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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

When the Tears Come These Days.

I don't know if it is just because of my ripe age or because of living on this groaning planet through six sometimes anguished decades, but I have noticed tears welling up in my eyes more often over the last year. They want to spill when I see a movie, hear a story or have a conversation around the good guy actually winning, or a real hero laying it all down for a righteous cause, or an outrageous wrong actually being set to rights.

I know this kind of stuff makes most people cry every once in a while. But, I suspect it more true that as I move into the last third of my life, the longing for what God promises to do at the end of the world's turbulent exodus is settling into an insistent tugging from a very deep place in me:

  • I want the forgotten voices of the countless silent ones who lived and died as if they were never here to be heard loud and clear.
  • I want all the enslaved and dehumanized over the centuries to be freed and ennobled as if someone cared for their plight.
  • I want the overlooked, abused and lonely to be given their place in the sun.
  • I want all the tears of pain and suffering to be wiped away forever.
  • I want those who never got a chance to sparkle, to shine like stars as they were meant.
  • I want the sick, deformed and mangled to healed to run and leap for joy.
  • I want the music that stayed silent, the art that never knew a brush and the poetry that failed to find form to take center stage for all to see and hear.
  • I want cruelty to disappear and war to find no takers.
  • I want those who gave their lives for peace and justice to have life beyond their wildest imaginings.
  • I want justice, grace and peace to rule the day.
  • I want the good and true to fill the universe.
  • I want evil to disappear and life-freeing live to engulf creation like the sun fills a morning.
I want many other changes like the above. As I get old though, I find it harder to live in a broken world the longer I live here, especially bcause I know there is something better just beyond the veil waiting to be revealed. I get tired of the sad story of cosmic rebellion and long for the joy-story of a new earth conjoined to a new heaven forever.

In the meantime, my hope is that imagine/northampton will reflect a little of the joy-story by how it loves and serves people in this "paradise city." We will point to it in our helping and encouraging especially for those who have had no real reason to lift their heads for a long time.

At the very least, we are sure going to try over and over. And the tears will continue to well up in my eyes everytime I get a unexpected glimpse of what is to be someday.


Sunday, May 17, 2009

What My Right Knee Has Taught Me.

Recently, I have come to realize that an injury to a joint has lessons to teach about how trust is tied to strength whether we initially notice the relationship or not.

First, the back story: As many of you have been aware, I suffered a serious injury to my right knee. The injury required surgery and months of physical therapy. I continue with the PT.

Part of the therapeutic process for such a hobbling has been to strengthen the quadraceps muscle so it helps stabilize the knee and support the weight it should carry. With such strength and stability, I am able to walk normally and exert proper pressure when an activity requires pushing or climbing. At this point, I cannot really climb or descend stairs without a cane and holding onto a rail. Said quadraceps is not strong enough to stabilize the knee or support enough weight, so I don't trust it.

Remarkable to me has been the awareness that whereas before I never gave walking or climbing a second thought, I hesitated recently when therapy required I begin trying to step up onto a 4-inch box. I was even more uncertain when my Physical Therapist started me using my right leg to step onto and over a BOSU ball (a Pilates ball cut in half). It is unstable on purpose and I felt appropriately destabilized.

Obviously, I had become afraid of things I was not afraid of before such as climbing stairs or trying a physical task requiring balance and control. I was also surprised and did not like the fact that when I was on top of the BOSU ball my thigh wobbled uncontrollably because of its utter weakness. Then when I was able step over the ball, I could not get back without having to use my arms holding onto parallel bars to help lift me. My dogs weren't barking, but my hamstrings were sure letting out a yelp! It was not pretty and I felt sheepish.

Soon after the experience I got to thinking about the relationship between strength and trust. Prior to my injury, I used my right leg normally and thought nothing of it. It was strong and stable enough to to do what I needed from one day to the next. I trusted it implicitly. When my knee could not and did not do what I expected from it, I felt immediately disoriented. I expected what I was used to even though it was injured. My brain went there automatically.

Then later, my thoughts turned to what happens to trust when it is tried or injured? Such a thing happens to people when they experience something which profoundly flies in the face of their perception of God: his protection, provision or how he is supposed to help in times of trouble. Most people make assumptions about how God is supposed to be when we face one of life's upheavals or tragedies. When such assumptions are threatened, our faith becomes wounded and weakened because the unthinkable has happened and God seems nowhere to be found. What happened was just not supposed to, or for some, never seems more than a never-ending series of emergencies, setbacks or crushing disappointments. They don't ever get a break from trouble.

