Category Archives: Faith

Essence

I’m attempting to re-post (share with you) this article by another Lutheran pastor friend of mine from seminary days.  This spoke so strongly to me…  I think, in these hard days (new diagnosis: cystic macular edema – have lost some of my eyesight which will probably come back in a matter of months … so all reading is blurred which is maddening) her reminders are really meaningful.  1, damn, life can throw awful things at you, and losing your shine is very legitimate; and 2, if you are sharing the journey with someone who is hurting, “bring with you hope.” Especially in these days of waiting for God to come into the world in a new way, we look for hope, even when our eyes are glazed over.  Click on the link below and read words of reality and grace.

Essence.

40 days…

Hello all! Thanking the many people praying for me, sending supportive notes, and generally being there for me.  It means the world.

I’m part way through my 3rd cycle of chemo – 3rd of 4.  My doctor told me to expect each time to include 10 bad days.  Each cycle is 3 weeks – so 21 days.  If you do the math, 4 rounds of 10 bad days = 40 days.

I’m not into numerology or things like that, but it is easy to notice the number 40 in Hebrew and Christian scriptures.

  • The rains (in Noah’s day) fell for 40 days and nights (Genesis 7:4).
  • Moses was with God in the mount, 40 days and nights (Exodus 24:18).
  • The spies searched the land of Canaan for 40 days (Numbers 13:25).
  • Israel wandered for 40 years (Numbers 14:33-34).
  • Eli judged Israel for 40 years (1 Samuel 4:18).
  • Saul reigned for 40 years (Acts 13:21).
  • David reigned over Israel for 40 years (2 Samuel 5:4, 1 Kings 2:11).
  • Solomon reigned same length as his father; 40 years (1 Kings 11:42).
  • Elijah had one meal that gave him strength 40 days (1 Kings 19:8).
  • God gave Nineveh 40 days to repent (Jonah 3:4).
  • Jesus fasted 40 days and nights (Matthew 4:2).
  • Jesus was tempted 40 days (Luke 4:2, Mark 1:13).
  • Jesus remained on earth 40 days after resurrection (Acts 1:3).
  • Women are pregnant for 40 weeks (time of testing).

40, as I read it, is the number for what seems like forever … just over the mark from too much.  It’s beyond what people can easily stand (the pregnancy one is best evidence for that!).  But each of these is also attached to a promise.  40 is not just misery; it is God journeying with God’s people.  It is God giving ways of building community, of people being transformed, of us learning to be in the waiting and the wondering.

Bedtime Blessings

Whew! I’m writing this because we made it through bedtime! Alleluia!  Tonight Eric is teaching a night class and it’s hot … so for a treat I let the boys fall asleep in our bedroom (where our aircond unit is).  Dante read in the living room for awhile (which still amazes me … 2 years ago every printed word was cause for tears) while Cade and I laid in the dark, cool bedroom on the fuzzy carpet floor (I got tired of tiles everywhere … it’s nearly shag carpet… I love it!)  We talked about his day, his class, and I listened (because I was laying still on the floor, my “get stuff done” attitude turned off for a bit) and he began remembering bits of books his class had read two years ago.  Something in the silliness/beauty of the memories led me to thinking of camp (I love camp) and so Cade and I sang “the Pasta song” which goes like this:

Some people like pasta; some think it’s alright.  Whatever our uniqueness, God made us ri-i-iight.  Pasta! Pasta! Pasta! Makes us one of a ki-e-i-e-ind.”  And then you add other things – our verses tonight were food-themed – Porridge! Ice cream! Pasta! Makes us one of a ki-e-i-e-ind.”

At which point Dante came in for bed and demanded more camp songs.  I’m a good sport, but I was also tired.  Then both boys actually agreed on a song.  Think of the wonder of it: two brothers, age 6 & 9, willingly agreed on something.  Stop the presses.

They wanted the song “One Body,” which I suddenly couldn’t remember at all.  But Dante started singing, Cade joined in, and then I began to remember the words and melody as well.  It’s a gorgeous song – click the lyrics below for a link to one sung version of it.  As I lay there on the floor with two kids not only singing about living together well, but actually DOing it, images from our life these past weeks scrolled by in my mind.  

We are one body, one body in Christ;
and we do not stand alone.
We are one body, one body in Christ;
and he came that we might have life.

