Babel-iscious

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But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”  Genesis 11:5-7

Remember those days when Novel Corona was still, you know, novel?  I miss those days. For a moment, we seemed united, working together against a common foe. 

But lately?  ARGGGHHHH.

You know what does NOT feed me during this stage of the crisis?  My feed. My Facebook feed, that is. For a while it was all, “We’ve got this”, and, “God bless our teachers.”  That was great, but today it’s like we’re all over the place; everybody’s got a different take, a different priority, a different complaint.  Why can’t we just hold onto the “all in this together” mindset, instead of more back biting, blame gaming, and general disunity?

Four things I need to remind myself:

  1. I’m the type that thrives on harmony, so I’m still learning to appreciate dissonance.
  2. Sites like Facebook just magnify the anger, fear, and misinformation.
  3. Just like 9/11, unity comes in the initial moments, but as people live into the pain they are likely to respond differently.
  4. This is all God’s fault.

It’s God’s fault!  Remember the Tower of Babel?  Those were some good times.  We were all united behind a common purpose, focused on the issues at hand, everyone doing their part, building that awesome tower.  All together!  And then, BOOM!  What once was a people with a common purpose became thousands of fractured groups who couldn’t communicate.

This puzzles me.   My whole life, I’ve been driven by this desire for humanity to come together, to unite, to be of one mind, to sing kumbaya and join hand in hand.  It sounds nice, doesn’t it?

But in the babel story in Genesis, God seems to have a different agenda.  God seems to prefer a world where people have different priorities, positions, and problems.  A world where communication is a challenge, where unity is not as important as…as what?  Diversity?

Maybe.  Some scholars contend the story of the Tower of Babel is a story of God creating diversity, so that instead of focusing on moving upwards, towards God, humanity would learn to move outwards, into the world.

If that’s true, then maybe God is happy to see all the contrary posts scrolling through my Facebook feed.  People with all their different opinions, struggles, and communication troubles.  If that’s true, then I still have a lot to learn about God.

Perhaps the Kingdom of God advances in many ways, not just my way.  As much a fan of harmony as I am, perhaps I’m beginning to recognize what can happen in a cacophony.

So, no matter what comes next with Covid-19, I’m going to reduce my pining for the days when everything seemed so unified, so babel-icious.  I’m going to come down from my ivory tower into the real world that is messy and “confused”.

However you see God at work in this crazy crisis, please post it, email it, or shout it from your front porch.  Let the world hear Good News as it comes through your particular life and circumstances.

I, for one, will be listening for you.  I may not always understand or agree with your point of view,

but I promise not to unfriend you. Probably.

Have a good week,

Mitch

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The Five People You Meet In Crisis

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Hello, fellow wigged-out citizens of the world!

As the old proverb goes, “May you live in interesting times”.  The coronavirus has provided a nuisance for everybody, a challenge for many, and a life-and-death situation for some.

Although we are limiting our in person social interaction with each other these days, we’re staying in touch in smaller groups, grocery stores, and most certainly, online.

Have you noticed that everybody has a “take” on this whole thing?  Everyone is affected, so everyone has a perspective.  Below are my unscientific thoughts on 5 kinds of folks you may have encountered.  See if you recognize yourself.

1.  THE EXPERT.  Some folks are hard to talk to, even in good times.  In stressful times like these, they can become insufferable.  They have all the facts.  They don’t ask questions, or ponder philosophically, they just tell you the way it is.  Except they don’t really know any more than the rest of us.  They get their info from a TV network or news source that they have identified as the most reliable, and that info, to them, becomes law. (Listen carefully, and then go and fact check later!)

2.   THE THEORIST.  The theorist isn’t quite so interested in facts.  They’re more interested in rumors.  THEORISTS (Short for Conspiracy Theorists) look for the darkest, most sinister explanations.  They will gravitate to the most sensational, unverified news, and spew it out into the world for the rest of us to chew on.  What’s frustrating is when there’s this tiny tickle in the back our minds that wonders, “what if it’s true?”  (Enticing as some ideas may be, try not to get sucked in.)

