Saturday, July 26, 2014

less of me

I imagine John the Baptist had curried quite a following by the time his disciples came to him with a report that a man named Jesus was recruiting his own significant following.

They were concerned that Jesus’ ministry would render John’s obsolete.

John’s response? “He must become greater; I must become less.” (John 3:30)

……………..

Most every morning I pause and ask the Spirit to form a prayer in me that will serve as a focus throughout the day.  I call it a “simple prayer.”

I’ve discovered that simple prayers are not always easy prayers.

Today’s prayer is no exception. It is an adaptation of John’s words above: “Lord Jesus, let there be less of me so others can know more of you.”

……………….

I’m writing now to confess something: I didn’t want that to be my prayer today. When it popped into my head, I resisted it.

I began to rationalize the prayer. The power of twisted logic is that it usually contains a grain of truth. So, here was my thought-process:

Premise 1: We meet Jesus today through seeing his presence and work in flesh-and-blood people.
Premise 2: Faith in Jesus helps one become more one’s true self, not less.
Conclusion 1: If others are to know more of Jesus, they will see more of me, not less.
Conclusion 2: I should not pray ‘let there be less of me.’

I suppose it shouldn’t shock me, but I must say: I am stunned how quickly I form arguments to justify such brazen self-centeredness.

Thankfully, almost as quickly as I had formed the argument, I became aware of the game I was playing. And I knew that God, in his gracious gentleness, would not browbeat me into relinquishing pride. God is love and love never demands love in return. That can only be given willingly.

So, God waited silently; he made no counter-argument. There was no reply—other than the winsome invitation of his simple presence.

It’s a prayer of faith, after all. Yes, God is good and he is not out to obliterate our dignity. If the prayer he forms in us seems to tend that direction, it is because of our misinterpretation, not his meaning.

It’s a prayer made in faith. If it seems counter to logic that is because faith is God’s logic, not ours. To God, it makes perfect sense. To us, it feels a bit crazy. But, if we sit with it long enough, we discover it is a good kind of crazy.

Like love.

……………………………………

When God gives a prayer it comes from the right kind of crazy called love.

That’s why letting God’s prayer form in us takes faith; it feels risky.

You have to trust God won’t leave you stranded, beaten down and humiliated.

He doesn’t.

……………………………

I’m glad Jesus taught in parables. He told several about seeds.

In front of my house is a tree. At one point, that tree was just a seed. It would not have become a tree had the seed remained.

When I tell Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed to children I point to the tree that grew from the seed and ask the children a silly question: “I wonder what happened to the seed after it grew into a tree? I wonder where it is?”

The children, no matter what age, look at me like: “Duh!”

So, we wonder some more: “I wonder if we could take this plant and put it all back into the seed again?”

“No!”

They smile and laugh.

The seed does not feel threatened. It is happy to disappear. There will be more beauty that way.

“Lord Jesus, let there be less of me so others can know more of you.”



Saturday, July 12, 2014

dust to dust

for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust
-Psalm 103:14


Don’t pity him and he
won’t pity you.

Glen felt adequately compensated for his work, pay no mind.
When sweeping the long boards of the downtown rehearsal studio

one winter afternoon, the  
sun mingled sideways with the

sweet smell of sweat still lingering from petite
feet calloused by movements of grace.

Humming to himself (he kept time with the
plumbing, drumming with scalded water), as the hiss of

more mist softened the air, the
score of next Friday’s musical (as

played by Iris, the pianist, his wife who
stayed by his side those many drinking days).

This time of day was his favorite. In retirement, he would
miss this vision of countless particles

swirling in the air, caught by the amber light, whose fingers,
curling over the curved earth, stirred all the frenzied

dust, now
luminous,

beautified and
beatified.





dust to dust
a poem by troy cady




   

Sunday, July 6, 2014

all these gifts

A prayer:

Your gifts to us are too many to count: 
light and the distance it travels, 
the sea and its depth, 
the sky and its height, 
the land and its growth, 
the universe with sun, moon and stars innumerable, 
and all the living, moving things that fill the world: 
billions of fish in thousands of varieties, 
the birds whose songs and flight paths are left uncharted, 
creatures large and small 
from the mighty elephant 
to the life so small it lives 
beyond the scope of our naked eye.

All these…
gifts of sight, sound and scent…
all these we receive as gifts, 
all good, 
all undeserved, 
from Your hand. 
Who is like you, Lord? 
You give these gifts so we may rest in You.

Enable us to give back to you gratefully 
as our way of saying we want to rest in You, 
to trust in You. 
Enable us to give as an act of faith, 
believing that the same God who gave us these gifts 
will never fail to provide everything we need, 
with no good thing lacking.

Receive our praise.

Amen.

Friday, July 4, 2014

go 4th and play

In his book Homo Ludens, Dutch historian Johan Huizinga asserts that culture arises in and as play. This is quite a bold assertion. It is not a statement about our love for sports and board games. He is not talking about play as a microcosm of culture, a characteristic of culture. He is saying we have culture because we play. Play creates culture, macro-culture.

Huizinga believes that play is the mother of government and religion. Even law and language have play as their source. I happen to agree with him. That’s why I started an organization called PlayFull.

Since today is July 4th and I happen to be an American, I wanted to reflect a bit on this theme that culture, macro-culture, is a child of play.

America has been and always will be an experiment. There is no way America’s founders could have seen or predicted what America would be like today. That’s because our history is a story of testing limits, seeing how far the boundaries of our Constitution will stretch.

Drafting the constitution was a creative, imaginative endeavor. The framers wanted to find just the right words to ensure long-lasting liberty, freedom from tyranny and oppression. 

The authors of the Constitution put in place a system of checks and balances, a feature shared by play in its fullest form. That is what creates interest. These checks and balances attenuate the effects of conflict, but they also establish an arena that creates conflict and within which conflict is played out. Putting in place a three-part system takes into account that conflict is bound to happen—and when it happens these same checks and balances ensure everyone plays the game fairly.

Notice that play happens in specific locations. The Supreme Court is just as much a playground as the area rug in my son’s bedroom. When my son was much younger, we would role play together on that rug with his sister and a menagerie of stuffed toys. When we were in that place, one role served to mitigate the power of another. Playing fairly meant honoring the role another played, no matter how different they were from you. We had a special language when we role-played and there were special rules to govern the playtime.

Huizinga: “All play moves and has its being within a playground marked off beforehand either materially or ideally, deliberately or as a matter of course…The arena, the card-table, the magic circle, the temple, the stage, the screen, the tennis court, the court of justice, etc., are all in form and function play-grounds…within which special rules obtain. All are temporary worlds within the ordinary world, dedicated to the performance of an act apart.” (10)

The accusation “I hold you in contempt of court” is telling. It is a charge that someone in the playground is flaunting, twisting, disregarding and disrespecting the rules that apply in that place. The game cannot function properly in such an environment—which is why we have grown sick to our stomach at the games people play.

“That is not how it is intended to work!” We know when something is awry by instinct—our creative, joyful, generous play-instinct. When the rules are twisted, it is a game that is anti-play and we do what we can to restore the situation to free play that honors the rules of the playground.

Why does this matter? As an American, all this begs humility. America was and is an experiment—and so are other forms of government. We do not have a monopoly on truth. We are still learning and growing (hopefully). Our system is not perfect and conflict will always be a factor for which we must account. We can choose to embrace conflict as an opportunity to grow, an arena to work towards reconciliation, or we can manipulate conflict to enact innumerable power-plays.

My hope is that the latter will diminish as we choose to nurture the former. America, I wish you a future of gracious, imaginative play.  



Monday, June 30, 2014

bending

In my work with children I tell a story* in which time is represented by a long piece of gold cord. At the beginning of the story I have the gold cord bundled up and hidden in my left hand. Before showing the cord to the children, we consider the following question: “Time, time, time. What is time?”

It’s both fun and formative to hear their creative answers to that simple question.

When the discussion begins to wane, I use my right hand to pull the cord from my closed left hand, in the style of a magician…one inch at a time, slowly drawing it out. “Some say that time is a line...”

This is a long, long line. It takes a while to see it all laid out in one stretch. It looks valuable so we explore this line, letting curiosity and imagination lead us.

“Some say that time is a line…with a beginning, middle and end.”

With the cord laid out on the floor in front of me now, I point to the end on my right and say, “This could be the beginning.” I move my hand from right to left and say, “This could be the middle and this could be the end.”

We enjoy a moment of silence and another thought comes to me. I point to the left end of the line and say, “Or…this could be the beginning.” Now, I move my hand from left to right and say, “This could be the middle and this could be the end.”

That sufficiently confuses us. How to resolve this conundrum? For every person that says time moves from left to right, there is another that says it moves from right to left. Who is correct? Can there be another way of thinking about it?

“What if we make it so that the beginning and the ending are the same?” I tie the two ends together. The cord makes a circle now.

I point to the knot and say, “Look, here is the beginning and end, together in one place. It is a beginning that is also an ending and an ending that is also a beginning. That is how Christians tell time.”

……………………………………………………..

Over the years, I’ve seen many endings that are also beginnings. Some of them are easy to trace: marriage and fatherhood, relocation, saying goodbye to old friends and welcoming new friends.

Some of them are harder to discern: there was the point in our marriage when I realized I needed to end my choice to isolate myself in order to embrace authentic companionship—and learn to fight. There was the summer I had an epiphany that ministry was about people, not programs. There was the time I set down the ax I was grinding to ask forgiveness and give it. There was the time we let go of something we had made so it would go on living without us.

The beginning of something fresh would not have been found if we had refused to end the old way of being. These beginnings-that-are-endings are so important, I want to make up a compound word to express the idea. I’ll call them bendings.

Today marks another bending. Almost all the bendings mentioned above happened while we were living in Europe. To date, my wife and I spent over half our marriage in Europe. During those years, we lived in four different cities and worked in five different churches for varied stretches of time.

My wife grew up in Ecuador. In the fall of ’88 we met in college in Minnesota and by spring of ’89 we knew we were going to get married and pursue ministry overseas somewhere.

But anything worth having is worth long waiting.

……………………….

We did not make it overseas until 1998. Nearly a decade of dreaming.

We spent twelve years there, working with an organization called Christian Associates. Twelve years in which we reconciled our dreams with the truth of grace, God’s matter and anti-matter all in one.

During our time in Europe, I learned again and again that grace fully comes into play when we are able to face the truth about ourselves. Like…

Ministers can be selfish jerks.
and
People can be petty.
and
I do not really listen.

But God forgives and gives second chances without limit. That is grace. None of us deserves it. As the chief of sinners, I am the least deserving.

I learned that storybook marriages are not real. We think fighting is bad, so we avoid it. We think real marriage is always “happy.” That is a lie. I learned that first-hand. In real marriage you learn to fight or you break up. Facing the darkness summons the light.

I learned again and again that things do not turn out as planned. I cannot tell you how many times I acted as if I was cleverer than God. Such pride!

But it was in those moments of admitting my pride that I experienced grace, sweet grace.

It is only by God’s grace that the work we were privileged to begin is still going on today. And we are grateful.

But now it is time to end the chapter. Another bending. Today is my last day of work with Christian Associates. So, we are starting a new chapter called Play. And, so, today I am grateful for both old and new friends, old and new adventures.

……………………………….

Yes, play.

Have you ever noticed that the richest words can be both a noun and a verb? Love, hope, play and God.

Yes, God is a verb. Remember the story?

Moses asks God, “Who are you? What is your name?”

In just one answer, God expresses two verbs: “I AM” and “I WILL BE.”

Only God can be a noun and two verbs. So, is it any wonder that words like love, hope and play feel like whispers of God on your neck?

I suppose time might be one of those words, too. It never stands still. If it moves in a circle, I suppose that’s because it’s dancing.

And inviting us in. Another bending.

As the years pass, I pray I do not become more rigid but rather more playful—enjoying the mystery of grace-in-truth. Bending.




Photo courtesy of a story entitled "Paul's Discovery"
from volume 4 of Godly Play by Jerome Berryman


*Note, the story cited at the beginning comes from Volume 2 of Godly Play by Jerome Berryman.










Sunday, June 29, 2014

i wish trust was easier

Here’s what I really think: I wish trust was easier. I don’t like this feeling of risk. I want to choose safe paths, something both good and certain. I don’t mind abandonment, as long as it isn’t reckless. I want a guarantee to match my commitment; that seems right and fair, a karmic equalizer.

But trust is a fruit of grace. There is no quid pro quo in either. Trust is as uncertain as grace is undeserved.

There is no way of knowing how it will all turn out. Will I win or lose? There is no telling. Yes, grace is as certain as gravity, but that does not mean “success” is assured. Grace can be failure, too. Grace is as much in kneeling as standing, and so is trust.

So, where does this put me? On my knees in dependence, I suppose. Trusting someone.

I don’t like this. I want to go places.

But, you say, “Peace, be still.”

Here’s what I really think: I wish trust was easier. Right now the only trust I can muster is honesty. I pray that’s enough. Thank God, grace assures me it is.