Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Friday, February 27, 2009

the KING - Dentmon or Simba?

I don't do theater...or musicals. I'm great at watching ESPN, but somehow manage to skip the Tony Awards on TV every year. I'll watch downhill skiing, March Madness, or even (snore) baseball, before Phantom of the Opera or O-k-l-a-h-o-m-a, where cowboys prove their prowess by spelling their own state and dancing at the same time.

But I live in a musical loving family and am married to a musical loving wife who wanted our family to see "The Lion King" for her birthday. Yes, I know. The Huskies won in overtime last night and are on the verge of winning the conference for the first time since 1953. I missed it...all of it; and I'm glad I did.

Though I arrived a few minutes late to the musical because of serious case of double booking, I settled into my seat and in less than a minute was wholly drawn into the story. Everything about this musical was remarkable; set design, costumes, the quality of both the music, orchestration, and singing - all were perfect.

But over and above all that was the story itself, a story of generations and passing the baton of life to our offspring. Within that story were multiple seeds of the gospel, or at least that's what I was thinking.

When the son, who's been running from his destiny because he's believed the lies of accuser, encounters the voice of truth, he realizes that he's been given a strength not his own in order to fulfill a calling beyond that which he thinks he can do. Does any of this sound vaguely familiar?
The same truth is found here. And, in these lyrics, which brought me to tears, as I sat with my own children, praying that they will find this strength as their futures unfold in a world that, God knows, will push them to the limits of their human capacities. It was more powerful than Dentmon's shooting last night, and that's saying a lot!

I don't have time to write of the other powerful song, but read the lyrics and you see how desperately we need hope. When we realize that we have a hope and confidence that the sun will rise, that a new kingdom will come, that weapons will be gone, that children will be feed, our assurance of this future gives us both strength, and the courage to work towards, and pray for, that very sunrise which alone can warm our cold and darkened world: the reign of the true King.

I went to Cabaret last year, and it was equally powerful. It's a funny thing. I'd never choose to go except for the relationships that get me through the door. But when I'm there, it just seems that the convergence of beauty, creativity, talent, and meaning all converge to make for a powerful experience, like a shootout in ice-hockey, or a 3 pointer at the buzzer. Yes, there is life outside of my own tastes, if I'll be willing to show up and jump into the event. Thanks family... for leading me into a different, enthralling, and uplifting world...again. Now, can we please watch some basketball together?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

they covered their ears...

Here's Stephen in Acts 7: "You men wo are stiff necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always reisisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did. Which on of the prophets did you fathers not persecute?..."

Here's the educated religious elite:
Now when they heard this, there were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him...(and they) cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears and rushed at him with one impulse.

Does anyone else find the dark humor in this?

"You never listen!" comes the complaint?

"Oh yeah... well... damn you..." (sounds of gnashing teeth) (loud sounds of 'crying out') (covering of the ears so as not to hear anymore from this one whose face shone like an angel) (sound of rocks hitting flesh and bone as your victim prays for God to forgive you).

When someone accuses you of not listening and your response is to cover your ears, it seems that the argument is over, and we've a pretty good idea who is standing on the side of truth.

This is all very important actually, because Acts 7 is a "tale of two versions" of the Old Testament narrative; one by the religious establishment, and the other by a waiter who belongs to a new cult. The establishment has a lot of things going for it - seminary education; letters behind their names; authority in a long line of gatekeepers who guarded the truth; and and access to a few rocks.

The other guy has come out of nowhere, and through numerous conversations is giving rise to the notion that existing traditions might not be as important as originally thought, and that the temple might not be the only place in the world where God shows up.

When confronted, he tells the same Old Testament story that the good 'ol boys club clearly loves, only he puts a different spin on it, indicating that the narrative is really talking less about how favored Israel is, how victimized they've been, and how holy their temple is, and more about how Israel consistently rejected God's leaders when those leaders called for movement.

