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Lifeline This Week

Sat Jul 11 @09:00 - 11:30AM
Downtown Mobile Medical Clinic
Sun Jul 12 @05:00 - 08:00AM
Koinos Church
Sat Jul 18 @09:00 - 11:30AM
Downtown Mobile Medical Clinic

Lament

Anybody who knows me very well can tell you that I am an incurable optimist and a ridiculous idealist. With about the same percentage of purity as a bar of Ivory soap (99.4% pure, right?) I can say I always expect things to get better tomorrow, that doing right things pays rather than costs, and other things like that. Sometime I drive people crazy with that.

Paradoxically, I also tend to sink into depression periodically. And when I sink it comes fast, hard and deep. Last week I had a few days like that. Monday, in particular, was hard, and I sunk into a debilitating despondency that was hard to break. Thanks to some very dear friends I didn't experience this alone, much as I wanted to. Funny how the natural tendency when I most need to be not-alone is to try to isolate myself. Sound familiar? I'm getting better at not hiding during these times, which is some improvement, I guess. I'm so grateful for people in my life who are God's instruments in saving me from me.

At the suggestion of a very good friend, who loves me and is never afraid to tell me the truth, I wrote a lament to God one night last week. It was pretty honest and raw, and I'm pretty sure it did me good to be that honest about how I felt with God. I'm not going to share that one with you (it's a little much), but I offer the following poem that I wrote during a similar period in 2008. I do this just on the off-chance that I am not the only one who needs to express the kind of trust represented by letting God (or anyone, for that matter) know how I really feel.

PSALM
Alone I am,
Enveloped in unwanted silence,
Yet still deafened
By the screams of eager accusers.
Arising from the reverberating din,
An all-too-familiar voice –
My own.

Disappointment pounds
Like ocean's surf on shore,
Reducing once-solid rock to sand.

Emptiness o'erflows
Like castle's moat at high tide,
Blurring dreams once well-defined.

Uncertainty swirls ‘round
Like a whitewater-side pool,
Halting progress once thought inevitable.

Grief flows down
Like raging river over fall,
Reminding once and always of all that been lost.

Longing I am,
To break the awful silence
With articulated despair.
But such words just will not come,
Nor do such thoughts linger long
(Though often I want them to) –
Because of You.

Let hope fall gently
Like a warm April rain,
Restoring the promise that now seems lost.

_____

A New Threshold

At last Saturday's LifeLine Community Dinner most of the characteristic elements were in evidence: 125 or more people gathered together around tons of great food (thanks to Lyn, Amanda, Leryc, Dale and Terri, Liz, Chuck and Charlene, Paul and all those who brought the delicious desserts!), conversation, live music and more. Kids were playing everywhere. There were times when one could hardly walk through any of the rooms because of the crowd. There was a lot of laughter, serious discussion and a few tears. As always, it was life together in which everyone belongs.

Mandy had people around her the whole evening because she didn't feel well. The small group caring for her changed a little throughout the evening, but I'm pretty sure she was never alone. As the night wore on there came a time when things suddenly took a dramatic turn for the worse, and Mandy was led upstairs by my wife, Lyn, along with nurse Terri and friend Robin (maybe a couple of others), to lie down. There, things went further south in a hurry.

All over the house, people continued in their conversations, playing the Beatles and some gospel music, eating plates of food and more. Many were oblivious to the drama unfolding upstairs, not because they didn't care, but because the various circles of activity and life had not not yet intersected. Gradually more and more people became aware until, finally, the emergency squad and paramedics came in and ended up taking Mandy out on a gurney.

By the time this happened it was late – and the crowd was down to about 35 or 40 people. Several of us were thinking prayer for Mandy was in order, and the word was spread that those who would like to gather to pray for her should gather in the dining room. I made sure to emphasize that people who were not comfortable with prayer like this weren't obligated to do so, and thought we would have a group of 10 or 15 people that would gather in a moment to pray for our friend.

By the time I made it from the foyer of our home to the dining room there was hardly room for me, as virtually every one in the house circled the room. I knew that, for many, this was not a common practice, and that their taking a place in the circle was a significant commitment to the community. The circle became grossly deformed as it spilled through the double library doors into the living room, and a beautiful, reverent anticipation filled the spaces suddenly emptied of conversation and laughter. And this dinner community stood at the threshold of a door through which we had never entered before.

Hands were clasped in recognition and representation of our life together, our common humanity and care for one another, and our concern for Mandy. Verbalized prayers seemed somehow to express the inward feeling of a group of great diversity bound together by compassion. I feel certain some in the circle were agreeing with words they hadn't previously ever said themselves. But there was a sense of recognition that our community is connected at a deeper level than has been evident.

