Wednesday, September 29, 2004
Said my before-I-roll-out-of-bed prayer - "God, have mercy on me, a poor sinner - and thank you for the gift of another day" - and started thinking about gratitude. And as the day has gone on, the list of things I'm grateful for has gotten longer...
First, thank you, God, for the gift of reasonable health this day. Given the way I've lived - and abused that gift - I really don't deserve it. But you've given it to me, and saved me from a number of crises where I should have been dead...so this day, I'll do my very best to undo some of the damage I've done over the years.
I'm grateful for the gift of health insurance, and for the blessed person who loaned me enough money to get insured again. The week I spent without insurance was one of the longest weeks I've endured in my life. When I went to the pharmacy today, I overheard a pharmacy staffer talking to a person who felt that Walgreen's should give him his drugs, even though his insurance won't cover them. I'm grateful, too, for enough money to pay for those prescription co-pays, today.
I'm grateful for Dr. Carl Meyer at the UC Physicians Group. He's one of the few internists I've known who actually takes the time to listen to what's going on with me, and gives me credit for having a few brain-cells that are firing. Given the changes I'm making in a number of areas related to my health, he listened to what I proposed, agreed with most of them, suggested a few alternatives, and generally made it easier to go forward with some life-style changes that have been long overdue. Good physicians are a blessing; really good physicians who care and are willing to both listen and hear are a very rare blessing indeed. Thanks, Doc.
I'm grateful to God for my spiritual partners - Sandy, Natalie, Mike, and a whole host of others who continue to hold me accountable, return my calls, and even listen to me whine (at least for a little bit, before getting their butt-kicking boots on). Whatever shreds of sanity I'm hanging onto are directly gifts from God through each one of them. I keep hoping I'll find a way to be that kind of blessing, and that kind of friend, to someone here in Chicago someplace...but it just doesn't seem to be working out, yet. I'll keep on asking the classic question, "God, is there someone who needs what I have to share?", and trusting that God will reveal who (and where, and when) that will be.
I'm grateful to God for Tom D., my partner in recovery. Finding people who are so very much different than oneself - and yet with so many things in common - is a blessing. Finding someone who is willing to "trudge the road of Happy Destiny" with me is a rare blessing...because if there is one thing I have learned to be true, it is that the joy is in the journey, and in the company along the way.
I'm ever so grateful for my family - especially my sisters Sue and Sandy. For years on end, in the depths of my old life, I did a good job of pushing both of them away from me with uncaring indifference. I don't deserve to have the kind of relationship I have with them - but I'm grateful to God that we can get together, and stay together, and have a reasonably good time doing it, too. There are so many families who will never know that kind of love...and I am so glad that I am not in one of them.
And I'm grateful, today, for the knowledge of a loving and just God, whose mercy is made new every day. To the One who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be praise, and honor and glory and power, forever and ever... Amen.
Of course, I was driving in my car, and had nothing to write with, but I called the station's request line, and got the church name and number. Here's where the surprise came in - this new church plant, 10:35 (see their website) is a satellite ministry of St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Maumee, Ohio.
Yup. A traditional, tall-steeple, ELCA church.
The rest of the search was a bit frustrating - the church is doing a huge renovation on their sanctuary, so they were worshiping at a theatre in downtown Maumee - and no one was answering the phones at the temporarily-abandoned sanctuary. And their website was down - turnover in the volunteers who are managing the tech side of things at the church. And the radio ad didn't give the 1035online.com website, which would have answered my questions in a flash. But I did get enough info to find out that worship really WAS at 10:35, at Monclova Elementary School. So I left sister and brother in bed ("worshiping at St. Mattress") and went over to see what was going on.
Outside: a van pulling a Haulmark-type trailer with the 10:35 logo splashed across the side. Over the entrance to the school, a banner with "10:35 - A Different Worship Experience" (or something like that). Inside: people who were friendly, but not the hyper-enthusiastic greeting that I've gotten from so many places like this. A stage, video screen, band set-up, sound system...started to look like a number of Willow-Creek clones I've visited. And in fact, that's exactly what it was - St. Paul's is one of the growing network of mainline churches who are adapting the practices and outreach of "apostolic networks" like the Willow Creek Association.
There were about 100 people there - folks I talked to said there's about a 50-50 split between St.-Paul-transplants and newbies. As you came in, recorded contemporary Christian music was playing - Third Day's "We've Got to Come Together," Steven Curtis Chapman, and others. At 10:35, the band stepped onstage, and started an acoustic rock riff that ran for a couple minutes, and then was followed immediately by the pastor's brief welcome and introduction...then almost immediately into the "teaching series" on biblical ways to achieve financial freedom. No, no - it wasn't the old "trust Jesus and get rich" nonsense that we've heard so many times, but laying out a foundation for why money is important, how much the Bible is concerned with wealth, and how debt and consumerism can lead to bondage and idolatry.
Unlike a church here in the Chicago area, which used the same kind of format, the pastor's sermon was supported by Scripture (not just proof-texting) and was convicting, for me at least. The "teaching time" went on for about 40 minutes, followed by a couple of praise-band songs. Then there was a reflective time, which struck one of the few sour notes in the morning.
Two women, with beautiful voices, sang a quiet, reflective duet while a video presentation played on the screen behind them. The problem was, the song talked about being still, and and praying with "knees to the ground"...and the video was a kid, riding through a suburban neighborhood on his bike! If ever there was a case of cognitive dissonance, that was it! My first thought - one that recurred throughout the song - was, "What the hell does this have to do with the song?" (Probably not the spiritual reaction the worship planners were looking for...) Trying to figure out the answer to that question completely derailed whatever serenity I was supposed to get from either the song or the video of this carefree kid on a bike.
