I’m Still Listening

I’ve just gotten into using Pandora. I don’t know what the difference is between the things that I’ll jump on the bandwagon for and the things that I won’t. Some of them that I’ve just started – itunes (I’ve always liked actual CD’s – call me crazy), instagram (no idea yet), or even Words with Friends (the students have me playing it, but I’m absolutely terrible.) Maybe I wait and see if it will catch on (still waiting on Google+) or more than likely, I wait until I have some free time to try it out and it’s easy to access. I still haven’t figured out the “cool” Pandora play lists yet, but I have a couple that I love and regularly jam to. The thing that I’ve noticed more than anything is how long it takes me to realize that the music has stopped. You see, if you listen long enough, or if you like me listens while you work, eventually the music is going to stop and you’ll click on the box and you’ll see a message that inquires whether you’re still listening or not. There are some days when I immediately notice, whoa, whoa, whoa, the music has stopped. There are other days when I’m running a bit more on the ragged side or if I’m deep in thought or a project and I finally realize it but can’t remember where along the way it stopped.

Yesterday, for the first time in many, many years, Mike and I worshiped together at a local church. Neither of us responsible for any part of the service. No preaching, speaking, singing, playing the piano, announcements…nothing. Several things struck me all at once. One, I was tired. And it’s a lot easier to zone out and yawn really loudly and for a long time when you’re not the one leading worship. I noted that there’s something energizing or I would say more accurately – Holy Spirit infusing – about leading worship. Sometimes it’s hard to go from closing your eyes during the prayer to focus in on what’s being said. Then I began to wonder to myself about how the folks in the congregation feel? After a few moments I arrived at the conclusion, that a lot of it had to do with me. If you are an active participant in worship – singing, listening to the words of the prayers, paying attention to the children’s sermon – than you’ll get a heck of a lot more out of it.

When I calmed down in my own skin for a minute and actually tuned in to the word God was speaking, I was able to realize that somewhere along the way, the music had stopped and I indeed needed to click the “I’m Still Listening” button. As pastors or those that work in the church, how often are we tuned into the word God would have us share with our congregations, but we’re not quite as open, when we’re not the ones in charge, doing the feeding, and being open to the ways that word will be revealed to us?

I don’t know about you but I feel like there are times when we have been coasting and cruising and we’re doing the appropriate motions and the right spots, but our movements aren’t connecting with our brains. Things are going pretty okay, but if we tuned ourselves in just a bit more to the music flowing all around us, things would be going pretty fantastic…or at least more in tune. Once I got my head and my heart communicating and opening up, I heard a great, convicting, challenging, and well-thought out sermon that was a confirmation that I needed to wake up and do some listening. Isn’t it funny that God brings those things that we need to hear? We just need to clean out our ears sometimes and sort through distractions to get to the place where we can feel and know the presence of God clearly and actively.

What are ways that we stay in tune to God’s music?

What are the things that get in the way and distract us?

What are ways that we can practice listening or centering?

God Things

Today in this season of thanks I thank God for the God things. That sounds like a really general and broad area, right? But I know you know what I’m talking about. I thank God for the times when you can feel God’s presence whether in the sacred or the secular, the intentional and the spontaneous.

Both kids have not been sleeping well lately and both were up off and on all last night. Needless to say, it’s been a sleep-deprived hazy day. But in the midst, there’s all these God things that keep us going. When things seem to derail and doubt starts to creep in or fears for the future begin to weigh, it’s nice to be reminded that we are called to trust in God. We are asked to step out in faith. We are charged to live lives full of the bold promise that God will provide.

So today I thank God for the little bits brought into our lives where we can feel that Spirit moving. I am thankful for possibilities and dreams and prayers. I am thankful for gentle reminders and teachings that I know I needed to hear today about forgiveness and peace. I am thankful for spiritual mentors and grounded students who reflect God’s grace. I am thankful for the joy that buoys us up even when we’re exhausted and blah-ed out and for the promises of God.

What little God things did God show you today? How was your spirit refreshed today or your calling confirmed? Where did you see God today?

Loving jamming to Colbie Caillat “Brighter Than the Sun” today.

For the Communion of the Saints

What are you thankful for? Over the next days/weeks leading up to Thanksgiving I’m going to try to do what many of my wise friends on facebook and other wise folks have shared – cultivate a spirit of gratitude. If all is grace, then we are thankful.

So for Day 1 on All Saints Day, I am thankful for the great cloud of witnesses that surrounds us. These “saints” that have gone before are not just the heavy hitters like Mary or Paul or Mother Theresa. These saints encompass all of the people that have gone before us seeking to live as Christ. Some of these saints are ones that we read about in our Holy Scripture (Paul – I can’t wait to talk to you about the book of Romans after preaching on it this semester in worship – wowzers). Some are ones that we have read back and forth and still dig into their kernels of wisdom – CS Lewis, Jim Elliot, Teresa of Avila (Love Jim’s “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose”). Some of these are saints that may or may not be seen as religious folks – love me some Jane Austen and Louisa May Alcott. Others may be the ones that we’ve personally known or been shaped by.

