Monthly Archives: September 2014

Can’t Complain

“The dominant impression we have of our journey to freedom was that it was filled with complaints. The complaints started in Egypt, when Pharaoh responded to the first stirrings of liberation by making life more miserable for our people. The complaints continued at the shores of the Red Sea when we seemed trapped there. And, they pretty much continued all the way until the day Moses died.”

 

The same might be said of many of us – certainly me! We LOVE to complain. Like the people of Israel on their wilderness journey. if we aren’t careful it might be the thing that people most remember about us, too. I certainly do not want to be remembered as a great complainer. Or to have complaint as the defining trait of my character. Complaint excludes the possibility of other things taking center stage –
hope, affirmation, love. It drives out any possibility of gratitude.

Last year I attempted to give up complaining for Lent. Let’s just say I am revisiting this flawed area of my character. Last Sunday I challenged my church to join me in the  21-day Complaint Free Challenge   I offered a basket of simple rubber bands and asked folks to take one and put it on their wrists. When you complain… when you are sarcastic (ouch – this one is where I fall the most)… you move the band to the other wrist. The goal is to change this behavior by not moving the rubber band for 21 days. I have yet to develop a tan-line on either wrist if that tells you how I am doing on week into the challenge.

I believe one of the keys is to replace complaining with something rather than simply removing it from our speech and thought. To speak grace into every situation. To share hope in the face of every challenge. To bless with love every person with whom we interact. And to speak with love about every person whose path crossed ours before this moment.

“Gracious speech is like clover honey — good taste to the soul, quick energy for the body.” (Proverbs 16:24, The Message)

 

On the journey of Christian discipleship we have an ally in this attempt — the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. God’s Spirit can squash our temptation to complain. The Spirit can shape our words and transform our hearts in the face of real challenges and people who try our patience (and our desire to not complain about them)! At the core of this ministry of the Spirit is love. To love and not complain… something to strive to achieve. But not alone.
 
If this call to cease complaining speaks to you today, take a look at these articles and resources —
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The Other Thing…

Last week I wrote about Tolkien’s notion of Eucatastrophe and a Christian hope that, in the end, God will bring about a surprising rescue.

The other thing lying behind this post and that I swing around to consider today is that on an individual level it does not always work out (at least not in this life or world). Sometimes things go disastrously wrong – not around the corner or  to someone in a far away place – but to me. To you. To my family and friends.

This state of affairs need not surprise us. Jesus speaks several times about the likelihood of persecution from following him: “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.”( Matthew 5:11 NRSV). Jesus says that good happens to everyone and so does evil: “… for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5;45b).

Evil in all its forms may – often does – come our way. Sometimes we delude ourselves that it will not. Sometimes the Christian witness gets corrupted into a promise that everything will come out swell in the here and now. Or that following Christ means following him to a place of prosperity and physical blessing. The pundits of positive thought and hard work make similar claims. Work hard. Work smart. Do what I suggest and you will thrive.

But you may not. I may not. People get cancer and die. Companies eliminate jobs and cast off hard-working people. Hurricane strike cities full of faithful, positive thinking people. Accidents of nature and senseless acts of violence (in every sense of that word) come our way.

I have been working with someone who encouraged me to read Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search of Meaning (I recommend you read it, too!). In the Forward Rabbi Harold Kushner summarizes Frankl’s observations from the horror of the Nazi Holocaust –

“Finally, Frankl’s most enduring insight, one that I have called on often in my own life and in countless counseling situations: Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you.”

I am living into this compelling observation in this season of life. I cannot – you cannot – control what happens by any amount of positive thinking, strategic preparation, or correct belief. I can – you can – respond in faith and hope and with a sense of purpose. In this life it is all we have.. and it is enough.

 

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Eucatastrophe

Yesterday was the thirteenth anniversary of 9/11. The fact that almost anyone can write or say “9/11” is sufficient proof of the enduring effect 9/11/01 has had on our national psyche.

So often we look toward the next disaster, the next catastrophe. Today, the day after such a somber remembrance, I am in need of a eucatastrophe. Today in the light of what sometimes feels like cascading brokenness in the world I need a eucatastrophe.

“Eucatastrophe” appeared in J.R.R. Tolkien’s essay “On Fairy Stories.” It means when the protagonist in a story faces certain doom but is saved in the end from that doom. For Tolkien, the Christian Gospel offers the ultimate eucatastrophe — the Incarnation the eucatastrophe of “human history” and the Resurrection the eucatastrophe of the Incarnation.

I long for eucatastrophe in my life and our world. 9/11 reminds me how broken our world remains – and how insoluble these problems seem. We are about to launch air attacks against ISIL, for instance. The human story doesn’t seem to be one that can end well.

But it does. It will. It must. The hope of the Gospel is more than that my soul will survive into eternity with God. It is that the unfolding and endless catastrophes of human history will end in eucatastrophe.

So this Friday after 9/11 I look for that day, I long for the echoes of its arrival. It will come. It has to.

 

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What Season Is It Anyway?

(This week’s post is my monthly newsletter article for my church’s newsletter. While these articles aren’t always appropriate to my slightly wider reading audience, this one applies to all kinds of organizations as well as our personal journey.)

Like many of you, the weather is often on my mind. And the seasons. As I’ve mentioned a few times I love fall. But we have barely had a summer! Oh it’s been hot a few times (here lately mostly).  But it has been more fall-like than summer-like these past few months. But fall will come soon and relentlessly the season will turn.

How do we know what season it is? We can probably rattle off the signs of the seasons (snow and cold in winter, hot and green in the summer, for instance). Sometimes a single day or even week don’t fit the pattern. 50 degree days in January throw us off the mark, as do 50 degree nights in July. But the pattern of the days and nights… the appearance of the natural world around us… our sense of time and season are enough to assure is we know where we are.
How do we know such things about the church? How do we discern the season in which our church is living? Are we in a season of renewal and growth? Are we in a time of seeking and discerning? Are we in a period of decline and death?

It isn’t as simple as the recurring seasons of the year. Sometimes a single Sunday may make us think “Wow! We are really going places!” Another Sunday – sometimes the next Sunday – leaves us wondering “Wow! How did that happen so poorly?” But we can look at the consistent things (How many are showing up to worship? Who is in our classes and groups and ministries? How are people supporting various ministries with their time, their treasures, their talents? – and others like this).

I don’t have a clear answer myself to what season we are experiencing. But after a few years with you I am starting to ask the questions and wonder. Just as we need to know what season it is to know which clothes to pack away (and which ones to replace or bring out of storage), so the season of our church’s dictates where we should focus our efforts and what we need to do in response to the time and season and circumstances in which we find ourselves.

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