That part about not standing alone brought home to me the wonder of what life is like when people take time for each other, whether it’s praying, giving kids a ride home, bringing a card, checking in online, and what I’ve heard so often – “If you need anything, please, ask.”  I’m not driving yet and I can’t even do the dishes, but I do not stand alone and that’s what is keeping me sane.  Impatient, sore, and not sure what I should be up to – but sane is a good baseline, and I’d say we’re even positive.  The kids chose the same song … it’s like a little sign that says “we can do this, we can even find a way to stick together.”  

The boys are asleep now, and I soon will be, but I wanted to share this song with you.  I learned it at Mar-Lu-Ridge this summer, a Lutheran camp in Maryland (though we used fewer and different verses … everyone has their own version, I think).  The song rings a certain way in my ears; I wonder how it will sound to you, where you most need to know that you don’t stand alone, that God has a life and future for all of us despite our bickering and fatigue.  I’m posting this at my bedtime – it’s morning in the USA – but I wish you good dreams, whether waking or asleep, and the hope that God’s love will continue to shape our communities and our lives.

Met by Samaria

in Bandaraya (downtown) Kota Kinabalu, a juice stand called "Samaria"

in Bandaraya (downtown) Kota Kinabalu, a juice stand  & restaurant called “Samaria”

This is the restaurant we see on Sunday mornings when we come out of the BM-speaking church we attend.  I never noticed it before, but it’s intriguing – where did it get the name “Samaria”?  But it may be the perfect sight when coming from one culture (Church) to another (mainstream Malaysia, which is significantly Muslim).

Long ago, Samaria was a country that shared a border with Israel during Jesus’ day.  Samaritans worshipped the same God as the Jews but they didn’t center their worship at the Temple in Jerusalem, so Samaritans were not considered Jewish.  Despite sharing so much in common, there was a drastic dislike between the two.  You may remember the story of the Good Samaritan from Luke’s gospel – the point of the story, told to the people of Israel, is that a hated Samaritan could possibly be considered “good” – many people thought Jesus was just talking crazy to have told a parable like that.

Later, in the book of Acts, the disciples are sent out from Jerusalem, told that the good news is not just for Israelites but for all of God’s children.  The disciples probably struggled with that.  Scripture specifically says in Acts 1:8, “and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  Local, foreign, and distant; but note how Scripture specifically includes Samaria.  

What a modern-day parallel to greet on Sunday mornings.  As we leave Church, we are reminded that there are many cultures, religions, and beloved children of God who we are called to love.  They may look & sound very different from us; or they may be so similar that we assume that we understand each other.  When we leave the worship of the God we know, we enter:

a.)    a world that has its own beliefs, that may truly be open to hearing ours – as long as we are also willing to listen, grow, and change (without giving up our identity … ah, what a balancing act), or may not be open, but we don’t know until we gracefully speak

b.)    a world that has its own needs, both from God and from us.  (In this case, it was a business – needing customers … would I avoid their business because I don’t understand their culture? or can I meet them and meet some of their needs?)

c.)    a world that  has its own values, and we would do well to ponder what values are shown in our living before we critique the values that others demonstrate

d.)    a world that has a beautiful, God-given diversity, which can enrich all, but not if we demand uniformity.

By chance I came across this picture today .  It fits, doesn’t it?

Faiths sharing the journey

Faiths sharing the journey

Link

40 Days of Photos: Lenten challenge

40 Days of Photos: Lenten challenge (click to connect to our Facebook page)

If you’ve seen our Facebook page recently, you know that Wendolyn is sharing a Lenten discipline of capturing one image each day relating to a word given via http://www.slateproject.org/.  These are the words – come on over to Flung Forth Anew on facebook and share your images.  You can do this challenge with your camera, or simply by using your eyes during the day to watch for the word of the day.  It’s been a wonderful way to re-connect with things I see each day – but seeing them through new eyes.  Blessings and peace to you!

Picture

I’ve copied this image from slateproject.org – go see their inspiring site to get an original!

My sermon for Sunday … on the everyday words “But” & “And”

(I get to preach at an English-speaking congregation this week. Since none of the members follow my blog (I think!), I figure I can post it here for folks who might not make it to a Church on Sunday, or who might be otherwise interested.  Add in your own emphasis when you see But/And.  Peace!)