Joseph? Rejected.
Moses? Rejected.
Prophets? Rejected.

...and now, along comes Jesus. Of course. Rejected. It's in keeping with the theme.

His version makes a lot of sense and would be easy to believe, except the guys rejecting the truth had long robes and fancy hats, degrees, and used the very same Bible that foretold the coming of the Messiah they crucified. In other words, they had all the commonly accepted signs of being holy.

I wonder, as I read this, how often I cover my ears today? Do I cover them when a libertarian tells me that God favors deregulation of all government entities? I cringe, but will I at least listen, and try to hear something meaningful before firing back, or do I cover my ears? Do I cover my ears when the right says that women shouldn't be in leadership and that there are clearly established gender roles in the home? Do I cover my ears when the left says that maybe it's high time we supported gay people being in covenant relationships rather than just shouting at them, and they offer me their interpretation of the Bible to prove it? Will I listen, or label, and cover my ears?

All through the history of God's people, God has had to peel away blinders that have prevented us from seeing right and living well, whether it was freeing us from dietary constraints in Acts 10, or freeing us from 'Biblically sanctioned' slavery in the 18th and 19th centuries.

James says we should be "quick to hear and slow to speak"

Jesus' complaint with the religious establishment was that though they had eyes, they didn't see.

What? Are you afraid I'm advocating an abdication of convictions? Far from it. In fact, by carefully considering what differing views have to say, and offer, I find myself continuing to grow more and more into what I consider to be more solidly grounded convictions, precisely because they been nuanced, altered, tested, and strengthened through engaging conversations with those who think differently.

When I listen, really listen, I not only learn; I dignify the other. This too is vital.

I wish I had time to offer you some links for this post, but it's a very busy week. Maybe you could share some verses to which I'm referring in the comments section, along with your answer to the question: Do you think evangelicals cover their ears too much? Why or why ont?

Monday, February 23, 2009


I'm reposting my entry from earlier in January just in case you missed it. Not only was the movie very well done in every way (sound, cinematography, directing), but the story was compelling. We want the walls to broken (those walls of which I spoke yesterday). We want the oppressed to win. We want love to be the fundamental value. These are the reasons, I think, Slumdog won eight awards.

Have you seen it? Do you agree with the academy? What other films would you recommend watching, from last nights awards?
Here's the entry from last month...

The book Acts (which I'm presently teaching at our church) is filled with moments where the tables are turned. It's best to understand a little background regarding Jewish conceptions of Messiah, and how their religious establishment thought. However, lacking that kind of background, simply reading through the book will reveal numerous times when the people are supposed to 'get it' don't, and those who aren't, do. The Holy Spirit is poured out, not in the temple, but in some obscure upper room. It's poured out, not on the religious establishment, but on some obscure devotees of a recently crucified, so called "messiah". Wisdom and power are poured out through the uneducated and impoverished. The weak are strong, and the strong are revealed to actually be, not only weak, but withered and fearful souls who have become such by virtue of their resistance to the good news.

It was in the midst of my studies that I took a break last week to see "Slumdog Millionaire", and discovered a beautiful illustration of this book called Acts. It's a film about a young man who grew up in the slums of Mumbai. Playing on India's version of "Who wants to be a Millionaire", as his correct answers and winnings mount, he's suspected of cheating. The presupposition is that, of course, people from his caste, people from poverty, people from the slums, are...

It's right here, when you answer that question, the movie becomes a commentary about the many "isms" that divide us, right here in the "enlightened" west: racism, classism, sexism come to mind, though there are many more. The caste system has certainly created it's own waves of poverty in India, but it would be wrong to, with a wave of our educated hands, caste judgement on the Indian culture and so free ourselves from the much needed look in the mirror. The reality is that all of us have expectations of others, based on gender, education, clothing, color of skin, and more. We pre-emptively close ourselves off from learning and friendship with some; we pre-emptively judge and categorize others as hopeless. In short, we build walls and function with all the wisdom of this world, and in so doing make choices by completely different criteria than God's, building relationsal walls instead of tearing them down.

