Remembering MLK

We drove into Memphis, Tennessee last night, this old south city where some of our family live. Memphis is always bristling with activity and life. Blues clubs on Beale Street. World famous BBQ. Tonight, Memphis plays UCLA in the Final Four, so that adds to the mix.

However, this weekend, Memphis (and the nation) mourns one of our darkest and most tragic days. Forty years ago, yesterday, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was gunned down by a sniper as he stood on the third floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel.
About two years ago, I spent a morning in downtown Atlanta visiting the house where King grew up and sitting in the sanctuary of Ebenezer Baptist Church listening to recorded sermons King preached. The day spent in King’s world profoundly moved me. It moved me because I realized how disconnected I had been from this violent scar in our nation’s history. I knew the story. I was ashamed of our racist past – but I hadn’t really allowed the evil of it all to truly weigh on me.

The experience also moved me because I was inspired and honored to be immersed in the life and memory of a man who deeply believed in human dignity and justice and who had the courage to stand against the Powers in order to speak out for the oppressed. I was haunted by this question: What side would I have been on if I had been alive during the Civil Rights struggle?

I don’t the answer. I pray to God I would have been on the side of those who resisted both the visible and subtle ways that our culture demeaned and subjected fellow human beings created in God’s image. But, truthfully, I don’t know.

I don’t know, in part, because the whole affair raises the memory of one of my deep regrets. In college, I had an African American roommate (a fabulous soccer player by the way) who began to allow me into his world, sharing parts of his story, little bits of what it was like to grow up black in a very white culture. During one of our conversations, we got into a disagreement about MLK. Much to my embarrassment now, I remember throwing out lines about King being a communist and a womanizer, using these liable accusations as wholesale dismissals of King’s life, conviction and legacy.

King was not Jesus. King was not perfect. However, my lines were merely a reaction, blindly parroting rhetoric I had heard growing up. I hadn’t dug into the facts. I hadn’t asked how my white upbringing had colored my historical perspective. Worse, I didn’t stop to listen to my friend who was offering me a piece of his heritage, one of his (rightful) heroes. Truthfully, I was an ignorant white kid spouting trash. And I am so sorry.

I never had a chance to apologize. I wish I could find my friend and tell him how sorry I am. Sorry that I was still trapped in my subculture. Sorry I hadn’t gotten enough of the story yet. Sorry I hadn’t seen enough of the world. Sorry I hadn’t realized that the man whose character I assaulted truly is a hero.

In recent conversations, I’ve realized how some of us who are white still think of Dr. King as “their hero.” There are multiple distressful realties to such a posture. However, as a starting point, Martin Luther King, Jr. should be a hero of every person (particularly every Christian) who decries evil and oppression, who believes that the Kingdom of God announces freedom in every human sphere, who marvels at the mystery and beauty of every single human.

The Scriptures forcefully declare that every man and women bare in our body and soul the glory of the image of God Almighty. Dr. King believed this. Preached it. Lived it. Died for it. We ought rejoice in his message and deeply mourn his death.

Easter God

Here’s a recent piece I wrote for Everyday Woman, Easter God.

Holy Thursday,
Winn

Lent: Into Holy Week

I have a friend who describes himself as a “planner.” Me, not so much. We both had to create similar strategic documents mapping out future plans and projections. His was 64 pages plus a bibliography. I stretched mine to 5 (and it might not have made it past two if I hadn’t cut and pasted info I already had from other places).

If I could banish one word from the English language, it would be systematic. Too much emphasis on calendars or protocol or uniformity often makes me feel stifled, trapped, locked-in. Last time Miska was away, I let the boys wear the same clothes (maybe even underwear – I don’t really remember) multiple days. I mean, why change out clothes just because of a little stink? If Seth loves his batman t-shirt, then what’s an extra day or two or three going to hurt?

Usually, if you tell me something has to be done a certain way, I’m almost certain to immediately consider that a challenge to be swiftly contradicted. In arguments with Miska (hypothetical, of course), I at times find myself in emotionally and intellectually untenable positions simply because I’ve played the devil’s advocate to the point of absurdity. But, really, who says that Spring has to follow Winter, hmmm? Who? Often, it isn’t until I find myself alone in the room with no one to argue with because Miska simply gave me that wow-you-just-did-it-again-and- in-a-half-hour-or-so-you-are-going-to-feel-really-stupid-when-you- apologize-for-this-one look and walked out.