Today I want to talk about an everyday word.  B-U-T — but.  It’s a word we often use without thinking – *but* because it’s so useful, it gives us a lot of information.

But is often a word that tells you a disappointment is coming.

Parent to child: “ I love you, but this behaviour has got to stop!”

At kids bedtime:  “It’s been a fun day, but now it’s time to sleep.”

Job review: “You generally did well, but we need you to …

News:  “Authorities have searched for the missing flight, but found nothing.”

In the home:  “I want to cook your favourite meal, but I don’t have the ingredients.”

In being disciples: “You are the salt of the earth – but if the salt loses its flavour, it is good for nothing.” (Mtt. 5:13)

“But” is a word that makes us react.  Think of two kids playing with dolls or cars, and one child takes the best toy.  The other one says, “But I wanted that one!”  The one holding the toy will, almost always, hold that toy tighter and prepare for an argument or even a fight.

Why does this happen?  Because our brains are what scientists call “anticipation machines.”  Our brains are like supercomputers – machines that are programmed to figure out what is coming next.  We need to anticipate – ready ourselves for – whatever is coming next, whether it’s paying attention to where our feet are walking, or knowing that hunger means we should make food, or that if someone is going to take my toy away, I need to protect it.

It’s the same for adults – our brains are anticipation machines.  And when we hear  that one word “But” we close down – we get ready to react.  Think of a job review: when they say, “your effort was good, but the results were poor” – you are not calmly going to agree to that.  Your heart starts beating fast, because you are preparing to defend yourself.  As soon as you hear “but” you are immediately thinking in your head of how to defend yourself, and how to change their mind.  Most people stop listening after “but” because they are already in their own head.  We hear “but” and assume we know where the conversation is going, so our thoughts leap ahead to trying to take control and turn the conversation toward better news.  We assume, because we are trying to anticipate what’s coming next, and figure out what that means for us.

One author describes it this way:  “[We long to be connected with one another, and we do so by] appreciating what people say.  You do not have to agree with them, but appreciate what they are saying.  One very good way to do this is to eliminate the word “but” from your vocabulary.  Replace it with “and.”  “But” can be a destructive word; it implies you have heard what is said *but* you have some objections that discount it.  “And” is innocent.  It simply adds to and expands what is being said already.  [The author closes with this:]  Words have great power.”  (O’Conner/Seymour NLP page 22)

So we have these two words:  But and And.  But is a word that prepares us for disappointment.  It’s a word that separates us from others.  But builds a wall so that it is harder to connect, harder to trust, harder to be in a positive relationship.  Listen for it this week, and you will hear it.

So what does this have to do with Church, with faith, with our Christian walk?  Well, our brains are anticipation machines.  When we think about God, or about the big questions in life, we use a lot of different kinds of information to help process our thoughts.  Think of the Bible.  One of our greatest questions comes from those first chapters of Genesis.  God created, *and* it was good.  God made Adam, and then made Eve.  God gave them a garden where they could live in peace and joy and connection with God.  And it was all good.  But God put a tree in the center of the garden (see? Limits, preparing for disappointment).  God said, you can eat of that, and that, and that, but not this.

And what happened?  The snake entered and said, “But why should there be limits? Why should you not eat, and be like God?”  And so they ate, and then when God came to them, they started saying “But she gave me the fruit… But the snake told me to… But, but.”  As soon as the people did wrong, they began saying, “but… but” – words that blame, and separate, and showed that Adam and Eve no longer trusted God to love and protect them.

We so often ask, “why is there sin in the world?  Why did God put that tree there?  Why did God give us freewill/”  The question is, at its simplest, a problem: we see that God loves us, but God lets there be pain and suffering.  God can save us from this but God doesn’t do it.  God is good, but God allows evil.  We know that God is so many good things – yes.  But we also know an immense amount of sorrow.  We are like Adam and Eve – so close to knowing and trusting God, but there are obstacles to our faith that we can’t overcome.

