I woke this morning, as I do many mornings, to my alarm cranking out “Desperado.” It seems appropriate (for numerous reasons) to be asked at the moment of waking whether I intend to come to my senses. It was too early for my taste; it’s almost always too early for my taste. It’s a second Monday, so I dressed and joined a few friends downtown at The Haven where we dished out a hot breakfast of coffee, cream of wheat, cinnamon apples and fried eggs.

Most mornings, I’m dishing breakfast at home to two boys and a wife. Boiled eggs, oatmeal, grapefruit – we don’t vary much. We eat at 7:30. We read a bit of Scripture around the table. After a few frantic rounds of hunting misplaced socks and signing homework and dashing up and down the stairs for sundry forgotten items, we pack the boys off to school. After, I’ll usually take a run, with a few prayers offered along the way. Then, like most every adult on the planet, it’s to the grind. There may be writing or meetings, study or planning. There’s always a list to be tended to, that list scribbled somewhere on this cluttered desk of mine. Fridays offer sweet Sabbath, followed by Saturdays with family chores and grocery shopping and sometimes an attempt at a family adventure. Sunday brings Bodo’s bagels at our kitchen table followed by worship around Jesus’ Table, with an evening nightcap of egg sandwiches, tea and Downton Abbey. Mondays, we begin again.

This rhythm provides a mundane beauty. It’s beauty – a firm beauty that bears up under the years. But it’s also mundane. It’s rhythmic. It’s love that proves itself by the unwavering decision to love well and love steady, over and over. It’s a love that lets a boy know that what he needs will always be here, sure and regular as the sun rising. Perhaps he won’t notice it for years, but the day will come – I promise you the day will come – when that gracious rhythm will give him a lifeline. It’s a love that a wife offers her husband and a husband his wife, a love that says I’m right here, right by your side. We’ll steal a kiss every chance we get; but between those toying moments, my love will be present, my love will show up. And keep showing up.

These mundane rhythms, as much as the brilliant flashes, form the person we are. These mundane rhythms are our quotidian liturgy.

This is true in every family, even the family nurtured in faith. We’re eager to latch on to some new-fangled way of being Christian. Disappointed with our slow progress or restless with the boredom that inevitably sets in whenever you are participating in things that are beautifully mundane, we think there must be some quick way, some non-mundane way. There isn’t.

Because I’m a pastor, I’m often asked our strategy for helping people obey and follow Jesus. There’s lots of things we will do along the way, as we pay attention to our family and to the particular needs of the particular people in our midst. However, if you want to know our plan, it’s about as quotidian as it gets: Gather with your community and worship your God on Sunday. Pray prayers and sing prayers. Receive and give the peace and mercy of Jesus Christ. Hear and believe the Scriptures. Confess your Sins. Receive the Eucharist, drinking deep draughts of grace. Receive a blessing. And then go out into your mundane, beautiful world and love your God and love your neighbors.

If we do those things, over and over, we will find ourselves following Jesus. We will find ourselves receiving and giving love.

image: wildhotrad

She sat next to me on that gray and blue upholstered couch, the one that pulled out into a bed whenever guests stayed overnight. She sat next to me and stroked my hair, my hair wet with sweat from a fever that revved to 103º and was still pouring on steam. It was a Sunday night, strange those hazy memories: 60 Minutes flickering on the screen, heat, fuzzy, dizzy. I felt like I was trapped in a kaleidoscope.

But my mom sat next to me. I don’t remember anything she said. But she sat there, and she fought the fever with me. She fought it for me. She loved me. Because I’m a father now, I know that she was fighting harder than me, that she felt a kind of pain my little, feverish body couldn’t yet know.

With the fever still climbing, my mom put me in the bathtub with cold water and ice. I shivered and ached while she poured all her love and energy and fierceness into that fight. And she won. The fever cried uncle.

Today, my mom battles cancer. She’s tenacious and strong; but she’s got a real brawl on her hands. I wish I could sit with her on the couch and hold her hand and let her rest while I fought for her. I wish I could do more than pray to God, more than text a line of love or plan a visit a few months away. I wish I could say more to my dad than I love you, and you’re not alone. I wish I could get my hands around that cancer’s neck and squeeze the very life out of it. I wish I could make that bastard cry uncle.

The week before last was a bear for Wyatt. Elementary school is like the rest of life: there’s sad people and fearful people – and the sad, fearful people take the meanness that’s been heaped on them and hurl it onto others. Sometimes my dad-self wants to march onto the school grounds and put the fear of God into a child or two.