I had gone to the service intending to be a person without a church home (which, for all intents and purposes, I am, I guess). But it became obvious that the pastor and several greeters thought they had a real unchurched person on their hands (I really don't present that level of spiritual deadness, do I?), and so I blew my cover, and told 'em that I was a student at LSTC, who was just "looking to see what worship a little further from the pipe organ" looked like. (I just didn't want to distract them from talking to anyone who truly did need to be connected-with that morning.)
They have a lot of things going for them - they are starting the Alpha program, they have a significant small-group ministry starting, and a very casual, welcoming atmosphere - along with a heart to find people and bring 'em in, which counts for a lot in my book.
Questions I'm going to raise with their pastor - and with whatever seminarians bother to read this...
-Why do we feel that unchurched people will enjoy singing "We are salt, we are light" (or any other praise song) any more than they would love singing "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God," just because the tune is easier and the pattern is more repetitive? Do seekers find "churchy" language and images empty and unfulfilling, regardless of how easy they are to sing? I know that I find 'em off-putting, at times... and I'm a worship-n-praise junkie, as many of you know.All that to say that while I wish 'em all blessings, I'm not sure that's my idea of what I'd want to do with a church start. I guess I've been spoiled by some real experts at this blended Lutheran/WC thing (like the brothers Housholder, whose legacies are at Lutheran Church of Hope in Des Moines, Hosanna! in Lakeville, MN, and elsewhere) - so I'm probably being overly critical. It just didn't hit me right, I guess. I'll find the right mix someday soon, I guess. Just gotta keep praying, walking, asking, and kissing frogs until I find a prince, eh?
- I know that doing sermon-series is an act of blasphemy in our little community here at LSTC (after all, God handed us the Revised Common Lectionary on a tablet of stone for a reason, didn't He?) so this may be a moot point for many reading this. But regardless of that, in several "teaching series" I've heard (including this one) there was information, and there surely was conviction (for those who know me, fiscal responsibility is a very tender topic, these days). But there wasn't much in the way of "hope of transformation" laid out in this "teaching." The fact is, I knew I was a screw-up in my financial affairs long before I walked into church on Sunday. I guess I was looking for some more hope, perhaps a glimpse of light of redemptability (how's that for a made up word?) in this whole church-and-God thing. Of course, given the alternative (information and cheap grace, with no conviction), I'll take a double helping of the former.
Tuesday, September 28, 2004
I am more interested in knowing what God is doing in your soul than I am about your theology. Personally, I don't have the guts to follow Jesus, so I often settle for being a Christian.Thanks, Rick, for speaking the truth about my life, too.
Natalie noticed it because we had both heard Lyle Schaller, one of the truly visionary writers about church transformation. His book, 44 Questions For Congregational Self-Appraisal, ought to be required reading for any seminarian - both as an evaluation of their former congregations, and a tool to determine where their next call is in their life-cycle. (For my seminary friends, the LSTC JKM library has a copy of this one.)
However, my favorite of Schaller's is The Interventionist, which describes my sense of call in the extreme! When I read it, I just knew that this is what I would like to do. It may describe what I end up doing, instead of pastoring...that one's still open. It is designed for church champions and consultants but is a must read by any denominational executive or a person who works with local churches. It includes some extraordinary diagnostic questions, ideas, and the contrarian statements that Schaller does so well. It is a book that is useful for any pastor as it has enough nuggets and ideas that it may eliminate some of your need for a consultant in the first place. Unfortunately, the LSTC library does not own a copy of this one...which is tragic.
Monday, September 27, 2004
In the same time-frame, sister Sue started (and finished) the process of moving into a new condo. So with one thing and another, it was the third week of September before we thought about celebrating their birthday. But, with a week of enforced leisure after completing my temporary employment at the _Garfield Park Conservatory, I decided to run away and spend some time with my sisters, and with my original AA home group(s) in Toledo.
It's been both good and bad, I guess. Good in that I got to see people I enjoy, have some delightful conversations, get to some great AA meetings, help Sue & Jeff in the continuing struggle of fitting their belongings into the new condo (the garage was still *pretty* full...), and have some high quality family time.
It's bad because it turns out I missed the combined birthdays of a couple fellow students from back in Chicago over Friday night (which I would have known about, if I'd been in school and seen the flyers), and because from a distance I can see how much work I have to do in a number of areas of my Chicago life, and for that reason alone, it sucks to see the "ladder" I still have to climb detailed in such sharp detail.
But even given those niggling things, there were still some great things to be reminded of:
Ohio AA meetings - I got to meetings on Thursday night, Friday morning, and Sunday night. Powerful, amazing stuff - my Higher Power is definitely in the house when I'm here. Having said that, howeve, I'm still looking forward to being in Chi-town to be at my new home group, the Fireside Men's Group, this coming Saturday.
The blessings of family - the time I've had to share with both Sue & Jeff and Sandy & Dave is so great... even when you're doing mundane things like shopping (not my favorite task) or unpacking and restacking boxes. Thank you, God, for restoring my relationships with my sisters in sobriety!
Good eats - especially a trip with Sue-nJeff, San-n-Dave, and Jeff's sister Chris & her husband Ernie to Tony's Ribs, in Findlay, Ohio (where San-n-Dave live). For you carnivores, Tony's ribs are absolutely fall-off-the-bone tender and melt-in-your-mouth, with a delightful molasses-n-honey sauce that is just to die for. I'd had sweet ribs before Tony's, and it wasn't a happy experience. But this was just heaven - and the salad bar before hand was fresh, crisp, and _loaded. If you're within 50 miles of Findlay, Ohio, it's worth the drive.