As I’ve said, I don’t like having much of anything laid on me. Not that this is good (in fact, it often isn’t) – it’s just the truth.

However, I have grown to appreciate the imposition of the Christian calendar. Every year, in almost monotonous cycles, we move from Advent to Christmas to Epiphany to Lent to Easter to Pentecost, all the way back to Advent again. Every year. Like clockwork, literally. We don’t make it up. We don’t push it forward. The seasons come when they come. We just wait and receive them, live them (or don’t), and then watch them pass.

We can make much of the seasons, or we can make little. We can celebrate them, or we can ignore them. No matter, they come. And they go. The question for us is simply whether or not we will allow them to waken our heart, to pull us into The Grand and Mysterious Story.

Yesterday, Palm Sunday, we embarked on the journey through Holy Week. This week, we walk (if we choose to) with Jesus through his week of Passion. This week is happening, all around us. Grace and mercy and hope and repentance are happening, all around us. We may not feel it. We may barely remember amid projects or diapers or broken down cars or broken down hearts. Our sin or our confusion or our fear may gobble up every ounce of mental energy.

But all you have to do is sit down. Sit your body down. Sit your mind down. And look around you. Look with your ears. Listen with your heart.

Holy Week is happening. Jesus is marching toward his cross. The Resurrection is only days away. It is coming whether we pay attention or not. This imposition is a grace. It isn’t up to you. Or me. We have little say in the matter.

Jesus moves. Redemption comes. Whether we notice or not – that is the only piece left to us.

Hoping to notice,
Winn

Lent: Where This Time is Taking Me

We are nearing the homestretch of Lent. This has been a significant journey. Forty days – it isn’t exactly eternal, but in our instant society, forty days of anything tests our will and discipline. Really, for me, I think Lent simply tests our attention. Can I pay attention to God’s ongoing work for a stretch of days? Must I always be moving on to the next thing, the next truth, the rush, the next idea? Can I just sit and wait and hope and listen and receive?

And this is not all sour stuff. As I read this morning, one writer pointed out how the Taize Book of Common Prayer refers to Lent’s forty days as “a celebration of the joy of God’s forgiveness.” I like that.

Hear are a few things this stretch of Lent is telling me (reminds me, really):

+I am too tied to technology, particularly email. I want to shut it down more often.

+Food is intended for joy and pleasure (as well as nourishment, of course), but it can also be a way of hiding. In my youth, food (and lots of it) was one of our few acceptable vices. Now, I often run to food when I’m bored or anxious or angry or afraid. I’d rather run to God.

+God wants to heal my broken places; he really does.

+I love my wife and boys … (in the words of Dick Cheney) big time.

+Something’s up. God is stirring. God is moving. Risk and joy and life ahead.

Has Lent reminded you of any truths?

peace / Winn

Lent: Lenten Zerberts

To look at the last great self-portraits of Rembrandt or to read Pascal or hear Bach’s B-minor Mass is to know beyond the need for further evidence that if God is anywhere, he is with them, as he is also with the man behind the meat counter, the woman who scrubs floors at Roosevelt Memorial, and the high school math teacher who explains fractions to the bewildered child. Frederick Buechner

My spiritual experience goes two ways: full of mystery and complexity and utter confusion but also (and often at the same time) the most concrete, plain-as-day reality. Some days, the whole thing feels like the tangled, cuss-inducing mess of wires that hides behind the amoir housing our stereo and speakers and tv and vcr and cd player and xbox and gamecube (for the boys, of course) – just an unworkable mess that I will never make sense of. What is happening? What am I to do? What is God saying? Why is this all so dang complicated?

Other days, though, there is no mystery, no confusion. It’s simple, really. Pray a prayer. Take a walk. Kiss my wife. Call a friend. Give my son a zerbert . God is in the zerbert as much as he is in my fasting or my wrestling with a text or in my self-reflection about the state of my soul. Buechner insists we not forget: God is with the man at the meat counter too.

