Showing posts from August, 2020

God Always Makes More Room

I have been watching a lot of the election coverage lately---doing my best to listen and learn, and also doing my best to practice forbearance and grace, which are both hard to come by when one is watching election coverage.  What has been striking to me is the way that so many of the people speaking during the respective party conventions have missed opportunities to cast a bigger, more expansive and hopeful vision for the future. And far too many people who say they follow Jesus buy into the narrower visions that are presented, a small way of seeing the future---a future that offers security, prosperity and salvation for a very small group of people, while leaving everyone else out.  I have so many memories of moments from my youth when I listened to preachers and youth leaders pound their pulpits as they read from Matthew 7:13: "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it."Their point was t…

Responding To Crisis As A Christian

This week as I watched the news coming out of Kenosha, Wisconsin regarding the latest police shooting of a black man, I was filled with sadness, and my spirits sunk.  I also felt a sense of dread over the sorts of reactions I would begin to see from many of my white Christian friends and connections on social media.  It didn't take long. "There is more to this story than this video..." one white Christian friend wrote. Another immediately began condemning the protests that occurred after the shooting.  Still others posted their support of the police, while excoriating the reactions of the professional athletes who had spoken out about the shooting.  And then yesterday on my Facebook Live broadcast a young man who attended one of my former churches, began posting inflammatory comments in the comment feed, after I expressed my sorrow over the incident.  He made sure to point out the criminal record of the man who was shot.  I'm grieved over all of this.  I'm grieve…

Don't Be Afraid To Fall

Risk Assessment.
That's what I woke up thinking about today.  For some reason those words were in my head--probably from something I read yesterday.  
The words didn't go away, though.  It happens for me like that sometimes.  A word or a phrase will take up residence in my thoughts, and will refuse to leave until I understand why they are there.  
So I decided to chase the reason why and began by looking up the definition of "risk assessment" this morning... 
risk as·sess·ment (noun) a systematic process of evaluating the potential risks that may be involved in a projected activity or undertaking.
I also discovered that there is a chart that you can create when you are making a decision, or planning a project. Here's an example of one: 

In this particular matrix, you can see how the person who created it has calculated the risks for what they are about to do based on criteria that enables her to place a score on the possible outcomes.  
Here's the thing... I think th…

Not Today Satan

I'm not having the best of starts to my week.  
I accidentally hurt my sweet little cat last night trying to keep her from running outside last night.  She has too sweet a temperament to be left outside in the dark---I always feel like I need to protect her from herself.  And then I  went and hurt her trying to do just that.  
I felt like the biggest heel in the history of heels for what happened even though it was an accident.  The huge vet bill I was presented with today will be my penance, I'm afraid, which makes me feel even worse.  
And then my car just died and I'm having to have it towed to the mechanic.  I was scheduled to take it to the mechanic today because it had been having problems, and now I know I waited too long.  Who knows how much that is going to cost?   
I was also late to a funeral I was scheduled to attend today, too--stuck outside the security gate of the housing development where it was being held until someone came along and opened it.  
To add insult …

Bidden Or Not Bidden, God Is Present

I was listening to a song by the singer/songwriter Ryan Adams the other day, and a snippet of the song captured my attention, so I wrote it down.  The more I thought about it, the more it reminded me of the situation we all find ourselves in right now. See what you think: All the things you thought made you strong
Now make you weak
The very same things that used to make us laugh
Now only make us weep
The very same things that used to take a day
Now take a week
And all the things that once were so easy to climb
They are now too steep Is that not the perfect summation of the way that 2020 has played out?  Nothing seems easy any more, does it?  I have said more than once over the course of this pandemic that I have never worked harder in my life, and felt like I've accomplished less.  According to my calendar, my kids would have just finished their first week of school this past Friday if everything was happening according to plan.  Only there are no real plans anymore, are there?  I used to…

Your Story Will Tell Them Who You Are

Today is my mom's birthday.  She would have been seventy-six today if she were alive to celebrate.  But she passed away nearly three years ago--taken away from the world far too soon.  To say that I miss my mom is perhaps the understatement of my lifetime.  There's not a day that goes by that I don't miss her---especially now, during this extraordinarily trying time.  I would give anything to be able to sit down with her and tell her everything that's going on in my heart and my head.  She was the most amazing and non-anxious listener I've ever known... not to mention gentle, kind, patient, and loving beyond all measure.  My mom taught me about the love of God.  But she didn't teach me about the love of God by parsing scripture passages or lecturing me on theology.  Her "curriculum" was more expansive, more inclusive and more real in it's content.  The Christianity that was expressed in the faith communities we were a part of when I was young was …

Fake Plastic Trees & Blank Screens

I'm staring at a blank screen and wondering what to write, which is pretty much how I start at least half of the days of the week.  
The other half of the days seem to take care of themselves somehow---the words are already there waiting for me when I get to the screen, if that makes sense, and it doesn't stay blank for long.  
But the blank screen today is staying blank---the cursor blinking at me like a faint heartbeat, waiting for breath, words, ideas... anything to get it racing again, to bring it to life.  
There's something about the blank screen that is exhilarating when I'm at my best, but utterly exhausting when I'm not. 
It has occurred to me  how so many of us are facing blank screens in this new world we are living in right now.  Those blank screens might not be waiting for words to be typed, mind you, but they are waiting nonetheless.  
And when we are struggling, the waiting, the exhaustion is too much for so many of us to bear.  We are tired, and we are o…

