Seek the beautiful

Photo Credit: “Grumpy cat”, © 2013 WXRob, Flickr | CC-BY-SA | via Wylio

I’m so tired of ugly words and mean people. Really ugly words. And really mean people. And I’m using vague and trite-sounding words because I can’t write the string of profanities that would flow from my mouth and melt my keyboard.

I’m not kidding. That ugly. That @#*$!!! is mean.

Here’s reality: hard things come into our lives.
Here’s hope: these hard things don’t have to define you.

I’ve seen it over and over… from my work in hospice and in hospitals, in churches, in schools, in non-profits, and in corporations. Some people define themselves by the worst days of their lives. And others use those experiences to sharpen their goals and trudge on, trying again. It is so easy to be negative and complain. It’s hard to try again when you’ve failed… (Especially with the nay-sayers commenting, “Well you can try, but you know, it’s really not going to work.”)

That’s what I call “concretized thinking.” A mindset that is so determined that nothing will change, and the end result is inescapable. All possible alternatives are dismissed. Admitting you are struggling is a sign that you either “aren’t really trying” or “are a whiner.” Serious questions are ignored.

Enough!

Most of what we bitch about is small potatoes. It’s inconsequential. It is not life-threatening. I confess I get caught up in this… and that I have to reboot now and then… like I did this evening.

Tonight I focused on a piece of music, with its haunting melody and lush harmonies… I listened to it with my headphones on and soaked in the beauty. I invite you to do the same!

There is tension in our world. There are unanswered questions. But… there is a way through the discord, the dissonance, the unresolvable. There is a way to breathe, dream, persevere and join with others on the same path.

And there is… at the very end… peace.

A Riverside Chat: Or How The Reverend Crankypants Got Her Groove Back

I took a break from a staff retreat today and headed down to the Potomac River. It’s been many months, but I knew that getting a chance to sit near the water would do my heart good.

I was a long ways from the riverbank, when I could hear the rapids. I found a rock and sat and breathed deeply. The rushing of the current over the rocks was so loud it pounded in my chest. All the “stuff” that was annoying me, making me sad, and giving me all kinds of heartache melted away.    In the presence of such power, I found some perspective.

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There are no obstacles in the presence of such power. Even a large rock or branch will not stop the river’s flow. It moves on, works around, pushes, smooths, and travels past.

So God and I had a little Riverside “chat” and I agreed to listen, bend and be moved… and not impede the Spirit’s flow. As a result, I had a better afternoon. (Though, I will be honest, there are things that should be best experienced with a pitcher of margaritas. Like karaoke. Just sayin’.)

Done retreating… now what?

I’m back from a refreshing weekend at Shepherd’s Spring Retreat Center outside Sharpsburg, Maryland. It was sponsored by the Alliance of Baptists, a faith community of caring, celebrating, diverse and welcoming Baptists.

I made the decision to go on this retreat because I believed in my heart of hearts I would have a lot in common with them. I drove into the retreat center knowing No One At All. I drove away with new sisters, brothers, mentors and friends. My heart is full. God is truly good.

I’m still thinking about the weekend…  Processing and understanding what I learned about myself. What I want to do about it. What I DON’T want to do. Where I still have such a long way to grow. But enough about that…

Through my camera lens, there was a lot to celebrate, love and appreciate in the scenery around us. Enjoy these glimpses of the Love and Creative God around us…

There were hikes near a frozen C&O Canal with the Potomac full of snow melt and rain…

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C&O Canal near Taylor’s Landing

We hiked into the valley to see the Spring itself… lovely in the cold and snow.

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THE spring at Shepherd’s Spring retreat center

We walked in snow and ice through woods punctuated by hoof prints and bird tracks.

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We visited Antietam Battlefield, a sober reminder of the staggering loss of human life because of war.

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The “Bloody Lane” of Antietam Battlefield.

We visited the “Dunkard Church” – a peace-loving church on the edge of the bloodiest battlefield in American history.2014-02-23 DunkardChurch1

I could not help but wonder, what silent testimony of peace do these empty benches tell us, if we would but listen?2014-02-23 DunkardChurch2

Ending Saturday night’s time together by gathering for worship and Communion. Food for the heart.

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My gift to the group was an offering of a song that reminds me, wherever I go, God has sent me to make a difference. Whatever it is that I try to do, God causes the growth.

And many years from now, long after we are gone, these trees will spread their branches out and bless the dawn…

Thanks be, THANKS BE!

Praying for Peace…

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from http://pray-as-you-go.org

I am joining many others in prayers for peace, particularly for a peaceful resolution to the latest conflicts in Syria. I commend to you this op-ed piece by Daryl Byler, a friend and man of peace, for some perspective you won’t hear in the media’s sound bites.

Here is my own prayer…

Lord of all

We stand again on the brink of war

in a part of the world

where chasms between peoples run so deep,

and enmity is nourished instead of friendship.

Hear our prayers, Lord…

for peace

for reconciliation

for protection of the innocent

for resolution without armed conflict

for the comfort of those in distress

for the grieving.

Bring your wisdom

to those who make plans for war

that they might instead seek peace,

to those who are frozen in fear

that they may see hope,

to those who are indifferent

that they may understand.

Bring your justice

upon those who stir up strife

upon those who unjustly attack

upon all who would exploit, kill and destroy.