More than anything I was touched by this fact. Oneness transcended uniqueness. Unity surpassed difference. Love overwhelmed self interest. Something happened in those moments that I believe will become increasingly visible over the next days and months, as the community learns to live more and more fully with this newly exposed aspsect of its character. It was awesome to see how good and beautiful and sweet it is to live together with such oneness. It was transformative for this diverse group of people to, in a new way, shoulder the burden of one of its own and, in so doing, keep Christ's law of love.

_____

Out of Order, but Awesomer

I had it all mapped out, both in my head and on paper. I had done my homework, been trained to within an inch of my life, had written and talked extensively (ok, stop with the knowing looks and nodding heads and "uh huh's" about the talking extensively thing – I'm an external processor, ok?), and more. The vision was as clear as if it were history instead.

Then came Toledo. And nothing went as planned. Things I thought might be years down the road came suddenly and soon. Things I thought would happen almost automatically once we arrived in the city, didn't seem to happen at all. There were lots of frustrations and disappointments, coupled with strange bedfellows of opportunity and favor.

After four years of false starts and reasons not to try, the LifeLine characteristic I thought would show up first finally arrived on the scene last week. Robinwood Church met for its second time Saturday night, and it was awesome. What I thought would be the catalyst out of which service and love for neighbor would come, instead came as a result of the serving and loving.

It doesn't even matter which is chicken and which is egg. All the strategizing and planning in the world cannot – in fact, did not – produce what simple participation in Kingdom kind of living has. The community that has emerged from the living is now just getting together in another sort of way – a way that celebrates the path we are living along together.

I like it a lot.

_____

"Life is short, even in its longest days"

So last Friday, through a variety of really cool circumstances, I ended in Row A at the beautiful Fox Theater in downtown Detroit for a John Mellencamp concert. Yeah, I'm bragging just a little. It was awesome: old stuff, new stuff – I loved it all.

John Mellencamp is now 59 years old. I remember him 30+ years ago, when he was John COUGAR Mellencamp. He was the quintessential rocker: great songwriter, performer and a stick-it-to-the-man kind of guy. It was interesting to notice the maturity of the man last Friday night, and the more philosophical nature of his songs and words. Funny how age will do that to a person. I found it fascinating. He seemed very much at home in his own life. Not everybody can say that.

One of the songs Mellencamp sang that night was inspired by something his grandmother told him not long before she died as a very old woman. The words were: "Life is short, even in its longest days." I thought the song was great, but I was especially captivated by that particular thought.

I've often heard people who have reached very advanced age speak about how young they still feel in their own minds, how fast life has gone by,and how close yesteryear seems in the rear view mirror. While I'm not so old, I feel even younger than I actually am. I often say to people that "I'm way too young to be as old as I am." I bet a lot of you reading this have felt the same way. There's a lot of wisdom in John Mellencamp's grandmother's words, and anybody would do well to remember that the things in which we invest our time and energy matter. They matter because it will be sooner than any of us thinks, when the time for investing those resources with which we're entrusted will be past.

I thought of another application of the sentiment, however, as I listened to John's introductory words and the song that night. "Life is short, even in its longest days." The longest days of life don't just have to do with age, although that's likely what Grandma had in mind when she said those words to John. Sometimes the longest days have to do with circumstances more than tenure. Sometimes life's longest days are those in which it feels as though each day is a never-ending night of disappointment, sorrow and pain.

It would do me good – maybe some of you, too – to remember Grandma's words when life turns south with pain. Even when it seems life is one very long light-at-the-end-less tunnel, the truth is that those days will also come to an end. The chance to persevere, to hang on, or to overcome is short-lived. That's because a new day or season is always on its way. It seems to me it would be good to remember that these kinds of long days still represent a chance to invest well and wisely the time and energy with which each of us has been entrusted.

The greatest hope for accomplishing this is to live life in a community in which each reminds the others of who they are and how much they are valued, loved and celebrated; a community in which each person is an integral part. As the writer of Hebrews has said, "Consider how to stimulate each other to love and good works." A life like that is one I can live with, however long or short.

_____

Choosing Healing Over Freedom

It was an eventful night at the LifeLine Community dinner the other night, especially for the hog and for Milana's dad, Shawn. Everybody knew about these two happenings, but another, with a much less happy ending, passed with hardly a notice.