This week, Lent has appeared to me in simpler, plainer ways. Lent is an old word and can invoke (often, properly) a sense of introspection and mediation and somber repentance. Sometimes, though, repentance takes shape in earthier, plainer acts. Like these of the past five or six days:

+Monday morning, I got up and did Turbo Jam with my wife. If you are unfamiliar, Turbo Jam is what you would get if you took Tae Bo to a techno dance club on ladies’ night. I don’t know what the morning exercise did for my man-o-meter, but somehow, being with her that morning just felt like the thing to do.

+yesterday, I stopped working for a few minutes to play checkers with Seth. My generosity ended with my time – I did beat him. I have to get wins in now; it won’t last long.

+Miska and I went to this fabulous restaurant (O – yup, that’s the name, just O. Chic, huh?) in downtown Greenville this weekend, and I bought Miska a spring dress from Sundance. All splurges, but I just wanted to throw caution to the wind and be reckless in my love for this amazing woman.

+a time or two, when fear or shame slammed against my heart, I just shrugged my shoulders and kept strolling (perhaps channeling the spirit of Miska’s new shame-ignoring word, whatev…)

+I ordered Italian sausage pizza. I never order red meat pizza anymore (and for good reason). I won’t do this often, but this one time when the moment hit, I just looked at cholesterol and said – (that’s right) – whatev

For me, these moments were all in the spirit of Lent, surrendering to God’s reality and truth. Stepping out of my own story and into the story of the Gospel.

Lenten joy / Winn

Pet Peeves

I’m going to list a few of my random pet peeves here. Perhaps this will be a recurring post, we’ll see. I would push myself into the proverbial corner by making some brash commitment about this theme returning, but…being pushed into a corner is most definitely one of my all-time pet peeves.

(and by the way, isn’t that just a fun word to say: peeves. Try it, now. Out loud. Yes, even you, Amy who is admirably conscientous about how you use your work time. Okay, slow and loud, let it just roll of the tongue. Here we go … P-e-e-v-e-s. Fun, isn’t it? Wyatt and Seth like to say it, though they typically leave out the “v” and always chuckle really hard afterwards.)

So, just a few peeves. And I do apologize if you participate in these activities. I’m sure I annoy you as well.

+Slow, turtle-like people at the self-checkout line at the grocery store

+People perfecting their turtle behavior at the self-checkout line because they are talking on their cell phone

+Turtle people at the aforementioned checkout line chatting away on that blasted machine attached to their ear and ignoring my intensifying glare

+The word anywho (most often – and for reasons I have yet to comprehend – used in place of “anyhow”). I don’t entirely know why I find this grating, but, at a minimum, it makes me feel like I’m trapped in a Dr. Seuss tale.

+Facebook invitations asking me to join a snowball fight or become a pirate or go on an Easter egg hunt or plant a geranium in their (virtual) garden

+Spellcheckers that do not recognize “facebook” or “incarnational” or “missional” or, can you believe it, “spellchecker”

What are a few of your pet peeves? If it’s anything I participate in, I reserve the editorial perogative to delete your comment : ) [darn, I know smiley faces will be on somebody’s list, it’s gotta be…]

Grooming a Coffee Buddy

Today, Seth and I had the run of the house for a bit. Miska was out, and Wyatt was at school (and since it’s Friday, Wyatt was no doubt counting the seconds ’til he could dash out of his kindergarten classroom and to Mad Science Club where, as he likes to say, they “make lasers that kill people.”)

Seth and I decided to take a walk around the neighborhood and see what’s up. It’s a gray, cloudy day, a little on the cool side. Great day for a walk. Seth filled me in on all his preschool gossip, and we took a different route to see this new house they are building in our hood. When we got back, we had a little chill and decided to make coffee. We ground up some beans (Mexican, shade grown), and sent the brew to steaming.

You might think that in the two coffee sentences above, I invoked the editorial “we,” that the coffee was really just for me. You would be mistaken.

Seth is fast becoming a coffee fiend. Seth, you will remember, is four.

