Second Advent Candle: Peace

John, the wild forerunner of the Messiah calls us out of our comfortable sanctuaries and living rooms into the wilderness of our weary world. Our mission is to level the playing field where our poor sisters and brothers struggle to survive. We are called to be peacemakers who do justice, not peacekeepers who protect the status quo.

John foresees the birth of a new day when the first will be last and the last first.  He calls us to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, even when  we are the latter.  And we are invited to be the bearers of that good news, welcoming Christ to transform our lives; so we can build peace from the inside out and be prepared whenever the Messiah returns. 

In that hope we light this second Advent candle, the Candle of Peace.  [Light Candle]

Let us pray: Holy God, We light the candle of peace to say, yes, we accept your invitation to be bearers of light into the dark places where there is no justice and no peace. We do so with grateful hearts for the example of Christ who came to dwell among us to show us the true way to a world of inner and outer peace for all creation. We will proclaim your peace from the housetops and our laptops until all flesh shall see your salvation as a new day dawns to usher in the peaceable reign of your universal love and grace. We pray in the name of the Prince of Peace, Amen.

The Kindness of Strangers

“Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” (John 5:2-7)

Our modern fast-paced living makes it easy for me to understand the apathy or selfishness of strangers that would jump in line and leave a sick man unhealed for 38 years. I have to admit I too often am so turned in on myself and my problems that I have done somethings like that. I apologize to anyone I’ve disrespected, even if I didn’t know I was doing it.

One way I try to change my negative thoughts and behaviors is to counter those painful memories by noticing the many acts of kindness that will never make the nightly news. One of my favorite personal memories of the kindness of strangers happened many years ago, 52 to be exact, when I was in New York City for the very first time. I was a young 23 year old who had lived a very sheltered small town life up to that point; so I was quite intimidated by the sights and sounds of the big city.

It was the end of a five-city tour I took with some fellow United Methodist seminarians. We had toured United Methodist boards and agencies as a group; so all of our transportation and hotel needs had been taken care of by the trip leaders. But now at the end of the trip we were all on our own to get to one of the New York airports for our flights home. So the two of us from Methesco (the Methodist Theological School in Ohio) set out from our hotel in Harlem for JFK airport. My traveling partner was an equally inexperienced traveler, and remember this was 1969, way before cell phones and gps that we rely totally upon these days to help us navigate strange places.

Carrying our luggage (in those days before roller bags), craning our necks to read street signs we undoubtedly looked as lost as we felt. We had grown up hearing and fearing how impersonal city folk were, but that day time after time strangers came up to us without being asked and offered to help us get on the right subway or bus. Without their help I doubt we would have made it to JFK in time for our flight.

And even as I write this I remember a very similar experience some 40 years later when my wife and I were in Tokyo trying to figure out which train to take toward downtown. We were about to board one going the wrong way when a kind Japanese gentleman noticed our indecision and not only told us how to get to the other side of the train platform and on the right train, he actually walked with us to make sure we did it right.

Such acts of kindness from strangers unfortunately was not the experience of the man in the text from John. Many years ago I heard the late Fred Craddock preach on this text. He explained the story this way: he said that the reason the man couldn’t get into the pool fast enough to be healed was because people with hang nails, skinned elbows and runny noses were quite mobile and always got into the pool first.

I was reminded of that story when we were flying home from a family Thanksgiving Friday night. Because of my bad back and balance issues due to neuropathy handling luggage when we travel has become a huge challenge for me, especially when other people are waiting behind us in the plane’s aisle during boarding and deplaning. So we have tried to mitigate that problem a bit on recent trips by staying in our seats while others exit the plane so we aren’t blocking the aisle and inconveniencing others. We did that Friday night when we arrived back home in Columbus, and most people were off the plane when a nice young man stopped to ask if he could get our bags out of the overhead bins for us.

For far too long I have been in the habit of declining such help because my pride made it hard to accept that I am officially old and really do need help. But this time I was simply grateful for this young man’s help. He was so much stronger and taller than I that he made handling our luggage look so easy, and it only took a few seconds for him to do what would have taken my wife and I so much longer. Yes, I hate not being more self-sufficient, but mostly I am just humbled by the kindness of strangers and vow to pay that forward more often when I can.

For the record, here’s how the story in John ends: “Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.“ (John 5:8-9)

No, I can’t heal people like Jesus did, and I will not be lifting 40 lb. suitcases anytime soon; but there are plenty of things we can all do for others if we aren’t rushing to beat them into the pool or the best parking place. It costs nothing to treat servers or store clerks or random strangers with kindness; so let’s do it. We will never know what a difference it might make in someone else’s life, but we will know the joy of human connection.

