The Good Friend

Recently I have started “meditating” on the good friend. I put meditation in quotes because it can seem monastic and old fashioned, could just say thinking about.

But I say meditation because the particular focus for me is the life-long friendship God calls us to pursue.

God calls us to pursue.

What is a good friend?

Who qualifies as a good friend?

How does one be a good friend?

What do good friends do together?

How much time does good friendship require?

Is there a schlepping requirement?

All these things are on the big stone table of this miraculous friendship God has called me to through the doorway of Jesus.

Very Christiany, I know.

But then I also know I could not draw close to the Holy Divine if I did not have

A friend like Jesus.

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Pearl

Once upon a time the Treasure of the world entire told a story about treasure in a field, treasure within treasure, a kingdom in a kingdom in a seemingly arbitrary object, a field of the whole world

I remember when these angry men were children, lovable children, and now they behave as though they still don’t know

You are the treasure

The King and his Kingdom is the treasure.

And if that were not enough, what will a man do if he (gains the whole world)

And loses his own soul?

You are greatly loved

I have a dear friend who signs notes to me you are greatly loved. Which is cool, right?

On one of my phones I have played with the tag phrase at the end of emails. I am not sure anyone needs to know I have sent this from my iPhone, but perhaps they need a Bible verse, and exhortation of some sort, or to know they are greatly loved?

Sometimes I forget it is there. Sometimes I read it and think this snarky email I am about to send needs to be edited for snark if I truly believe the recipient is greatly loved. Sometimes I acknowledge it but then delete each letter because the mayor or the police chief or the college professor or college president already thinks I am crazy as a loon and annoying and foolish as well.

The phrase itself is not the strongest iteration of the idea. It is in passive voice. The active form is just I love you, which can be the most exposed and committed utterance when rendered true.

When we love someone enough to fight for them

When we intervene on their behalf.

When we are willing to be desperate or look foolish for them.

When we are willing to be misunderstood to keep them safe.

When we go hungry for them

Or give up jobs and honors for them.

Or when we call for help on their behalf.

When we give them our voice because their voice is young or small or taken from them.

They are greatly loved because love demands fierce and extraordinary things.

…..

A few days ago I was in deep mourning thinking about the sheer number of people who have decided that either I was not good enough for love, or worse, that God was not good enough for love.

I cried over this, and opened up YouTube to pray and sing through this grief. Matthew Mole’s You are loved appeared without a search or a place on my history.

God does that. He leaves signs all around us that we are greatly loved. He sends leaves falling over us, pennies shining on the pavement, songs which feel like lullabies, setting and rising suns–all love letters with the same matchless

guarantee–

You are greatly loved.

–John 3:16

Prayer

Prayer comes from the Latin word precarius which means, obtained by entreaty. I remember years ago looking at the way it came to us through the feudal system–subjects would pray to their lords and protectors for the things they needed to survive.

Sometimes prayer can seem less feudal than futile. Is anyone listening? Will anyone come to save me? Those two questions can haunt the soul.

I believe in prayer. I believe it brings light and brings help.

The hardest time to tell someone to pray is when you yourself feel the most alone, the most abandoned.

God never leaves us or forsakes us.

Pray, beautiful one, pray.

The Altar

It was a garden-variety Protestant set up–big ol’ baptistery in the rear, low pile carpeted stage, wood veneer podium, and home-made wooden sign written by an earnest non-native speaker of English,

DO not PLAY on the stage!

I used to speak there once a month for several years. If it was my week to sermonize I would pray first, wait for a topic to surface (unless one was assigned or liturgically evident), then chew on that passage all week. I would research words in original languages, cross-reference key words with other passages, sift through for what it all might mean for us.

I remember speaking on faith, rivers, stones, and children. The process was often exposing, riveting, beautiful, intimate, and met with a regularly dozing deacon or two.

You preach a message and then hope some small smudge of it besmirches the forehead of the listener.

And still I struggle whether anything did.

Anything like–once there was a woman who used to speak in a church where there was an ordinary altar, garden-variety stage, oddly capitalized sign propped upon it.

DO not PLAY on the stage

Sometimes all we need to know about the beauty, splendor, and grace of this dying religion is that the Spirit of the Living God can drive an ordinary man to

Print the words that matter

ALL IN capital letters

For those who are awake

By the end of the sermon.

Uncomfortable Sermons

I wonder, perhaps more often than I should, what would happen if we actually expected church sermons to be practical, actionable, real?

I wonder this because in the last 10 years I have worn my proverbial mendicant’s shirt to communities of faith, as has my whole family, only to find that the churchy probably don’t want us there.

They don’t want us because we talk about horrible things–rape, sexual assault, the abuse of children, sexual exploitation, the way the justice system fails victims, the way branded communities fail.

Not all at once, mind you.

But the truth remains so. If you tell a story about faith-minded adopting family neck-deep in ministry and family and community and then those people, especially their young children, are hurt, terribly hurt, by the people they were supposed to consider family.

Well, that is not a good sermon.

It is, however, very similar to many stories in the Bible, which is where I have gone for my uncomfortable sermons.

Where do you find yours? Where do you go to find the way through

The darkest, hardest places?

Miscellaneous Offenses

A new ordinance has been signed into law in New Braunfels, TX. Please be aware that it is soon to be an illegal “offense” to feed the wildlife on public and private land within the city limits.

That means that a sentence that has been both true (and legal) for my children and for me will not be true for my grandchildren–

When I was little I fed the deer at Landa Park.

I have a very distinct memory of my son holding out a graham cracker to one of the deer at the park.

There was a period of time when we went to the park–a park, every day to feed someone–duck, chicken, deer, squirrel, turtle, fish, goose…each animal encounter was a priceless chance to sustain my children’s empathy. They practiced compassion, mercy, self-sacrifice, even science, and the scientific method as they spent time observing and feeding animals.

When we went to feed the animals we also tended to feed the children. We bought food from dozens of local restaurants and groceries. We ate our picnic, hiked, fed the animals. This ordinance prohibiting the feeding of animals in New Braunfels will mean we will buy less food from all these places. We will spend less time and money in New Braunfels.

We will not feed the children at the parks of New Braunfels, if we cannot feed the animals as well. It will be too painful remembering what used to be, for one, but then there is the pesky inviolate injunction of the law. What if we were to drop a cracker or a pizza crust? According to the city ordnance we would be breaking the law.

So, somehow, our city government and elected officials have decided. We should not feed the animals they say. And that leaves me deeply grieved, because I know, my children know, that

What they are really telling us is:

Don’t feed the children!

Because as Jesus has said more eloquently than I could–food is more than food, it is everything that feeds our souls.

And this kind of rich food for the soul of kindness and community and blessing is now thoroughly illegal

In New Braunfels, Texas.

Luke 12:23 NIV

[23] For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes.