Brutiful

Brutiful

My morning began with a text from a good friend shaken by the shootings in Las Vegas.  At this point, the news reports 58 killed and over 500 injured by a lone gunmen with unknown motives.

Brutal.

Moments ago, I listened to a radio report, saying conditions in Puerto Rico are rapidly deteriorating, and millions of people are suffering in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

Brutal.

While trivial by comparison, as I drove, I passed piles of debris awaiting pick-up since Hurricane Irma passed through Florida, nearly a month ago.

Not brutal – at least in my community – but, more signs of destruction.

I know there are three emails in my inbox regarding a young woman who was abducted, brutally raped, and murdered earlier this year.  I haven’t read them, yet.  I will.  But, not yet.  I know the family.  I know the story.  I know the brutality.

Brutal feels like the word of the day.  So much brutality.  Brutality everywhere I look.  Perhaps another word is broken.  So much brokenness.  Brutal and broken.  That’s how the world feels to me today.  Brutal and broken.

Later this evening, I will gather with a cohort preparing to become Spiritual Directors.  Spiritual Directors are companions on the journey, seeking God in prayer.  Inevitably, I have no doubt, we’ll be wrestling with how to find God in the brutality, and how to pray in moments of brokenness.

I’ll confess, I haven’t known what to pray today.  And, thus, I haven’t.

Days like today, I trust in the promise of Romans 8:26-27 (NLT), “The Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.  And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will.”

Days like today, I groan more than pray.  Maybe my groans are prayers.  I hope so.  Maybe your groans are prayers.  Maybe the groans arising from Las Vegas and Puerto Rico are prayers.  I think God’s hearing a lot of groaning these days.

I’m also reminded of an expression I learned from Glennon Doyle:”brutiful.”  Glennon says, “Life is brutal. But it’s also beautiful. Brutiful, I call it. Life’s brutal and beautiful are woven together so tightly that they can’t be separated. Reject the brutal, reject the beauty. So now I embrace both, and I live well and hard and real.”

Amidst the brutality of today’s events and news, I hear stories of heroic acts in Las Vegas and the generous outpouring of donations for Puerto Rico.  While the dark clouds of brutality obscure the beauty of the day, some beauty remains.  Thank God.  There is a light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.” (John 1:5, NLT)

I need to be reminded of beauty sometimes.

There is so much that is brutal and broken in this world.  There’s so much brokenness.  So much despair.  Help us, Lord, to never lose sight of the beauty that co-exists with the brutality.  Help us, Lord, never to lose sight of you.

And, when we don’t know what to pray,  hear our groans.

Q&A

Q&A

I’m spending this week at the Warren W. Willis United Methodist Youth Camp, in Fruitland Park, Florida, as the Senior High pastor.  I didn’t attend this camp as a camper.  But, I’ve been coming to this camp as an adult volunteer (primarily as the Senior High pastor) for one week each summer, almost annually, for the last 27 years.

Some years, the pastors lead a Q&A time with the campers, answering questions they have written down during their small group time.  This is my favorite time of the week!  Each year, I’m asked if I want to read over the questions ahead of time, which I always refuse.  I don’t want to present prepared responses.  I told the youth today that I wanted them to imagine meeting me at the local Starbucks, sipping iced frappuccinos together, and chatting about life and faith.

As always, the youth asked substantive, meaningful, challenging questions.  But, two themes emerged from the today’s questions that troubled me.  They were in essence…

  • Questions about being a “good” Christian.
  • Questions about going to heaven.

I suspect that there’s some overlap in these questions.

To be honest, I don’t think I even know what a “good” Christian is.  Yes, there are “good” things for Christians to do – Bible study, prayer, worship, service, etc.  But, I don’t think those things necessarily make someone a “good” Christian.  I can sincerely desire goodness – and I do.  But, I can honestly say that if there is anything good about me, Jesus gets the credit.

I think they were really asking, “What is expected of me?” and “What about when I’m not ‘good’?”

They also seemed to want to know the minimal requirements for getting into heaven.  And, what can keep you out.

The truth is, I hear lots of Christians talk this way.  And, I don’t really get it.

I shared with the campers that I think being a Christian is kind of like marriage.  I love my wife. I have a relationship with my wife that is really important to me.  I want to be a good husband for my wife.  Sometimes I am.  Sometimes I’m not.  I’m pretty sure I’m a better husband today than I was when we married 27 years ago.  But, I’m still not as “good” as my wife deserves.  Hopefully, in another 27 years, I’ll be better at being a “good” husband than I am now.  I really do hope so.

The point of the Christianity is NOT about a spiritual score card or the minimal requirements for getting into heaven.  The point of Christianity IS about a relationship with Jesus.  Everything about being a Christian is about entering into that relationship and growing in that relationship.

One question, today, was “How often should good Christians pray?”  My response was, “How often should I talk to my wife to be a good husband?”  If I ask my wife what the minimal requirements are for checking in and conversing with her, I’ve kind of missed the point of marriage.  Because she is my wife (and my best friend), I want to spend time with her.  I want to talk to her.  I want to listen to her.  I think that’s what prayer is supposed to be too.

Frankly, even as a full-time professional pastor, I’m not sure that I’m a very “good” Christian, if that means fulfilling certain Christian duties and obligations.  But, I do sincerely love Jesus and I do really enjoying spending time with him, which leads me to worship, and pray, and serve, etc.  And, I’m pretty confident that our relationship is eternal.

I hope that’s enough.  I’m pretty sure it is.

Ancient-Future

Ancient-Future

I recently listened to a program on NPR called, In Salt Lake City You’ll Find Mormons Who Meditate.  You can read the transcript at In Salt Lake City You’ll Find Mormons Who Meditate

In summary, the story is about a man who grew up Mormon, left the Mormon faith as a young adult, learned about Buddhist Mindfulness (meditation), while visiting Salt Lake City felt a calling to return to Mormonism, and now leads Mindfulness experiences for fellow-Mormons.  This seems to be particularly attractive to young adult and dis-affected Mormons.

I’m not Mormon, and I don’t practice Buddhist Mindfulness.  But, I am part of a Christian denomination (United Methodist) that seems to be less and less attractive/relevant to more and more people.  I am also very familiar with ancient Christian forms of contemplation and meditation, particularly from the mystical side of the monastic traditions, that have some parallels to Buddhist practices.

As I listened to this radio broadcast, I couldn’t help but wonder if the Mormons have discovered something that might also be appealing and appropriate in my context and tradition.

I wonder if mainline Christianity has become too focused on programming, structure, institutional bureaucracy, rules, and doctrine?  I wonder if we’ve neglected something that people are hungry for – ancient practices that help people connect with God in deeper, richer, more personal, and more experiential ways?

Christianity has a rich tradition of…

  • Prayer
  • Journaling
  • Silence
  • Solitude
  • Meditation
  • Contemplation
  • Listening
  • Mysticism
  • Spiritual Direction
  • Spiritual Disciplines

But, if I am honest, most of that tradition has been lacking in the churches and ministries I’ve led, beyond occurring in limited way in small groups or by individual practitioners.

I can’t help but wonder what we’ve lost by ignoring these spiritual treasures.  And, I can’t help but wonder if our Mormon friends might have discovered something really important.  I can’t help but wonder if a future for main-line Christianity is a return to ancient spiritual practices.

I wonder.