You Never Know Where You’re Going Til You Get There

20 11 2014

You Never Know Where You’re Going Til You Get There.

You Never Know Where You’re Going Til You Get There

20 11 2014

I’ve used a labyrinth off and on for many years as part of my prayer life. In fact, I keep one on the wall over my desk in the office. You may have noticed it and not known what it was. Not to worry. When I first saw one, I thought it was one of those optical illusion things you stare at and all the lines go swimming together in a psychedelic soup.  fingerlabyrinths17

Labyrinths were developed during the Middle Ages. It’s not clear why exactly. Many think that after the Crusades made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem the equivalent of Nik Wallenda taking a stroll across the Grand Canyon on a tightrope, labyrinths became a way of making that pilgrimage.   Which makes a lot of sense to me. I know which line I’d stand in at the pilgrimage ticket window.

For whatever the reason, labyrinths began to be included in the design of a many European cathedrals. The most famous is Notre Dame de Chartres Cathedral in France.

Now, a labyrinth is not a maze. You can’t get lost. There’s only one path, and you follow it to the center of the labyrinth. At the center, you may pause for prayer, reflection, meditation; it’s up to you. Whatever your little heart desires…literally. Sometimes, you don’t know until you get there.

The focus however, is as much on the journey to the center as it is getting there. Probably more.

The labyrinth over my desk is a finger labyrinth. Instead of physically walking the path, you trace the path with your finger. The effect is pretty much the same as walking when you close your eyes and focus your attention on your fingertip as it follows the circuits of the labyrinth.

But, however you travel, by foot or by finger, it always begins to feel like more than an ordinary journey at some point. It feels like a metaphor for your life.

And here’s the thing I am always struck by. The first circuit of the labyrinth takes you right around the center. You walk in and think, ‘How easy is this?” I’ve already made it! Drinks for everyone.

But not quite. Instead of turning into the center, the path to the center leads you away from it. Each circuit, another layer between you and your goal, until you are traveling along the perimeter of the labyrinth, as far from the center as you can possibly get.SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

You begin to feel like, “how did I get out here? How have I gotten so far from where I was going?”

I don’t know about you, but I feel that way a lot at this point in my life!

When I started, I thought I was right at the doorstep of where I was going. Piece of cake. Excuse me this will just take a second. That was something like 30 years ago.

I have this wonderful four-year seminary education that’s mostly useless, and sometimes downright harmful, when it comes to proclaiming the Gospel today. Now I realize I might just as well have spent those four years learning how to repair telephone booths.

Now, I worry about my kids trying to establish themselves in life with a mountain of debt and opportunities that are few and far between and totally disgusted by today’s political leaders who are intent on helping… but mostly only themselves.

And, going to see my mother now is like going to some kind of reverse flea market. She’s on hospice, and I’m still getting used to the idea that the time is getting shorter. Each trip is closer to the last trip. This time a green oxygen tank was propped in a corner with a no smoking sign in Spanish and English, just in case.

I’m still getting used to getting on I295 South when I leave her house in New Jersey. I have to remind myself to go past the northbound ramp I’ve taken just about all my life.

Now, I walk in the door which she leaves open because it takes too long for her to get there to unlock it, and she’s like, “can you use this?” “Do you want this?” “How about this?”

Pointing to pieces of her life. Pieces of my past life. Clocks. Pictures. The dining room furniture. The curio full of Hummels. It’s like being in the museum of me during a fire sale. I stand there not knowing what to say as a lifetime is offered bit by bit, yours for the taking.

There is a terrible vulnerability when you offer your treasures to someone, and they just stand there, or they change the subject. I suggest we talk about it later, and her face falls, but she doesn’t push it. She gets out her list. Take out the garbage, fill the birdfeeder, unscrew the lids on jars in the refrigerator, go to the grocery store.

She thinks it’s because I don’t want to be bothered with her stuff. But, what I really want is the one thing I absolutely cannot have, and that’s the way it is for all of us. What a realization when suddenly every precious and sentimental thing is seen for what it really is, a consolation prize.

The labyrinth teaches you there are no straight lines in life. There’s a lot of twisting and turning and doubling back. It can all be quite confusing, and a little tedious. And the labyrinth also shows you that none of this is a distraction. The twisting and turning is just how you get to where you’re going.

Meditating on labyrinthHere’s are the instructions God gently suggests to me in the labyrinth: close your eyes and trust the path you’re on. Just when it feels like you’ll never get there, the path will turn and drop you smack in the center of it all. All that time you were confused; all that time you thought you were lost; you were on your way here all along.

The Beginning Of Something Else

3 11 2014

The Beginning Of Something Else.

The Beginning Of Something Else

3 11 2014

I found an azalea bloom this morning by our front door. A burst of crimson caught my eye above the dried oak leaves huddled beneath the azalea’s pre-winter skirts. One bloom, out of place and out of season, offering its irrational hope in the face of mounting evidence and inevitability.FullSizeRender 2

I just took the plants in yesterday that could be saved until next year. The hibiscus is flagging, bravely putting out blooms that are smaller, like cup saucers and pinched with bitterness. Their leaves are curling from the cold overnight. We have no southern window in our house to keep it alive. I’m sorry.   It will not be long now. We’ve needed heat the past three mornings. The hummingbirds are gone. We all know what’s coming.

I fished my phone out of my pocket for a picture of this wayward bloom, held against the heart, hidden in the depths of things. It is a strange vindication I suppose. A small gesture against the darkness and bleakness ahead. In every season, in every time of life, there is a burst of color hidden deep down.   Something thriving and blooming that shouldn’t be. Reminding us, if we let it, that there is always more to come.   Nothing ever really ends. It’s just the beginning of something else.