First Sunday in Advent

The first Sunday of Advent comes before the Thanksgiving leftovers are consumed to remind us again of the cares of a weary world. Most of us are more stuffed than our turkeys, and yet we know millions of our sisters and brothers have nothing to be thankful for. We are moved by that suffering and do our best to share out of our abundance; but we wonder if it will ever be enough.

As we prepare our hearts to receive the Christ child this Advent, let us rely on the Scriptures to renew our faith: Words that say, “Comfort, comfort my people” to God’s children in exile. Words that say, “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

Lighting one little candle seems so futile to our weary minds, but we dare to light it again this Advent, not because of the tiny light it gives off, but because of the hope it ignites in our hearts. We dare to be hopeful in a weary world because of a helpless peasant baby who emerges from the darkness of Mary’s womb to become the light of the world.

We know that the world’s cares and woes will pass away, but God’s word of hope will never die. And so today we stand up and raise our arms to light the candle of hope because we know that only in the strength of Christ can we survive these trying times and stand before God as redeemed people of hope. [lights candle]

And so we pray, Holy God, we come humbly to this season of preparation, not asking for the rest of the wealthy and privileged, but rest for our weary souls. We are are distressed and confused by cosmic warning signs of climate change. We are worn out from years of pandemic and paralyzed by partisan political warfare.

We are exhausted from playing the consumption game of our consumer Christmas culture, and frustrated by supply chain issues we can’t comprehend or control. We fall on our knees, O God, for we know that only the humble can hear the angel voices. Hear our prayers, we ask, during these dark December days that lead to great joy to the world. Amen

God’s GPS: Part 2

I have been swimming 2-3 times a week since March as part of rehabbing after back surgery. During today’s swim I had another insight about God’s Positioning System (GPS), building on my last post about the guidance system built into my new car.

To state the obvious, the black line down the center of each lane in a pool is there to provide guidance to swimmers. In competitive swimming this is especially important because the shortest and fastest distance between one point and another, or one end of a pool and the other, is a straight line. So the closer a swimmer can come to staying directly above that line the faster he or she can complete each lap.

But for far from expert swimmers like me those lines are equally or even more important. Not only is swimming in a straight line better than zigzagging back and forth between the plastic lane dividers, it is also much safer. I have learned that lesson the hard way by whacking my hands on the lane dividers more times than I care to remember. To do that is usually just a minor annoyance, but if my hand comes up under the divider too hard the plastic can cause painful bruising and on one occasion cut my hand forcing me to stop my swim and seek first aid from the life guard.

Case in point is this picture I took of my hand after an encounter with the lap divider during today’s swim. This problem is worse for me because I have learned the aging process makes one’s skin get thinner and more susceptible to ugly bruises. But that would not be a factor if I stay on course in the center of my lane.

That all became another metaphor for God’s GPS while I was swimming today. Just as my car helps me stay in my lane on the road, the black line on the bottom of the pool is there to assist me in doing the same thing in the pool. Both are similar to how the Holy Spirit provides guidance for us IF we choose to follow it. These aides do not prevent me from straying out of my lane in either case, and neither does God force me to stay on the course she has called me to follow.

As I said last week, we are free agents. There are times I wish God or the lap lane marker would force me to stay on the straight and narrow because it would prevent me from experiencing the painful consequences of straying off course. But then I realize the loss of free will would be much more painful than a bruised hand or a dented fender.

God’s wisdom provides good guidance, should we choose to follow it, but that does not mean God reaches out to punish us for our wandering away. We suffer because our behavior has consequences. God doesn’t make that lane divider jump out and hit my hand if I go off course. Those bruises are my own fault because I didn’t swim in a straight line.

What other guidance systems are out there to help save us from painful consequences if we choose to use them?

GPS: God’s Positioning System

Thanks to circumstances, both good and bad, beyond my control I am driving the first brand new car I’ve owned in over 20 years.  I was forced to replace a car I really intended to keep quite a while when it was totaled in an accident in September.  To say the least new cars have changed just a bit since 1988.  I’ve had my new Toyota Venza for two weeks now and the learning curve for this old dog to learn new technological tricks feels steeper than Pike’s Peak.