Turkeyfoot - a fun game of strategy, played with dominoes. Sue & San first played it in Phoenix one trip, and brought a set of dominoes home. We had a blast playing for several hours - and the game also facilitated memories of our collective families' pasts, and funny movie moments, and funny travel moments. In fact, it has been quite a while since we had laughed that hard about anything - which made those precious hours spent together even better. Truly one of the gifts of "being in the moment"!
Getting stuff done - when I got to Toledo, sister Sue definitely had "a List," but we got a number of very good things done for her. Fixed a problem with their dryer that we got fixed. Then, laundry, unpacking, and bunches of little stuff to be done. That just felt wonderful.
So, when Sue suggested that I stay over Sunday night, and go back Monday, it just sounded like a great idea. I'll see Sue off in the morning, get to the Early Bird AA meeting, have a good breakfast at the Reynolds Garden Cafe, and then hit the road back to Chicagoland.
Thank you, Lord God of power, for gifts of "the times of our lives." This truly is a gift that keeps on giving!
Thursday, September 23, 2004
Selfishness - self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles. Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate. Sometimes they hurt us, seemingly without provocation, but we invariably find that at some time in the past we have made decisions based on self which later placed us in a position to be hurt. So our troubles, we think, are basically of our own making. They arise out of ourselves...In the battles I have with my addictions, with my pride, and with my fears, these are powerful reminders of just Who is in charge, and who is the problem, in this deal.
Many of us had moral and philosophical convictions galore, but we could not live up to them even though we would have liked to. Neither could we reduce our self-centeredness much by wishing or trying on our own power. We had to have God's help. This is the how and why of it. First of all, we had to quit playing God. It didn't work. Next, we decided that hereafter in this drama of life, God was going to be our Director. He is the Principal; we are His agents. He is the Father, and we are His children. Most good ideas are simple, and this concept was the keystone of the new and triumphant arch through which we passed to freedom. (page 62, emphasis added)
Thank you God, for the stockbroker, the banker, and the sister, who were the instruments of your grace to recovering people across this globe.
God, I offer myself to You, this day - to build with me and to do with me as You will. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I might better do Your will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Your power, Your love, and Your way of life. May I do Your will always! (the "3rd step prayer," page 63).
Admittedly, I don't know much about Yusuf's movements or activities over the last several years - but I do know that much of his life (even after adopting Islam as his name and faith) has been focused on peace and an end to war. Is this what he's being excluded for? Because he's not supporting the unending slaughter of people (on both sides) in Iraq, and elsewhere?
This is starting to smell an awful lot like McCarthyism of the 1950's, where if you just talked to, or had dinner with, the wrong people, bad things could happen to you. Which then makes me start asking...how subversive does someone have to be before I can't talk with them, or be seen with them? Peace protesters...labor activists...community organizers...how long before my apartment is the one being searched? Makes one wonder...
I was concerned before...but I'm starting to get really concerned about the viability of democracy here.
Wednesday, September 22, 2004
1 My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. 2 He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken ... 11 One thing God has spoken, two things have I heard: that you, O God, are strong, 12 and that you, O Lord, are loving. Surely you will reward each person according to what he has done. (Psalm 62:1-2, 11-12, NIV, emphasis added)I don't know if it's just the wreckage of my former faith tradition - but when we finished reading Psalm 62 a week ago as part of a Compline service (prayers at the close of day), I was instantly taken back to being 12-years-old all over again, and felt the pillars of my salvation shudder a bit one more time.
Even after years of knowing "justification by grace through faith," I can still read these four verses and hear this:
1 God loves me, and is my only way to heaven. 2 God is as solid and enduring as a rock, and I will not be shaken. 11 I've heard both these things about you, God - you are Power, and 12 you are love. BUT, regardless of all that, you are going to reward [read: judge] me based on what I've done....which means that, despite all the preceding nice stuff I've heard from God, I'm still screwed, and I'm still gonna burn.
Does anyone else get this sensation when reading stuff like this? (If you have never experienced Scripture like this, I'd ask you to drop to your knees, right now, in an expression of prayerful thanksgiving.)
You see, one of the bad things about a "searching and fearless moral inventory" as suggested by the 12-step programs is that I'm very well acquainted with "what I have done" - having written it all out (and, in fact, revisiting some of those issues again, even now). And let me assure you - "what I have done" is not a pretty picture. If I'm really, "surely" going to be judged on what I've done, I'd better get fitted for asbestos underwear!
Now, I know, intellectually, the truth of "You are all [children] of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ" (Galatians 3:26-27). I know who's given me a robe of righteousness, and I know that absent the saving power of Christ, I'd burn for sure (and deserve it). My soteriology is still pretty solid...trust me. But there are still moments - like this recent one - when things like this just seem to blindside me, and I can still get momentarily panicked for my salvation.
(Of course, I'm sure that none of this has anything to do with the fact that I'm back to being temporarily unemployed, still wrestling with my sense of call, and still behind the 8-ball on my finances, and struggling socially, emotionally, and career-wise to boot. I'm sure my momentary lapse of faith is completely independent of all that emotional baggage, and the related questions of self-worth.)
But it's humbling and a bit embarrassing to admit that, for all my knowledge and trust, there is a scared child inside of me that still is waiting for the divine footnote or contractual sub-clause that says, "Well, you could have made it to heaven, Steve, except for this one thing over here - but this one's a deal-breaker."
I'm grateful that I know enough, in my heart and soul, to be able to pray this: Thank you, God, that my salvation is not based on what I think or feel, but on your infinite mercy and grace!
