Guilt is a Funny Thing

walk-sign
Photo from www.driversed.com
The Walk sign came on. I started to move into the crosswalk. So did the white Honda. Frightened, I stared through my wet glasses at the driver. Instinctively, independent of conscious thought I thrust my arm out and pointed to the Walk sign.

Throughout the day, I’ve had this nagging guilt about the exchange. I didn’t do anything wrong. I didn’t yell expletives (or even think any). I wasn’t angry, just scared. Still I have nagging guilt.

Guilt is a funny thing. Guilt doesn’t always make sense. As I’m prone to do I’ve been reflecting on the encounter. Why has it nagged at me off and on throughout the day?

This is it: I was able to communicate my feelings (he stopped) but I did not hear the driver’s perspective. More, there was no reconciliation between us. I don’t know who the driver was or what he looked like because of my wet eyeglasses.

Yeah, guilt is a funny thing.

The Journey of 1000 Miles Begins

Beckoning Trail. © Tim Graves
Beckoning Trail. © Tim Graves

I was disappointed that I was unable to significantly exceed my goal, a goal that seemed insurmountable a year ago. I recall saying as I signed up for the challenge, “I may not make it but I can try, can’t I?” I ran 1000 kilometers last year. (Actually, 1037k which is equivalent to 644 miles.)

Running 1000 kilometers in a year was a significant accomplishment for this fifty-seven year old man. I didn’t win any races (or run more than one) but I cannot forget the feelings of accomplishment intertwined with physical exhaustion on that hot summer morning when I ran 13.31 miles in less than two hours. For non-runners, that’s a half-marathon. That’s better than a nine minute mile.

So, why was I disappointed that I did not significantly exceed my 1000k goal?  I think my disappointment was tangled up with my injury discouragement. Between mid-September and late December I was on an injury-enforced hiatus. I lost one-quarter of the year to an injury I didn’t see coming. It felt like a personal attack.

Running continues to teach me about balance. It teaches me about being.

My natural inclination is to do, do, do, and do. Until exhausted. This inclination is something akin to a compulsion but is also a learned behavior. As a child, I absorbed the internal belief that my value as a human being is related to what I do. This is a “works theology” in which hard work gets us love.

My journey over the last decade has enabled me to be more and to do less, but my embedded inclination is still a powerful force. Yes, hard work can and often is a good thing but it is not the source of my worth. It is not the source of love. Love is only love if it is given freely and without strings of expectations.

And I love running!

I love running! (To be sure, I hate running during the first mile or two of every run but after that, I love running.) I love running under the big skies of rural eastern Oregon. I love running along Portland’s suburban footpaths. I love running in the rain! And I’m learning to love running in the cold.

Running requires balance. I must pay attention to my body. Like my faith that dictates a regular sabbath, running requires rest days. It requires time for adequate recovery between runs. It requires pacing and kindness to myself when my body and, sometimes even my spirit, needs a day off.

When I miss my body’s signals, my body can become injured.  My love of running allowed me to push myself too hard through the summer months. It was time for a vacation. A week or two off from running before my injury might have prevented the long healing period at the end of last year.

Running is metaphor. Just as my body needed a break to prevent physical injury, something I failed to give it, our spirits need rest. When I fail to take adequate sabbath or insist that hard work will get me more love or prove my worth, I am harming my spirit just as I injured a tendon in mid-September.

Goals like my 1000k goal last year serve a purpose. It is reasonable to set goals that require effort and provide purpose. However, goals and New Year’s resolutions can cause us to harm ourselves. If the goal becomes more important than ourselves and the people around us, we fail to be who we are created to be.

Yes, I was disappointed but I am learning. I am learning to be. This year, I’ve set a personal goal of running 1000 miles (equivalent to 1609k). In addition to the distance goal, I commit to paying closer attention to my pacing, not just the speed I move but to take weeks off here and there to rest my body.

Because running is metaphor, I also commit to the 1000 mile journey of the new year by pacing myself. I will take care of my spirit, taking adequate sabbath and vacation to avoid injury to my core, my soul.

How Long, O Lord? A Sermon in a Rural County Following the Election

Isaiah 6

We must hold the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. –Karl Barth

Election numbers

  • County 2/3
  • State 40%
  • National slightly less than 50%

Protests across cities

Fringe Trump supporters overtly threatening

We are a deeply divided people

Our hope that we would somehow magically come back together after Tuesday was naive.

