Earthquakes and Elections: Discovering the Unshakable

“In 1952, at the threshold of the Cold War, Harry Emerson Fosdick…spoke these now-famous words: ‘The highest use of a shaken time is to discover the unshakable.’” 

My November 9 blog for Baptist News Global is posted on their website here.

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Beginner’s Mind

i-QK5Vx7L-1636x1152Tomorrow morning I’m going to slip a clerical robe over my shoulders and drape a green liturgical stole around my neck. I will line up behind the choir, along with the other pastors and liturgists, process up an impossibly long center aisle in a neo-Gothic sanctuary and take my assigned seat in the divided chancel. Later in worship I’ll climb a circular set of stairs into a pulpit as high as Rapunzel’s tower.

This is new for me.

And I love that.

I’m crazy about this new adventure because, for one thing, it’s grounding me in the reality that the gospel is true and transformative in every culture—including worship cultures. The heart of God beats in country churches and cathedrals, in darkened theaters and beachside pavilions. The Spirit of Christ is at home among hand-clappers and genuflectors; the Good News sings through guitar amps and organ pipes.

I also love this moment because it offers me a chance to experience again the childlike delight and curiosity of a beginner’s mind. Nothing blocks the spiritual path like the assumption that we already know, or that we have nothing more to learn. Yesterday one of the other pastors at our church kindly led me through the considerable choreography of a worship service at First Baptist Church of Washington DC. My awkwardness reminded me of the ballroom dance lessons Tim and I took years ago: “Step here…turn here…cross the floor and pause.” I imagine there’ll be some missteps tomorrow, but what fun it is to learn!

Mostly, by taking a chance on the unfamiliar, I’m invited again to rely on that which is most true—to rest in the essence of faith. I love the way Richard Rohr puts it: “God’s life of love is being lived within you, and you must simply learn how to say yes to that life. If you exist on a level where you can see how ‘everything belongs,’ you can trust the flow and trust the life.”

Good and gracious God, let me find you in all people and things…and be found by you in every moment. That is enough.

Tangible

Scanned Image2-1I’m reading the One Hundredth Psalm on my patio this morning, coffee in hand, as a splashy redbird nonchalantly strips the needle-like leaves from the rosemary in my herb garden.

For the Lord is good;
God’s steadfast love endures forever,
his faithfulness to all generations.

In a flash, I am whisked away from my patio and am in the backseat of a blue Chevy Bel Air, racing along a two-lane road in the Florida panhandle, my thin blonde hair whipping in the wind, stinging my eyes.

It is the summer of 1968 and from the dashboard radio, Jeanie C. Riley is belting out Harper Valley P.T.A. The acrid stink of a paper mill tells me Panama City Beach is just minutes away. A few miles short of town, my father pulls off the road beside an open-air rest stop. “Everybody out!” he commands with a smile. With a whoop of delight my brother and I leap from the car. My thighs peel away from the vinyl seat, leaving a pattern on the backs of my legs.

For the next ten minutes we stand stock-still beside a roadside picnic table, arms extended like scarecrows while Dad slathers Coppertone on every exposed millimeter of our bodies—even the insides of our ears. He always made sure we were wearing sunscreen before we hit the beach, knowing that the instant we arrived at the motel, my brother and I would bolt for the turquoise water of the Gulf, screaming like banshees across the white talcum sand.

The parental care. The practical love. I still cherish them, all these years later.

The Lord is good . . .
God’s steadfast love endures forever;
his faithfulness to all generations.

We don’t know a whole lot about the writer of Psalm One Hundred. One thing we can surmise with confidence, though, because it’s jumping up and down and waving at us from every line, is that the psalmist has experienced something of God’s love so tangible, it makes him or her bold to declare: The Lord is good.

Sometimes God’s love and goodness show up through nature—a cheeky redbird in your herb garden. Or a welcome wave of cool air in September—God’s way of saying, “Chill, dear, I’ve got you.” Sometimes love is Coppertone in the hands of a caring parent, or a friend who forgives you when she has every reason to hold a grudge. Once, love became as concrete as a cross.

The love of God is the one eternal reality; there is no other. When everything else has passed into shadow, what will remain is Love. The Lord is good; God’s steadfast love endures forever.

This piece appeared first on September 7, 2015, as a devotional for Baptist Women in Ministry.  http://bwim.info 

Theological Reflections on a Bulldog

Willie as PuppyOur dear English Bulldog, Willie Boy, died last week. Hearts are still at half-mast around here.

Back in December of 2005, in a moment of temporary insanity, Tim and I decided to grant our daughter Lucy’s persistent and increasingly creative requests for a puppy. We approached the task of choosing a breed with painstaking precision.

Okay, in truth we Googled this dog. Plugged in the two most essential characteristics—“requires minimal exercise” and “excessively affectionate”—and voila (or as we say in the South: wah LA), all fingers pointed to the English Bulldog. (Our Google search for dogs born potty-trained came up empty.)

Willie lived up to his breed’s reputation. He was a furry love sponge whose idea of rigorous exercise was a trip to the mailbox. He fit in from the get-go.

And along the way Willie taught me some things about God. For one thing, God appreciates a good joke. Anyone who doubts God’s sense of humor has never met canis lupus bulldawgus. It’s my fixed belief that bulldogs got thought up at around 4:45 on Friday afternoon, when God was feeling a wee bit prankish.

And Willie was evidence that God uses all the crayons in the big box. In 1848 Cecil Frances Alexander of Dublin, Ireland, wrote some words that would become a best-loved children’s hymn: All things bright and beautiful, All creatures great and small, All things wise and wonderful: The Lord God made them all. 

Mrs. Alexander wrote the hymn to help children better understand the opening words of the Apostles’ Creed: I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.

I can report that Willie Boy didn’t know the Apostles’ Creed from applesauce. He never once weighed in on the predestination debate, or invited anyone to consider the gospel, or lifted a paw to help address the problem of evil in the world.

And yet, as my heart lurches now for our jowly, gassy, ornery little guy with the undulant waddle and goofy underbite, I can’t help but marvel at our colorful Creator—who jolly well could have made all animals boringly alike, but who, for the sheer pleasure of it, gave us bulldogs and baboons, wart hogs and wallabies, poodles and panda bears. Yippee!

So here’s to you, Willie Boy—you hilarious reminder of God’s creative goodness. Sleep soft, old friend. You gave us joy.

Willie's jowls on floor