking stock and sizing things up. It's an important thing to do, something we don't always take time for. Perhaps, like me, we're afraid of finding negative things. Maybe we're just too busy or haven't ever given it much thought or importance. Maybe we think we can't do it.

My biggest barrier is expecting to find negative things, and usually I do find some, along with positive things. Perhaps in that my biggest mistake is to label things negative or positive. After all, I rate them negative if I perceive that they reveal ways I disappoint myself or others, and positive if I meet or exceed others' expectations. There is always the possibility that some behavior is wise, even though it disappoints, or unwise, even though it is met with approval. Measuring myself by other people is a quick way to disappoint myself in the short run and everyone in the long run--it's a no-win situation.

So, the harder road lies before me--to take the feedback I receive and to evaluate it in terms of who I am and what God is calling me to become. That yardstick can help me measure the relative importance of both "negative" and "positive" aspects of my ministries, and get a feel for what the path ahead might look like. Maybe that approach might help you, too.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Swine Flu and other anxieties

Swine Flu has, predictably, galvanized the nation. It has provided us once again with something external on which to project our collective floating anxiety. The numbers just don't justify the mania. At this writing there has been one death in Houston of a small child who is reported to have been in Mexico prior to falling ill. Every year 36,000 people die of other strains of what we call "influenza." 40,000 people will die in automobile accidents this year, 27 will be murdered in Austin, TX, 5 will die violently at the hands of another in our neighboring town of Temple. To date no swine has died of H1N1.

So why the mania? I think it's because we want something to blame for our own sense of being ill at ease. We think something is wrong with the world because we don't feel peaceful inside, so we go looking for something to blame. We do it in a thousand different ways--we pin it on significant others. We blame the government, the "national church," or Alqaeda. Certain buzz-words flash this response like "terrorism," "racism," and "homosexual." We jump from relationship to relationship searching for someone that will make us happy. We change jobs and cities looking for the right "match," and we wonder why, sooner or later, it always seems to end up the same. The reason is simple--we take ourselves with us when we move to the new relationship, job or town. If we change all the other variables and the result is the same the one unchanged variable must be the responsible element for the situation.

Richard Rohr said in Wild Man to Wise Man (and I paraphrase) if your religion isn't making you a more healthy person then it is betraying you. Religion, rather than focusing our anxieties on things external, should help us face the anxiety we bear within, name it, deal with it, make peace with it, and get to know how it affects us, so that we can respond more honestly and genuinely to the world. It's called confession and reconciliation...admitting the problem is within and not without, and taking responsibility for it, and then accepting forgiveness and searching for a healthier way to live. We do it with God and we do it with one another, ultimately, we must also do it with the whole created order. Then and only then will real change happen in our lives--change that happens from the inside out, not the outside in.

There is a great anonymous story about a young couple who moved to a new city. They drove through a neighborhood to check it out. They soon found an old man standing at a street corner. "Sir, what is like to live in this neighborhood?" they asked.
"What is the neighborhood you are leaving like?" replied the old man.
"Oh, it was great, but I got transfered to his city, so we have to move," they answered.
"You'll find this neighborhood is quite the same," was the reply.

They drove on, and soon another couple drove into the same neighborhood with the same intent of checking it out. They found the same man and asked him the same question, "Sir, what is like to live in this neighborhood?"
"What is the neighborhood you are leaving like?" replied the old man.
"We hated it, it was awful, and we're so glad to move!" they answered.
"You'll find this neighborhood is quite the same," came the reply.