***

Result of election of one who was openly

  • Racist
  • Misogynistic
  • Blamed immigrants and Muslims

Stories from circle re fear

Text: ”Half of this country just threw my life under the bus”

Election served as a trigger for sexual assault victims

Hateful “go home” notes left in people’s work mailboxes

Synagogues hiring security

Screamed at on way to work: “Trump! N****r!”

I spent much of Wednesday counseling, listening 

***

Others celebrate shock to polarized system

Needs have been ignored

Voting for him doesn’t mean you did so because racist

Some of you voted for him despite these things

***

View the world through the Bible,  faith, love

love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your mind, and with all your strength…The second is this, You will love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31 CEB

As followers of Jesus we are obliged to stand with those the powerful have attacked.

I sat down to write the scripture email late Wednesday. I came up with something not quite reflection.

I share some of that with you now:

***

“How long, O Lord?” asks Isaiah. “How long, O Lord?” must I fruitlessly prophesy to your people.

And God tells him that he must prophesy until the cities lay in ruins and the land lay devastated.

And, still, Isaiah goes where God sends him.

This is a discouraging story. 

The descriptions of the people turning away from living in accordance with God’s requirements,

their obstinate refusal to listen to the prophet warning of the pitfalls of their chosen path,

and, still the voice of Isaiah calling to them, is reminiscent of an apocalyptic movie. Love of neighbor be damned!

I have seen some horrible things as an educator and as a pastor.

I’ve been privy to some of the worst of what humanity has to offer.

I’ve often felt like following God’s requirements “to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8 CEB) is futile.

Too often I’ve felt beaten down by shortsighted bureaucrats or politicians more concerned with bombing and killing others than feeding our own children!

My words of “you are God’s beloved” seem too little when the church — THE CHURCH! — spews hatred and rejects children of God.

In the face of an incoming president who has made fun of a disabled reporter, bragged about sexual assault, who has a racist history,

and who blames and threatens to discriminate against all Muslims — our sibling Abrahamic religion — all while claiming the Christian faith, I am discouraged. 

Does our faith even matter?  On the morning following the election I was counseling multiple people who are terrified that their rights are at stake now.

One young woman said to me, “I am scared for my personal safety!”

An individual one step removed from me was the victim of someone yelling, “Trump! N****r!” as he journeyed to work.

I imagine Isaiah saw some of the same underbelly of humanity happening all around him.

God does not seek prophets when humanity is loving neighbor and caring for the least of these (Matthew 25:44-45).

God saw the state of the world all too clearly in the time around King Uzziah’s death, in Isaiah’s time.

Then I heard the Lord’s voice saying, “Whom should I send, and who will go for us?” I said, “I’m here; send me.” Isaiah 6:8 CEB

Isaiah volunteered to take God’s message to the people!

His response reminded me of a little girl who, as Hitler was spreading through Europe, wrote in her diary:

“It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart” (Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank).

Just as Isaiah responded to God’s call to a seemingly fruitless task, we must not give up on God’s call to be the realm of God in the world.

If we are to call ourselves Christians, we must stand on the margins of society as Jesus did.

We must strive to manifest the extravagant love of Christ.

We must protect the vulnerable even when others empower hatred.

[Isaiah] said, “How long, Lord?” And God said, “Until cities lie ruined with no one living in them, until there are houses without people and the land is left devastated.”  (Isaiah 6:11 CEB)

And I suppose there is the Good News:

Even when we don’t deserve it, even when the only thing that remains is a holy seed, God does not give up.

Amen.

David & Donald: Does God Use Imperfect People to Be Great Leaders?

Jerry Falwell, Jr. compared Donald Trump to King David in March of this year. Explaining his endorsement Falwell said,

“God called King David a man after God’s own heart even though he was an adulterer and a murderer.” (1)

Given the nature of political leadership, the argument that God uses flawed human beings for good, for God’s purposes is a legitimate topic. Did God use the extremely imperfect David for good? In our own time is God using another imperfect man, Donald Trump, for good?

***

Despite his reputation over the millennia as a great king, David was a human being. He was a sinner who did terrible things. From our twenty-first century vantage point he was despicable.

David lusted after Bathsheba who was bathing on a nearby roof, as was ancient custom. And, though, lust in and of itself can be a normal human response, like other men (and women) he did not have to act upon that physical urge.

One evening, David got up from his couch and was pacing back and forth on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing; the woman was very beautiful.

So David sent messengers to get her. When she came to him, he had sex with her. (2 Samuel 11:2, 4a CEB)

You might remember, this was no innocent hook up between consenting adults. This was a king who at best abused his wealth and power to have sex with a married woman or at worst raped her. Both interpretations can be legitimately argued.

