Wednesday, June 21, 2017

the sparrow

“Two for a penny.”
That’s how much he sold me for.
Half a penny.
That’s how much I was worth.
On my own, next to nothing.

Who was this Man
at the market?
And what did He want
with two homeless sparrows?
Those eyes, kind and compassionate,
peered into our small cage.
For the first time in a long time
I stopped beating my wings
against the bars.
For the first time in a long time
I was still and silent
under His gaze.

He regarded me with grace and a grin.
“I’ll take those two,” he said.
Did he see something in me he loved?
Were my colors delightful in his eyes?
I had no song to sing; was it my size
that made him smile?

He paid the price
and reached into our cage
with both hands,
opened like the door.
It was late afternoon.

His hands were dirty
with traces of sawdust,
hard-working and trustworthy.
I can’t explain why,
but I wanted to be in those hands.

He held me tightly
and carefully all at once.
Just right, like he knew
what it was to be a sparrow,
small and fragile.

And as soon as he held me,
he set me free.

All that time, I had lived
in the shadow of the Temple,
but never enjoyed its shelter.

I flew straight
for the altar of incense.
Who can explain it?
Something of the fragrance here
reminds me of the One
who bought me.
Something of the scent
puts a fresh prayer in my chest.
It is only a small piece
in the grand scheme of things,
but I have found a home here
above its smoke,
where I catch the wishes
of the Priest,
who has caught the desires
of the People,
crying out to God for deliverance.
The aroma clings to my wings,
so all day long, every day,
I catch countless prayers
and carry them to the sky,
singing a new song—
the song of incense, bittersweet.

I may die tomorrow,
but I will die in joy—
for one day with God
is better than all that time
I spent living in a cage.



the sparrow
by troy cady
after Matthew 10:29 and Psalm 84:3



Friday, June 9, 2017

when God is silent

Think of a friend who is hurting.
Your friend comes to you with their pain.
They can’t make sense of it, so they come to you with their pain.
They pour out their pain, and ask you to say something.
But you know that anything you say to them in that moment
will fall short of the full love you want them to know.
You know that sometimes the most loving thing you can do for your friend

is to listen to their now-wordless pain,
to just sit with them in silence,
to be with them,
to be with them,
a true friend
without words.

Even a good word to a person in pain
falls short of the goodness of simple presence,
the goodness of loving silence,
an embrace without a word.

We sometimes wonder why God is silent.
We think, “God, if you love me, speak!”
But sometimes the most loving thing God does for us is just
to be present to us and to listen.

I know this sounds crazy to some of you but
I think God wants to love us
more than God wants to speak to us.
If God is love
and God is sometimes silent
God’s love is sometimes silent.
Don’t fear;
the sorrow that has no language but silence
is surely embraced by the silent Presence,
the God of loving silence.

………………………….

When God is silent
a reflection by Troy Cady

Monday, May 15, 2017

how we got here



How We Got Here
for Dad, on your 80th birthday
from Troy, with love

            Yesterday our drive started in full sun and took us through a twilight of shifting colors—but with each increment of time it felt as if the beauty of those moments would last forever.
            God made the light in color, at once deepening and unchanging. We don't know how it happens, but we meet eternity in this place of passing time. Suddenly, a lifetime becomes this twilight.
            The sun was brilliant at one point, drawing our eyes to its rich, dense light as it set slowly. A bank of clouds like slate obscured the topside, and it seemed as if the sun was attached to the sky’s cathedral stone, delaying the onset of twilight in mercy.
            The sight of the setting sun prompted the family to try to capture it on camera as we drove to see you. But you can’t capture these moments like that. We could no sooner bottle the ocean than photograph the dusk of the day. So, we kept driving, contenting ourselves that the mind’s eye can hold these moments better than a smartphone.
And as we drove, the sun began to merge with the horizon. I drove as if I could reach that horizon but the horizon kept moving, elusive, like hope…present but always out in front calling to a changing landscape.
We hit La Crosse and drove through that stretch of road that bends and curves. The terrain there swells wildly, unpredictably. The river divides the states and the water widens in places, drawing our eyes to its flowing stillness.
When the sun and the horizon meet, the sky changes color again. The finest artist could not canvas it. There are too many colors to mix. Deep blues and purples, like lilacs. Orange like a robin’s breast, gold richer than Solomon. Red like blood. Amber that drips like honey, both sweet and strong—a gentle kiss. There are so many colors to see in this twilight and the textured hues were multiplied in the water. We tried again to capture the colors with our cameras, trying to keep these moments.
We can’t.
Most times these sacred mysteries are right next to us but we don’t even notice them. But yesterday God graced us with the gift of recognition.