Tuesday, September 21, 2004
We are people who normally would not mix. But there exists among us a fellowship, a friendliness, and an understanding which is indescribably wonderful. (from the book, Alcoholics Anonymous, page 17)
That fellowship was evident in abundance last Saturday evening in Chicago.
September 21, 1939 was the first meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous in Chicago. To commemorate that date, the "All-Chicago Open Meeting" has been established as an annual celebration of sobriety in the Chicagoland area. So it was that about 30 of us from around the Hyde Park meetings gathered for a cookout and fellowship at a nearby church where we meet. Then (stuffed with bratwurst and hamburgs, cake and sweets and pop) we motored down to the University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC) Pavillion, a stadium that seats about 10,000 people. And by the time that the meeting started at 8 PM, I'd say we had the place three-quarters full...seven thousand people easily.
And trust me - we definitely were people who normally would not mix. There were bikers in leathers, preppy Gold Coast types in Tommy & Nautica outfits, people of every nationality in loudly colorful outfits of every description, punks, and goths, and you-name-it - they were there. Old and young, long-hair, short-hair, no-hair, silver-hair, green-hair - a bold and beautiful broad-brush painting of the community of recovery, gathered to celebrate.
Two local AA members spoke, for a total of about 90 minutes...and that was what people really came to hear. To hear that recovery - even from desperate situations brought on by alcohol and drugs - is possible. To hear that long-term sobriety - even through the roughest of times - is possible (and survivable!). To see that seven thousand people (who, in their drinking days, would have likely started a riot if brought together) could joyfully co-exist in an attitude of gratitude.
The sobriety countdown capped off the evening. The evening's moderator started counting down from 65 years of sobriety - and the first person to stand up, at 45 years, got a thunderous round of applause...because we all knew that nineteen fifty-nine must have been a good year for that man. The applause continued, celebrating the people who stood up at every year's anniversary. I was glad to stand and be recognized at 13 years - reflecting that an awful lot of living has happened since my first All-Chicago Open, a year ago this week. I know that nothing I've done or experienced in the last 13 months - in joy or sorrow - would have been possible if I'd not been sober.
As the assembly stood at the end, held hands and said the Lord's Prayer, the words boomed off the walls, and seemed to reverberate straight to heaven - where I trust that a God of love and transforming power smiled. I know I was smiling - and weeping tears of joy - to be present and "in the house," as they say. The gift of being "sunny-side up, suckin' air and sober," as my friend Bob L. would say, was (and is) a gift worthy of celebration.
In retrospect, I wished that I'd invited some of my seminary friends down to experience it - but somehow, I'm not sure that they'd get it. If you haven't been staring down the barrel of alcoholism and addiction, the whole 12-step thing really doesn't make sense to most folks. Last year, I offered to the dean of community at LSTC to set up an AA/12-step workshop for the students - but it was met with little enthusiasm. Which is unfortunate, given that so many of my seminary sisters and brothers will be interning and serving in churches where 12-step groups meet. It's even more unfortunate, given that members of 12-step groups are often a major component at Alpha or other outreach/seeker programs. But I'm sure I'll get the chance to "be of service" at some point.
And now I'm looking forward (planning, but not projecting) to the AA International Convention, next June in Toronto. I was at the 1995 International - where 80,000 AAs and Alanons filled Qualcomm Stadium and spilled all over the city of San Diego for four glorious days. To be honest, I can't wait to head for Toronto!
Thank you God, for yet another gift that I truly do not deserve, and did not earn. Help me to remember this day what a blessed child of yours I truly am - and help me live as if I believe it! Amen.
Monday, September 20, 2004
Moanin' - I'm not so sure about this XP Service Pack 2, boys and girls. I've had more (and more vicious) browser hijackings in the last week since I installed it - despite Norton's best defense on my CPU. These sneaky little so-&-so's tore right through my software firewall, and then (of course) the wondrous NAV told me about what it missed, but also failed to automatically remove the offending bit (grrr). Frustrating...
Good moanin' - if there is "safety in numbers," then there were a bunch of us who weren't gonna have to worry about accidentally drinking on Saturday night. Somewhere around 7,000 folks in recovery gathered at the UIC (Univ of Illinois-Chicago) Pavillion for the "All-Chicago Open," celebrating the 65th-anniversary of the first AA meeting in Chicago. The folks from various Hyde Park AA meetings met for a cookout from 3-6 on Saturday, then drove down to the Pavillion for about 90 minutes of meeting-and-greeting with recovering folks from all over Chicagoland. Then two speakers got to share their experience, strength and hope, followed by a "sobriety countdown" - where the eldest of the "old-timers" was 45 years sober, and several folks were in their first day of sobriety. Thank you, God, for the gift of the meeting, the speakers, the fellowship and the reminder of just how good it is for people like me to be sober!
Good moanin' - and it was a beautiful weekend, too. God surely smiled on the Chicagoland area - cool breezes, 60's to mid 70's, dry - just glorious. I felt bad for my friend Natalie, who spent the weekend with her folks painting her parents' house in 90-plus degrees, high humidity and high winds. Yuck. She - and they - deserved better, Lord.
Moanin' - if my high-school American Government teacher, Tom Guitteau, could have told me that 30 years after I graduated high school, foreign nations would be sending independent observers to the United States, to ensure that our elections would be fair and just and un-manipulated, both of us would have laughed. But, as you can see from the story here, it's just not funny any more. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.
Moanin' - Ah, technology...you are a fickle mistress. I'd been writing this posting for a while, and wanted to save my text...and instead of "save," I got "delete." So that's the last - hear me? the last - time I am using Blogger's input screen to edit my posts. [Insert growling and snapping noises here.] But it's 12:30 - and way past time for me to be in bed. So I'm going to take the hint this time, and call it a late day. Peace ...