Slumdog reminds me of the way God does things. The whole army is shaking in their military issue boots, while the shepherd, whose mission is to deliver some bread to them, takes down the giant enemy with a slingshot. The impoverished teen becomes pregnant with the life of God. When Jacob marries two women, it's not the "hot" girl who is fertile; it's the other one, the one who (the story implies) rarely shares her bed with her husband because, yes, he's that shallow. She gives him, in the end, six sons!

Not many wise. Not many rich, etc. etc. I need to think about this, not only from the perspective of how I view others, but also how I view myself. I've taken myself, pre-emptively, out of relationships and contexts at various times because, frankly, I felt, "out of my league". People richer than me. Better looking than me. People with more letters after their name - Not wanting to feel small, I'd withdraw. This movie reminds me of the same thing that God says: Don't withdraw! You have gifts. Use them. Your life experiences have created a context for you to make a different. Live with integrity and let me carve a path for you.

You've heard of the French paradox. That makes for interesting dinner conversation (especially over escargot, a good merlot, and some fine dark chocolate). But the Slumdog paradox is more than interesting conversation - it's an illustration of the heart of the gospel, offering a life changing challenge to our isms and our withdrawal from God's story due to our own feelings of inadequacy. Don't miss it.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

the hassle of fruit...

Tonight I'll sit down with a glass of red wine from Europe and when I do, I'll think of an experience I had this past December in Bavaria. I had an afternoon off from teaching and so made my way to a glorious castle (the oldest in Germany), the route taking me through some wonderful vineyards. It wasn't harvest time, but clearly there was work to be done, as a man was walking through the rows examining and clipping the vines. Elsewhere on my trip, I'd visit friends who raise cows for milk. Their barn, frankly, has an aroma to it, sometimes overpowering because life is happening there. The mom of the family is up before the sun, milking cows in the subfreezing Alpine mornings, all winter long. Let's not forget about birthing calves, shearing sheep, and of course clean the urine and feces that inevitably accumulate wherever life happens.

It's that "life happens" phrase that is worth considering. Jesus said that if we make ourselves at home with His life, enjoying the fellowship and reality of His indwelling within us, the result of that will be fruit, both in and through us, because life begats life, and that's just the way it is - almost all the time. We don't know the 'when' of divine life being birthed through or among us; we don't know the particulars of what that will look like. But we do know this: where there is life, the crib isn't clean.

Don't think too narrowly here, about biological life, though that's certainly in play. This text, though, is speaking of supernatural life, spiritual life. The Greek word for this is ZOE and it's the word Jesus used when He said that He came in order that we might have LIFE!! He came that we might, by the very presence of Christ in us, pour life and blessing into the world. That means relationships, hospitality, travel, service, crossing social and economic boundaries, confronting, celebrating, forgiving and confessing, celebrating. That means, also, that if the soul of our hearts is fortunate enough to used by God as a means of influencing, blessing others, our lives might actually grow in complexity as a result of God's blessing and calling.

As one whose ambitions often aspire no higher than spending time in the mountains with a few friends, or a few books, or a writing project, or a backpack, the notion that the manger of my heart might actually get messier BECAUSE OF God's calling and blessing is counter intuitive. I like to think that God's blessing will result in a cleaner desk, a clearer schedule, more 'me' time, and the luxury of abundant replenishing solitude.

Oops. Our new church building means 42% more people this year than last call Bethany home each Sunday. That means more staff, more ministries, longer meetings, and the need to now invest time praying and considering lots of 'what next' questions regarding our little vineyard. You might have similar issues, with growing job responsibilities, or a growing family, or you've taken on a commitment to use your spiritual gifts, and it's eating into an evening each week. Maybe (wouldn't this be nice?) your business is thriving, and you're working longer hours.