After a particularly difficult day for Wyatt, I had words my son needed to hear. I got on the floor with him in his room, and we talked about the truth. We talked about words that are lies and words that are true; and we talked about how truth is something we hold tight, clinging onto for dear life while lies are the things we stare down and then, with a chuckle and a wag of the head, we say, You are just ridiculous. Wyatt liked that. He liked the word ridiculous, particularly when I repeated it, stretching it out (ri——di—–culous) while exaggerating the laughter and the roll of the eyes. These lies (the ones aimed at the soul) aren’t something to ponder and dissect; they’re something we disarm by refusing them the dignity of a conversation.

This is true for Wyatt in 4th grade. It’s true for me at 40 years. By now, the lies are predictable. I’ve heard most every one (or close cousins) a bujillion times. I can hunker down for the assault and follow that familiar cycle of self-violence. I can give that old snaggle-toothed lie my energy. Or I can stand up straight, breathe deep, and, with the lightheartedness of one who knows nothing’s at stake, I can have a laugh and say, You, old pal, are plain ridiculous.

After a couple of these conversations with Wyatt, he asked me, “Dad, when you’re a kid, is it bad to love your dad almost as much as God?”

“No,” I said, sensing tears, “not at all, Wyatt, not at all.”

Years ago, I was wronged by an ego-driven boss who, after manipulating me and lying to me, topped off the painful experience by sending me off with acrid words. More years came and went, and I found myself replaying those events and imagining outrageous scenarios where I triumphed on a public stage while he writhed in obscurity and ignominy. Bitterness rankled my soul. One day, it was clear to me what, if I were to live free, I had to do. I had to write a letter, and in this letter I needed to forgive. I needed to acknowledge places where I had been wrong, and though he hadn’t asked for it and didn’t for a moment believe he needed it, I was to pour out forgiveness. I was to release him. I was to be generous.

This is the sort of thing we imagine when we hear the call to generosity. We forgive an enemy or a friend. We offer what we have to someone who has less. We loosen the reigns on our time or our energy. True, every single one. However, this generosity always points outward, never inward. Generosity towards others is difficult; but for many of us, generosity towards ourself is impossible, laughable. Letting my boss off the hook was hard, but not nearly as hard as letting myself off the hook.

Do you recall Balfour’s words: to yourself, respect. He snuck that in there, didn’t he? We mustn’t miss it. To treat ourselves with respect is to listen to ourselves well, to not make severe, reactionary judgments about our thoughts or our emotions or our motives. Rather than heap shame on our souls, we nurture the freedom to be playful and curious. I respect you and choose to think the best of you. I also respect me and choose to think the best of me.

Generosity means being patient with ourselves, giving plenty of space to explore and growing more and more comfortable with dead-ends and foolish turns. Generosity means being kind to ourselves, refusing to heap hard words upon ourselves that we’d never allow to land uncontested if they were aimed at our child or friend. To be kind is to be gentle, tender. Generosity doesn’t traffic in self-contempt; we refuse to loathe the person God has made us to be. Generosity doesn’t nurture a litany of failures and misjudgments. Generosity traffics in hope, not fear.

To review, generosity toward self is patient, kind, not rude, not easily angered. It doesn’t keep a record of wrongs. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. My, generosity sounds a lot like love.

To be generous with yourself is simply to receive and dwell in God’s generous love for you.

Generosity is another way to talk about love. Love doesn’t insist that the punishment meet the crime. Rather, love is always on the lookout for a left-handed way to slide someone an extra helping of mercy. Generous love plays a late game of chess with the boy who’s had a whale of a day, the same boy who’s lost his mind more than once this weekend, the same boy who made his mom and dad pull the tag-team card. Hey, Miska, you crawl into bed with the book, I’ll take the next round.

Generosity doesn’t hold back, waiting until one’s whims (or demands) are sated. Love looks for what particular grace another needs; and then, as best one’s able, love gives that costly grace away. I love Francis Maitland Balfour’s words: ”The best thing to give to your enemy is forgiveness; to an opponent, tolerance; to a friend, your heart; to your child, a good example; to a father, deference; to your mother, conduct that will make her proud of you; to yourself, respect; to all people, charity.”

Find out what you can give, and go give it. And if you’re having trouble deciding, just give away love until you figure it out.

 

A video’s gone viral, perhaps you’ve seen it. It talks about loving Jesus but not religion. I appreciate some of the sentiment; but truthfully, the kind of dichotomy that guides this common phrase makes me want to scream and yank fists of hair from my head. Meanwhile, the internet-o-sphere has also been abuzz with tales of a well-known church that seems to rule its congregation with a heavy hand. That’s sad, sad and tiring. We need the common, plain practice of “pure and undefiled religion,” but we’re desperate for grace. We’re one confused lot. I’ve been thinking of jotting a few thoughts, but then a friend wrote in response to a series of posts (Why the Church?) I did a bit ago. I think our interaction offers a good entree into all this.


Dear Winn,

I was just reading through your blog and came across the “why the church” series. You invite (albeit from 18 months ago) people to comment. I have one question which you did not address.

