Monthly Archives: September 2016

Scattered By Love

The following sermon was preached at First Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho to a group of pastor colleagues in the midst of a three day gathering that focused the crossroad of different people coming together from their particular heritage and learning to live together.

Genesis 11:1-9

Now the whole earth had one language and the same words.  2And as they migrated from the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.  3And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar.  4Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.”

5The Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built.  6And the Lord said, “Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.  7Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.”  8So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 9Therefore it was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.


It is certainly not true that God does not want us to work together.

And it seems unlikely that the God who says, ‘Go forth and multiply,’ employs being scattered and different as a punishment.

But both of these ideas can easily flow out from this text.  And yet…

The people do not say: let us become God.  The people do not say they wish to lay siege to heaven.  What the people do say is: let us build this thing… otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.

The scattering was already happening.  The differentiation in the sons of Noah enumerated in the previous chapter tell us it was already a reality.  The languages that result from the text are, perhaps, less a thing that was done to cause a new reality… than a sign that emerged to put word to what had already come to be.  The people were moving out from the Garden in ever more diverse and differentiated ways.  And then we got scared.

I’m sure you have seen the comments that arise with alarming regularity that racism had ceased to be a problem until Barack Obama was elected president.  He caused the revival of racism.  Even now we see the same things playing out in Hillary’s nomination and candidacy and the we shudder at the prospect that a woman would become the most powerful man in the world.

For a moment in time through the lenses of these stories we see the possibility that the American dream could be real.  Anyone can become anything.  And suddenly, the equality we give lip service to became real.  More real than is comfortable for those who have had the power and the control.  And so we say no. We will not be scattered.  No we will not let our control and power in the world slip out of our grasp.

We double down on building an unchanging monument to keep ourselves from becoming scattered…  and just as we learned yesterday in the history of the Basque peoples, which is not their unique history but a way that we learn of ourselves and all our stories, that when a person or persons wishes to control and make an edifice to their own name for their own security they find enemies to name in order to convince the masses to join them in their quest.

Our sin is not that we come together to achieve great things: our sin is that we so often we come together to build monuments to our fear.

Brent A. Strawn, a professor of Old Testament at Candler School of theology posits that an iconic text the Tower of Babel perhaps exists as a way to set up the story of Abram. Abram who is invited by God to go.  To go on a journey of discovery that will leave him forever changed – even to the fabric of his name.  And in a world in which we are building monuments to sameness and control… there can be no Abram.

Our diversity is a gift that emerges from our calling… a calling to steward creation, a calling to explore the world, to be scattered in it, and to celebrate rather than fear that story.  And in the celebration of life that results we are called – as one our colleagues quoted yesterday – to be guests not hosts.  Or as the Basque people say: ‘we do not own our homes, but our homes own us.’

We are guests in the world, granted stewardship of that which does not belong to us, and yet it is gifted to us by the One to whom heaven and earth belongs.  This means in every moment we are called to live in the tension of being BOTH guest and host.  Those who are gathered and those who are scattered in the world.  Whose gift of the steadfast love of the Lord is meant to empower us to overcome our fear and concerns of ultimate security that we might feed our curiosity and seek to discover the world around us… and within us.

Yesterday Amy turned to me at dinner after a comment I made and asked, “Are you a people pleaser?”  I responded that I’m a middle child.  I was born to try to make peace in the world and do so not wanting to be a burden to anyone… so my peace is dysfunctional.   My first instinct is pleasing people, covering over that which is upsetting, and creating an absence of conflict.  Making a peace that is really nothing more than absence of conflict propped up by really good blinders.  You see, I want to build towers.  I am good at building towers to keep us from becoming scattered.

But another thing that strikes me about the Tower of Babel story is that in a world where we do not have to explain ourselves, we forget ourselves.

The people had a type of unity of mind… but it wasn’t so much unity as a likeness of mind, and they prized this likeness of mind and so would do anything to protect it, at all costs.  And security and safety at all costs is too high a cost.  Our life becomes our idol.  And we know the consequences of that way of being.  It makes helicopter parents, and elders who are tortured by the medical community to squeeze out one more moment in time.  It legitimizes terrorism against the other…  and it ultimately makes it seem sane and ration to talk about a world in which we hold all creation hostage to our ability to kill ourselves many times over seems… and call that peace.