The woman at the Toyota dealership who helped me sign my life away spoke truth when she told us that the car was basically a big computer on wheels.  And like the love/hate relationship I have with all things technological, this car both amazes and frustrates me.  Sunday morning on my way to church I discovered that the car will give me both a weather forecast and a live weather radar map.  Since we got our first snow of the season that morning that weather info was both unnecessary and unwelcome.  The white stuff falling on my windshield told me all I needed to know about winter’s inevitable arrival.

Some of the most welcome and fascinating things this car can help keep me safe – even when I am distracted by trying to figure out simple things like how to turn the radio off while driving.  And yes, I know that’s a no-no.  I have no idea how it does it, but this car has a built in way of both keeping me in my lane and slowing me down when I get close to another vehicle.  Unless I communicate my intention to change lanes or turn by using the old and often-ignored technology called a turn signal, the Venza tries to steer me back toward the center of my lane.  If I fail to tell the car I mean to change lanes it literally fights my efforts to do so like a horse intent on heading for the barn before its rider wants to.

I was talking to my spiritual director last week about some of these gadgets, and I realized that the lane assist and other safety features are much like the Holy Spirit.  How God’s spirit works to guide my feet in the direction I need to go is also a complete mystery to me, but it’s real.  We can call it conscience or intuition or spirit, but it’s a nudge or push or pull or a closed door that forces me to get creative and choose another direction.  Like my car’s guidance system I can choose to override God’s spirit because I have free will.  When I change lanes or turn without signaling I feel resistance in the steering wheel, just as I feel a twinge of guilt or regret when I ignore a chance to do something that I know I should do. 

There’s one place where this analogy breaks down.  If I get very close to someone or something that I’m in danger of hitting, the car actually slams on the brakes and flashes a big red warning sign on the instrument panel.  Because we are free agents God doesn’t do that for us, even though there I times I wish she did. 

How does God’s GPS show up in your life? 

What happens when you choose to follow or not to?

All Saints Day Prayer

O Holy One, as one great saint, Meister Eckhart, said, “If the only prayer you say in your life is ‘thank you,’ that will be sufficient;” so today we gather in this sacred space to give thanks to you:  

Thanks for this holy ground and for those who had the vision to create this memory garden.  

Thanks for the memories of those who have finished the course of their mortal lives and joined the great cloud of witnesses in your presence.  

Thanks that the earth here contains all of them that it can, and that we know their eternal souls have been set free of the pain and struggle and limits of human existence.  

Thanks for the assurance to us who remain that nothing in all creation can separate us from your love in Christ Jesus.  As another saint, Julian of Norwich said, “My own sin will not hinder God’s working goodness.” 

Because of Christ’s triumph over death we dare to live as your humble saints and servants because we know we have been created in your image from the dust of the earth.  That dust from those whose ashes have been tenderly laid to rest here continues to nourish your good earth as you nourish our souls, surrounding us with the power of the Holy Spirit in this life and the next.

Thank you creator God for all the saints laid to rest in this sacred space.  In holy silence we now give thanks for all the memories of their lives on earth.  

Renew your blessing, we pray, on this place, on those we honor today, and on us all as we strive to be your saints on earth.  By the power of the Holy Spirit we will share the precious gift of hope and trust in you to others by the example of our lives until we too are set free to fully live in your heart with those who have gone before us.

We offer our prayers of thanksgiving in the name of the one who conquered death and is the way, the truth and eternal life.  Amen

[Prayer for a service in the memory garden, Northwest UMC, Columbus, OH]

PREQUEL TO LAZARUS UNBOUND

This post is something different than I’ve done before.  What follows are the notes I took as I dialogued with the John 11 text about the raising of Lazarus from the dead.  Although I am not preaching on this text right now, it’s an example of how I would begin to study a text for preaching.  It is the prequel to the post I wrote earlier this week entitled “Lazarus was unbound, are we?

John 11:32 When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
11:33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.
11:34 He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.”
11:35 Jesus began to weep
11:36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”
11:37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
11:38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it.
11:39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.”
11:40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”
11:41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me.
11:42 I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.”
11:43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus come out!”
11:44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him and let him go.”

John 11 includes the familiar story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead. There is no suspense or surprise about the outcome of this story.  Most of us know how the story ends, but the various theological assumptions revealed by how people respond to Lazarus’ death are worth careful examination.  (NRSV) 

The passage opens with Mary scolding Jesus for not being there sooner to keep her brother from dying, just as her sister Martha had done in verse 21.  We are not ever told Lazarus’ cause of death, but Martha and Mary apparently believes in a God who won’t let bad things happen to good people.  Earlier in the chapter John makes a point of telling us what a faithful disciple she was by reminding us that Mary has been in charge of the church kitchen for as long as anyone can remember. (Actually it says “Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair.” 11:2).  Mary’s complaint is more confusing because we know from the early part of this chapter that Jesus has said Lazarus will not die, but his illness is “for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” (Vs. 4). 