Background: I like my church. It’s over 200 years old and has a splendid collection of conservatives and liberals, young and old, homeless and rich, etc. Problem is, Trudy and I don’t have much time to give it. Often, waking up on a Sunday morning is the only real down-time we have throughout our week. Putting our daughter Emma down for a nap and watching CBS’s Sunday Morning are the perfect ways to worship our Creator. We go to church, just with less frequency. I’m becoming convinced that this is not necessarily a bad thing. Nowhere is weekly attendance mandatory for us, perhaps unless we are paid by the church to do work.

So I guess my question is: What do we do for the uber-busy church attender who lacks time for an engaged church life?

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

I am, as always, your friend,
Dwayne

Hey, Dwayne.

I’m glad you read those pieces; I enjoyed writing them.

There’s probably a lot of things I could say in response to your question, but I’m not your pastor and don’t know the textures of your life. So, it’s hard for me to give concrete advice. I’ll just say a thing or two in general. They may feel in opposition; but, heck, such is most of my life.

First, I’d say, relax. Take what comes and give whatever you have to give. In the church, people give what they’re able and take what they need. These things come and go. There really is no more time-annihilating season than early on with kids. It’s just hard, crossing the Rubicon hard. Do the best you can. Love will cover the details.

Second, I’d also say that everybody’s busy, and typically we make space for the things we truly want. Over the long haul, I can’t imagine a spirituality with roots deep enough to nourish and sustain us that isn’t melded with the communal practices of word and sacrament. God is everywhere, but God is uniquely present among the awkward and beautiful people He’s called His Body. Church is about physicality, presence. God with us, us with God – and all of us with one another. They say church isn’t about having your butt in the seat, but sometimes it’s about having your butt in the seat.

Does this mean such things ebb and flow in seasons? They must. Does anyone (including us pastor-types) need to freak out because we’re stretched in a season and need to call a timeout? Surely not. Does everyone (especially us pastor-types) need to be more playful about these things and (as Miska says) refuse to get our panties in a wad? Uh, yeah. Should we have questions if we find ourselves habitually unmoored from the practices and the people of faith? We probably should.

I can’t tell you exactly what rhythm presence and physicality require, but you’ll know it when it’s missing. Pay attention to that. And, in the mean time, catch sleep when you can and enjoy those Sunday mornings when needed.

peace and love,
winn

I’ve mentioned that a word or two arrived on my doorstep, asking me to come out and play. I said yes, and I think we’re going to have a grand time. The word leading the way is generous.

Most of us could be more free with our funds and our belongings, me too. But the generosity that’s got me leaning forward is a generosity of heart, a free spirit that allows me to live with curiosity, to see the best in another, to believe deep in my being that there is plenty for us all. Plenty of mercy. Plenty of joy. Plenty of success. Plenty of time. Plenty.

A generous life is a spacious life, a circle plenty wide for everyone, even for the odd ducks and the ones so insecure they can’t help but preen. I can shake my head; I can even provide a firm nudge when appropriate (a good nudge can be immensely generous), but there’s no need to get ruffled. Nothing’s at stake. Generosity brushes past all that nonsense. The generous one knows there’s a difference between being a foolish fool and a holy fool — but sometimes not so much difference as one might think. There’s room for all of us to grow up and become who we are.

When I’m generous, I’ll give away my words, flinging love and hope in all kinds of places. I’ll tell people what I see in them, what they’ve meant to me. I’ll be a blushing idiot. I’ll give away my words, but I won’t believe I must speak to everything. In a stingy world, we push forward our opinion, our words, our authority. Sometimes, amid all the blabbering, generosity sits over by the pond and feeds the birds and listens to the water and knows the sadness for the beauty that’s being missed.

When I’m generous, I believe in others and cheer on the good of others. I cheer on your good. I have nothing to protect because my heart knows that more for you doesn’t mean (at least not in any way that truly matters) less for me. As Brueggemann says, scarcity is the lie; abundance is the truth. You have your voice and your vocation and (I truly hope) your vast success. I raise my glass high, raucous cheers to you. I want to help you get where you need to be going; and as you arrive, I’ll arrive too.

When I’m generous, I don’t judge my success alongside yours. I don’t hold myself back, concerned that I may be left standing on the outside. I don’t parse or protect. When I’m generous, I walk the road ahead, thankful for whoever walks with me and for whatever strange and glorious sights we encounter.

image: zela

I wonder if you’ve met this God St. Francis knows. A God who isn’t tapping his fingers, asking you to hurry it up. A God who lingers, who kneels, who adores. A God who is prejudiced in your favor.

I think God might be a little prejudiced.
For once He asked me to join Him on a walk 
through this world,

and we gazed into every heart on this earth,
and I noticed He lingered a bit longer
before any face that was
weeping,

and before any eyes that were
laughing.

And sometimes when we passed 
a soul in worship

God too would kneel
down.

