Monthly Archives: April 2018


So, I went to an organization’s celebratory luncheon the other day.  It was a festive time and as I walked down the hallway to the meeting room, the chattering of so many people felt inviting.  I could hear through the general din words like “Oh, thank you!”  “So glad…”  “We’re so grateful for all…” I walked in, past the buffet tables and servers, waiting to be focus of attention.  There were slides on three walls sharing images of the good work that had been done over the past year, round tables where folks were seated but throughout the room were scores of people greeting, talking, laughing and even eyeing the delightful dessert table.  I stood and looked around and realized I knew no one.

As an introvert, I have to say… put me in a room with 300 people who aren’t looking for me, sit me at a table of 8-10 of folks who, it turns out, all know each other… and it feels like heaven.  Well, not exactly, more like the opposite.  But, I’m up for a challenge.

I looked for an almost empty table and, sure enough, I found one where there were only a couple of people who didn’t know each other either.  Good start.  I was welcomed and began small talk, and then the woman next to me spotted a friend and excused herself to go to the friend’s table.  That left me with a couple of members of the organization.  And we chatted about the organization, its work, direction, all good things… for like 2 minutes.  Then the table began to fill, and it was all people who knew and worked with the people who were first at the table.

Have you ever become an obligation?  You know, where people turn to you because they realize that they’ve been carrying on with their friends for 5-10 minutes and you’re just sitting.  I’ve taken those kind of moments in hand and struck out into them (not unlike an explorer in a wilderness), asking questions of ohers, even to people across the table.  My attempt is to get everyone talking all together, especially at a round table.

Being the “obligation” is like being the in-law when the other in-laws don’t really need you in their lives.  It’s the grandparent who is across the country or in “the home” and isn’t part of “how busy we are.” It’s the kid who’s new. It’s the teacher seeking a real conversation with a student.  It’s the friend who is trying to share stories or reconnect after realizing they haven’t been for like 8 months. It’s even the person who wants forgiveness after screwing up badly.

God must feel like that…like the obligation, sometimes. God must be in people’s lives when they feel like they have to start up a conversation or acknowledge God’s there, around, still here. It’s got to feel so distressing to feel like an obligation rather than a desire.


I stuck at the meal until there was a moment when I could comfortably excuse myself and did. Do you think God does that in people’s lives?  Thinking about, “As a deer pants for water, so my soul pants for you…” (Psalm 42:1) and getting to that.




The Identified Patient

When there’s a breakdown in some families, you can sometimes find that everyone is clear that if ONE person changed, everything would be fine.  “If she just got her act together… if it wasn’t for her… if she just wasn’t here…”  What’s clearest, to anyone looking in from the outside, is that the problems, breakdowns or frustrations all stem from the presence and nature of one person.

Ever been “the identified patient?”  It’s a lousy position in which to be.  Any move you make, any breath you take, any cake you bake is evaluated from the position of the problem you are to the rest of the household.  Sort of the way a mountain creates its own weather, the identified patient creates atmospheric issues of life in a community.  It doesn’t really have to do much more than be there, just being present creates turbulence, crowdedness, disquiet.

Consider how the identified patient might feel in that setting.  They don’t have to try.  They just have to be there and they’re wrong.  If they say something, they’re wrong.  If they do something, they’re wrong.  But they don’t have to do or say anything… we just all know they’re wrong and will only, always, ever be wrong.  They’re in the way, roadblocks, hampering movement forward and so the best thing is just to ignore them or get rid of them, if possible.

But then someone comes along who wonders if anyone has ever climbed the mountain… and gives it a shot.  It’s treacherous, the air gets thin, sometimes it feels like they’re dying, but then, as they get to the top, suddenly a vista opens up, the world is clear.  They can see forever.  They’re glad they made the trip.

That’s what happens sometimes when the identified patient is not attended as a “patient” but as part of life, as a person.  It’s a hike, no question, and sometimes its more of a climb than a hike.  Mountains get driven up by a lot of ancient trauma from below.  But when someone takes the time and makes the effort, they can learn the mountain and can reach a spot where they see clearly and they also love the mountain.

There’s a story Jesus tells of the guy who is a problem.  Jesus tells those who follow him to go one-on-one to sort out the problem the guy has or is.  He goes on, if that doesn’t work then bring another with you and if not then, bring in some authority for help and if not then, get the community to come together to clear things up.  If that doesn’t work then “treat them like a tax collector or sinner.”  This has been used as a road-map on kicking someone out of the church… but that’s not how Jesus treated tax collectors and sinners.  He didn’t kick them out.  He chose to get to know them, to climb the mountain.

Just when you figure someone is nothing more than a pain in the butt, so we should just dismiss them… Jesus comes along and says, “Nah, …get your gear!  We got a hill to climb!”  Who does this guy think he is?


There’s Always Only One Side to Every Story

Have you ever noticed that there’s only one side to every story?  I know the old adage says it differently… something about “two sides.”  But, it’s been my experience that there’s always only one.  I used to think it was mine.

I used to know when I was in an argument or when there was a misunderstanding between me and someone else that there was only one side to the story and I had it.  I was right.  They were wrong.  They just weren’t seeing clearly or their logic was off or they were just being dull or they were looking for a good excuse to be angry at me or they were jerks or choosing to be stupid or numbskulls.  I like that word… “numb-skulls.”  It’s such a tangible expression.  It’s like “no-brain.”

I remember watching an interview where an actor referred to a director as having “the brain of a pea.”  He didn’t say he had a brain “the size of a pea” (which is how I’ve always heard it).  He said he had the brain of a pea.  I liked that, too.  It is so graphic.  I spent a little while looking forward to the moment when I could copy that, use it to refer to someone who ticked me off.

That was when I used to think that there was only one side and that it was mine.

Now, I’m convinced that there’s always only one side to every story… and it’s always God’s.

When I was at the place in my life where I was open to collecting clever insulting names to use on people I came upon “Raca.”  It’s the old word for “empty-head,” a different way of saying “no-brain.”  The trouble, for me, was it was used by Jesus and it was in the middle of his saying that people who refer to others this sort of way were just as guilty of murder as the person who just fired the gun.  Paying attention to Jesus means you have to give up clever insults.  That can feel like a drag for a while because they’re so tasty.  They have such a chewy, saltiness that it makes you want to hang onto them for a while… and there’s Jesus telling you to spit it out.  Like some Mom who discovered you picked up something from the ground and in her disgust, she’s still telling you to spit it into her hand.  Jesus is acting like that.  She wants it out of you.

I had friends, next-door neighbors, when I was little, who decided to try out the taste of tar from the new coating that had just been put down on the road outside our houses.  Their mom not only made them spit it out, but she used a little Lestoil to get it off their teeth.  Talk about washing your mouth out with soap!  My Mom made a big deal of telling me NEVER to do that or she might need to use Lestoil on me.

That’s a word from God.  If you do something like that, if you put words like this in your mouth, we’re going to have to do some heavy-duty cleansing.

Jesus has this way of taking something that seems like a cool idea at the time and showing us how it impacts us really.  Which can feel like buzz-kill until you think about it with him… and then you’re getting to the one side of the story.

The one side belongs to God because God’s the only one who sees the whole story.  He knows what’s going on in everyone’s head and heart.  He knows what we have seen and what we haven’t seen, what we’ve mixed up or ignored.  He knows… and we don’t.  There’s always one side to every story and it belongs to God.  That’s why he calls us to reconciliation.  He’s telling us that we need to join him in getting back together with people, so we both admit to the story he’s revealing to us.