Thursday, September 16, 2004
"I want to begin this day with thankfulness, and continue it with eagerness. I shall be busy; let me set about things in the spirit of service to you and to my fellows, that Jesus knew in the carpenter's shop in Nazareth. I am glad that he drew no line between work sacred and secular. Take the skill that resides in my hands, and use it today; take the experience that life has given me, and use it; keep my eyes open, and my imagination alert, that I may see how things look to others, especially the unwell, the worried, the overworked. For your love's sake. Amen."Amen, indeed.
JD Powers & Associates has rated restaurants, and you can find their results here. Personally, I think whoever in the Midwest rated Olive Garden over Famous Dave's BBQ needs to have their medication adjusted (or started, for that matter). Now I agree with the worst votes, but I am sorry to hear that my old-home favorite, Friendly's Ice Cream, has sunk to the level of Denny's and Chuck E. Cheese's. That's a tragedy.
A number of years ago, back east in Connecticut and Massachusetts, you could still go into a Friendly's, and get a great milkshake - one that you could actually drink through a straw without a vacuum pump to assist you. And butter-grilled hotdogs on toasted buns.....mmm, mmm...can feel my arteries getting even less elastic by the moment, just from the memories. I have lots of fond recollections of youthful encounters in those restaurants, so it's tough to hear that they've sunk down to the level of another childhood memory site, Howard Johnson's. Grrr.
Hey, you Chicago readers - if there were 2 Chicago area restaurants that I should not miss before I leave Chicago, what would they be? (Not eligible for voting are: Giordano's, Pizza Capri, or any of the Hyde Park regulars, like the Medici, the Dixie Kitchen, Salonica, or Valois. Let's be original, folks!)
Monday, September 13, 2004
He still does.
(My apologies to my LifeLine and Connections email devotional friends for having to read this twice.)
><>I am my own shepherd. I am always in need. I stumble from mall to mall, job to job, and shrink to shrink, seeking relief but never finding it. I creep through the valley of the shadow of death and fall apart. I fear everything from pesticides to power lines, and I'm starting to act like my mother. I go down to the weekly staff meeting and am surrounded by my enemies. I go home, and even the goldfish scowls at me. I anoint my headache with extra-strength Tylenol. My Jack Daniel's runneth over. Surely misery and misfortune will follow me, and I will live in self-doubt for the rest of my lonely life. (Max Lucado, Traveling Light (2001: Word Publishing), page 26)><>
><>The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. (the original Psalm 23, NIV)><>Well, that's pretty clear. Self-reliance, or God-reliance. Where do you spend most of your time?
Sorry to say, but I wish my answer was the right answer more times than not. As a friend of mine often says, "I wish it were so...but it ain't."
No lengthy confession or sharing of experience this day - no essay or treatise on God-reliance. Just one question for this Monday morning:
Am I willing to live in God's gift of today, and leave my finances, my health, my employment, my calling - my life - in the care of the One who created me? Or am I just gonna tough it out on my own, once again? Do I really, really want my results, over and over again?Dear God of mercy and of infinite power, help me choose You - to choose Life - this day, that I might truly live. Amen.
Sunday, September 12, 2004
His blog, St. Jerome's Library, is a worthy one to check out on any given day, but his posting on the death of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross is a classic of humor, simplicity, and affection for his wife Laura. Check it out.
In the article, the author talks about simplifying - lifestyle, possessions, living space - and refers to "Nothing's Too Small to Make a Difference," a recently published book by Wanda Urbanska and Frank Levering, who have made a significant effort to winnow down their dependence on all things material.
I haven't read the book yet - but it's going to be on my "this would be a good reason to get a Chicago Public Library card" list. The article was convicting enough....
Saturday, September 11, 2004
The posting on the porterhouse steak made me just drool, though. Wonder if they sell porterhouses over at Moo & Oink? Where does one go, in Chicago, to find good meat? Or sausage? It's ain't the local Jewel, that's for sure.
Physically, I'm in about the same state I was at 2 a.m. - I still need to head to the hospital and get this thing on my side checked out (and removed, probably). But the difference is that confessing just where (and how) I was early this morning helped to just put me to sleep, and for that I'm grateful. Confession, evidently, is good for the soul.
I'm feeling better rested than I've been in a month, too - even though I didn't really get to bed until after 2 AM, and was up just after 8. I've been moving slowly around the apartment this morning, trying to pick up the wreckage that is my living space (although, to be honest, it looks like an active crack addict has been living here - something straight out of Trainspotting). I've gotten to the sick-&-tired-of-being-sick-&-tired stage of the game with the clutter - and to be honest, I'd be embarrassed if someone came over to visit once I get back from said hospital. So a shower, and several loads of laundry, are on the top of the list for today. Oh, and getting that FedEx package off to the insurance folks...that's really right after "shower" on the list.
Ever lose something that you had just a bit ago, and know that you didn't throw it out, but can't seem to find it anywhere? I'm at that point with the clutter in my room. Yeah, it's making me crazy - but it's a different (and much preferable) kind of crazy to where I was six hours ago, I guess.
Thank you, God, for carrying me through places where I would not normally choose to walk. I'm not yet grateful for the challenges - but I'm grateful to be seeing daylight on them.
During my wonderful weekend in Kansas, I started to get a sore spot on my right side, directly under my belt-line. As I am (to put it mildly) a large-ish sort of fellow, those areas endure more friction than most regular-sizes folks would encounter, (especially in warm weather) so I didn't pay it much mind. "It'll go away...it always does."