Sabbath, Work & Technology During COVID

I decided to re-read The Sabbath, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel's seminal work on the Sabbath over the course of this pandemic.  It's one of those books that I've returned to over and again throughout my life---mostly when I have been feeling overwhelmed and over-busy.  Along those lines... I've probably read Sabbath six times since I first bought my current copy about seven years ago.  My original copy got read at least four times before I loaned to a pastor friend and never got it back, which is totally fine.  They needed it. So yeah, I often feel overwhelmed and over-busy, but all the times before pale in comparison to the last few months.  We live in strange times right now, and as I picked up The Sabbath again, I wondered just how well Heschel's work, which was written in 1951 would hold up in this new world we're living in right now.    It does hold up by the way.  And the truth is, we absolutely need more conversations about what it means to live a sabbat…

How to Be Perfect

There's a verse in the Bible that up until recently, I have always wished wasn't in the Bible.  It's this one:  Matthew 5:48 - Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.When I was a kid, I would have this verse tossed in my face in a variety of church-y settings, to remind me that I needed to constantly be avoiding sin and sinful people in order to be as perfect as possible.  But mostly the verse was used to rub it in that I was constantly falling down on the job when it came to living as sinlessly as possible.  Despite my failure, it was incumbent upon me to do everything I could to be "perfect" in my behavior just like God is perfect in God's behavior. By the way, this is not only the worst kind of interpretation of that verse, it's also really, really bad theology.  Still, this verse has haunted me for a long time.  Whenever anyone brings it up, I always cringe and find myself reverting back to that shame-filled middle schooler, who sta…

`Nothing Ever Goes As Planned

When I was a teenager, my favorite rock band in the world was the band Styx. I used to lay awake late at night listening to the secret cassette recordings I had of all their albums.  
But my favorite was Paradise Theater, which was a concept album---a fictional account of Chicago's Paradise Theatre from its opening to closing (and eventual abandonment), which the band used as a metaphor for America's changing times from the late 1970s into the 1980s.
One of the lesser known songs is "Nothing Ever Goes As Planned," and for all of my life whenever my plans go astray, or things don't work out as I hoped, the chorus to that song plays in my head: 
Cause, nothing ever goes as planned It's a hell of a notion Even pharaohs turn to sand Like a drop in the ocean You're so together and you act so civilized But every time that things go wrong you're still surprised You've done your duty, you've paid a fortune in dues Still got those mother nature's blues

Indescribable - Week Three: For Such A Time As This

Today we are going to be continuing the sermon series Indescribable.  Everything around us gives us a glimpse of God’s creative impulses.  As image-bearers of God, we are given the opportunity to live into our God-given creative to embody God’s kingdom to the world around us.Today we are going to be talking about something that is so relevant and important for each of us.  Let me introduce it with this question: Did you know you have a particular and powerful purpose in life? You might be thinking, "I would love to believe that Pastor Leon, but I'm just an ordinary person."  I  get that.  I feel it, too.  

Let me share with you some ordinary people who changed the world. 
Nils Bohlin - invented the seat belt Henry Dunant - Nobel Peace Prize, Red Cross, Geneva Convention  Tank Man - Tianmenn Square Lewis Latimer - carbon filaments for light bulbs, cooling, disenfecting hospitals  James Harrison - blood antibody for Rhesus - saved 2.4 million babies  Rosa Parks - protest because …

Hindsight is 20/20--Or Is It?

Most of us have heard the platitude "Hindsight is 2020" at least once or twice in our lives.  It references the clarity that comes when you are able to see your past actions in light of your present reality.  
The origin of the phrase is unknown, but it's definitely connected to the Snellen Chart, which is used to examine a person's vision acuity.  The Snellen Chart was created in 1862, so the phrase probably emerged shortly after that. 
I've heard that phrase most often coming out of my own mouth to describe how I feel when I realize that I am in a predicament that could have been avoided had I done something differently.  Life is easy to chronicle but bewildering to practice. - E.M. Forster   When I read the above quote, it spoke to me about how incredibly hard it is to see the way forward in life---almost all of the time.   
It also spoke to me about how easy it is to look back and see so clearly what roads you ought to have taken... and then beat yourself up for n…

Stairway to Heaven

In the Hebrew Scriptures' book of Genesis chapter 28 there is an amazing story that speaks to the ephemeral nature of reality, and the "thin" places that exist between "here" and "eternity."  It's also the origin for the title of one of the greatest rock-n-roll songs of all time. I'm pretty sure.  The story follows Jacob as he travels from the deserts of Beersheba (southern Israel) to Harran, an ancient city located in what is now modern day Turkey. He stops to rest for the night and then this happens: 12 He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it... Did you see that?  The text says he saw a vision of a stairway "reaching to heaven!"  Come on!  Stairway to Heaven?Led Zeppelin? I'm actually doing air drums and guitar right now to the chorus as I write.  In his vision, Jacob hears God say to him that he will be blessed, h…

The Michelangelo Effect

One of the most incredible experiences I've had in my life happened many years ago when I had the chance to visit the Auguste Rodin museum in Paris, and to see up close so many of the incredible sculptures that Rodin created throughout his life.  I've always been amazed at the vision sculptors have---to take an object and then fashion it into something beautiful and expressive.  As I write, I am reminded of the famous quote by Michelangelo: Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.In a recent article on the Inc magazine website, the BBC's Christian Jarrett explored the changes that many of us may have had to our personalities during this pandemic.  Jarrett explains over the past few months, many people have gone through what is known as the "Michelangelo Effect," in terms of development.  This is what he means:  The forced lockdown, and the dramatic changes in our lifestyle have acted as a sculptor of sorts, ch…