Thursday, June 30, 2016

Then I Remember

There are times when I figure something complicated out or write something darn good or make something I think is creative and I feel this swell of pride and think that I’m somebody pretty special…
Then I remember that I didn’t make my brain from scratch, let along do much to develop my mental capacities, and I remember that without my brain that I didn’t make, I can’t do anything.

There are times when I watch my kids and swell with pride at each of them for the uniqueness of each and that they are MY children…
Then I remember I didn’t knit my children together and stitch their organs in or pour their bones into a mold or tie the sinew and muscle together or mix their blood and start their hearts pumping.  All I’m able to offer is a tiny bit of love and assistance, and even those come through me more than from me.

There are times when I put something together with wood or clay or metal, or I fix something that was broken or needed to be improved and I walk away feeling like I’m ingenious and that I’m somebody pretty special…
Then I remember that I did nothing to fashion my fingers or toes or face or torso or any of my organs and without my body and nervous system then I could do nothing.

There are times when I whip up something in the kitchen that is downright good and I think I'm somebody pretty special for combining spices and other ingredients so masterfully...
Then I remember that I did nothing to make these things grow or design the chemistry of their flavor, let alone create the wonder of my taste buds or my digestive system, or even spend a moment concentrating on the absorption of nutrients so that my cells would be fed.

There are times at the end of the day that I consider the many things I’ve marked off my “to do” list and I feel like somebody pretty special
Then I remember that I didn’t stay up the night before constructing everything necessary for the sun to rise and for time to continue so that I would have a stage upon which to do the things I do.

There are times when I look back at my resiliency in the face of hardships and my strength of character when faced with easier choices and I pat myself on the back and give myself an “atta boy!” and I think that I’m somebody special…
Then I realize how much help I’ve had, how many teachers and friends and others who have been there for me through thick and thin without whom I wouldn’t have done anything.

There are times when I’ve led a group of people to some decision or conclusion or insight and afterwards I think I must be somebody pretty special to have done such an amazing feat with such a diverse group of people…
Then I remember that in the midst of the time together it felt more like I was being led, than taking the lead and I realize that without something that cannot be touched, but is known as real nonetheless, then I couldn’t lead a duck to water.

There are times when I see things that I think are rather perceptive of me, things that others overlook, and I think I’m somebody pretty special…
Then I remember that I didn’t create the recipe for eyes, nor did I even cook mine up and install them.

There are times when I feel a deep humility as I stare at the stars or watch the sun set or breathe in deeply the smell of wild grasses or sea spray or laugh with my children…
Then I realize that I AM somebody special, but not for who I am or what I can do, but for Who made me and why.  Then I am filled with gratitude for this and all the many things I am able to see and do and think and the people who have walked a segment of life’s trail with me, because everything is a gift.

I can only speak from my own very limited perspective, but it seems to me that each of us, from the most vulnerable of newborns to the most brilliant and wise of minds, are only able to leave our fingerprints upon whatever we touch whether with our hands or with our thoughts, and even those metaphorical fingerprints, actual or figurative, are given to us.

No wonder Jesus said if we have the faith of a mustard seed then we could move mountains, cause it isn’t really us at all.  It’s the One who made us and the faith of which Jesus speaks is mostly about getting our pride out of the way.

Never forget that you are somebody special, but not for the reasons you may think you are.  Now get back to your mountain-moving.  

© Stephen Carl, 2016

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Several years ago I went with the youth director of the church I was serving and several of the youth, including my daughter, to a Jewish student center on the campus of a large state university. We attended a worship service for the Reformed Jewish students, but under the same roof, in the same building there were other students gathered who represented different Jewish traditions and persuasions. It was an effort to expose the youth, and ourselves, to the unique worship of others with whom we have some common beliefs, though different histories and emphases. It was an effort to overcome some of the "us/them" thinking that is too easy to practice that reinforces divisiveness and ultimately prejudice and hatred.
I remember thinking what a wonderful illustration it provided of the different beliefs we have in the world cooperating under one roof. While it does provide an illustration of focus on our similarities and building cooperation on that rather than highlighting our differences and letting those divide us, I cannot ignore that the solution was to acquiesce and let the differences divide the people into separate rooms. I remember wandering around the building and discovering several different rooms with signs identifying the particular group that met in each room for their particular style of worship. Perhaps that is the best alternative, but I can still imagine and dream of something better. And if I can imagine something better, then I can't help but believe that it is possible and worth pursuing.
In many churches there is the practice of blended worship, in which, most commonly, the music and liturgy of traditional and contemporary service styles are used, in an attempt to blend them into one liturgy and worship order and experience, thus bringing together people whose preferences (and sometimes theology) have caused division within the church. It is, essentially, an attempt to bring into one room people who used to meet in separate worship spaces.
I think that God prefers blended worship, although not the kind that we think of when someone speaks of blended worship. God prefers the blended worship that is blended because there are all the ethnicities and cultures present, the different beliefs and political attitudes represented, the different genders and sexual identities welcomed, even different religions represented; not gathered or blended into a single theology, but all gathered with the many voices blended into one chorus saying "Wow! Thank you!" What better way to worship the God who created all of us, than to come together and overcome our divisions in order to acknowledge the ONE from whom we all come and in whom we all have life?  Not unlike the joy a parent might experience when his or her estranged children come together, setting aside their disputes, in order to say "we love you and who you are and what you do for us is far more important than our arguments."
I CAN imagine a god that requires us to treat others who differ from ourselves with malice and contempt and prejudice since that god is far too commonly invoked in our world and lives. I cannot imagine, however, a loving, sovereign, omnipotent God expecting this of us. I am grateful that beyond what my imagination is able to conceive that I trust and fully embrace God who loves me and has stirred in my heart a love for others that is beyond my capacity to generate. I am baffled that this love God instills in me does not require that I abandon my beliefs or traditions or theology in order to love another without reservation, hesitation, or expectation. In truth, the God I know and worship, the One who claims me and loves me, makes it so I can do nothing other than abandon my prejudice and love others without requiring them to believe as I do. And as such, I am able to gather under the one roof of humanity and let my voice join the chorus, saying "Wow! Thank you!"

© 2016 Stephen Carl