When life is easy to relate to everyone around ourselves because we are all alike we begin to forget ourselves.  We no longer question our own assumptions.  We make ourselves into God… not out of radical disobedience. But because no other alternative can present itself.  And that comfortable place – this is my first instinct to create – becomes worth holding on to.. entrenching in… and even building a wall to protect.

This is not the unity to which we are called.

This is not creation making a grand tapestry that celebrates life, or setting a table that always has room for another guest.  Its about pinning us down to a moment of time, ceasing to grow and learn and explore… it isn’t a celebration of life… its about becoming the undead.

So yes, I’m a people pleaser.  And people pleasers build great towers.  So I could, I imagine, fill football stadiums of worshipers who will join me in that tower building.  And yet….

And yet I too feel called to a journey like Abram – another great people pleaser.  Abram never met a person he didn’t try please.  But I was called to a journey of self-discovery and of dislocation to discover the other.  I continue to spend my life getting to know who I am so I can both honor and overcome it.  And I am called – we are called – to spend (that is risk and give away) our lives getting to know each other that we can honor each other as well. We do the hard work, that we don’t have time for, of building bridges and relationships across a diversity of differentiated peoples.  To be both guests and hosts to each other.

How then do we tred on this earth as those called to be both guests, and hosts?

I read a great article recently on marriage.  The main premise was this: Marriage is the fight we agree to have the rest of our life.  Between two people, the author says, there will always be different views and opinions.  And marriages that work don’t seek to force the other to become obedient to your answers and world view.  Two becoming one?  Does mean like-mindedness either.

But rather, marriages that work are between two people who agree to fight about the same things over and over again because they cannot imagine someone else they’d rather spend the rest of their life fighting with.  Its not our likeness of mind that creates our unity… it is commitment to the beauty and blessedness we see in the others’ self-differentiation that makes us fight for a shared life together.

The gift, not punishment, of our languages that give name to our identity and unique flavor of life, is the gift of constant translation.  No word – beyond the divine logos – can capture God.  No image captures the breadth and depth of life.  But in the constant dynamic play of words and the dance of matching them to their meaning we are drawn together by the task of knowing one another.  And here we find that we do not do great things from our shared ideas and like-minded approaches to the world… but in the sharing of our differentiation from each other we find a unity of purpose in knowing and being known by the world that owns us.

We are all guests.  We are all hosts.  We are called to curate a life of translation in the tension of those dual roles and to risk losing ourselves to each other, for each other.  Nothing we build matters other than the human connections in which the love of God abides.

Thanks be to God.

Starting on Empty

Last night I was turning my light off to go to sleep when my youngest child wandered up from her room.  I was like, okay I’m not even playing at this before I even try to fall asleep there is already a kid and a dog in my bed.  So I vacated the bed for the small single mattress we put on the floor at the foot of our bed (okay this happens with some regularity).  Having moved down to that mattress I forgot to plug my phone in overnight to charge.  I started the day with it already under 20% charged.



I have spent all day trying to grab quick charges from my car, from my computer, from my office manager’s computer… you get it. You have probably done it.  I am spending the whole day in catch up mode… and it doesn’t work.  You can’t start from behind.  I tell folks the same thing about surgery recovery from my days working in a hospital.  You can’t catch up to pain.  Take your meds, don’t cut back from what you were told to take, and keep taking it.  Because once your pain gets out in front of you?  It will take you a long, long time before you feel comfortable again.

So.  You guessed it.  This isn’t about my phone.

Its about starting on empty.  Its about remembering to find some me-time.  Its about getting a good night sleep.  Its about creating margin in our life so we aren’t overloaded.  Its about not starting out the day in catch-up mode.

Two weeks ago I preached on this and began my sermon with a favorite anecdote from Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh:

“There is a Zen story about a man riding a horse that is galloping very quickly. Another man, standing alongside the road, yells at him, “Where are you going?” and the man on the horse yells back, “I don’t know. Ask the horse.” I think that is our situation. We are riding many horses that we cannot control… Our lives are so busy.”