By Monday night, though, it had started to get puffy and sore. By Wednesday, it was red and obviously in trouble, but I was used to self-care, so I used some Betadine compresses and ice - still thinking that it was really just a boil that would go down eventually.
By Friday morning, it was obvious that it wasn't going to just go away, and that it was clearly infected - and that's when the fear came to roost in my itty-bitty mind...because of another discovery I made on Wednesday. You see, I found out that my student health-insurance coverage had lapsed.
In the back of my mind, a part of me knew that it was time to renew - after all, the policy had started with the school year. But since I'm not financially able to take classes this semester, it hadn't hit me that I needed to get this done - because you end up doing that particular task during registration. So if you don't register, it doesn't happen.
Unfortunately, since I'm not a student, I also can't use my student account to spread out the nearly $1400 semester premium over six months. I needed $700 cash up front to start the policy - and I needed to mail in the coverage before it would be effective. So I did what I do best - I panicked. In no time at all, I had projected myself into an awful future, laying in a hallway at Cook County hospital, slowly dying (uncared-for) from some gross infection related to whatever the hell is happening on my side. Needless to say, with those kinds of images in mind, you don't have to go far to get to "restless, irritable and discontented" - which my AA text tells me are three particularly unhappy conditions for folks like me to be in.
The good news is, after a reasonable period of sobriety, I know that (of and by myself) I can't think my way out of situations like this; my thinker is just plain broke, that way. And somehow I always boot up in "If you're gonna worry, why pray?" mode - it's something that I have fought my entire sober life. The idea of prayer always comes like the "Wow...I coulda had a V8!" moment.
So if I can't think myself sane, and I don't often think to pray myself sane, what to do? Well, one habit drilled into me by people in recovery is to reach out to people who are fractionally less insane than I am - and that's what I did. (My Kansas friend Bob L. would say, "Action conquers fear, m'boy.") So I called my friend Sandy on the way to work today, and she gave me a loving "mom" talk about taking some action soon. I called my local doctor, whose nurse said that what I'm probably dealing with is an infected spider bite, and it's probably time to head to the ER for treatment. I called the school financial VP, who told me that if I could get the cash together and get it to the school insurance folks before September 15th, the coverage would be retro'd to September 1...a real miracle. An honest-to-God angel offered to loan me the money to get covered - and so I will be at Kinko's early tomorrow morning, to FedEx the stuff to the insurers for Monday delivery.
But by midnight, once I laid down (after a particularly long day at work, between the actual work and futzing around with medical and insurance folks for nearly two hours, on and off), my brain just wouldn't shut off. Fourteen years ago, I had a skin lesion caused by pyoderma (a particularly ugly skin disease) that had to be excised and skin grafted - leaving me a 4" hole in my leg, a particularly gross scar, and memories of a long, long month recovering from that surgery. That process looks a lot like what the internet shows as surgical treatment for brown recluse spider bites. (Don't go looking, unless you're particularly strong-stomached. It's pretty damned ugly.)
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7, NIV).It sounds so simple. But the voice in the back of my head (the one I'd very much love to strangle, most days) reads that passage, and whispers things like, "I just hope He doesn't answer this prayer like he did the ones about your candidacy - maybe you want to wait to go into the ER until you've updated your will." "Well, at least you won't have to hurry back into the search for work - because you won't be able to work, after this." And so on....
Thirteen or so years ago, one of my best friends (who'd helped me get sober, and settled in Kansas) had a sign on the wall of his chiropractic office. When I would go there for treatment, I'd always read it like I was seeing it for the first time:
I just wish -and pray - that I could remember that bit o'truth, and actually live like I believe that, a little more than I do.
I was regretting the past and fearing the future, when a Voice rolled like thunder out of the clouds, saying, "My NAME is I AM !"
The voice continued, "If you are looking for me among the regrets and the failures of the past, you will not find Me. I am not there. My name is not 'I WAS'."
The Voice thundered on, "If you are looking for me among the fears and doubts of the future, you won't find me there, either. I am not a God of uncertainty and doubt. My name is not 'I WILL BE'."
Then, in a hushed tone, like the whisper of the wind, the Voice said, "But if you seek me in this present moment - right now - even when
things seem darkest, you will find Me. Even when you walk through deep places of great despair and death, I will be with you. I am
with you, even now - even to the end of the age - because my name is 'I AM.' "
Monday, September 06, 2004
This article in the Chicago Tribune (you'll have to do a free registry to see it, but it's worth it) describes a young boy whose tragic death has given new life to a young girl in the Lawndale area of Chicago - both of whom were students at St. Rita's Catholic HS. It was forwarded to me by a friend who teaches at St. Rita's - who is understandably grieving for one student, and celebrating for another.
I've said it to everyone I know, but I'll say it again: UNIVERSAL ORGAN DONOR CARDS!
Here's two great links: this one, from the New York Organ Donor Network, and this one, from the Ohio LifeLine network, both address religious issues related to organ donation (and ought to be in every pastoral-care person's notebook or file somewhere). On this page, there is a classic quotation from the Reverend Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr., Senior Minister, The Riverside Church of New York City, who wrote that
"…becoming a donor takes on sacramental meaning. Organ and tissue donation is considered to be the ultimate humanitarian act of benevolence."and this, from the LCMS, from the Ohio site:
In fact, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod was the first denomination to encourage donation [emphasis added]. In an issue of Lutheran Witness magazine, Rev. James W. Rassbach of the Board for Communication Services, Missouri Synod says, "We accept and believe that our Lord Jesus Christ came to give life and came to give it an abundance. Organ donation enables more abundant life, alleviates pain and suffering and is an expression of love in times of tragedy."(One of the few times you'll find me agreeing with one of their positions...)