Recognition that the road has been long.
Recognition that it hasn’t always been easy.
Recognition that we took for granted the lion-share of the day.
Recognition that, nevertheless, the day was rich and full of life.
And recognition that the day isn’t over yet.
And there is beauty in this place for these moments
that we want to capture with our cameras, but can’t.
The recognition is a grace and we know God is here by that grace.

We know God is here because we are here to share these moments together, however brief they may be. We know God is here because he’s given us the beauty of this day, this time together to enjoy the changing, breathtaking colors of twilight.
And we are assured that the God of this twilight will be the same God of the night. However we got here, it was by Love and wherever the road takes us it will be under the canopy of that same Love, a horizon we will never reach, but is present, all the same.

Happy birthday, Dad. We are glad to be with you for this time.

Love,
Troy

Thursday, April 13, 2017

the foot-washing king



“I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” -Jesus (John 13:15)

Earlier that week the people cried out for Jesus to become their king. How easy it would have been for Jesus to seize the throne! Absolute authority was his for the taking.

To be sure, many wanted him dead. A plot to take his life had already been devised by the time Jesus sat down to have his last supper.

It was the season of Passover and Jesus’s last supper with his friends was a Passover meal. Before enjoying the meal together, they needed to wash up.

The friends of Jesus wondered when the time would come for them to ascend to power. When would the hour of greatness emerge, a new dawning of hope and deliverance? Jesus was the One they had been waiting for. The time was pregnant, the Moment at-hand.

But Jesus had another surprise in store for them. The king washed their feet.

What a backwards sort of kingdom this king was creating! The drama of the week was predicated on a great power struggle. Even as those in power felt their power threatened by the clamor of the crowd for a new king, Jesus responds not by laying hold of power but by relinquishing it. The very power struggle that would keep the plot moving forward is disrupted when the new king refuses to play their games.

He washed their feet.

The new kingdom is a foot-washing place, a kneeling place, a humble place. The new king leads by serving. The new king is the lowest servant.

The new king knows his feet will be the feet of his friends, so the new king puts his hands to work washing feet. These feet are ready now for exodus. They have passed through the water and they are prepared for a new set of commandments.

Jesus has just one commandment to give. It sounds old but Jesus adds a new part to it: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34)

The Hebrews were familiar with chiasmus; it’s the structure of leaving a place, arriving at a center point, and returning to where you began. Jesus’ new command has the structure of chiasmus. It begins and ends with a command they already know: “Love one another.”

But in the center of the new command was something they were still coming to know: “As I have loved you…”

That center part was new to them. Even though they had spent the past three years with Jesus, his friends still did not know the full extent of his love for them. They had no idea he was about to give up his very life for them, so he gave them a sign: he washed their feet.  

Jesus’s new command is the only command they would need because their feet would become the work of his hands and their hands would carry on his work of washing many feet.

The friends of Jesus now have but one vocation: foot-washing. Jesus says so: “I have set you an example, that you should do as I have done for you.”

A disciple’s job is not to posture for high position, as those in power often suppose. A disciple’s job is to take the lowest position, the kneeling position, the place of humility. The friend of Jesus is the servant to others. The world will know we are followers of Jesus by how we serve.

May we do as Jesus has done for us. May we be found at the intersection of loving one another, the crossing where Jesus reminds us of his love for us.

It is Maundy Thursday, the day of the last supper, and we have a new command. Having been freed, having passed through the water, let us walk in the light of his new command.

Amen.







Saturday, March 18, 2017

how my beliefs have changed

Image from http://scalien.com/worksheets/before-and-after-words.html

Recently, a friend posed a question to his Facebook friends that garnered quite a number of responses. He wanted to know who among his friends had changed their beliefs about religious/spiritual things so significantly that others who knew them 10 years ago wouldn’t recognize them today.

I think it’s a good question. It certainly caused me to pause and consider the question for myself.

Most responses affirmed a significant level of change, while a few indicated they hadn’t changed at all. At least one person stated something like: “In some ways I’ve changed a lot and in some ways I’m still the same me.” I thought that response was insightful.

Initially, my own response involves more questions. Such as: What do you mean by ‘change’ and what does the word ‘spiritual’ mean? What is ‘belief’ and why does it matter? How does one go about ‘changing beliefs’ and what nurturing influences lead to such change?

I’ve changed. That much is certain. We all have. It’s human to change—and to learn is to change.

Change is to belief as learning is to knowing. Some of us feel the latter is more important than the former but the truth is: you can’t know anything without learning it. Learning (experiencing and reflecting on experience) precedes knowing. So, which is greater? Both are good and necessary.

……………………….

So, what have I learned? Well…to be honest, I am still learning whatever I have supposedly learned. Knowledge is like that. As soon as you think you’ve laid claim to it, it has eluded you. The most learned people I know are those who know they don’t know. That’s what keeps them learning. And, as long as they are rapt by learning, they are changing, deeply, truly.

This stance towards learning and knowledge is itself life-changing. In high school, my approach to knowledge was something like this: “I should acquire as much knowledge as I can so I can convince others to see things my way.”

I’m sure it was quite off-putting to most people who knew me and for that I am sorry. See, my view of knowledge was fixed at the time. I treated knowledge as if it was a bounded set. If a topic seemed of high import to me, I would set out to learn everything I could about that topic so I could become an expert in it.

I talk about that like it is in the past. But, the truth is: it’s still tempting for me to bind knowledge, even today. I’m still learning that it’s wiser to acknowledge my own foolishness and limitation than to suffer the delusion that I can know it all, do it all.

In sum: I still need to learn—and I hope I’m still learning. And I hope that is my belief.

But sometimes I refuse to learn or I stop learning. So, sometimes, I betray my belief.

That begs the question, “Do I really believe, then?”

………………

What is belief, anyway?

Because all true belief is tested, it is more variable than we realize. We believe that we believe something with certainty, but then something comes along that questions our certainty and, if we discover something essential lacking in our original belief, we change what we believe.

Some people think it is a bad thing to change what one believes. But, if what we believe is false or only partly true, is it not better to change belief for the sake of truth than to go on living a lie?

The real conundrum with this surfaces when we consider that what we once believed we did so with certainty. And, when we change or modify our belief we also do so with certainty. We become convinced of another reality and cannot look back to our former model.

And yet…might our new belief also be partial or even false? How can we be so certain?

No doubt, we might appeal to experience or any number of (reasonable, mind you!) rationalizations. But, did we not base our former belief squarely on the same “solid” footing? So, how can we be so certain now?

Sometimes certainty in belief is the very thing that keeps us from true belief, which is open and expansive. Even so-called open and expansive beliefs warrant uncertainty if they are to be truly open and expansive. The truly free thinker can by no means rule out that some perspectives may be false and destructive, if they are to claim openness as a hallmark of their belief system.

This applies equally to the Christian as to the atheist.

I sometimes wonder if Christians wouldn’t benefit more if we learned to learn from our atheist neighbors. Sometimes I think Christians could benefit from a little “Christian agnosticism.” Sometimes it is Christian certainty that prevents the non-Christian seeker-of-truth from considering Christianity an option for them.

Can you blame them? I can’t.  