Acorn Assault

3 10 2014

We are being bombed by acorns. They come tearing down through the leaves, ricochet off the gutters, the wind chimes, clang off the gas grill. They hit the deck and bounce six feet in the air. They leave little craters in the yard.

When the wind blows, it’s like they’re being poured out of a bucket. I’ve never seen anything like it.

FanCee, who has some tiny issues with closeness and being touched too much, is parked under my chair, nudging my leg so I’ll scratch her ears and rub her back. She’d climb into my lap if she could.

She’s got her head under the glass table, and she looks at me like, “Shouldn’t we have helmets?”

Even Prince, who has a personality like Baby Huey, did a double take on the last barrage. It’s supposed to rain later, and the wind is gusting in anticipation, shaking acorns from the trees. Now he’s over here too, under the table, on high alert. Acorns clattering and bouncing like popcorn.

I am reminded of the parts of the world where real bullets and real bombs are falling. I think about them as the acorn assault continues here.

I think about Gaza, the people of Iraq and Syria. I think about our cities, like Chicago, Camden and Newark where I have known innocent victims, DC where bullets rip through the night whenever the storm winds rage in someone’s life.

I think how easy it would be to stop this and how impossible it turns out to be.

In a few days, the acorns will be stripped from the branches, the siege will be over here.

I think about the disparity of all this as I gather my note pad, my coffee, the dogs right behind me, eager to reach the safety of the kitchen.

Kingdom Ethics 101

24 09 2014

Kingdom Ethics 101.

Kingdom Ethics 101

24 09 2014

The parallels between last Sunday’s parable (Matthew 20:1-16) of the generous vinmerlot.190eyard owner and today’s economic realities are just too startling to ignore.   I’m still mulling them over.

The vineyard owner (an honest to goodness job creator) is not hampered by profit margins.  He seems to understand his primary obligation, (beyond providing for his own needs) is to provide jobs for his community.  Why else does he keep going back to the market square to hire those who haven’t found work?  Even hiring people an hour before quitting time.

Quite startling behavior, especially when you consider the “job-less recovery” we’re living through today.  If there is such a thing.  It’s awfully hard to be jobless and in recovery.  They’re sort of mutually exclusive categories for most of us.

But then the parable gets weirder.  The vineyard owner pays them all a living wage regardless of whether they worked 1 hour or 12.  Not what they deserved…what they needed to live.

Jesus says this is what the kingdom is like.  Exactly what our world is not like.   That in itself isn’t too terribly shocking.   This isn’t the kingdom.

What I don’t understand is why Jesus vision of the kingdom is rejected, even by Jesus followers.  No, this world isn’t the kingdom, but this world doesn’t have to be this bad either.  We can live by Kingdom values now, and reap Kingdom benefits now.  That’s what Jesus teaches over and over.  That’s what discipleship is all about.

No, we would rather knock the corners off Jesus vision, and shave down the edges so it fits our world view and supports the status quo.  Anything, it seems, to avoid expanding our world view to make it more in line with Jesus vision.

For instance:

I find it morally repugnant and ethically indefensible that vastly profitable corporations like Walmart, McDonald’s and the like, pay their employees so pitifully that they need to be subsidized by the US tax payer through programs like food stamps.

This subsidy goes directly into the profit lines of companies like Walmart and McDonald’s.  Talk about rewarding bad behavior.  The worse these companies behave, the bigger their taxpayer subsidy.

Now, I don’t envy profitable companies their success.  What I find despicable is that their success comes at the expense of their exploited employees.  Success brings responsibility.  In terms of the Kingdom Jesus describes, that responsibility is not toward profits, it’s toward people.

Profits may suffer to benefit people, people may never suffer to benefit profits.   That’s just  Kingdom Ethics 101.  Classroom-Renderings

If we were to apply the Jesus vision to our world today, some pretty basic things would happen.   For starters:

1.  We would raise the minimum wage.  $15 an hour is today’s denarius.

2.  Set a realistic poverty level and a minimum standard of living.  Affirm, like the vineyard owner, that everyone who works is entitled to provide for themselves and their families from their labor.  Corporations (vineyard owners) that fail to meet this standard, so that their employees must seek public assistance, should have their profits taxed, not subsidized, to make up the difference.

These steps come right out of Jesus parable.

Now, I know that there are people who won’t agree with these conclusions.  Let me be the first to say I know they’re not necessarily morally repugnant or ethically challenged.

I just don’t understand their position.  And it’s not like I haven’t tried.  I’ve read, I’ve watched interviews.  It still makes no sense to me.  I don’t recognize the world they are portraying.  Where people spurn meaningful work in order to sit around and do nothing.  Prefer a handout over the pride of earning a living.

It’s like they’re talking about a parallel universe.  So, I want to interrupt them with some good news.

“I see your problem, you fell for the head fake and you’ve landed in someone’s crappy fantasy world.  Not to worry.  Reality is not as bad as you think.  People aren’t as bad as you think.  And these issues aren’t as complicated as you make them out to be.  We can do this!”

I’ve found that the only reason people choose to sit on the sidelines is when they realize the playing field is permanently tilted against them and they can only lose.

I will be the first to admit I am not a financial wizard.  Most times I can’t balance my checkbook. Nor am I a public policy wonk.  That’s my son.

I’m a writer.  I’m a naive dreamer.   I’m a preacher who muses and expounds upon about the life of faith and does his best to be faithful himself.  Guilty as charged.  I’ll cop to all of it.

Tell me then, how do you understand what this parable and Jesus vision of the Kingdom says to us today?   Let’s have a meaningful dialogue and start making things better for people who need our help.


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