I have come to learn: God
adores His
creation.
                                                                             {St. Francis of Assisi}

My friend John Blase received a letter from his 90yr old self, and he invited me to do the same

Dear Winn,

I like you. You’re sure to like the man you become, but it's important for you to hear that I enjoy the man you are now. It's a powerful temptation to perpetually believe some future triumph or distant decade will signal your arrival. Winn, you've already arrived, two firm feet planted on solid ground. You're here. You're living and loving. Go with it.

This isn't to say you won't be arriving more, becoming more solid, more true. You will. But don't worry about getting there. Fretting over your story means you'll think too much and toil too hard. You've been writing long enough to know the contrived dribble that splatters on the page when we strain to make something rather than live something. Whenever you're pressing, it isn't believable. It isn't believable because it isn't true. Be true.

I encourage you to live attentively. Watch for the places where your heart is most tender or your anger most righteous. Watch for your tears. Watch for your laughter. Tune in to the yearning for slowness and quiet. Perk up when you want to punch a fellow in the face. Don't judge the right or wrong of a thing too hurriedly. Live from leisure. Curiosity is your friend, but curiosity needs room to breathe. I don’t know if an idle mind is the devil’s workshop, but I do know a leisurely mind is the soul’s friend. Remember when Ken shared his belief that we need to move toward the pain? Definitely pay attention to that. Don't be afraid of suffering. Don't be afraid of loneliness. Don't be afraid of making your mark. Don't be afraid.

I know all that appears a tall order. Let me help a little with the fear. The boys will know they're loved. They'll wrangle with some of the doubts you hoped they could avoid (they didn't kill you, did they?), but they won't doubt your love. They'll remember your tenderness more than your impatience, your presence more than your absence, your good more than your bad. Love truly does cover a multitude of sins. Speaking of fear, you'll also be glad to know you won't fight your darker demons forever — for a while longer, but not forever. It's not that you'll rally to an epic showdown where you vanquish what torments you; you're simply going to grow tired of the merry-go-round. One of these days, you'll wave down the operator, hop off and go for an ice cream instead.

In other words, you're going to become more and more the man who, in all the right places, learns not to give a shit. It's a strange thing that the good men learn to care more and, at the same time, to care less. You'll become scandalously tender, but you'll hold your tenderness and your strength with such openness that it doesn't require validation. Remember when your pastor told you to get comfortable keeping your own counsel? You will. You'll trust your wife and your sons and your friends, believing that others' good eyes and good hearts will sometimes see more clearly than your own. But you won't give credence to the people critiquing your life or your work or your way. You, Winn, won't give a shit.

And your sketch-of-a-dream comes true, complete with the worn tweed jacket and the worn books and the worn friends. You and Miska spend the next decades pouring the flames on love. The two of you become quite the spectacle. Your love weathers the seasons. More than weathers, it flourishes, love and laughter run wild. You grow foolish together, and you love others well. Keep listening to Miska. She hears things. She sees things.

Keep writing; you're heading in a fine direction. Don't spend an ounce of energy trying to tap into the flavor du jour or run after whatever it is everybody’s running after (I still don’t know). Like the song that’s been working on you says — don’t build your ego on a hungry crowd. Just keep being true, and generous. Tell us what you see.

I like you, Winn. You'll like you too. Might as well start now.

Sincerely,

your 90yr old self

Miska's been out of town a couple days, and this morning I was up early, downstairs with a friend and coffee. I heard the pitter-patter of feet on the hardwood above, the wild tribe arising. I found myself saying a prayer for these sleepy-eyed boys, for goodness and love and God to cover them all their days. I had an image of a Wyatt and a Seth, years from now – men who know themselves and their God and their work. My eyes grew moist. These moments catch us unaware.

Then breakfast came and the rush-to-school madness. No one would mistake me for being proficient at such things. My dialogue went something like this: Brush your teeth, get on your socks, grab your backpack, did you brush your teeth?, where's your other sock? uh, brush your teeth, is your homework signed?, where's you hoodie?, no. we can't take your four crates of legos, did we eat breakfast?, socks, boys, socks, Brush. Your. Teeth! Exhausting.

I finally herded the boys down the stairs with instructions to pull on their shoes. When I followed, I noticed Wyatt standing underneath the coat rack, mostly hidden by scarves and jackets and hats. Looking closely, you could make out two little legs and two little Nike tennis shoes. Wyatt was intensely quiet, convinced he was invisible.

I didn't play along. The clock ticked. My nerves were sufficiently taut. I tapped his shoe and, more gruffly than I wish, said, "Come on, Wyatt, let's go."

He did. Wyatt piled out of the mound of clothes, and he grabbed his bag. But before he headed to the car, Wyatt said, "Dad, you didn't even laugh."

I wish I had. I wish I'd laughed. Next time, I hope I do.