Bring your peace

O Lord, bring your peace.

Maranatha…

Hear our cries, Lord, we trust in you, the only God and Savior of all,

Amen

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When is it OK?

“…Many that live deserve death, and some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them, Frodo? Do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. Even the very wise can not see all ends. My heart tells me that Gollum has some part to play yet, for good or evil before this is over…”

Gandalf in The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien.

When is it OK to bomb someone out of existence? Or gas their hometown with poison? Or shoot someone because you don’t like their face/heritage/religion? Is there ever a reason? Is it ever really a “just war”?

I wrestle with questions like these because in my short lifetime so far, I have yet to see an armed conflict come out the way it has been planned. One group’s superiority complex tips the balance of power and peace around the globe. Others rising in the defense of the weaker neighbor (or to carefully reinforce their own borders) escalate the conflict.

I do not agree with those who suggest we must bomb/shoot/gas/drone strike others before we are attacked. And I know I am possibly raising the hackles of many who read this… To be fair, I have good friends who serve in the military. They give up a lot to be peacekeepers, and I am grateful.

But this determined stance of “answering” acts of foreign or domestic terror with more bombings, more killing… it does not sit well.

I ponder the realities of the human condition. We are made in the image of God. We are poor reflections of the love of God. We go out of our way to live selfish, petty lives. We hold offenses against us like they are prize possessions, to be nurtured and violently protected. (And by “we” I mean me. And you.)

Have we learned nothing in our centuries of war? Have we not remembered that Evil exists — and that in its very existence we will find ourselves at odds with one another for no other reason than we can not agree on what actually constitutes “evil”!

As I write these words, the final decisions on a response to the mass killings in Syria have not been announced. My heart is heavy, my prayers are constant. For peace. For courage. For wisdom. For hope. For all of us…

When the walls fail…

Eight years ago, the levees failed in New Orleans, and Katrina’s storm surge all but swallowed a city. We watched news reports and saw President George W. Bush tour the area in a helicopter. We listened to the frustrations of people camped in the SuperDome, without electricity or plumbing. We saw inadequate response from FEMA. In the weeks and months that followed, many traveled to the area to rebuild churches, schools and homes.

Yet, if you travel in that region, you will see the “bones” of a time “Pre-Katrina.”

Somehow, despite early warning systems, despite the logic of building at (or in some places, below sea level), we continue to build places to live, work, eat and worship on the coastal plains. (I should point out that I regularly enjoy the peace and quiet of one of these homes… so I’m not condemning anyone.)

There are times that we can see walls about to fail. Especially in the arena of world politics, we see the match-to-a-powder-keg situations that make us catch our breath. “Dear Lord, may it not be.”

As Syria is about to explode in anger and war. As the death toll rises in Egypt. As Iran and Iraq and Pakistan remain riddled with gunfire and IEDs. We watch a world that is on the verge of eruption and harp on the unimportant.

What matters? Health, education, food and safety for families across the globe. Safety and security to worship in a place and manner of their choosing.

In a Star Trek Next Generation episode, Captain Picard was trying to communicate with the Tamarians, a people who communicated exclusively in metaphor and cultural inference. Frustrations abounded as human and Tamarian talked past each other.

How like our world scene this is…

Lt. Commander Data: Their ability to abstract is highly unusual. They seem to communicate through narrative imagery, a reference to the individuals and places which appear in their mytho-historical accounts.
Counselor Deanna Troi: It’s as if I were to say to you… “Juliet on her balcony”.
Doctor Beverly Crusher: An image of romance.
Counselor Deanna Troi: Exactly. Imagery is everything to the Tamarians. It embodies their emotional states, their very thought processes. It’s how they communicate, and it’s how they think.
Commander William T. Riker: If we know how they think, shouldn’t we be able to get something across to them?
Lt. Commander Data: No, sir. The situation is analogous to understanding the grammar of a language, but none of the vocabulary.
Doctor Beverly Crusher: If I didn’t know who Juliet was or what she was doing on that balcony, the image alone wouldn’t have any meaning.
Counselor Deanna Troi: That’s correct. For instance, we know that Darmok was a great hero, a hunter, and that Tanagra was an island. But that’s it. Without the details, there’s no understanding.

And that is exactly what I see in Syria…. and Egypt. And in the racial tensions and misunderstandings of our own country. If we only understand grammer and none of the syntax or vocabulary, we have no hope of truly communicating.

We speak of political peace when people are seeking power and dominance. The way of Christ is one of peace through faith, in spite of circumstances. We should not be surprised when the levees fail, when the wall fall, and when people turn on each other, each scrabbling to hold on to high ground.

Can we find a way through these moments of political injustices and persecution? Can we advance a way of peace that does not exist through the realm of ego and anger? Not by our own attempts. No, we need the work and power of God, watching, shepherding, guiding, and diffusing our “first response” – war – to the way of peace.

Oh Lord, may it be.

23 Jesus answered, “Whoever loves me will keep my word. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Whoever doesn’t love me doesn’t keep my words. The word that you hear isn’t mine. It is the word of the Father who sent me.

25 “I have spoken these things to you while I am with you. 26 The Companion, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I told you.

27 “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you. I give to you not as the world gives. Don’t be troubled or afraid.  (John 14, CEB)