To which I can only say, "Amen, preachers - preach it!"
The ELCA has affirmed and encouraged organ donation - you can see their actions here, their FAQ on donation in the Worship (funeral) portions here, and in the predecessor LCA resolution here.
Finally, please...please...please. Get a Universal Donor Card - do not just rely on some check-box or sticker on your drivers' license, because they are frequently ignored or overruled as not being a specific-enough statement of a person's wishes. (I've requested several from the Coalition for Donation, to have around for friends near the LSTC campus.) Then talk about it with your family! Make sure that a member of your family signs and witnesses your signature on the UDC. That way, they know that you have no objection to organ donation, and they know it's what you want. Even now, my own Universal Donor Card is in front of every other card in my wallet, where it's been since 1997...signed and witnessed by my sister and brother-in-law.
If Jimmy Hafton's tragic death can have any meaning, let it be not only in his gift of a new kidney to his friend, but in a new resolve to make organ donation a fact in our lives, and in the lives of our families. It truly is "a gift that keeps on giving."
Wouldn't it be cool if every seminary in the Chicago ACTS consortium put on a push to register people with Universal Donor Cards? Maybe to add 1,000 new registered donors to the lists by Christmas? We could do it...
Saturday, September 04, 2004
There were a lot of reasons for it not to happen. After all, they had been living together for a while. They already had two children. There had been brokenness - his addictions to alcohol and drugs nearly destroyed his life, and their life together as well. There had been trust betrayed - and forgiveness withheld. There had been recovery - and doubt - and resentment - and fear. Anyone who knew the two of them could have come up with 30 reasons for them not to get married.
So - you might well ask - why were we gathered in the back-yard of a bed-n-breakfast in a small town in rural Kansas on Labor Day Saturday?
My own answer would be that God (as I misunderstand God) finds impossible circumstances just an amazing workshop for holy moments and miracles.
It was not, as ceremonies and venues go, a "big deal." No tuxedos, no 20-foot train on the bride's dress, no cathedral setting, no prime-rib dinner. The bride was absolutely gorgeous, though her dress was elegant but simple, and the groom was handsome, though he and his groomsmen wore simple white dress shirts, slacks and ties. The guests were told "casual dress" on the invitations, and "casual" went from shirts and ties to polo shirts to motorcycle leathers.
But it didn't matter what was worn, or what was served...because the purpose of the celebration was to bless the union of two hearts and two lives - not to make a fashion statement. And their marriage was well and truly blessed...by God, and by the friends and family who loved them, and gathered to share in the joy.
Her ring was her grandmother's - a plethora of small but elegant stones. His was a simple machined band of tungsten-carbide - a symbol, perhaps, of the hard times they had gone through and the durability of the bond between him and the mother of his children. Something old and something new in this new beginning to an eleven-year-old-relationship.
When it came time to read the classic passage from 1st Corinthians 13, the groom's stepdad choked up a time or two - I'm pretty sure he doubted, for a long time, if this day would ever be possible. As they spoke their vows, and exchanged their rings, the groom's normally controlled exterior cracked, and he cried - tears of joy, I expect. That's what I was crying, anyway... thanking and praising God for the miracle of healing and transformation in this couple's life, that brought them from brokenness to unity. It was at least partly my blurry vision that made me miss the photo of their first married kiss, and a couple others...I was too much "in the moment" to be anything but a casual photographer. If there had been a good photographer there, I would have given him or her my camera - but as it was, the newlyweds were stuck with me, and a host of well-meaning relatives who kept Kodak and Fuji in business for the day.
I thought back to my own wedding, just over 20 years ago...in our case, all the "traditional" trappings had been there. The Lladro porcelain bride-and-groom figure topped the cake. Her gown and veil were masterpieces, our tuxes were first-rate, and the meal at the country-club was a wonder. But I would have swapped it all for the love and the joy in the eyes of the bride and groom - and the hopes and prayers of the family and friends assembled around them. A God of wonder and of power transformed the back-yard of a bed-n-breakfast in Baldwin City, KS into a slice of Eden for a while today, and ensured that impossible things really can and do happen.
Congratulations, Summer and Mike. All my hopes and dreams and prayers go with you this night, as you begin your lives again.
Friday, September 03, 2004
Thanks to the power of the web, and the hospitality of the Johnson County Library, I'm able to share a bit on my journey back to Kansas. It seems strange - to be gone yet another weekend, after being gone for three extended weekends in a row - but I'm glad to be "apart from" life and challenges in Chicago, and to be "a part of" the folks who were my recovery and church family for 13 years here in Kansas.
The primary reason I'm here is to celebrate the wedding of a guy I used to sponsor in AA - but I've extended the time to get in touch with a number of folks from the fellowship, from church, and just friends from my former homestead. It's also a time to take a breath or two, to reflect and to pray, after three particularly hyperactive weeks of work and travel to Ohio.
And time to reflect on my blessings. The only reason I'm here, first of all, is because of the generosity of a friend who bought me the airline ticket, back when I was completely unemployed and completely broke. (I'm now temporarily employed, and only mostly broke.) I'm staying with one former pastor and friend, driving another friend's Bronco around town...yup, I have been blessed way beyond my ability to measure.