Another Bible story:  the exodus.  It follows this question as well.  Imagine: the people are freed from slavery.  They had cried out to God, and God heard them.   Listen for the “and” words here – words that lead to God’s amazing acts.  Exodus 3:23-24 says:  “The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God.  God heard their groaning and remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.  So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.”  The Message translation says, “God remembered, and God understood.”  In this, the word “and” builds up – takes all the broken separate pieces and puts them together to form the basis for an incredible act of love.  God’s great “and” led to Moses and the burning bush and the plagues and the crossing of the Red Sea.  God answered evil with a great “and.”  Even the name of God has “and” in it – “the God of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob.”  Listen again:  the God of Abraham (remember God’s promises to Abraham?) and the God of Isaac (remember how God led him?) and the God of Jacob (remember God’s faithfulness?).  Promises kept and guidance given and faithfulness you can trust in – this is what God gave out of love for his people.  And God said to the Israelites, wait and see the land that I’ve prepared for you to live in.  Another “and.”

But.  A word of doubt and resistance and anxiety and fear.  But the people went into the wilderness and were thirsty.  And God sent water from a rock.  But they were hungry.  And God sent manna and quail.  But they were lost.  And God sent a pillar of cloud and fire.  But they didn’t know how to live without Pharoah’s rules.  And God gave the 10 Commandments.  But the people wanted to have a god that they could touch and see, so they built a golden calf.  … You see how the story goes on:  God gives the people an “and” – “and this is why you can trust me”  and each time, they reply with “but” – “but there’s more we need; but we are frail; but we are so afraid; but we don’t know how to trust you, God.”

Our lives as humans are not easy.  We control so little; we fear so much.  We yearn for closeness with God, while we forget how and why we should trust God.  One of my favourite songs says, “I use one hand to pull you close, but the other to push you away.  If I had two hands, doing the same thing, lifted high, I could lift you high.”  That was the story for Adam and Eve,  for the Israelites, and for us.  And – [pull to heart] But – [push away].

Do you see this in your life?  I see it in my life.  I have a friend with whom I can be really honest about my struggles or times when I can’t figure out where to put my energies, when I feel kind of lost.  I tell her all the things I’m thinking about, and trying to do, and how things can be really hard.  And she often asks me, “Have you talked to God about it?”  And I think, “well, no, I haven’t.”  You know why?  Because I think, “But I should be able to do this” or “but God’ s already given me so much”    or – this is a good one –  “but God is busy.”  It’s that push/pull – God is good and loves us all; but God seems so far away.  We remember God’s goodness – and we forget God’s goodness.

I was thinking of how all of this fits into these weeks before Easter.   We are preparing ourselves for Good Friday, for that Saturday when the disciples lost all hope.  We are preparing for those days when we say “God is all powerful … but God in Christ was put to death on a cross.”  In these weeks, we look at our own hearts, and we understand that we can adore Christ while at the same time we crucify him again.

We are like Simon Peter in today’s Bible reading from Matthew 16: 13-25:

“13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ 14And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ 15He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ 16Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ 17And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ 20Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

21 From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.22And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’ 23But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’24 Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

In a moment of blinding wisdom, Peter recognized Jesus as the Messiah, as the fulfilment of all of God’s promises.  He saw Jesus as the And.  Remember in the Exodus, when God’s people cried out because of their oppression?  And God heard them; And God acted; And God sent Moses to free them, to lead them, to give them a new Law which would give their lives meaning.  Moses saw God acting again And again.  Jesus was to be the new Moses – one sent from God who would free people from their sin, lead them to life in the Kingdom of God, and give them a new law that would be written on their hearts, to give life meaning, today and in eternal life.  Jesus did for God’s children what Moses did – though he did it in a new and unexpected way, and he did it not just for the Israelites, but for all of God’s creation.

And Peter suddenly sees this: that Jesus will bring humanity into a new freedom – that Jesus is the Messiah.  He says, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  He thinks, “You are the “And” the one who will give us new stories to tell about God’s greatness, God’s faithfulness. You are the And that will put the nations together to worship God alone.  You are the holy One, sent from God, an answer to our prayers.”

Now Peter and the disciples were expecting a Messiah who would be a military leader, who would overthrow the government and whip the world into shape.  Peter wanted to tell the story someday that would sound like this:  “We cried out to God about Roman oppression, and God sent us a sword to cut off the head of the emperor; and God gave us a new king to rule Greece and Rome and Samaria; and make us rich and secure and then we will finally be a strong nation again.”  Those were the “And”s that people were expecting.

But.

But is a word that prepares for disappointment, yes?  But separates us from what we are expecting.  But puts doubt into our hearts.