Does that sound a bit self-centered for Jesus?  It does to me.  John tells us repeatedly how much Jesus loved Martha, Mary and Lazarus, and yet he uses their suffering for his own glorification?  In fact John tells us in verse 6 that “after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.”  And it gets worse.  It isn’t that Jesus doesn’t understand the severity of Lazarus’ condition.  After using the euphemism of sleep to describe Lazarus’ conditions, he learns that, as usual, the disciples don’t get it, “then Jesus told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead.’”  (Vs. 14).  

All of that is back story and laden with John’s own theological perspective on the divinity of Jesus.  Ironically this passage also is most famous for the shortest verse in the Bible, in some translations, that shows Jesus in one of the most human moments in the Gospels.  Jesus weeps over the death of his dear friend and John tells us twice to be sure we get it that Jesus was “greatly disturbed.”  Even that quite natural emotion in the presence of death gets interpreted differently through two theological lenses.   Some of the spectators see Jesus’ tears as a sign of how much he loved Lazarus while the critics murmur that Jesus who has a great track record of miracles really could have saved Lazarus if he chose to.  

Speaking of theological lenses, John makes sure to let us insider readers of his Gospel know what the real subtext of this whole scene is.  There is a large stone in front of the tomb where Lazarus has been for four days.  Wouldn’t 3 days have been a better analogy to Jesus time in the tomb?  And yes, Martha reminds that the body is going to stink because he is really dead.  And then after John inserts an aside between Jesus and God to be sure we all understand this is all done for the glory of God, Jesus shifts to the imperative tone.  He says in a voice so loud the dead can hear it, “Lazarus, come out!”  

And then he does the second imperative: “Unbind him and let him go!”

What do we need to be unbound from to really come alive?  That question can take those who hear it in many different directions— materialism, nationalism, self-centered ness….

Emptiness – letting go, being unbound from striving for meaning –unbound from fear, doubt, anger, things that don’t satisfy the soul.  For those of us forced to let go of so many things in old age it can be anger, frustration, hopelessness, resentment, or mistrust. 

Lazarus’ resurrection led some to believe and some to go to Caiaphas and start plotting the crucifixion of Jesus as a sacrificial lamb to save the nation.  What rationalization do I use to justify my own selfish desires?  

Unbound: Lazarus was, are we?

What do tennis, hiking, golf, biking, jogging, working on a ladder, and skiing all have in common? They are all things I have had to give up in the last 10 years due to the aging process. I was talking to a friend my age who has given up even more things than I, and when I described my emotional state as “feeling empty” and not having anything to fill the space left by all I’ve lost. The words were barely out of my mouth when my friend said, “That’s exactly how I feel!” Like all of my friends, we have often joked in years past about old people always complaining about their aches and pains all the time, but more and more as we navigate our 70’s we find ourselves doing exactly the same thing.

I remember about 12 years ago asking an “older” gentleman what he was doing in retirement. Without missing a beat he said, “Going to doctor appointments and funerals.” I thought that was funny back then, but I’m not laughing anymore. When I told my friend that I was seeing a counselor about my feelings of emptiness and depression his response surprised me. After asking if the therapy was helping he said, “Thanks for sharing that. I always thought you had it all together. But knowing you are feeling the same things that I am makes me feel not so alone.” That wasn’t a “misery loves company” response; that was the blessing of letting down our armor and being vulnerable.

I’m not patting myself on the back, mind you. I have been good friends with this man for over 50 years. We have gotten together for golf and/or lunch monthly for decades until old age took our clubs away. Now like many oldsters we just go to Bob Evans. We’ve developed a trust over the years, but the fact that he still thought I “had it all together” means I’m either a better actor than I thought or I’ve been much less honest with him than I wish I had. I’m hoping this recent conversation will help us stay on a more vulnerable level going forward.

Here’s the good news. In addition to my therapist I am also working with a spiritual adviser, and when I shared this story with him he reminded me that until we empty ourselves of all the busyness and activities that keep our minds off our pain God can’t fill us up with anything else. A light bulb went on for me when he said that because when you hear truth it illumines things around and within you. He helped me realize that instead of resenting the emptiness I am feeling I can choose to embrace it as a gift from God. That doesn’t mean the UPS is going to arrive at my doorstep with God’s gifts anytime soon, and no that’s not because of a supply chain issue. Spiritual growth takes time and a willingness to sit with pain or emptiness awhile.