To be a Christian is to be a seeker-of-truth more than to be a keeper-of-truth. If we encounter in another the same passion to seek truth, we should certainly treat them as a tender life that elicits respect and nurture, friendly affection and an openness to let the truth we encounter through them…change us.

“Change me.” Is this not the truest Christian prayer? How often do we pray it? And when we pray it, do we really mean it?

It’s a dangerous prayer, to be sure. It’s mostly dangerous because once the prayer is answered you know it still isn’t answered completely. There’s more change a-coming; there’s more change needed. Having been changed, we become more aware of our need for more change.

Unless we see that, I doubt we have really changed.

……………………………….

I have a good friend who is a shining example of belief to me.

It has been said that knowledge is like a flame. I like that image because it ascribes definition beyond confinement. The flame of a match is not the flame of a candle. The flame of a campfire is not the flame of a forest fire. Just as there are different kinds of flames, there are different kinds of knowing.

My friend’s belief is like that. It is more than head knowledge. She believes with her whole being. I call it “gut-knowing.” It’s not an unreasonable knowing, but it’s more than merely reasoned. It’s embodied.

The ancient Hebrews used a word that helps us locate the center of belief, thus helping us to understand its true nature. They used the word nephesh. We translate it as “soul” but it literally means “neck.”  

It’s a metaphor. Eugene Peterson, a Christian pastor/theologian, explains:

“The neck is the narrow part of the anatomy that connects the head, the site of intelligence and the nervous system, with everything else; it literally keeps us ‘together.’ Physically, the head is higher than the body, at least when we are standing up, and so we sometimes speak of the higher functions of thinking, seeing, hearing and tasting in contrast to the lower functions of digestion and excretion, of perspiring and copulating. But if there are higher and lower aspects to human life (which I very much doubt) it is not as if they can exist independently from one another. And what connects them is the neck. The neck contains the narrow passage through which air passes from mouth to lungs and back out again in speech—breath, spirit, God-breathed life. It is the conduit for the entire nervous system stemming and branching from the brain. And it is where the mighty jugular vein, an extremely vulnerable three to four inches of blood supply, comes dangerously close to the surface of the skin. Soul, nephesh, keeps it all together.”[i]

According to this metaphor, soul unites body and mind. This is the center of belief and it tells us something about the nature of belief.

…………………………………..

We could speak of changing belief, therefore, in rational or intellectual terms. And that is what we often do. When we ask someone what they believe we usually frame it in terms of what someone thinks about a certain issue.

Because our true beliefs are not merely reasoned but embodied, we then experience contrary beliefs as personally threatening. It’s like fire meeting more fire. It sets a rage inside us we can hardly stand. After all, there is little that upsets us more than a belief we can’t control.

That is why Facebook can become such a volatile place. As long as we keep our interactions polite and in reference to subjects that do not disturb our core beliefs, we find the engagement amusing and entertaining. But, if someone should venture to reveal a core belief contrary to ours, well…often it sets off a firestorm of impassioned debate, usually between people who do not know each other very well.

This is why it’s important to remember that belief is more than ideology. Before judging another’s thoughts, we should consider their life.

If I say I believe in God but show no compassion for the poor, do I really believe in God? If there is no connection between what I think and what I do, I am worse than a headless body—I am a bodiless head.

To kill a person it only takes one swift chop to the neck.

…………………………..

Author Henri Nouwen gives us a fine example of belief. He writes:

“After twenty years in the academic world as a teacher of pastoral psychology, pastoral theology, and Christian spirituality, I began to experience a deep inner threat. As I entered into my fifties and was able to realize the unlikelihood of doubling my years, I came face to face with the simple question, ‘Did becoming older bring me closer to Jesus?’ After twenty-five years of priesthood, I found myself praying poorly, living somewhat isolated from other people, and very much preoccupied with burning issues. Everyone was saying that I was doing really well, but something inside was telling me that my success was putting my own soul in danger. I began to ask myself whether my lack of contemplative prayer, my loneliness, and my constantly changing involvement in what seemed most urgent were signs that the Spirit was gradually being suppressed. It was very hard for me to see clearly…
“In the midst of this I kept praying, ‘Lord, show me where you want me to go and I will follow you, but please be clear and unambiguous about it!’ Well, God was. In the person of Jean Vanier, the founder of the L’Arche communities for mentally handicapped people, God said, ‘Go and live among the poor in spirit, and they will heal you.’ The call was so clear and distinct that I had no choice but to follow. So, I moved from Harvard to L’Arche, from the best and the brightest, wanting to rule the world, to men and women who had few or no words and were considered, at best, marginal to the needs of our society.”[ii]

What changed? His thinking? Maybe. But, more than that: his life.

I believe we live our way into new thinking much more than we think our way into new living.

Most times, if we change or modify our beliefs, we do so because we encounter people or situations that do not fit neatly into our belief system.

Yet, we do not always change when such an encounter takes place—because when we are confronted with a challenge to our belief system our first response is usually to defend our beliefs. That’s because we know that if our belief is wrong, we will need to change what we believe and, therefore, change how we live. And that makes us uncomfortable.  

Often, when a Christian encounters an atheist or a person from another religion leading a life that is exemplary, the Christian will look for ways to explain how that could be so while defending his or her own Christian beliefs. (To be fair, I think the reverse is also the case. The atheist will offer reasons why Christians do what they do, all to defend their own viewpoint.)

There is little that threatens us more than a challenge to our beliefs. Yet it is the way we respond to those challenges that makes the difference between a life that languishes or flourishes.

This is why, in any discussion of belief, we need the term “faith.”

Author George MacDonald teaches on a Bible text that is translated like this in the King James Version: “…faith is…the evidence of things not seen.”[iii]

We often equate faith to belief but I offer that faith is a more helpful word in our discussion of “changing beliefs”. Faith is like the lifeblood of the soul. It, too, connects what we think with what we do but notice that (to use Peterson’s analogy) oxygen is delivered to the brain through the body.

Here’s a light-hearted example of the nature of faith: I’m teaching my son to drive a car and hopefully this time next week he’ll have his driver’s license.

That means that on Monday March 27, 2017 he may very well be driving himself to school. That’s the whole reason we’re going through the trouble of teaching him, so he can drive himself around.

But, here’s the catch: it will take faith for me to give him the keys and let him actually drive off on his own that Monday. I’ll have to put to test the belief that he’ll be fine and won’t wreck the car. (Pray for me!)

Now, unless I put that belief to the test, I won’t really know if my belief is well-founded. I have to risk being wrong to find out if I’m right.

That’s faith. It’s a risk that you might be wrong. It involves acting on what you believe. Faith says that unless you act on what you believe you don’t really believe it and once you act on what you believe, you will either believe the same thing more or change what you believe. In either case, the nature of your belief changes since tested belief is substantively different than untested belief. It’s stronger, in fact.

That’s why MacDonald points out that Hebrews 11:1 is best translated to carry the idea that faith proves the unseen.[iv] Faith acts as if something is true when we have no proof; but, unless we exercise faith, we will never know it to be true. Faith proves it.

That’s why Christians say faith changes things, including people. That’s why I feel it must not be possible to be a Christian and say, “I haven’t changed.” Indeed, a Christian that hasn’t changed can scarcely be fully human, let alone a Christian. That includes thought and action.

…………………………………

A Christian is one who is being transformed to become more and more like Jesus—in devotion, thought and action. As long as we have breath, this process of transformation never ceases—no matter how old you are.

A Christian is either becoming more like Jesus or less like him. There is no steady state. Just when you think you’ve reached equilibrium, Jesus comes and troubles the water. Before your life can be ordered by Jesus it needs to be disordered by Jesus. Jesus is better at making messes than he is at cleaning and tidying things up. Don’t look to Jesus if you want confirmation of your belief. He’ll challenge you.

