Monthly Archives: May 2016

Casualties of War (Memorial Day Applied)

It’s sobering to realize how many have died fighting wars in our United States military. A 2015 story by the PBS NewsHour reported that 1.1 million military personnel have died in warfare since our country’s founding.

Even more sobering is the fact that just shy of 500,000 died in the U.S. Civil War – almost half. This staggering number comes from the fact that – unlike our other wars – this one was fought on American territory by American soldiers on both sides. The bloodiest day in American history occurred during this war (the Battle of Antietam) and the largest land battle in North American history also (Battle of Gettysburg).

I don’t want to hijack this solemn weekend of remembering but I was struck that the worst and bloodiest fights often occur not between warring nations but nations and people warring with themselves.

And I thought about my beloved denomination which is, well, at war with itself over issues of sexuality. Bitter conflicts I have witnessed in local churches. Families torn apart and destroyed by strife and disagreement. Battles at home are the worst, the bloodiest, and leave the deepest scars.

As we remember the fallen who have purchased peace and freedom for us… I am led, too, to prayer for peace on those internal fields of battle where blood is being spilled and spirits wounded even as I write. May the peace of Christ rule there and the freedom from anger and hurt come to reign there too.

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General Conference Reflection – Not Mine

I had drafted something along the lines of what I am about to repost below… but then read these much better and more eloquent observations from someone on the spot and who has a broad and deep experience of General Conference and the general church at large.

Among the greatest indictments of the modern church (UM and others) is that we are far more influenced by the culture and politics of our age than we are by the age to come when Jesus reigns without a rival. He has a rival now – us and our being more left and right, conservative and progressive than grace-filled and humble.

I invite you to read Mike Slaughter’s blog in its entirety HERE. I hope his concluding words will entice you to read and reflect on his message as I have been this morning.

“I believe the following expression, sometimes attributed to John Wesley among others, is the best counsel I know in these difficult days.

Unity in the essentials
Liberty in the non-essentials
Charity in ALL things.

I love Jesus. I love Christ’s Church. Let’s learn how to love each another. ”
(Michael Slaughter)

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Lies I Have Believed (Part 1)

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Or Maybe Not

I was raised to believe that I could do anything I wanted to do – and I am grateful for that! To approach life believing I could overcome obstacles… that I could face adversity…. that my abilities were enough. This was all good. (This may also be a lie too but that is for another day!).

But for me this came to be “I can fix anything.”   A person is broken, wounded, dysfunctional, etc. – I can fix that! An organization is broken or failing or myopic? I can fix that!  A system doesn’t work as it ought – I can tweak it, adjust it, repair it. I can fix that! Nearly fifty years of living and leading (and being led and coached) have helped me see the lie.

To believe I can fix “it” means taking responsibility that isn’t mine. Even as a leader, when all is said and done I can only take responsibility for me. I cannot make people do what they won’t. I cannot force what is not freely taken. My own sense of responsibility may even rob another – person or organizations – of its opportunity to take responsibility for the nest steps. And for life and health — and for the consequences.

And to assume a power that is beyond me. There are things that no human power can repair. There are things that are so broken that the best result is an end rather than a limping, gasping continuation. Even people – not that they should give up and die. But their brokenness is beyond my ability to help, heal or even bear.

There is so much more here to unpack but the lie “I can fix it” is a spiritual one. To believe I can fix things, systems, and people is to nudge God off the throne of the universe and, as people are wont to do, ease myself into the seat. Only God can create new life. Only God can heal in an ultimate way.

More painfully, the desire to fix others and other things is a way to avoid fixing me. To focus on the brokenness of others? Means I don’t have to look in the spiritual and psychological mirror. To bring my magic elixir to fix a system or structure? I don’t have to ask how I contribute to this system’s dysfunction. Or how I am blinded by things that are simply different from the things others in the organization cannot see.

I can do my part – I can offer what I know and have experienced. i can take responsibility for myself and my faults and my place in a system or group. I can even offer my “fix.” But I can’t do it all. And some things I cannot – and should not – do at all.

 

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Lazarus… Randy… Come Forth

During the weeks following Easter, our church invited speakers to share their answers to the question “What does the resurrection mean to you?” This blog post is a written version of my answer last Sunday, May 1.

The Resurrection is a profoundly personal story. While Paul does record a large-scale appearance of Jesus, most are to individuals and small groups. Jesus appears to Mary in the garden. He speaks with Peter and restores him to relationship. A mysterious figure walks with two disciples but reveals himself to be the risen Jesus. Thomas’ doubts are answered when Jesus appears and invites him to believe.

Among the most personal stories of resurrection occurs before Jesus’ death – the raising of Lazarus. Lazarus, who is with his sisters among Jesus’ closest friends, dies. Jesus travels to the scene of his burial and asserts to Martha “I am the resurrection and the life.” Jesus speaks to the dead Lazarus in his tomb and tells him “Lazarus, come forth!”

May 2011 marked the end of the longest, most painful two-years of my life. Another year of challenge lay ahead. The three worst years of my life were in full swing. I felt, as people often do when life is challenging, that I could not take one more thing. One more burden would crush me. One more crisis would be one too many. And then, without warning, it came.

I was driving to the office after my once-a-month Bible study at the local nursing home. My phone had rung several times during the class but I had muted them until I could get to the office. Then one of my best friends and closest colleagues called. Something was not right. When I answered the phone he asked if I was driving – when I responded “yes” he told me to pull over. “Your dad just died.”

There are moments seared into our memories. Moments whose feeling and details come back in exquisite detail when we allow them to re-enter our consciousness. That phone call is one of them.

I can only describe that moment as a moment when I died in a way. My dad was the person who, in addition to my wife and children, had supported and encouraged me in the hell I was living. He was the human rock, the source of wisdom both practical and spiritual, in my life. And he was gone. And part of me with him.

What I thought was unimaginable grief would deepen. He was alone, at home. On the phone with the 9-1-1 operator, my dad died frightened, alone, and gasping for breath. I had imagined things in my life could not get worse… but they could.

In the days that followed I must confess I wanted to die myself at times. I didn’t sleep well. I was dying inside if not outside.

And then I heard it. My soul was heavy, full of death and pain from months of crisis climaxing in an awful moment of death. And still I heard it. Like dead Lazarus lying in his tomb – insensible to this life, to his friends and family, beyond all caring and hope – the voice of Jesus. “Randy, come forth.” The Resurrection and the Life spoke into my time of death and said “Randy live.” And by his grace and his power, by his presence and his invitation, I did.

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