When we start on empty we are not at peace with ourselves and thus cannot be instruments of peace.  When we start on empty so much of what we do will be empty because we do not begin it with anything to give.  Oh, we fool ourselves into think we do.  And we may even be so talented that we actually manage to give something for a little while.  This is not a laudable talent.  Because sooner or later living on empty is going to have dreadful consequences.  For you.  For those you love.  For the world.

Get a good night sleep.  Have a slow morning.  Cancel appointments for an afternoon.  Let the dishes stack up in the sink.  Play hooky from work and call it a mental health day – because it is!

You owe that yourself.  You owe that to the world.

Because we all want a fully charged phone. (friend… I meant to say friend!) 😉

I’m Done Adulting

Adulting has become quite the term.  Its a favorite of memes.  (Here is a Time magazine article on the usage of the word if you are interested.) Adulting is what gets blamed for all the unpleasant things we have to do as part of being a responsible and contributing member of society.

Sometimes I think of my job as a pastor as adulting.  I’m the person in the room whose vocational expectations set up that I’m patient, uplifting and not derogatory, prophetic when called for but always in a pro-people way, make space for differentiation, relieve other’s anxiety, nurture healthy systems that don’t triangulate and aren’t passive aggressive, and set aside what I personally would like for what the group discerns is the greater good of our community.  I often look at myself and say, “I’m paid to be an adult.”  That’s all.

So, why is that so hard?

One of the ways I compromise in my adulting is that I drive my kids around in a car with a built in DVD and let them watch.  Every rule I ever made about cars and dvds?  I broke them.  All of them.  For my own good.  #adultingfailure So I get it.  Sometimes we just want to get through the day.

One of the consequences of those DVD’s is that I listen to a lot of kids shows.  I obviously don’t watch them, because #adulting, but I do listen.  I got struck recently that the new Strawberry Shortcake TV show’s plot is basically written out of a healthy systems theory text book.  Really!  Almost every show it turns out that Strawberry Shortcake is just the group’s therapist ready to call out their triangulation and petty behavior.  She is so stinkin’ good at adulting.

Then I was listen to Dora the Explorer today.  Its really all about community.  She overcomes every obstacle that ultra-high pitched and annoying map reminds her she has to overcome… but never alone.  She almost always does it through the work of others who want to be a part of her journey and help her succeeded.  She is all about the common good and rallying support and winning friends.  Even the “bad guy” Swipper is really just a misunderstood bully who needs a friend and turns into a nice guy (aka Pete in Mickey Mouse Clubhouse).  (yes I NEED to stop listening.)

My Little Pony?  Its all about friendship as magic… and a whole lot more healthy systems plot lines… I could go on for hours and I’m not mocking.  They really are good teachings.  We could all use to learn some adulting from the average plot of the the average kid’s TV show.

We expect it in our children.  And then what?  Do we forget it as adults?  Do we get tired of it?  Did we decided that was nice enough then but now we have earned the right to be… toxic?  Arrogant?  Rude?

I’m not saying you are those things.  I’m not saying we are all doing them all the time.  But its amazing just how often we treat each other with very little respect.  Just last night I caught myself displaying absolutely zero patience.  And three days ago I got upset with my son for filling up the dog’s water bowl (talk about trivial) in  way that wasn’t as efficient as I would like… and yet in a way that I have probably done it twenty or thirty times.  I turned it into a whole lesson about thinking through unintended consequences… and then had to remind myself to listen up.

I’m not sure what makes us think that adulting is such hard work… except perhaps its that we are all so busy and stressed and “important” that we turn into ticking time-bombs looking for a reason to act like anything other than an adult.  And that makes me wonder if what we really need is to stop adulting… and start embracing our inner child.  After all years ago there was this teacher who said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven… become humble like this child… welcomes one like this child… welcome me.”

So many of our interactions and systems are dysfunctional.  We often think that dysfunctional means it doesn’t work.  But that isn’t quite right.  What it really means is that it is functioning in pain.  The pain has become a part of the very fabric of the system. And when that happens patience is allusive.  We become painfully reactive and this creates fear.  Fear of all that reactive pain being thrown around, and a world where fear is ubiquitous cannot foster freedom and growth.

So maybe… just maybe.  The antidote to our struggles to adult is to stop trying.  Stop emulating the pain-wrought system and go back the basics.  Back to beginning.  Become like children.  And build a better dream (thank you Shark Boy and Lava Girl).