David wasn’t done, however, with his despicable abuse of power and wealth. He covered up his actions by having Bathsheba’s husband killed! David used his power to satisfy his sexual urges at the expense of a woman and then abused his power as commander of the army to assure the husband died in battle.

God was certainly angry with David. God took his wives and gave them to others. God allowed the child born to Bathsheba to die. David was publicly humiliated as God took his patriarchal privilege away in a way that left him open for ridicule. God said,

“You did what you did secretly, but I will do what I am doing before all Israel in the light of day.” (2 Samuel 12:12 CEB)

What was David’s response when he was called out?

“I’ve sinned against the LORD!” David said to Nathan. (2 Samuel 12:13a CEB) 

A contrite David humbled himself before God. And God forgave and offered grace to David, to one who admitted his sin, humbled himself, and showed contrition. But God did not take away the consequences of David’s sin.

Because David admitted his sins and was contrite and received God’s grace, he became a great king. Though God would still love David whether he was contrite or not, it was his humble response and admission of his sin that allowed the God-David relationship to move forward.

Ultimately David will restore Jerusalem to the Israelites. Yes, God does use flawed human beings for good, for God’s purposes.

***

In our time we have Donald Trump, a financial king who would like to become the leader of his people.

Like David, Donald has a history of allowing his appetite for power and sexuality lead him astray. He was caught on tape belittling women, discussing sexual assault because, he bragged,

“…when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything … Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.” (2)

What was Donald’s response when he was called out?

As accusations (and corroboration) from numerous women have surfaced about his abuse of power to sexually assault them, he has not confessed in anything near contrition. Instead, he has doubled down calling them liars. He has pointed his finger at others who have misbehaved as a five-year-old might: “Todd did it first!”

So, no. Donald Trump is not like King David.

Yes, David was an extremely flawed human being who went on to become a great leader. The difference, however, was that David admitted and confessed his sins when called out. David showed immediate contrition! He didn’t call Bathsheba names or point his finger at other leaders.

No, Donald is not at all like King David.

***

  1. http://www.christianpost.com/news/jerry-falwell-jr-trump-bible-king-david-a-man-after-god-own-heart-russell-moore-159143/
  2. http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2016/10/07/donald_trump_2005_tape_i_grab_women_by_the_pussy.html

Rewriting Synapses

Rewriting Synapses

I am an American, which is to say that our culture of goals, work, outcomes, and more work is well-written in my brain. Too often I measure my worth by the things that I do rather than who I am. My struggle to worry less about doing and focus on being is a continuing area for growth.

morning-runRunning is about being of the earth with each footfall. It is about being as my spirit soars as the sky opens up. Running is the sacred entanglement of the Imago Dei within, my physicality, and the Gaian whole.

And so being sidelined by an injury impacts my mind, body, and spirituality. This unwanted segue off the gravel, trail, and pavement is about being. Letting go of doing more distance, more speed, or more runs is miserable as I yearn for a good run like non-runners yearn for chocolate. The American cultural drive to perform and achieve trifles and philanders with self-worth.

Though I do not believe that the one I call God tests anyone, all moments and experiences provide the opportunity for learning. I can choose during this time of healing and rest to idolize goals, work, and outcomes. I can wallow and strengthen the brain synapses that support our unhealthy culture within myself.

Instead I choose to sit in the moment with those unhealthy feelings, neither wallowing or fighting, but letting them dissipate. I recall the lessons I learn running beneath transcendent skies and through embracing woods. I opt for being.

My Trip to a Gay Bar (#OrlandoShooting)

Friends,

A couple of my high school friends were visiting me at college. They asked my not-yet-wife and I to go with them to the local gay bar. Though I don’t recall a lot of details I have memories of discomfort and vulnerability.

13413757_10209876016319664_3928409912324737014_nI had never before seen men openly showing affection to one another.

Yes, I knew my visiting friends were gay. My best friend, who would later be the best man at my wedding, had already come out to me. My faith built upon the teachings of Jesus who tells us that the greatest commandment is to love God and neighbor (Mark 12:28-31), had already allowed me to affirm a relationship that was kept closeted in the broader culture.

The biblical witness taught me that love is the core of the Christian faith. The Holy Spirit had already moved me to see that love might very well cross traditional cultural boundaries. Still, it took awhile for my gut emotions to catch up.

I suspect that is how it is with some even today, nearly four decades later. It is how I suspect it is for those who vehemently spew hatred toward so many of my friends, my clergy colleagues, and even my own firstborn child. It can be hard for emotions to catch up when you’ve been raised and taught in traditional ways of thinking.

The trouble with emotion-powered rhetoric regarding our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer kindred is that it can lead us to miss seeing the image of God in others. It can lead to violence toward others as it has too many times and in the early morning hours of June 12, it led to the massacre at an Orlando nightclub.

In my initial numbness, my spontaneous sobs, my deep desire to hold my children close, even my anger over this heinous act, I’ve thought about that night at a midwestern club. I went to that club because I knew it was important to my friends whom I loved. Looking back I see the Divine guiding me to overcome my discomfort and fear to be be present with my friends whose God-created sexuality was disdained by mainstream culture.

I did not yet know that the bars and clubs functioned as sanctuaries. I did not yet know that as one of my clergy colleagues wrote, “When churches would not let us cross their thresholds, the bars were where we held our memorial services and our weddings.” This shooting violated sacred ground as surely as the shooting at the AME church in Charleston did last year!

The arc of the Bible reflects a continuously widening circle of inclusive love. The narrative of Sodom and Gomorrah — despite what you may have been taught — is a parable about how important welcoming others is to God. Jesus regularly crossed the boundaries of ancient life, loving and eating with those his culture told him to despise. God still moves us to widen the circle of love.

In this era of alienation from the divine and one another, when politicians stir up hatred for their own ends, when violence seems impossible to stop, when even our own have too often turned to self-violence, we can make a difference.

We can open our hearts and minds, listening to other ways of thinking. We can choose to speak and act in loving and respectful ways about those in far off places and those we greet on Main Street. It really is that simple to change the world and be the people God created each of us to be.

Rev. Tim Graves
Pastor, Condon United Church of Christ

__

I sent this letter to my congregation and to the small town local newspaper.

Cookies of Fear

Cookies of Fear
Source: Church World Service
Source: Church World Service

When distressed, we tend to use whatever tools we have to try to alleviate our condition. For example, if I have a headache I will take two tylenol. That is unless all I have in the cupboard is ibuprofen, in which case I’ll take ibuprofen.

We tend to use the things we have at our disposal to solve problems. Toddlers, for example, will sometimes resort to hitting or biting when feeling threatened by another. They use these strategies because they do not yet have the social skills necessary to remedy the situation.

I have multiple tools to cope with personal stress. The healthiest are getting rest and exercise. A good vigorous walk or run does miraculous things to my ability to cope with challenges. Regular sleep results in a more rational and loving me.

Though I know this, too often I turn to the cookie in the cupboard to deal with stress. Briefly, the cookie makes me feel better. Soon, however, it actually makes things worse. I feel bloated. The sugar disrupts my mood.

The suggestion that our nation refuse to accept Syrian refugees or accept only Christian refugees, as some have suggested, is a cookie. Rufusing our sisters and brothers may make us feel safer for a short time but it only breeds more hostility and bigotry.

Rather than gorging on cookies baked in the oven of bigotry and fear by opportunistic politicians, this is a time to slip on our running shoes and exercise our social skills, our hearts, and our faith. We need to look inside ourselves for the divine love with which we have each been created and love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:29-30).

The Risk of Hard Work

The Risk of Hard Work
Beside Still Waters (variant). Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/
Beside Still Waters (variant). Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/

“Some people don’t need to rest but I do,” she said. In the rhythm of the conversation, it wasn’t the time to contradict her assumption that some do not need rest. I just nodded, “Yeah, me too.”

The great American myth is that we can accomplish more if we muscle through without rest. The great American sin is failing to take care of ourselves and, in the process, failing to trust God that the world will keep spinning without us. It is an arrogance. It is an idolatry to worship work at the expense of rest and self-care.

Besides our arrogance and failure to trust the divine spirit that flows through creation, when we neglect self-care and regular sabbath we abuse ourselves.

Threaded through the biblical witness from Genesis (e.g.; Gen. 2:3) to Jesus (e.g.; Mark 2:27) is an emphasis on the importance of self-care and rest.  Living into the image of God in which all of us are created, we need regular sabbath. Despite the church’s traditional (self-serving?) teaching that sabbath is primarily about going to church, the reality is that most references to sabbath in the Bible are about abstention from work, rest, and self-care.

Created in the image of the divine, maltreating ourselves through overwork is abusing God.

When we forsake physical and emotional rest, we are more likely to mistreat others and break the Golden Rule (Matthew 22:34-40). When we fail to care for ourselves we are less kind, less patient, and, in my case, quicker to become angry and short over minuscule slights. Harming the God in me, harms the God in you.

Without regular sabbath, we cease to be the people we were created to be.