It was late at night – maybe midnight – when a young woman ran into the kitchen and then back out again, clearly trying to manage emotions that were resisting her efforts. Just outside the big front doors and down the walk she finally stopped at my voice, poured out her pain in a sentence or two, and collapsed emotionally into my embrace. I had no words for her.

My friend, Jim, once said, in response to a question about why we don't have alcohol at LifeLine dinners, and why he doesn't go to bars at night, "Look at how many of our friends whose lives have been derailed by alcohol. Why would I put them in a position to be hurt or tempted to digress, or to lose their ongoing battle?" I loved Jim's answer to that question.

Saturday night's episode deserves a similar response. I love it when our poets read their hearts' output. I love it when our musicians pour their creativity out through their fingers and voices. I really do. I just think that when my words put a friend in the path of undue pain, or if they transport her to a remembered place of deep suffering (even though the words themselves intended no such thing), I want to choose to save those words for another time and place – one that will be less dangerous or destructive.

I'm not talking about walking on eggshells or avoiding controversy or challenge - in fact, nothing like that. I'm talking about being my brother's keeper in such a way that I am helpful in her (or his) ongoing fight to overcome abuse and grief and regret – to help her win.
I know how hard this is to do, especially in a place in which there is great freedom and even joy. These are the times when it's easiest to let down one's guard. But I want to remember the words of a really smart guy, who once wrote: "Dead flies in perfume make it stink, And a little foolishness decomposes much wisdom."

My wish is that each of us will have both the integrity and the will to value our place in the others' ongoing battles to overcome pain, grief and self; to remember always that no one makes it alone; and that we are each the others' keeper.

_____

Reaching Across the Space

It's taken me this long to come out of my Tent City-induced coma. In spite of the time that's passed since the event, this story is worth telling and reflecting upon:

Colton is a young teenage boy confined to a wheelchair, unable to walk or speak. He also has a great sense of humor to go along with his acute awareness of the people around him. He has a large capacity to both give and receive love, largely thanks to his adoptive parents, Brenda and Don.

Terri is a nurse, and one of Colton's caregivers. She speaks of him often, and her love for Colton is well known by most of her friends. Though not normally a writer, recently Terri wrote a poem for Colton, expressing her feelings about the way others look at him but written from his perspective. To her surprise, she also had a tune for the poem running through her head. She shared her words with a friend, Lisa, who passed them on to a musician friend of hers (Yvette) who, in turn, transformed the tune and poem into a song.

On Saturday night at Tent City, Brenda and Don brought Colton to the entertainment tent for a command, but public, performance of Terri's song. Other friends gathered in the front few rows for the event, and Yvette set up her keyboard on the stage, as did her friend Andrew with his guitar. Terri wheeled Colton right up to the front of the stage, only a couple of feet from another man named Pete. Pete is also confined to a wheelchair, and has survived the ravages of a longer and more stormy life. He sat facing the stage, with Colton just to his side and partially facing him.

No one foresaw the connection the words to Terri's song would have with Pete. Certainly, as Yvette sung lyrics asking for people to look beyond Colton's outer shell to his fundamental humanity and incalculable worth, those same words resonated with Pete; yet no one knew.

No one knew, that is, until Pete, with great effort, stretched out his bent right arm and hand to Colton's; and Colton reached in return. Only a few of us, sitting in the first few rows to the right-center of that stage, got to see the chasm of isolation, misunderstanding and neglect bridged by the tortured effort of one older pariah to a younger, more innocent one. And for that moment, they were the insiders.

How much healing was experienced by Pete and Colton that night? How much healing was experienced by those of us who witnessed this moment, and were we all aware of the need to take off our shoes?

How much of our world's pain and grief could be healed with such reaching from one pain-wracked person to another? What could be restored, reconciled, redeemed? How much of our pervasive isolation and alienation from one another could be eradicated with such simple, if profound, effort? And what will it take for me to begin the reaching? Or you?

I know this is a pretty sentimental piece. I can live with that. You could too if you had been there to see Pete's reach across that space last Saturday night; it was touching and humbling. It was also challenging, and that's the part that must continue after the tears have long-since dried.

_____

Jeremiah 2

Jeremiah 2:1-2 The word of the Lord came to me: Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem: 'I remember the days of your youth, how as a bride you loved me and followed me through the desert, through a land not sown.'

Do you hear it? The wistfulness of God. The longing of God. The pain of God. I have not been able to escape these for the last several years – all because of this little verse. The great God of all that is, remembering a day – a time – when Israel was so devoted to him that they were willing to go into a completely unknown and inhospitable land, just because that was where he was taking them. And God longs for a return to those days.