He’s made friends with all the coffee crew at church, and frankly he no longer needs mom or dad to get his fix on Sunday. Any time we have coffee going at the house, he fully expects his share. And on days when no coffee is going, he’s as quick as anyone to suggest that perhaps a fresh pot is in order. Did I mention he’s four? I do hope his pediatrician is not reading…

Seth is even taking on the whole aesthetic of the thing. Today, he took issue with the fact that I had a handmade pottery mug while he only had a standard issue from Pier One. I guess we know what he’s getting for his birthday.

Wisdom would suggest that a preschooler would essentially like coffee because their version is more like a dessert, a little joe with mounds of sugar. (in fact, when I was a tyke, my Aunt Betty made me “milk coffee” – 1/3 coffee, 1/3 whole milk, 1/3 sugar – what’s not to love?). We never do coffee Aunt Betty-style, but it is definitely not the coffee of purists. Today, our creamer was Cinnamon Hazelnut. A few sips in, though, Seth said, “This is too sweet. I want more coffee.” My friend Nathan Elmore (previously referred to in this blog as “the coffee snob”) would have beamed.

I can’t tell you the joy this moment gave me, sitting at the table on an overcast day, a quiet house. Through our back windows, we see the quiet woods. And we drank coffee. Together. Just my son and me. There will be many more moments like this, I can promise you that.

A little tip: Crema.co Coffee Subscription: 80+ coffees from small batch roasters.

Lent: And the Frogs Will Sing Again

There are two nights in farm life that matter the most every year: the night the frogs begin to croak and the night when the fireflies begin to mate, lighting the whole of our fields with thousands of frantically blinking lights bent on attracting one another into a reproductive orgy. The fireflies dance, usually in early May, and signal with their fervor that summer has officially begun, as far as Mother Nature is concerned. When the frogs cry, Spring has begun. Phyllis Tickle

God is doing something. I feel it in my soul, in my bones.

I recently looked – really looked – at our oldest son, Wyatt. He’s only five (five and a half, he’ll tell you), but I see in his eyes and his expression, hear in the tone of his words, the young man he is becoming. We spent Friday night at the house of friends, and one of our friends asked Wyatt what sports he was playing. Wyatt’s answer was simple, nondescript. “Soccer,” he said. But there was something in the word, the way it came out of his mouth, the way his tall body straddled the bench where he sat, that gave me a premonition, an early glance of the man he will be growing into. It was all so slight, but there are some things only a father sees.

And oh how I want to see. I want to see my son’s passion and fear and energy – and I want to call him to his courage, to his boldness, to his place in this world. And Seth, our youngest, ever bit as much. I want to see his wild dance and his mad, artistic creativity and his easily bruised heart – and I want to call him to his voice, to his dangerous tenderness, to his place in this world.

I want to see my boys. I want to call these truths out of them. And I will. By God’s mercy, I will. But it will take time. It will take patience. I will have to wade through their sin and their fear and their shame and their hesitation and their questions and their rebellion. That’s just what dads who want to give themselves to their sons do.

I also am a son. I also have sin and fear and hesitation and questions and rebellion. And my good Father, bold and generous, sees my passion and panic, my shame as well as my wild dancing, my moments of gritty courage right along with the moments I surrender my true identity and cower in the corner. And my strong Father calls me forth, calls me into newness, calls me to my true self in Jesus. But it will take time. It will take patience. That is what a Father who wants to give himself to his sons and his daughters does.

This is the beauty of Lent – it is a time for time. A long season, not a fleeting day. Over these forty days, we can see God’s slow, steady work. Often, it will not be dramatic or immediate. It will be awakening, morning after morning, to another day of sensing God birthing both fresh and old truths in our heart. It will be a steady (almost plodding at times) re-ordering ourselves, one day after the other, to how truly desperate we are for God.

As we sit in this season of repentant hope, we are purposefully reminding ourselves each day that time is necessary for God to make us into the person he intends for us to be. Lent is a season to wait, to listen, to hope for the Easter that is not yet here. This is why, in many Christian traditions, the “Alleluia” is not prayed during daily prayers. This is not yet the season for Alleluia – that is coming. Indeed, our every hope bends toward that Resurrection moment. But we are not there yet. Not yet. Now, we wait. And we let God do God’s work.

And blessedly, in these weeks when “Alleluia” is denied to me, the frogs are driven to assert it. Out of the slime and wet of our winter pond, they raise their resurrection cry: We will be again.
Phyllis Tickle

waiting peace / Winn

+Phyllis Tickle has a Lenten blog going. It’s beautiful.