3. THE CURATOR.   The curator has a seeming addiction to sharing.  Oversharing.  Every semi-funny meme about running out of toilet paper.  Every sentimental picture about getting through this tough time.  Every news report or blog post or YouTube video about the virus — they consider it their job to get this info out to the world. Regardless of helpful or unhelpful intentions, CURATORS overshare, and that can clog up our feeds and our brains.  (Engage where you can, but if it gets to be too much…learn how to scroll on by.)

4. THE FLAILER.  You have 6 rolls of toilet paper in your cart.  They have 60.  You’re stressed out.  They’re apoplectic. Like somebody who can’t swim, thrown into the deep end, they are clearly not handling the pressure well. There’s plenty of panic to go around these days, but FLAILERS seem unable to throttle it back.  If protecting themselves and their family gets in the way of social correctness, so be it. FLAILERS are drowning because they’ve forgotten, or never learned, how to tread water.  (Look for ways of lending a hand without being pulled under.)

5. THE NORMAL.  If you don’t firmly fit in any of the above categories, congratulations! That likely means you’re just one of the more NORMAL people dealing with this crisis. ——

Wait.  Are you kidding me?  There are NO NORMAL PEOPLE in a crisis.  There’s only you, and me, and the myriad of ways we deal with anxiety.  Every person you encounter is anxious in some way or another, like a child that wants its mother.  That emerges in different ways at different times.

The truth is, while some of the above categories might actually ring true for people you know, everybody is afraid.  The folks who deny it, the folks who analyze it, or can’t stop talking about it, or retreat from it, or thrash around in it, or do what they’re told, or lend a hand, or write devotions about it.

You’re bound to meet all kinds of people in a crisis.  All of us reacting against fear.  In different ways and in different amounts, if you begin to look and listen for it, you’ll recognize it. It’s an epidemic.

But God is bigger than coronavirus.  God is bigger than anxiety.  I’m sure you already knew that, but here’s a reminder.  Take a deep breath and read:

For this is what the Lord says:

“I will extend peace to her like a river,
    and the wealth of nations like a flooding stream;
you will nurse and be carried on her arm
    and dandled on her knees.
13 As a mother comforts her child,
    so will I comfort you;
    and you will be comforted over Jerusalem.” Isaiah 66:12-13

In a crisis, perhaps we could return to this image of God tenderly comforting, holding us, bringing us back into our right minds. That’s actually one of the most effective ways to overcome panic–to be held.  It helps our brains reengage.  Can you feel God, rocking  you gently, reminding you who you are?

Covid 19? Meet Isaiah 66.  The cure for the common coronavirus may not be readily available, but a welcome salve for all the kinds of people you’ll meet in crisis is the calming peace of God.  It is transmitted by humans in acts of compassion and kindness.  And we can all get it, directly, in prayer and moments of grace.

God can calm EXPERT anxiety, and THEORIST, and FLAILER, and CURATOR anxiety too.  And God can calm you.  Spread the word.  Be the gentle arms of Christ for all the people you meet.

Okay, you may want to maintain social distancing, but even across our self-imposed quarantines…

Love is highly contagious.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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Could You Handle 800 New Years?

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The days of Adam after he became the father of Seth were eight hundred years; and he had other sons and daughters. –Genesis 5:4

Somewhere between 2019 and 2020, I’m sure somebody shot off some fireworks.  Someone stupidly fired a gun in the air. The whole world celebrated.

I didn’t hear any of it.

I slept. Not out of boredom or depression or anything like that.  I was just sleepy. And not that interest in watching another ball drop.

And…I already had a good idea what I’d wake up to in 2020.  Sure enough, on the other side of a decent night’s sleep, I found the exact same guy staring at me from the mirror.