Jesus said to Peter, yes, I am the Christ, the Son of the living God.  But in verse 21, he goes on: “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests, and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”  Jesus says, “but I will not be the military leader you want; nor will I be the kind of king you seek.”

And Peter, hearing Jesus say “but …” reacts.  His brain, that had been anticipating such joy and glory, is horrified.  Peter, who had just listened so closely to Jesus and understood so much, now has his brain shut down.  “But no!” he says – “never, Lord!  This shall never happen to you!”

And this is the truth of our faith:  That God gave the world an And – a great, unifying And, one that would heal and put together and overcome obstacles – But the world couldn’t recognize it.  But we couldn’t see Jesus, or the Kingdom of God.  But we were afraid and did not trust God’s plan.

Strangely enough, the fear and doubt that people felt made it so they could not stand up for Jesus.  From the disciples sleeping during Jesus’ agony in the garden, to Peter denying Jesus, to the religious leaders manipulating the Law, to the people shouting for Barabbas to be freed.  People’s fear was what drove them, not their connection to God.  They were afraid of Rome, afraid of soldiers or economic ruin, afraid of standing up to each other.

And so Jesus’ predictions came to pass: he was made to suffer, and die.

And to be raised to life on the third day.

Because when God hears our cries, God responds.  God sent the And into the world, like a lamb among wolves, and the Lamb lived.  And the people were saved.  And God’s promises remained firm.

Now, because our brains are anticipation machines, we can hear this story and we can learn to anticipate God’s actions.  We can say, God has acted in the past, and the past gives us clues to look for God in our midst.  Instead of thinking, “But God is so far away” perhaps we can think, “God was faithful in the past – I have heard the stories and believe them, so I will look for God to be gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.  I can look for all of that in my life.  I can look for that today.  And I expect to see it.”  Our brains will look for what we anticipate – what we expect to see.  So if we hear these stories and believe them, then we will look *and* see that God is good, that God is acting today.

But – a word of caution.  As we open ourselves to seeing God’s will, we will also see where God’s will is not done.  We will ache for the pain in the world.  Jesus gave his disciples this and:  “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”  In other words, we will become part of Jesus’ “and” as we deny ourselves, and take up our cross, and follow him.  Seeing the pain of the world, being a witness to places where God’s promises seem to have failed, is agony.  We are witnesses to not only Christ’s agony on the cross, but the crying out of God’s children today.  As we open to God, we open to others, and we realize that we must be the “and” that looks past the walls so often built.  The walls that separate people and races and tribes; the economic walls that leave some to be hungry; the walls in families where we find it hard to forgive our spouse, our parents, or our children.  We need to be the “and.”  “When we say, “But I cannot forgive that” we let the walls stand.  Replace it with the and – “I am hurt, and I think you are too; and we can find a way forward.”  “But I am so frustrated with that government party” may become “I am so frustrated; and I must speak out about the issues that matter to me.”  When we say “But they are so different from us “ we can change it to “They are different and that is a gift from God – diversity that makes us all richer and more creative.”  Turn the “but” into an “and” and you may see God enter into situations that before had seemed impossible.

Our brains are a gift from God, but they don’t run well on auto-pilot.  Today, notice how your brain is an amazing anticipation machine.  See where that helps you; and also see where you jump to conclusions or make quick assumptions that mislead you.  Today notice what you anticipate.

And tomorrow, listen for where you hear the word “but.”  Listen for whether it builds up or tears down.  Listen to your own words, as well, and see if you can replace “but” with “and.”  Remember what the author said, “try to eliminate the word “but” from your vocabulary.  Replace it with “and.”  “but” can be a destructive word…. “and” is innocent.  … Words have great power.”

Words do have great power; and we give thanks to God that God speaks a word into every situation.  God spoke Jesus, the new Moses,  the Living Word, into the world, and that changed everything.  No one anticipated that a baby born in a manger and a man executed on a cross would have great power to change and save lives – and yet it came to be.  This week, may your words have great power :  power to open your eyes, power to see God at work, and power to witness to the love of the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.

Survival Stories

Looking at the list of shows on cable TV, there is quite a trend nowadays for survival stories.  “I Shouldn’t Be Alive” is one program; “Storm Chasers” and “Deadliest Catch” follow people through death-defying situations to show how wild work and research can be.  “Man, Woman, Wild” is another one that puts a married couple (who are survival experts) in a remote location for a week to see how they stay alive.  Survival stories are dramatic and they sell quite well.