The Hebrews were in the wilderness for 40 years, not because it takes that long to travel from Egypt to Israel or because Moses refused to ask for directions. Even Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness wrestling with Satan because deep spiritual growth takes time to mature and ripen. The advice to “be still and know I am God” may sound really simple, but it’s not just a matter of shutting up for a few minutes so God can speak. It means prioritizing time for prayer and silence, and not the kind of prayer where we just tell God what we want or need.

Jacob wrestled with God all night long and was changed forever by that experience. Moses and Elijah both had to go up to Mt. Sinai/Horeb to hear God’s still small voice. I confess I am not good at silence. Even when writing these posts I frequently have a ball game on TV or music on some device. I know I write so much better when I am in a quiet place as I am while I write this, but like Paul I often fail to do the things I want to do and don’t practice what I preach.

The Gospel lesson for All Saints day this year is from John 11, the familiar story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. There are many rich veins of truth to mine in that story, but two stand out for me just now. This chapter contains what every kid in Sunday School loves to memorize, namely the shortest verse in the Bible: “Jesus wept.” This is one of several times in the Gospel narratives that we see Jesus vulnerable and allowing his humanity to show through. Like us he grieves over a loss, even though we and he all know he’s going to restore Lazarus to life.

The second verse in that lesson that grabbed my attention this year was the last one where Lazarus emerges from the tomb all bound up like a mummy. He’s alive but not really. His movement and sight and vision are all hampered by his grave clothes???, and Jesus says, “Unbind him and let him go.”

What are the things that bind you and me and keep us from living abundantly in the reign of God? Are we so stuck in our old ways that as Martha so indelicately puts it in the King James Version, “He stinketh,”. My wife sells a very good air purifier that kills germs and removes odors, even in cars or houses that have been skunked. But even those machines will not remove the kind of stench that comes from us who are spiritually dead and don’t know it.

My prayer is for God to unbind me from the anger, fear and regret that I feel for all the things I’ve lost in this stage of my life. Unbind me, Holy one. Roll away the stone that keeps me trapped in a pity party for my past. Unbind me and let me embrace what is and what will be if I trust you to lead me.

What’s your prayer for new life?

Election Blues and Faithful remnants

“The lame I will make the remnant, and those who were cast off a strong nation.”  Micah 4:7

Is it possible to be very pessimistic about the future of American democracy and simultaneously confident in the future of its ideals drawn from the best of Judeo-Christian values?  It is on the horns of that dilemma I find myself as I near the end of my 75th orbit around the sun.  The euphoria I felt a year ago when Donald Trump was soundly defeated in his bid to be re-elected dictator of the U.S. has given way to despair as I watch the democratic party described by Will Rogers when he said, “I don’t belong to any organized political party; I’m a democrat.”  Now that inter-party warfare threatens to doom the Biden presidency and in the process throw open the doors of the US Capitol so the failed coup attempt of January 6 can be successfully completed at the polls in 2022 and 2024.

I have voted faithfully in every election since 1968, but this year I am so discouraged by the way the bitter politicization in our country has infected even local elections for school boards, city councils, and township trustees that I am tempted to throw up my hands and not even vote. Politicians have always exaggerated and lied about reality to get votes, but this year 90,000 Americans have died unnecessarily because political lies have become more deadly than the Delta variant of COVID-19.

As the news plays on my radio or TV I hear Amos warning against the sins of Israel. I see Jesus weeping over Jerusalem because she would not listen to his words of salvation and peace. I see shock on the faces of those who have bought the lie of American exceptionalism as they try to wipe the mark of the beast off their faces on the day of Armageddon.

But deeper than my despair I also know that the reign of God is not dependent on sinful mortals. I feel in my dry bones the salvation history revealed throughout the Scriptures that there has always been a faithful remnant preserved from any tragedy that rises from the ashes of earthly kingdoms to carry on the eternal torch of God’s holy shalom.

There are 82 references to “remnant” in the Hebrew Scriptures.  These references are not about left-over pieces of fabric, but about those who are left out and powerless according to worldly ways.  Through flood, slavery, exile and even execution of the Messiah the solid rock of truth has survived as the foundation of life itself. The earthly power of Pharaohs, Jezebel, Nebuchadnezzar, Herod, Pilate, Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, and all the others named and unnamed in our history books is as flimsy as the fakery of the Wizard of Oz.