There I am.  Overweight.  Wart on my foot.  My beard is crooked.  Thus begins another year with myself.  Been there, done that.  Too much anxiety.  Too much a perfectionist and too dismissive of details.

I’ve been around this track 50 times now.  I’ve learned that crossing the Dec.31st finishing line doesn’t really change me.  I may create a few resolutions this year (2 days a week at the gym?), but I know darn well I rarely keep them.

My question is:  How in the world did Adam do it?  800 new years, and that’s only the years AFTER his Son Seth gets born.  Basically, Adam had upwards of a MILLENNIUM to live with his flaws, his idiosyncrasies, his crooked nose, and a curious predilection for low hanging fruit.

Oh, and a messed up world.

Would you even celebrate New Years if you lived to 800?  Or would the years all run together into one prolonged eye roll?  I’ve been awfully eye-rolly lately…

And so, at first I greeted New Years with a yawn, and not because I slept through it.  I felt a little bit…done with it.  Yeah, yeah, new year, new decade.  I’ve been here before.

But I clearly haven’t.  No one has.  I think sleep makes me forget, and a little time with God helps me remember:  We are on the threshold of something new.  Something unprecedented.  This is untraveled territory, this day — every day.

The notice of this week as “New Year” is totally arbitrary.  Just a date on a calendar someone picked, long ago, and we stuck with it.

But we’re not STUCK with anything!  I don’t care how old you are, 8 or 8o, or 800, each new day is for you to explore.  It’s unlike any day that has come before.  On New Year’s Eve, while I was sleeping, the exciting thing that happened was that God was claiming me for another day.

God claims me for all the days, for all the ways I change and grow, and all the ways I stay the same.  For all my bad jokes and all my brilliant ideas.  For the resolutions I make, and the ones I’ll probably break.  God is in it with me for the whole 800+ yards.

I may have slept through the ball drop, but I didn’t miss the important things.  The God of 2019 is the God of 2020, is the God of all time.  And God, through Christ, has invited you and I on the journey of our lives…however long they last, and beyond.

I don’t know why we don’t live as long as Adam did.  Maybe lifespans were measured differently.  Maybe God was still fine tuning creation.  Maybe it’s just a dramatic depiction. Since we never hear from Adam again, it’s possible he lived the rest of his life in boredom or frustration.  It’s also possible he opened himself to receive a marvelous life of challenge and growth and joy.

That’s the one I choose to believe. That’s the new year God wants for me.

I’m going to live 2020 with a little more optimism than last year. A little more faith. After all, if God can do all this while I was sleeping…

I can’t wait to see what happens when I’m wide awake.

Have a great year,

Mitch

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Fifty And Fed Up.

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Is the world today the way you thought it would be back 10 or 20 years ago?

Mine isn’t.

In some ways, that’s for the better.  I didn’t think we’d have Iphones or Alexa or Impossible burgers.  I’m surprised that there’s great strides in the treatment of HIV, and that they’ve found a vaccine for Ebola.  I am daily grateful for Netflix, and the wonderful people of my church.  Not in that order.

But yesterday, my 50th birthday, had me feeling almost despondent.  Shut down.  Not the way I wanted to feel.

I let two crises get the best of me.

Crisis #1:  Impeachment proceedings.

I’ve not been able to watch the televised proceedings, and so instead I’ve relied on a Smartnews App on my phone, which I’ve since removed.  It shows headlines from 50+ news sources, both on the left and the right, and updates every 20 minutes or so.  I’ve been spending an unhealthy amount of time–hours every day– reading headlines and articles and refreshing and checking and fact-checking and on and on and on.

It’s gotten so ugly, the fighting and smearing. Such vitriol! Such careless throwing around of “facts”.  And remember when “can’t we just get along” didn’t elicit sneers?

I started thinking about civil war.  I started wondering if that’s where we’re headed.