When we are faced with such disturbing difficulties most of us earnestly desire to trust again and to find evidence of his strength that will overturn chaos or help us get back on our feet. But I have found in order to do so, we must stretch our trust to include life's formidable struggles, even horrors if need be. We have to locate a more tenacious trust not determined by how well our life is going or how untouched we will be by the terrifying (whatever that might be to us). I know if we can open to the grace he offers to steele our trust (it can come in ways we do not immediately recognize), in trials and travails we will see trust grow stronger because it is determined not by the endless vacillation of our circumstances, but by the experienced integrity and strength of the LORD of the universe through all of them.

In sum, here is what my knee has taught me:

1. Trust must be exercised repeatedly to develop strength, otherwise it remains latent and flaccid.

2. Trust always flows from a remembered history of experienced strength on one's behalf.

3. Trust naturally believes, even assumes that strength can be counted on when needed.

4. Trust can be taken for granted until it is sorely tested.

5. Trust can be damaged when confronted with circumstances which seem to overwhelm strength or render it impotent.

6. Trust can be damaged when confronted by experience which seems to demonstrate such trust was misguided or in vain.

7. Trust can be gradually restored when what was weakened is healed through experiences which rebuild it.

8. Trust can gradually be deepened when it stretches to include the previously unforeseeable or unthinkable.

9. Faith is trust tested over time and found reliable.

10. Faith in Jesus is trust authenticated in relationship over a lifetime.

Monday, May 4, 2009

a short report on imagine's yesterday.

Yesterday, at our house in Sunderland, we began our "final approach" to imagine/northampton's launch in September. Generally, our approach (I know it has only been 10 months), has felt like that excruciatingly slow ride the Space Shuttles take from their hangar to the launching pad. It inches along and can take hours. Our "inching" will take a few more months.

16 of us were together for an afternoon of food, hanging out, and hearing about imagine's plans for the summer. Everyone seemed in a convivial spirit, ready to embark on something new even if each did not have a clear view of their part or where everything would head this summer. People just seemed happy to be together.

We began the day once everyone arrived with a sparkling lunch including Curry Chicken Salad with Green Grapes and Almonds, a Red Potato Salad with Dill, a Multi-colored Fresh Fruit Salad, an Artichoke Salad with White Beans, Pepperoni, Red Peppers and Buffalo Mozzarella, Onion Quiche, and assorted breads. We topped it off with Dark Chocolate Cake plus Honey Vanilla Ice Cream, and a Meringue Pie. I hope you get the idea that it was spectacular, because it was. We are blessed with some serious cooking chops on the team! I guarantee imagine/northampton will always have well-made and presented food as part of its culture.

We did not hurry lunch. We wanted plenty of time to sit around and catch up with everyone. Our desire was for people to talk and connect with one another, and with us in a way different from Conversations or the Strategic Prayer Huddles. Most had at least met at one of our gatherings, but not all. I knew everyone there more than anyone else on our team so I wanted them to have a chance to connect.

To that end, Karin LaMontagne put together a series of thought-provoking questions for after lunch. As we wound down with the meal, we briefly welcomed everyone formally and then turned it over to her. She explained that each person would take a question (she had rolled and tied them to look like blue scrolls), and then after some thought, answer it to the best of his or her ability in a couple of minutes. Karin had brought along a little carousel-like music box to play as a person deliberated, but after much team prayer, anguish, and a thorough search of the Scriptures for any acceptable reference to "carousel-like music boxes" we decided that it was not to be used.

After finished the experience, some of us noted how the questions, picked randomly and sight unseen, often fit the person in a very uncanny way, as if a particular question was "meant" for him or her. Also notable to me was how the experience evoked much laughter and gave people a chance to learn something personal about the others. As we moved around the circle the mood was light-hearted and warm, and people felt free to reveal a little about themselves that others did not know. It did help most there connect in a way that Conversations hadn't. Being in a home rather than a meeting place naturally added to the friendly atmosphere as well.

At end the day, Jim LaMontagne explained a bit about where we were going to head as we studied the Scriptures together through the summer. He is calling the study Living Missionally: A Study in Acts and will take us through the first 5 chapters beginning May 17th. Because we are a missional church culture by design, he will help us examine our understanding by looking at the first missional church.

After Jim spoke, I briefly explained the calendar for May highlighting the gathering at our house on May 17th and our "field trip" to the Paradise City Arts Festival in Northampton on May 24th. On June 6th, our graphic novelist, Matt Bayne will be part of a "convention" in NYC called MoCCA, 2009. It will be a second field trip together. We want to support, Matt, and see a bit of the comic world he inhabits, not to mention New York.

As we adjourned, I was heartened by the fact that after we concluded our scheduled time at 4, people hung around and chatted for at least another half hour. They had connected and were enjoying one another. I ended up talking to a couple of folks until after 6!

Almost felt like church . . . Hmmmmm.

As I mentioned in the last blog, we really do want folks to connect and build relationships with each other that will carry us all into the fall as we launch officially. Yesterday was a great start, and if the rest of the summer turns out like yesterday, we will be in fine shape come September!

The Lord was gracious to us.