When I got here (Thursday noon), Norma (my friend from my days at St. Paul School of Theology) picked me up at the airport and took me to lunch. (For my LSTC friends, this is the lady who came to the Gospel Choir Gala with me.) We just laughed our...well, we laughed a lot. At one point, Norma was driving and talking on the phone, and while taking an exit off I-35 onto Johnson Drive, meandered a bit over the center line on the exit ramp, while simply muttering, "Oops..." (as I was holding my breath and praying for deliverance). From that moment on in our visit, "oops" became a code-word for "yeah, well, it MIGHT kill us, but I think we can get over it," and brought us tee-hees all afternoon. Norma and I are good for each other - mutual rays of sunshine and comic relief. (I know some of you find it hard to believe that I can be a ray of sunshine...but it does happen...)
Last night, I met my friend Mike M. at the Northeast AA group in KC MO. Now there is some old-time recovery goin' on, boys and girls! No fancy clubhouse, no elaborate meeting formats, or rituals, and none of the end-of-the-meeting-chanting or other treatment-center-inspired nonsense I see in so many meetings in Chicago. Just drunks sharing their experience, strength and hope, and the solutions they've found in the 12-step program of AA. Now, admittedly, we were "in the 'hood" in KC (around 9th & Gladstone) - to the point where Mike had to point me away from one parking lot, from which my borrowed Bronco might well have disappeared during the meeting - but it was a welcome time, nonetheless.
Then Mike and I topped off the evening with crawfish-&-andouille-sausage fettucine (just the half order was too much!), beignets (a dessert created by God and given to the Cajuns) and a live jazz-&-blues band at Jazz, a great Cajun restaurant in KC. Even more gratitude for great times, great food, and great memories.
Up at 5:30 a.m., to meet up with my men's Bible study group at 6:30 a.m. at Einstein Brothers in Lenexa. They've been working their way through several of Paul's letters, and today's topic was 2nd Timothy 3 (see it here), talking about Godlessness in the last days. (Actually, it sounds like the same God-lessness that we've seen from time immemorial - as much in Paul's day as now.) And we talked about the trap Paul mentions in verse 5 ("having a form of godliness but denying its power") and how that shows up in life - in our churches, in our government, and particularly in the recent political conventions. (That, as you might imagine, stirred up a little heat!) But the good news about this particular Bible study is that the men in it aren't afraid to ask the hard questions about how this Bible thing affects and shapes (and challenges) their lives. Whenever I get to KC, I try to get here Thursday night so I can re-connect with these brothers in Christ.
The rest of the day is going to be filled with friends, food, and celebration. Lunch with the groom-to-be, dinner with AA folks, the sobriety anniversary of two good friends (one, a former sponsee) at my home group. Then my "home group" meeting tomorrow morning, the wedding Saturday afternoon, visiting a friend playing guitar at a coffee house Saturday night, worship at my home congregation Sunday morning, lunch with more friends Sunday noon, and then back on a plane Sunday evening. Won't be gathering any moss, that's for sure - but I will be doing my best to "gather rosebuds," and spend some quiet time in between all the activity.
Thank you, God, for the gifts I have received and am about to receive from your bounty. I'll do my best to give You thanks all this day long!
Wednesday, September 01, 2004
As I walked to the parking garage to go to work yesterday morning, I noticed two people walking about a block ahead of me. As I focused in on them, I realized it was my friend Lisa, walking with a fellow who had been in my "seminary sampler weekend" group almost two years ago. He'd said at the time that he'd be coming to school at LSTC for the 2004 school year. And, in fact, here he was.
They were going to the start-of-school orientation.
And I wasn't.
I never thought that simple things like that could hurt so bad. But in that one flash of realization, all the hurt, and disappointment, and "all right, God, what NOW?" sentiments just came crashing back. I was glad for both of them - hell, I'm glad for all my fellow students who are returning.
I just wish it could be me. And I wish that in the last 5 months, God would have either shown me a way to make that happen, or given me a full-time job that would let me leave this place and set aside (at least for a time) the dreams of ordained ministry. But neither one of those things has happened. And that really honked me off, at times. Like it did yesterday morning.
Strange thing - at that point, I couldn't even pray. Not even something simple like, "God, give me some relief from this." The only thing I could do is what I do best - I reached out to some spiritual anchors, and share with them what was going on. My friend Sandy - who's been an anchor for this whole roller-coaster year, and much before that - listened, gave me the appropriate "there-there, Steve," and then reminded me of what I know to be true:
1) God hasn't dropped me yet - even though it may feel like it at times.
2) God can use even broken tools - as well as the ones rejected by the world.
3) I have been taken care of by loving, caring people who have carried me when I could not walk my own road.
4) The question I have to continue to ask is not "why" (because that no longer matters) but "what."
My friend Mike M. reminded me that we know lots of folks - even sober ones - who are going through lots worse kinds of stuff, and that we both are blessed, even though we both are struggling in similar ways. And he reminded me that my number one job was to find out how I am to be of maximum service to God and my fellow humans - and the rest would follow.
So I suited up and showed up at work...and it wasn't the best day, because of a number of things unrelated to my own angst - but it was a good one, nonetheless, because I was at least able to be of service to my employer, and to the people there at the Conservatory.
Whatever the road is, I'm not sure how far I can see down it. I'm not sure how long this temporary assignment I'm on will last, and nothing else is on the immediate horizon. For now, I have to get ready to head out of town yet again - this time, for the sobriety celebration and wedding of a guy I sponsored in Kansas City. So I will be away from this box for a bit - although I may be able to get connected from there, if I can get the laptop stuff together in time. That, for now, appears to be the "next right thing" in whatever path God has for me. So I'm gonna give thanks for waking up, as my friend Bob L. would say, "sunny-side-up, suckin' air & sober."
God of both power and love, grant guidance and comfort to your servant, that I might be reminded constantly of your love and your presence...and then go out into the world and live like I believe it. Amen.