Wouldn't it be easier to just keep things simple? Of course it would be easier, just like it would be easier for my Austrian friends to sleep in each morning because they let the cows wander away to die. Ah, finally, a clean barn! Such simplicity is unsustainable, because it is the simplicity of barrenness.

I'll get back to my responsibilities now, but after pondering the realities of fruitfulness, I'll get back to them viewing them differently, with a sense of gratitude for the privilege of what I've been given.

Thank you God, for the blessing of visible fruit. Forgive me for resentment when it arises in my heart, a bitter weed in your vineyard. Teach us gratitude, and grant us wisdom, so that the complexity that comes from fruitfulness won't discourage or overwhelm us. Instead, may we use the seasons of complexity to lean into you, drawing up the resources of your life for wisdom and strength.


Saturday, February 14, 2009

fishing for answers

Wow! Thursday was so busy with real life that I didn't have time to celebrate Charles Darwin's birthday, or Abraham Lincoln's for that matter. However, driving on the freeway Thursday night, and listening to NPR offered the perfect convergence of what I perceive to be Darwin's ongoing dilemma.

As I'm listening to the story of Darwin's amazing discoveries and his posited theory of natural selection (it is still a theory, right?), he came to the conclusion that we climb higher on the ladder, attaining ever more evolved states, only through struggle and suffering, so that the weak are eliminated, leaving the strong to survive, out of which arises a more evolved, more adapted species.

So I'm at the red light as I'm listening to this, and I pull up behind this lady who has the classic Darwin fish sticker (meant, I believe, to trump the earlier version of the fish that Christians used back in the 70's. Of course, there's a third generation of fish stickers, that of the Jesus fish eating the Darwin fish, but I digress). Right under her classic Darwin fish is that cool "Coexist" sticker, meant to call us all to an ecumenism that pretends all our world views are fundamentally the same, so "why don't we all just love each other."

Does anyone else see the contradiction on the back of this Subaru? If Darwin was right, genocide, forced sterilization, infanticide, and so much more that we rightly find horrific are in reality only the normal and appropriate course of things. Isn't this the way it works on the upward path towards a more evolved state as a species? Shouldn't the strong prey upon the weak, like what happens in National Geographic specials when the weakest member of the caribou herd is isolated and killed?

This, it seems to me, is a conundrum that any thinking naturalist finds him/herself in: struggle and suffering are at the heart of natural selection, and this is antithetical to our deepest instincts towards love and service. What's the solution?

Perhaps, and I'm only musing here, (because that's the name of this blog), the answer comes from the unlikely source of Christianity, which sets humankind apart from the rest of the animal kingdom, calling us to a higher standard, a standard of laying down our personal rights in service to others, a call to caring for the common good, and a call to give dignity to the marginalized of the world.

I have more thoughts on this little conundrum, and in the interest of full disclosure, want you to know that when I tread near biology, I'm on thin ice, so I'm a learner here welcoming comments as much as anything. But when biology rubs against theology, philosophy, and ethics... well, then I might have something to say, or at least something to muse.

Happy belated birthday Chuck... maybe a few of you can help me hash this out as a little present to the old dead guy.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Whole Gospel please... everything

Traveling and teaching is nearly always a joy for me, primarily because of the incredible privilege I have of meeting Christians from other parts of the world and hearing their story. In the fall, I met two young women from far eastern Russia, living just miles from the Chinese border. They'd traveled two week by train and bus in order to be in southern Germany to study the Bible. Moldova, Romania, and other parts far and wide expose me to the larger body of Christ, and it's through these travels that I learn first hand just how flexible the wine skins of the gospel are.

I didn't expect my trip to Boston this past weekend to hold such international encounters, but I spent lunch on Saturday with an absolutely delightful couple from Rwanda. Both of them have seen immense suffering. Both of them have known want and deprivation. Both of them glowed (it's the only word I can use to describe it) with joy and overflowing love for Christ.