**yes I really do have the dialog to all these shows unintentionally burned into my memory, but don’t ask me what they look like because I’m driving.  Though while I’m driving I do dance along to the theme of Everybody’s Awesome.  Because you are!  

We are Family

This is going to be long. Its going to be real. Its going to sound like sob story or an attempt at eliciting sympathy and I don’t want it to be any of that, I want it to be a witness to love and strength and beauty in the midst of the muck of life. Its going to be what it is because sometimes you just feel the need to share… and a long time ago life taught me not to pass such moments by…
Yesterday afternoon I was texting with my dad – we text our way through EVERY Cub game because that’s how we roll from 1,500 miles apart.
Along the way my dad shares that my sister Sally is having a good day. Actually was able to get up out of bed (a long while back my parent’s turned their bedroom into what basically amounts to a really nice hospital room for my sister and they moved upstairs into the guest bedroom) and come out and eat a fudgsicle and seemed to be recovering from another bout of infections.
Then 9 pm roles around and they get a call from the hospital. Get back in here right away… lab work came back. ‘Horrible infection. We got get this for real for real and right now.’
The night is spent in the ER and then getting room. Another round of hospital visits, another round of doctors, and hopefully… hopefully… on the other end of it? Maybe another week of respite before it all repeats.
My sister texts me late that night. “One of these infections is going to kill me.”
Yes. One of these days, one of these is going to do what so many other damn horrible things have failed to do…. but not yet. Not this one. We got this one. Love you.
What else do you say?
Its true. And we long sense past the stage where we lie to each other to make it more comfortable.
Today? Its my parents anniversary. 51 years. They will spend it going back and forth to the hospital. Not the retirement they expected. Sally will spend it on the other side of the ocean from her husband and kids. Not the life she wanted.
But it is the life we have and we will make of it what we can. That is what my sister teaches me daily. That is one of the great gifts my parents have given me. We lament, we do not get stuck. We are real, we are there for each other, and we find the joke and the laughter in whatever life may come.
I don’t share this because I want your sympathy (not for me and not even for them). (Though if you are the praying type… a prayer is welcome… and good thoughts of any kind for any other, presence, a hand now and then, a visit, its all appreciated – though we struggle to ask for such things life has made us a bit better at this by necessity.)
I share it because I’m amazed day after day of the quiet (okay she is loud… let’s call it the persistent strength) of my sister whose life hasn’t known a day of normal in the last 12 years… maybe more. And who has beat every prediction for how long she will muster out another day of life. Who has fought and struggled and persevered… and all for love of her family – to see another highlight of her daughter Caleigh riding her horse, or son Callum playing rugby (they are Scottish… like, live in Scotland Scottish) and mountain biking and overcoming the same genetic crap that she has overcome day after day for… well for what seem like forever. For one more time when they can go to the backyard for a game of catch.
I share it because I am amazed day after day of the fragile strength of my parents. (they are fragile. And they are strong… so damn strong) Watching your child’s dreams come to… what life has left of dreams… Changing their house, their life, their every day to support… all of us. Because there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t feel supported as well as my sister Sally, and Karen who also struggles mightily as well with that same disease, and Robin my eldest sister who does the work of all 3 of us combined in helping out because that is what eldest siblings do. My parents long ago set the standard for me on what it is to be leaders, disciples, and family. (yes, Stitch, ohana means family and nobody gets left behind) and they taught me that everyone is family. And frankly? Its why I push and wrangle and hope so hard to create families like that wherever I may be.. families not bound by blood but by a love we choose to share for each other, with each other.
That is really why I share this I guess. Because life is precious, life with others better yet. And life will give you more than you can bear.
It will.
Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. And don’t go through it alone.
Because life will give you more than you can bear but it will also give you the people to help you bear it. Sally and Karen teach me that daily. My mom and dad made it the bedrock of my life. And my sister Robin, who is probably driving the hour from her house to go help my parents even now, reinforces that message daily.
And I’m on the outside looking in… so it means I cannot do anything but love and pray and speak. And speak is what I do. So I share that I love my family.. for the way it doesn’t let anyone get left behind.
And you are my family too. Love you all.
#mito #mitochondrialdisease
#umdf #energyforlife