The creator of our universe will still prevail with or without us, even if we succeed in our blind foolishness and destroy the earth itself. Dr. King was right that the arc of the moral universe is long, so long that we cannot see the end. It is as unattainable for mere humans as the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. So just now we despair because that arc of morality seems twisted and malformed in our finite ability to envision the mystery of the future. But I still dare to believe that it bends toward justice, maybe not in the dwindling short term of my lifetime, but in God’s eternal kairos.

From the perspective of 3/4 of a century of life on this planet this much I know, maybe not in my feeble brain but “deep in my heart,” the great old protest song “We Shall Overcome” is true. That “someday” of justice may not be on any human calendar, but it will come in God’s good time; and on that hope I must hang my hat, especially in such trying days as these.

Human Doings

I don’t remember where I first heard this piece of wisdom, but it surfaced from my memory bank today as I was mowing our lawn. The sage advice comes from that philosopher known to my generation as “Old Blue Eyes.” No, you don’t have to Google that, I’ll tell those of you too young to know, it’s Frank Sinatra. One of Sinatra’s many hit song was “Strangers in the Night,” and that song has a profound refrain that goes “do be do be do.”

That nonsense phrase truly became profound for me when someone pointed out to me that if you take the “be’s” out of that phrase all you have left is “do do.”

We all make “to do” lists, and there are even apps that will help you organize your to do list(s), and I’m guessing most of us have more than one. I’ve tried multiple ways to keep, organize, and prioritize my personal and professional tasks over the years, and if anyone tells you that retirement means you can throw your to do lists away, don’t believe them.

Most of you know I’m older than dirt; so I don’t have to worry about dating myself when I reminisce how years ago all the United Methodist pastors I knew organized their lives in a small pocket sized calendar. It came in the mail every year from our denominational publishing house, and it was free; so few of us ever questioned its efficacy. My only complaint about it was that since it also had pages in the black that served as an address book all of that information had to be updated and re-entered into the new little black book every January.

Somewhere along the line I let my human doings multiply, and I had to learn to write smaller to fit each day into a tiny space, and of course because life is full of surprises, to never write anything in ink. So when it was introduced I became an early adopter of the Palm Pilot, remember those? They were basically a digital calendar and address book that replaced paper calendars and Rolodexes in one handy gadget that didn’t have to be replaced or updated every year. And of course the Palm Pilot was soon replaced by iPhones and Androids that could do all those things and serve as a phone too, and eventually took over our lives by adding internet access.

Sorry to get distracted going down memory lane. My initial point was to reflect on being and doing. We all have to do lists regardless of how we record them, but who has a “to be” list? My reflections on that question emerged because I am home alone this week while my wife is visiting family in Texas. I had grandiose plans for the week: to organize my office that resembles the aftermath of a natural disaster, to clear out and donate clothes I no longer need, and even to sort through several drawers in my desk and bathroom which should say “Enter at Your Own Risk!”

Oh, and my to list for this week also included the simple task of assembling a new exercise bike that is still in a million pieces in my basement. I am now more than half way through the week, and not one of those major projects is even started and somehow my to do list is even longer than it was on Sunday. And I have been busy all week – going to doctor appointments, running errands, swimming at the Y to maintain what little physical fitness I have left, and oh yes, dealing with the aftermath of a car accident I had about a month ago.

I may deal with the latter issue in another blog, but suffice it to say for now that I have been somewhat overwhelmed with the complexities of filing insurance claims, arranging rental cars and other transportation, while still trying to keep up with my daily activities as much as possible.

Another big item on my “to do” list for this week was to do some writing. I’ve had multiple ideas for blog posts in the last three weeks but have not had or taken the time to pursue them. So today while mowing the lawn (which should not still be growing in October, right?) I made an executive decision to just stop, put the to do list on hold, and see what emerges if I start trying to capture a somewhat chaotic collection of thoughts and feelings in writing.

What I’ve been reminded of in doing that is how difficult, if not impossible, it is to flip a switch from being a human doing governed by the almighty to do list to reflecting on being itself. I believe the reason for that is that digging into our inner lives is 1) hard because we aren’t used to going there, and 2) scary because we may not like what we find. And once we look honestly at what meaning or purpose our lives really have we can’t unknow it. That toothpaste will not go back into the tube no matter how hard we try to put it there.

What I know for sure from trying to write this after a busy day of doing is that awareness of my being needs to inform all of my doing. If I try to separate the two I am too tired from doing to really give any meaningful attention to my inner/spiritual being.