After asking them to explain the Rwanda situation to me, I sat and listened for nearly an hour as they spoke of the occupation of Rwanda by Belgium, and how this contributed to the Tutsi, Hutu tribal conflict, inflaming it so that when the occupation ended, the people turned on each other. There are many more details, but a good article that grants an accurate overview can be found here.

The reason this story shakes me to the core is because Rwanda had, until the genocide, been held up as a successful missions endeavor. Considered one of the most Christianized countries in Africa, this article offers both statistics and an assessment of how, in such a Christianized country, this tragedy could have happened: 800,000 killed (that's pretty much all of Seattle) in about 100 days. After listening to my new Rwandan friends, my heart was heavy, and I came away with my own assessment, which has application for this time and place in history:

1. We must preach the whole gospel. It is never enough to reconcile people to Jesus Christ. If that sounds like heresy, it shows how far we've veered from the heart of the gospel. The good news of Christ is His invitation to be reconciled with God, yes; but it includes, just as necessarily, the glad news that Jesus is reconciling people with one another. This is why Jesus talks about the two great commandments: love God, love your neighbor, and then tells us a story to explain that our neighbor might just be someone radically different than us (African American, Hispanic, Muslim, Gay, homeless, uneducated...). This is why Paul goes to great lengths to explain that the dividing wall, present in the temple of the Old Covenant has been broken down, shattered, annihilated. We MUST.... MUST... MUST learn how to love one another. This, Jesus says, is the proving ground of our faith.

I left this lunch intent on never shrinking back from declaring the social dimension of the gospel out of fear that I might be labeled; post-modern/ emergent/ liberal -- I don't care about labels. I do care that Jesus be made visible, and that His people work actively to love and reconcile relationships. Dear God, would you help us not only declare reconciliation, but to live it.

2. The good news must be imparted to each generation. Easily and quickly, the good news that is life in Christ can become nothing more than an empty set of activities - go to church, listen to some talking - sing a bit - go home. When this happens, everything can look placid on the surface, as it did in Rwanda as, Sunday after Sunday the roads would be lined with people dressed up and walking to church together. In only a few short weeks, those same people would be killing each other, and when some would run into church buildings for refuge, they'd find none, and lose their lives.

This is why I get so insenced when American churches argue about forms of worship: what kind of music should we sing? should the pastor wear a tie? should we sit in a circle and should the pews and chairs point forward? Of course, we need to make these kinds of decisions and they should be thoughtful and principle based, but please: don't confuse finding the right form with imparting the reality of Christ. You can be pierced, tatooed, relevant, experiential, funny, gather a crowd, have killer music, and still miss the point entirely. Most significant is the question of whether we're intent on embodying the reign of Christ by serving one another in love and living out the hard work of displaying God's relational reconciling power! This we MUST... MUST... MUST make a priority.

The story in Rwanda isn't over. Though there have been good steps of reconciliation and forgiveness taken, some fear that as refugees return, the killing will begin again. Let's not even get started with a discussion about the role of the US and UN in this, though if you're interested, here's a place to go.

But more significant, I wanted to share with you that, even as Paul wrote of Israel's failures in I Cor. 10, "these things were written as an example..." I pray that we'll learn because we're dangerously naive if we believe that our material well being can somehow by a pass that exempts us from both the hard work, and the joy and glory of moving towards reconciliation with all people.

Cheers... I welcome your thoughts.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

What is Worship?

In their book, "Pagan Christianity", Viola and Barna challenge much of the existing church structures, including church buildings, choirs (and their robes), preaching sermons, and even the existence of pastors. It's a thought provoking book, and if I agreed with their fundamental premise, I'd agree with their conclusion. Their premise: because the early church was devoid of so many things we embrace today (buildings, pastors, robes, preaching), we should also be devoid of them.