Crisis #2:  Denominational Mayhem.

In the United Methodist Church, everything is up for grabs.  Once again, polarization has pushed people to one of two main sides, with little help for reconciliation.  Talk has veered from compromise to separation. Despite people’s best intentions, it would take some miraculous work at the 2020 General Conference to keep us together.

Once again, this threat of civil war looms large.

So when I woke up on my 50th birthday, it was into a world I had never expected.  A world where my country and my church both threaten destruction.  Funny, I’d always thought that by the age of 50 my maturity level would have finally caught up with that of my government and my church.   HA!

I want you to know I had a lovely birthday, for the most part.   But there were a few hours there when I dropped the ball.  I dropped my hope.  I felt like giving up.

And now you’re up to date.  I’m 50 and I’m fed up.

I want to tell you about how I got all my hope back…

But I haven’t. Still working on it.

I’m definitely a quart low in the hope department.  I look around the world with my pentagenerian eyes and see so many other things that seem broken. Sometimes it’s too much.

At 50, I thought I’d be able to fix anything.  I thought I’d feel accomplished and powerful.  I thought I’d have gained some supernatural trait called wisdom that could help my world stay Civil, without the threat of War.

My comfort today is Psalm 42, one of my favorites.  When I read these words I am reminded that I am not the first to feel this way.  Somebody else has wrestled with the same thing.  The refrain about hope,  in vs. 5 & 11, invites me to make that my refrain as well.

No witty punchline today.  I just invite you to read this Psalm and remember that the struggle is real, and that God is ever with us.

Psalm 42[a][b]

For the director of music. 

As the deer pants for streams of water,
    so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
    When can I go and meet with God?
My tears have been my food
    day and night,
while people say to me all day long,
    “Where is your God?”
These things I remember
    as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go to the house of God
    under the protection of the Mighty One[d]
with shouts of joy and praise
    among the festive throng.

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.

My soul is downcast within me;
    therefore I will remember you
from the land of the Jordan,
    the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep
    in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
    have swept over me.

By day the Lord directs his love,
    at night his song is with me—
    a prayer to the God of my life.

I say to God my Rock,
    “Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go about mourning,
    oppressed by the enemy?”
10 My bones suffer mortal agony
    as my foes taunt me,
saying to me all day long,
    “Where is your God?”

11 Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.

 

Have a great week,

Mitch

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Outrage Us.

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When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened. –Matthew 28:31

As a vegetarian, I was thrilled when Burger King unveiled the Impossible Burger.  It’s so good, and tastes just like meat.

That is not what this devotion is about.  This is about the feeling I had when I went to get one this weekend, and was told that they were out.

I was outraged.  How hard can it be to keep their menu items in stock?  Why wasn’t the woman behind the counter more sympathetic with my plight?  You’ll be happy to know I didn’t dress her down–it wasn’t her fault, after all.

That wasn’t my only brush with outrage this week.  I have a news app on my phone that shows some 50 headlines from a variety of sources.  I scrolled down, reading about impeachment, racism, and another shooting.

Outrage, outrage, outrage.

In fact, most of the headlines activated some level of outrage in me, enough so that I began to wonder if outrage has become my most developed sense.  Not only me —  I see outrage everywhere I look.  I see it on the left and on the right.

I was kind of surprised to find the word “outrage”, or a form of it, popping up in scripture.  The best example, from Matthew, is a story Jesus tells about a debt-ridden man who begs for his freedom and is granted it.   Then, he promptly demands the repayment of someone who owes him, and shows no grace or patience.

Matthew says that the man’s fellow servants were “outraged” when they saw his hypocritical actions, and they told their master about it.  Things didn’t end well for him.

I get that outrage can  produce results, but it also presents a problem in today’s world.  We have SO MUCH outrage in our society, and can find justification for just about any of it, no matter what side of polarizing issues we may find yourself.  Is it healthy?