I think about some of the dear saints I’ve known in this life. Mr. Howard and Ms. Evelyn that we sat with as children on Sundays while Dad preached and Mom sang in the choir. Ms. Betty teaching our first and second grade Sunday school class. I still remember the felt board with the Bible characters. Mr. Tim and Ms. Bunny who proved to me that people want to minister to their minister and his/her family and they really care about each of us. There are so many that I could easily name.

I think about the saints in our family…and then I start to laugh. The thing that I love about them and any of our saints for that matter, is that they were real people – flesh and bone and not always perfect. There’s this thing about saints that we build up to be otherworldly with rose-colored glasses, but the thing that I like the most is that they were colorful characters who didn’t just do everything prim and proper perfectly, but they made a splash. They had spunk. They did not go gentle into that good night as the Dylan Thomas poem goes.

There’s stuff all over the place about paranormal activity and that crazy horror story tv show and even Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt talking to folks from the beyond and I get people’s fascination with this. Or at least I think I do. Well, not necessarily the horror/scare factor. But I do think there’s a great big part of us that wants to know for sure and for certain that we’re not alone here. There’s part of us that wants to know that our family and loved ones – both from long ago and now – dear to us – are okay and it’s going to be okay for us too. That stinking Anderson show (I watched while sick – captive audience) even had me tearing up at parts because of the sincerity of people really wanting to know that we are all connected and we stay connected and that this beautiful network of love doesn’t just stop here, but continues on.

As the seasons in South Carolina start to change for real and things are turning and getting colder and Winter is coming, I’m reminded that death is not the end. Yes, there is grief. Yes, there is change. Yes, there is loss. Yes, there are those we miss dearly. But the great cloud of witnesses surrounds us, spurs us on, and still speak to us in big and small ways. As Dad likes to share – these folks are often our “balcony people!”

As I look around my office and home to the things that I treasure – pictures with family, pictures at Ganny’s house, a beautiful picture painted by Robin, a shingle that my Gandaddy made with our pictures on it, Dad’s pottery, a “family tree” my Mom made for me….as I look into my heart to the things I treasure – both sassy grandmothers that neither minced words, had plenty of spunk, and weren’t afraid to use various words in their vocabularies, the amazing integrity and character of both of my grandfathers and the legacy for trying to love people – whoever they are, whatever color they are or accent they have, wherever their family came from…these are the gifts that the communion of saints continues to give us as we wrestle with their words, their examples, their legacies and their authentic lives of faith.

Thank you God for all of those that have touched us in such mighty ways!

Who are your saints? Who has shaped you? What do you hold dear from the ones that have gone on before us?

DO NOT GO GENTLE INTO THAT GOOD NIGHT by Dylan Thomas

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

“Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them, and try to follow where they lead.” – Louisa May Alcott

Can you hear the party of praise around us???

I turn the music up

I haven’t blogged in ages. It’s not that I haven’t thought about blogs or haven’t wanted to, I just haven’t. I think it’s the same thing that I feel about resolutions and reading the Upper Room email devotional in the morning – things that I want to do and crave to do and would feel better after doing, but for some reason I let the other more pressing things get in the way.

There are all sorts of things that demand our attention and it often feels like the things that would re-charge us or center us whether that be writing or reading or taking a walk or exercising or what have you – these are the things that we feel like need to take a back burner when we’re busy burning the candle at both ends and trying to keep our head above water.

I’m not good at treading water. To be even more honest, I’m a terrible swimmer. By the time we started taking swimming lessons, I was already in late elementary school and a pretty tall kid. If you can stand up in the 5 ft. deep end, swimming just doesn’t take on the same urgency it might would. The rest of my family can swim and in thinking about this (because I am that weird), I think I could survive for a little while lost at sea. I’m pretty good at floating on my back or doing like a frog stroke of some sort. If I’m treading water – I’ve got maybe 3 minutes, and I think even then, I’m being pretty generous.

Am I terrible at swimming, because I’ve seen no use for it yet? I just never got into it? I don’t feel a sense of urgency to do it?

Am I terrible at self care because I see no urgency in it? Because it’s not something to mark off the to do list?

Maybe if I added things like: Take a walk, write a poem (for fun not for serious), read a book in silence without interruption (yeah right), turn the music up and blast it, learn the dance to Thriller (finally), write down three things that you’re thankful for each day…maybe if I added some of these things to the to do list, they would actually happen and not just sound good in my head or me wistfully saying them out loud as a cop out.

What should you add to your to do list? What do you need to make time for? As a parent, as a teacher, as a preacher, as a student, as a leader, as a learner, as a philosopher, as a pragmatist, as a advocate, as a dreamer – what does your soul need today?

I’m listening to a little Coldplay “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall.” I don’t want “Monday morning to feel another life,” but like the authentic, passionate, continuation of following where God leads – the challenging, the joys, the wake up calls, the turning points, the ah ha moments, all apart of the waterfall that is our lives. We keep going with the strength of God. We keep grooving in the Spirit of God. We continue sharing love and grace in the joy of Jesus. And we re-charge, re-energize, re-new, re-store, re-fresh in the midst – taking the time to let the movement of Spirit work inside and out.