As one who's been involved in a house church and now (for 13+ years) a growing 'institutional' church, I'll go on record as disagreeing with their premise. The structures of the first century church, perfect for the birthing of God's new movement, perfect for the Roman Empire of the day, can just as easily become inflexible, life choking constrictions as the subsequent innovations of any century. Robes? Paid pastors? Building? They can, should be, and in fact often are (by virtue of the events of history), held or disposed, for the good of Christ's testimony. So let's all relax and realize that house churches and churches with formal titles and payrolls can both be infused with life, or utterly dead and devoid of spirit. The presence or absence of glory depends not on the wineskin, but the wine.

This brings me to the main point of this post, which is to ask the question: What is the true wine of worship? Like the Barna book, a great deal of discussion about worship seems to center around wineskins: music style, arrangement of chairs or pews (or debate about chairs or pews), and whether the ambiance of the gathering makes one feel good, or convicted, or introspective, or ... whatever.

These elements largely miss the point. I'd argue that our collective gathering on Sundays primarily has three objectives:

1: We gather to declare the reality of God - through singing, teaching, recitation of creeds, and praying we are literally ascribing worth to God, which is what the word worship actually means. It's important to note that these are declarations, not requests. In other words, we don't gather to seek God, because He's already here. He's already resurrected. He's already inaugurating His new reign. Hope, forgiveness, and divine life, are realities we declare, not things we seek. This is no small distinction, because ascribing worth leads to joyful and exuberant declaration, rather than introspective supplication. The former is rooted, by faith, in what God has already done and said. The latter, I fear, is sometimes rooted in our doubt as to whether we're really 'enough' for God (good enough, sincere enough, holy enough). Thus, if we pray enough, seek enough, express our longings enough, maybe God will show up. This is misguided because God can't show up any more than he already has.

2: We gather to hear - the declarations of song, prayer, confession, and the taught word, are not only offered by the community, but also received by it. In other words, we're collectively testifying of the reality of Christ's life and work, and both individually and collectively receiving that declaration. There will be many times when the declaration will confront our wrong thinking, or believing, or living. The declaration will expose sin, requiring confession and repentance. The declaration will impart hope, requiring a reprioritizing of our lives. The declaration will invite participation in God's story, as we learn what it means to live out our days as citizens of the new King.

3: We gather to respond - because we hear, we must respond. Romans 12:1-3 declares that it's the offering of our lives that is the distilled essence of worship. This is powerful. If I sing, listen to the sermon, take notes, say hi to a few people, but don't allow the declaration of God to altar my priorities, financially, sexually, or otherwise, then I'm not really worshiping at all. If I sit but don't serve, using my gifts to participate in God's story, then I also miss worship (granted, of course, that there are seasons when my acts of service might be confined to caring for small children, or aging parents; however the point is that real worship means serving, using my gifts to make the invisible God visible in this world).

Barna's book reminds me of the discussion Jesus had with the woman at the well in John 4. "On which mountain should we worship?" she asked. Jesus said (in my own paraphrase of his answer), "Though your religious leaders argue about which mountain is valid (just like Barna draws a fighting line over buildings, choirs, pastors, and so much more), we who constitute the trinity don't really care about such things. We care about whether you're worshipping in spirit and truth. You can do that on this mountain or that. In a house church, or a mega-church. With a vestment robe or a bathing suit at a beach baptism. Come on people - don't miss the point. Worship is nothing more than declaring the truth of who God is - listening to our own declarations, and responding with repentance, service, and the offering of our lives."

What are your thoughts about what constitutes true worship?


Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Proximity is Personal

When the bottom was dropping out for David, there's this little phrase that shows up where we discover that he 'strengthened himself in the Lord'. What does that mean? How does that happen? I suppose there are many ways, but what's most important is that we find a way to do it because God knows that the bottom drops out for all of us from time to time.