What you may not know is that you have your own survival story.  Maybe you haven’t gone on a reality tv-show with it, but you have faced threats in your life that you did, indeed, survive.  Dangers to your body, to your self-esteem, to your reputation, to your feelings, to your soul.  Harm done may have been acute (like in a car accident) or chronic (like recovering from a car accident, and getting in a car again).  A lot of survival stories center around the break-up of relationships.

Whatever it is, each person creates a story about how they survived.  That story tells about their own personhood, about the way they view the world, and about the relationships that helped them or hurt them.  Think of a book you’ve read recently or a movie you’ve watched – what is the survival story of that character?  I think of Rapunzel; she had her survival story that kept her alive and waiting, and after her prince came she had another survival story.  But should she always rely on the prince?  Can she write a new survival story for herself?

This is deep stuff.  Often, you can imagine how once someone has a survival story, they keep living it out – the same conflict, the same result.  What saved them once becomes their main understanding of how to receive love and care and hope and influence over what happens in life.

Spiritually, I wonder if the survival story we craft from our life and the way of being saved/kept safe in it becomes the primary way we look for God.  For Rapunzel, maybe God comes from ‘out there’ and does not ask her to change; yet what if after her rescue she meets a mother- or sister-figure who can teach her to look for love – human love and divine – through the ordinary, the local, the ever-present?  How can our God story adapt so that it keeps on saving us, into our future?  I think that the story of Christ, coming into the world that already had its survival story decided (to survive, keep the law with diligence & precision) and of Christ changing the way that people can not only survive but together thrive and live.  From survival to renewal.   A new story, new connections.

As I read more of NLP, it always turns toward practical application, especially by frequently asking the questions: “Is it useful?  Does it work?”  These questions apply to little daily things (like how we put our kids to bed) as well as big things (like our personal survival stories).  Often the stories that *did* work once do not work so well anymore.  Our hearts, minds, spirits, souls, and bodies need to come up with new stories.

Here is an opportunity to reflect on your survival story.  Where did it come from?  How did it help?  What are you surviving now, and what story can you imagine crafting?  Where is God in your stories?  What does love look like?  You may find that your story begs to be shared – perhaps with a friend, a counsellor, or a pastor.  Protect your story but also let it continue to protect you; and of course allow for new scripts to be created!

A Theory and a Theology

At the subway in Kuala Lumpur, my daily commute to the YMCA for language classes

At the subway in Kuala Lumpur, my daily commute to the YMCA for language classes

Greetings, friends.  I have been away from this blog for awhile – family visitors to Malaysia, intensive language study in Kuala Lumpur, getting life back on track with the start of the Western school year.  Also, the heat has wiped me out – somehow it took a year for it to affect me?  Who knows.

The good news is that I am finding more time now for writing, research, reflection, and conversation about the idea I’ve had for 3 years now for a book.

The premise of the book is the different ways we use the words “but” and “and.”  We treat them as interchangeable, but (ha – but! Watch how you use it!) if we look at the meaning behind the words, we learn about behaviour, attitude, and communication.

When Caedmon was about a year old, he hated to be put to bed.  He would cry for hours.  I read every book, asked every mom, tried things for weeks at a time.  One book on discipline talked about “and” and “but” and this got me thinking.  One night, as I put Cade down after our bedtime routine, I began to say my usual – “I love you, but it’s time for sleep.”  I stopped myself just in time, and instead I said, “I love you, and that’s why I’m helping get you to your bed and your sleep.  Good night” – and, for the first time, his fists let go of my shirt, he went calmly into his crib, and off to dreamland.

I’ve learned that there is a field of psychology called “NLP” – neuro-linguistic programming – that looks at how the words we use (linguistic) actually program how the neurons in our brain will handle information.  For many people, “But” triggers the neurons for “problem! separation! get defensive!”  “And” on the other hand is a word that links things together.  NLP is a really intriguing field for me, in large part because of how it has helped me in my own attitude, relationships, and life.

So I am studying the theory of NLP – though the leaders in this field will tell you that the theories – the patterns that they have named and shared – are not enough, that it is a practical field.  I agree!  And as a Christian woman,  a mom, a missionary, when I take in information, I don’t stop at theory.  I often don’t stop at practice.  I want also to look for theology – for what this tells us about God.