Of course, I no longer follow him that way, either. I hedge my bets with security blankets around my shoulders and corn husks in the hand, rather than to risk such devotion. I remember such past moments, but isn't it tragic that I have to remember them? I say I want to follow hard and anywhere but I gravitate to institutional fortresses and the status quo, all the while waxing eloquent about the beauty and power of what God still wishes for, but what I so easily brush aside.

What would it look like to love God like that? In my life? In the Church? In my local church? I want to connect with God's wistful longing for days – an era – like that, and to give back to God what has been for so long lost to God.
_____

Wondering about Amos

I met two men today in a little soup kitchen in Lancaster, OH. Their names are John and David. Both are men who have spent their adult lives working in factories or with heavy equipment or other work no longer available to them. They both hold out hope for work and a place of their own, despite John's 4 years of unemployment and homelessness and David's off and on 2 years. Both have recently had the ludicrous experience of being told they could not be hired because they live in a shelter, but to be sure to come back when they have a place of their own. I'm pretty sure the people who told them this in separate incidents and places were serious.

I can't help but think of God's words through the Prophet Amos – words citing the apathy of people of faith who seemed to think this was normal or ok or, at most "too bad," and collusion of people of faith in systems and society that perpetuate the plight of the poor. I can't help but think how dissonant our songs must sound and how meager our offerings must seem to a God whose heart is toward the weak, the poor, the marginalized. I can't help but think our isolation, alienation and exile in a world of going on 7 billion people, with all of our communications technology and fabulous mobile devices, is the direct result of the severing of our ties of compassionate responsibility for one another. I can't help but think the only real hope is that our current exile will one day result in a growing stream of people whose hunger and passion and determination for justice on behalf of the poor and oppressed will wash over the nations in a torrent of righteous action reflecting a deep awareness of our connectedness and common humanity.

For this I wait and long, not only for John and David, but for the rest of us whose disconnectedness runs deeper because we ourselves are its authors.

_____

The First Thing Is ...

When my children were young they, like most children from the ages of 2 to 92, always asked the same question whenever we were on a trip. I would be willing to bet I don’t even have to tell you what the question was for you to be able to repeat it. What—are we all from the same family? The question was, of course: "Are we there yet?"

We don’t like the trip very much. We really just want to arrive—to be there, wherever there is. We want to just be able to do whatever we intend to do, whether it’s because we want to or because we’re supposed to. Either way, we’d just as soon skip the trip and just be there. Of course, the problem is that there is no escaping the trip. There is no way to "arrive" without it.

Why is it that we humans dislike the trip so much? I’ve become convinced, about myself at least (although I seriously doubt that I’m alone in this), that it’s because there is almost always discomfort, seemingly endless waiting and, yes, even pain associated with the trip. What happens after we arrive can be fun or fulfilling, but getting there sucks, so we’d just as soon just be there, thank you very much.

But this consideration masks a much deeper and more troubling root issue. The older I’ve gotten the more convinced I’ve become that—careful now, I might be about to say something wise—we want to be what we don’t have the courage to become. Of course, humans are only born in states that require becoming—at least to date. Well, other than the states of Nevada and Confusion. We have to go on the whole trip to have any hope of reaching any destination other than the one in which we find ourselves at any given moment, not to mention the one from which we began.

This blog is about that trip. It’s about my own journey, and it’s compiled for those who are with me on it. And the trip is about thinking and learning to interact with the people and world around me in some way that is authentic and deep and that matters. I don’t know if this is true of your life or not, but life almost never cooperates with my PDA. Instead, the ride consists of twists and turns and other surprises, and its various parts jockey for position to claim control over it.

One final word of warning about becoming: not only is it a long trip, but there is no way to get rid of the discomfort, waiting and pain thing. In fact, in my experience, there are two words that always—yes, always—go together. Those two words are harder and better. I don’t (you don’t either) get better without things also getting harder. A piano player doesn’t get better without playing harder music; a baseball player doesn’t get to be a better hitter without facing tougher pitching; and a human being doesn’t get better without facing and working through the real challenges of their own nature and the world in which we live.

The good news is that the trip is worth it. The friendships forged, internal discoveries made, motivating passions revealed and released, and transcendent forays into the Infinite are all souvenirs one can keep—not as memorabilia of a wistfully remembered but long past experience, but as tools for mapping and navigating the next leg of the journey.

This blog doesn’t represent my arrival at some destination—only my commitment to the trip. And I’m grateful to have the company I have along the way. I’m trying to make my life agree with a really smart guy (Albert Einstein) who is quoted as saying "I love to travel, but hate to arrive."

Here’s to the trip.

_____