Is it God’s desire that you and I barrel through life fueled by righteous anger?  Is that the best humanity has to offer — a plague of complaining?  Is outrage the path that will lead us to God’s Kingdom?

I don’t know.  I don’t think so.  I don’t think this is the epitome of human development.  At the same time, there are lots of things in this world that seem offensive, immoral, even unconscionable.  How do we possibly deal with all that, especially when two people sitting together in the same pew can be outraged about opposite things?

Here are four thoughts that come to me:

  • Like the other servants in the story, we can bring our concerns to our Master, God, understanding that we may not be able to fix every problem in the world, but we are not alone.
  • Sometimes there are powerful reasons for feeling outrage.  Instead of just stewing in our angry juices, there is a time for marching, calling congress members, writing letters, and more.
  • There is a chance that our outrage only shows us half the story.  Listening and learning may confirm or deflate these strong emotions.
  • Perhaps the only way for polarized groups of people to find some common ground is to cultivate relationships with people who aren’t, on the surface, like us.

Outrage is a powerful emotion, but it’s also a seductive one.  If the only way we see much of the world is through rage-tinted glasses, we will miss out on the beautiful — albeit complex — creation God has gifted us. God can show us a better way.

After all, with God…

even an Impossible burger is still Possible.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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Listening To October

Today, one of my favorite songs.  Perfect for this week.

Press Play, and listen, with a few of my suggestions below.

  • Much of this song is instrumental.  The pictures above don’t really matter, but the music does.
  • As you listen, take a few deep breaths, and picture your concerns, your possessions, your obstacles as if they were leaves, falling down from a tree.
  •  Here are the lyrics Bono sings:
    • October

      And the trees are stripped bare

      Of all they wear

      What do I care?

      October

      And kingdoms rise

      And kingdoms fall

      But you go on and on

  • As the song concludes, remind yourself what (who) is most important and eternal in your life, and rededicate yourself to God through prayer.
  • Now go and have a glorious October.

—————————————————-
Wow.  I really needed that today.

U2?

Have a great week,

Mitch

 

That Chaos Moment

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In Exodus 14:14, Moses tells the Israelites:
“The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

And, then in the very next verse,

Exodus 14:15, God tells Moses this:
“Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on.” 

Ladies and Gentlemen, That Chaos Moment.  The moment when communication breaks down, and vision grows fuzzy.

It’s no wonder that God and Moses got their wires crossed.  Moses said, “God’s got this.  Be still.”  God said, “I’ve got this.  Keep moving!”  For a moment there, the communication lines between God, Moses, and the Hebrews were about as shaky as it gets.

We give the Hebrews a lot of grief for being whiney and complaining but, you know, none of them had ever done this before.  Crossing the red sea?  Chariots chasing them?  This was all chaos to them.

We would probably be smart to recognize that such a moment can happen to churches, too, especially ones moving into uncharted territory.  The pastor or church leadership may have one direction in mind, the people may be impatient or uncertain, and God may be desperately trying to move the church in yet another direction.

That Chaos Moment may be necessary, and not nearly as scary as it sounds.  God’s advice is rarely wrong, of course.  We just need to heed God’s call to “keep moving”–to step boldly into the uncertain.   That doesn’t mean our Moses-types are necessarily wrong, encouraging the “stillness” of discernment.  It is, after all, a sure way to reacquire God’s signal and direction.

And as for the impatient, even complaining person in the pew?  They can be a potent reminder that the vision must be shared amongst everyone.  Of course, even the best communicated vision can fail to bring along all the stragglers, but when the core people reengage with God and church leaders, there’s no barrier that cannot be crossed over.  Or through.

That Chaos Moment can hit any church, any time, but especially the church that’s charted a course towards a spiritual unknown.   It takes faith to pass through the waters of chaos and see the dry land of the very next moment…

Here it comes…

That Liberation Moment.

Have a Great Week,

Mitch

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