Where does God use “but” and “and”?  How do we hear messages from God – with our Neurons (mental chemistry & structures for thinking), or with our Language (remembering that Christ is “the Word of God”), or with the ways we Program our life according to patterns?  I have been having a great time exploring how NLP can relate to the Christian faith, to our understanding and devotion to God, and to how we actually live our daily life.

So – from theories to theology – I will share some of my reflections on this blog and invite your contributions as well!

On visiting a Mosque

After nearly a year of living here, I finally made it to visit a mosque. You would think that it would be easy, that a house of worship would welcome someone coming to learn and be open (to whatever degree) to the best parts of your faith tradition. But, it’s not so easy. If you imagine that you wanted to tour a church in your town, you might have to plan to attend a service, which you wouldn’t want to do if you’re not open to converting or being on their mailing list forever. Or you could drop by and hope that the building is unlocked, and that you could find the right door to an office, so you could explain why you’re wandering around, and even better, have someone walk with you and explain things. Now imagine that you are willing to make the phone call, but you have no idea what language you should use on the phone.

In my case, I was a tourist and only had so much time, and had read different guidebooks that all said, “just don’t go on the Muslim day of prayer (Friday) or holidays.” So when I showed up on a Tuesday and the sign said “No Tourists” except between 8-9, 11-12, and 3-4, I was bummed. It was not easy to get there, and it was at that time 12:15. Also, I approached the wrong door – it was the school part of the mosque – and a mom there sneered at me and said, “You are looking for the toilet.” It felt wrong to say, “No, I’m looking for a house of worship.” So I just said, “visiting this mosque?”

My point is not that mosques are inhospitable. Not at all. Once I made it past the very strict nun-like women (who lent me one of the bright lavender robes – marking me as a non-Muslim tourist – plus a hijab) the mosque felt like a wonderfully open place. Architecturally, it had a courtyard area, like most mosques, which lent a feeling of openness yet a solidity, a groundedness. But there was also a sense of spiritual openness, if one wanted to see it. There were plenty of groups there, ticking sights off of their list, and there were many young adults who were taking boisterous photos (they were wearing bright lavender robes, after all). But one could pause and sense the purpose of the place, which was ultimately worship and community.

Thankfully, I had just visited the Museum of Islamic Arts, and so I had some specific questions to ask, and a volunteer there received my questions, taught me a great deal about the practice of his faith, and even took me on a walking tour. I think the thing that most fascinated me was the combination of practical architecture and history. For instance, mosques usually have large domes, but this one had a folding umbrella-shape, because mosques are encouraged to adapt to local culture, and the V-shape is very common in roofs of large buildings. Within the worship space were 16 columns – one for each state in Malaysia. This was the State Mosque and was built after the independence of Malaysia from British colonial rule. However, shortly after it was built, Brunei left being a Malaysian state, as did Singapore, and they both became their own country. So the 16 columns remain, but Malaysia has only 14 states. People still shake their heads over the way the Federation was originally set up, and these 16 columns keep that conversation going. But architecturally, the rains here are part of the local life – and so the folds in the umbrella roof actually channel water down, through the columns, and into the ablution rooms in the lower floor of the mosque. When 21,000 people need to do ritual washing, that is a lot of water needed. So it matches the needs and gifts of this place.

Ultimately, it was a reminder that welcoming guests is a holy enterprise, one that is often set behind many layers of difficulty. I think every person of faith should visit not only the houses of worship of other faiths, but to go visit congregations in their own faith, in their own area. See what it is like to be a guest. See what you can learn in one short visit, and see what questions you walk away with. It will inform you of your expectations and it may open your eyes to how others express (or don’t) faith and hospitality. And who knows what God may do when you enter a holy place.

(Each of these columns – in both the open courtyard (right) and the enclosed sanctuary/prayer room (below) – channel water from the roof to the lower levels. That is a lot of water!)

Video

ELCA Presiding Bishop’s message includes a Shout-Out to Malaysia

Recently, each synod in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA – having 65 synods) watched this video at their annual Assembly. So many people have excitedly told me about the stories of the Church in Malaysia being shared in the video. If you wonder what the ELCA is doing to “Change and Save Lives” in the USA and beyond, watch this video.