Many Christians turn to a text written by the apostle John to reference the kind of transformation Jesus effects. It’s in the Gospel of John, chapter 3. Here, Jesus says, “You must be born again.”[v]

The interesting thing about this text is that Jesus used the expression to mean one thing but Christians sometimes interpret it to mean something Jesus did not intend. Christians often use it to refer to that moment in time we refer to as “conversion.” When a person is “born again” we say they have been “converted.”

But in the discourse Jesus has with Nicodemus (a seeker of truth) Jesus likens the process of new birth to the wind. Just as we do not know from whence the wind blows and to where it is blowing, so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit of God.

The wind will no sooner stop blowing than the new life can stop growing. Once that new life is formed in you, it will cry and stretch and yearn for you to feed it—and, in feeding it, it will grow and change until you can’t control it. It will change you from the inside out, not just in your thinking but in the way you live.

We can no sooner control the new life that grows in us than we can control the wind. Yet, we are prone to make a home in the new place to which the wind blows us. This is precisely why the wind will disturb us again and move us to someplace else. This is why the Christian has the experience of feeling at home in God, yet homeless, all the same. If you make your home in the wind, you won’t have a home as some people know it.

Christians make their home in the wind, God’s breath. That’s what Pentecost says, anyway.

The Christian is never fully converted. Strictly speaking, the Christian is being converted. We experience conversion as a process punctuated by a number of watershed events, which feel like homecomings as we age. When a Christian lets the wind lead, they arrive at a new place and they feel it is home. But then they move to a new place and, without knowing the place yet, feel it is home.

In this way, our future (a place unfamiliar to us because we’ve never been there before) feels like our past (a place that feels most familiar to us). We feel we have returned to someplace true when we arrive at someplace we have never been.

Like the wind, it’s a mystery.

This is why I say, “If I haven’t changed these past 10 years such that the person I’ve become is unrecognizable to the people who knew me then, something’s wonky.”

Embrace change. Don’t be afraid of it.

And give others leave to change. We’re all human and God’s wind blows for everyone to bring us all to a new home. Don’t force others to be where you are. Don’t even force that on yourself. Play.






[i] Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2005), pp. 36-37.
[ii] Henri J.M. Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership (New York: Crossroad, 2000), pp. 9-11.
[iii] The text in question is Hebrews 11:1.
[iv] George MacDonald, Proving the Unseen (New York: Ballantine, 1989), p. 2, 4-5. On page 2, MacDonald asks: “But what is the meaning of ‘the evidence of things not seen’? I cannot find any meaning in that translation at all. But I believe the true meaning of the original is the most profound fact in human history. And the true meaning is this: Faith is the trial or the proving of things not seen.”
[v] John 3:7

Friday, March 17, 2017

what i wish for you

i wish you
every grace
when friends betray—
forgiveness
when you fail
to love—
hope when despair
grips your soul,
limber and strong—
long shadows
cast by joy’s light,
sight in place of fright,
mercy in place of might
when bullies loom—
i wish doom
to death—
i wish you a place
where you can take a deep breath,
heaven’s haven
where you can drink till
you are drunk
with God’s blood—
flowing, breaking
the lock-step, making
you stagger, till
you find yourself still
inside, dancing
outside, branching
limbs to embrace the sky,
smiling wide with happy sighs,
beheld by loving eyes.


what i wish for you
by troy cady






Sunday, February 26, 2017

give us rest

Lord,
give us rest
from clinging to self-interest,
from fangs bared in self-defense.
Give us rest
from fear of our neighbor
and suspicion,
the script we project on others.
Give us rest
from death and disease
and dis-ease,
the pleas of poverty,
the unrest that springs up
when power is abused
instead of used to serve.
Give us rest from hate
and division,
give us a vision for peace.
Wrest from our hands
the weapons of spite,
wrest from our mouths
the words that pick a fight
for no good reason.
Give us a season of rest
from the need that comes from greed,
from the seed of despair,
from the temptation not to care.

God of rest,
give us rest.


………………


give us rest
by troy cady