Last night seemed to be a marker, the end of some sort of very intense period for my wife and I, where the convergence zone of my mom's declining health, material things falling apart, the writing cabin freezing, and much more, all came together so that the margins of life haven't been spent skiing, or writing, or lingering over good books and food, or doing much of anything other than plowing through the mound of responsibilities that come with living. If you've read o2, you'll know what I mean when I say it's as if we've been exhaling steadily for several months, which isn't perfectly true, but true enough.

After finishing one of 'margin obligations' last night, it was clear enough that things are settled, at least for a season. Battling a tiny virus and needing some rest, I traveled north to the writing cabin for a time preparation because I'm teaching at a conference back east soon. In case the studies go well, and the virus is defeated, I threw my skis in the car - just in case.

I wake this morning and I sit by the window staring out into a world paralyzed with ice, stunning in it's silence and solitude. A single tiny bird is crawling up the trunk of a fir tree catches my eye and I watch, the only sign of life in view. What does it eat? Where does it sleep? What's it looking for? Where is it's family? Is it young and dependent, or a provider? My gaze is fixed upon this small yet vibrant life when suddenly it takes off, flying directly at my with the speed Nadal serve (for those who aren't tennis fans, that's a simile for 'fast').

BOOM! The bird hits the window and crashes into the window box, which is filled with fir branches and pine cones in the winter. He lands in such a way that he's staring up at me (and suddenly, though I still don't know the gender, the proximity has no longer allowed me to think of him as an it - proximity is personal). We look at each other through the glass. He's breathing rapidly which, in my ignorance, I presume to be a sign of injury. After all, the velocity with which he struck the glass? Well, the sheer physics of it means he should be dead doesn't it? Yet he lives, and stares, and blinks, and I look at his plumage, humble yet stunning. His gaze is fixed on me now. I look away but when I turn back, he's still staring at me, almost pleading, I think. We're connected, bird and I. No longer an object, I want him to live.

What I can I do? Maybe he needs strength. Thank the Lord, someone left a loaf of bread on my porch yesterday. I don't do many bread things these days, so wouldn't have had any with me, save for the kindness of someone at my church. But I do have bread, and so I crush some to crumbs and set it carefully near the bird. I go back inside and he takes a few crumbs in before closing his eyes. If he's breathing, it's imperceptible; the feathers are still.

Have I killed him? He's motionless. I wait a minute, two, maybe three. Nothing changes for bird, so I go outside to pick up the body. When I touch the feathers though, they flutter, and when I touch them again, he's in the air; haltingly at first, but ultimately in flight, landing high in a nearby tree. I feel the relief in my body. My friend will live another day.

Yes, but it there a point to this silly story? Oh yes there's a point. I'm reminded this morning, as I sat by the window to 'refresh myself in the Lord' that proximity is personal. Get close to someone, anyone, and you'll be changed - for better or worse, you'll be changed. What does that mean for me?

1. I'm amazed at God's capacity for proximity with all of humanity - even this bird is in proximity.
2. I need to pursue proximity to God. Sure, I understand that God is always there, like air is always there, but I'm talking about the pursuit of conscious awareness of God's presence and character, for the Bible tells us that we're made whole by gazing at the glory of God, whether in the word, or a spouse, or a neighbor, or a sunrise, or a storm, or a bird.
3. I need to pursue proximity to people, but not in some posturing way, always trying to come out on top of things. Paul spoke of seeing people how God see's them, and when I approach this posture, I find a sense of delight, beauty, compassion in my relationships, rather than vain posturing. But this requires intentionally, seeking to really see people, and I don't do this often enough.

"Showing up" is how I've said it in the past, and that makes sense to me. But this morning I've been reminded, not just of the value of showing up, but that proximity is personal. I'll leave this writing cabin tonight (and not before, as the virus is winning) praying that I'll be intentional about getting close and really looking - because this looking is where the best lessons are learned.

Find a moment today and really look... refresh yourself in the Lord.