Colbert and the Lucifer Effect

{by the way, that title looks kinda eerie in red and black, doesn’t it?}

I saw this Colbert piece today, and it was just too fantastic. Early on, Colbert was in usual character and used his sarchasm (as he does so well) to highlight some of our looney notions on authority. But (it seems to me at least) that about 2/3 of the way in, a bit of Colbert’s ire was genuinely stoked. And that last line…

My Sunday School memories would be a good bit different if I’d had a teacher like that.

Lent: An Awakened Imagination

The brain is the organ of truth; imagination the organ of reality.
{Clyde Kilby}

Many Christian disciplines – and Lent is no different – suffer from a debilitating reputation: that they are activities encouraging us to withdraw from the reality around us, ways of hiding out from the physical, lived-in world. For many of us, prayer is what we do only after we are finished doing everything we can muster. Meditation, we suppose, is for monks who cloister themselves away and who literally have nothing better to do with their time. Even communal worship takes a bit of a rap for being a way the church creates and sustains its cultural bubble.

If ever we use our spiritual practices as a way of disengagement, however, we have entirely missed the point. A constant posture of dependence on God and recognition of Jesus’ sustaining presence (which is simply another way of saying prayer) is not an afterthought, but rather the very oxygen we need to survive, to “breathe and move and have our being.” Gathering with God’s people to retell the Gospel story and to remember that Jesus is with us, redeeming and healing, offers an invitation to more deeply engage God’s work in our world, not a way of distancing ourselves from it.

This is why it is most insidious that the word imagination has become synonymous with detaching from the “real world.” Imagination suffers under the unfair indictment that it is the realm for children who have not yet grown up. However, the constant witness of our best spiritual teachers, from St. Ignatius to C.S. Lewis to Eugene Peterson, insists that the redeemed imagination is actually one of the ways we ground ourselves in real, solid, spiritual truth. Our redeemed, Christ-immersed imagination allows us to see with spiritual eyes and to hear with spiritual ears what is real, what is true, what we might miss if all we relied on was our analytical brain or our five senses. So, in Christian theology, the imagination is neither divorced from or subservient to our physical, rational realities. Rather, they all work in harmony, our whole person engaging all God has for us.

This is why, for me, Lent is a season where God uses my physical experiences to connect my heart and soul to spiritual truth. And, let me tell you, if ever I needed my heart and soul to envision and hear and obey spiritual truth, it is now.

I need to be caught up in a fuller, truer, more alive story than the one I have been living in. My mind has grown dull with shame and fear and the tyranny of a mind locked-in on all that is small and stifling, all that is in opposition to God. I need to be re-awakened. I need prodding. I am a physical being, and I need something tangible, a physical jolt, to blow a little oxygen on the embers of my soul’s imagination.

Today, I do not need a doctrine or a principal or a theological idea (all good). Today, I need the hand of God, the whisper of the Spirit. I need my brother Jesus to walk beside me. Today, I need a fresh vision of what God is doing in my heart, in my family, among my friends and my church. Today, I need to hear God tell me what he truly thinks of me. Today, I need the Spirit to allow me to see another story, a story quite different from the one the Deceiver has been peddling.

Today, this second week of Lent, I need a physical reminder that God is with me, that Jesus is all around me, that the Spirit of the Living God is the one truth-teller. I need the Word of God to again “become flesh.”

So, today, as I pray the Hours, I hear these words: Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord. And hope fills my heart. My imagination turns from my small self and hears another truth, another reality. I fast over a meal, and my physical hunger turns my attention toward my deeper craving for God’s redemption. I turn off the computer earlier than normal, and my mind (rather than being distracted by virtual realities or the constant possibility of more information) engages the very present fact that I am a father, a husband, a son of God. Here. Now. In this space. In this moment.

I want all God has for me, all God is for me in Jesus. I want my mind and my heart and my soul and my body to be fully alive, awake to my world. I pray that this Lenten season would offer me another opportunity to see Jesus do a fresh work, a fresh awakening.

It takes imagination to live in God’s world. {N.T. Wright}

hope / Winn