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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Seeing Clearly

What do you see when you look out of the window you look out of most?

That question, long a favorite journal topic when I teach a writing class, has become a brand new question for me. Last week, the glass in the window I look out of most was replaced. The seal between the double panes of glass had been compromised, so that over a period of years, the glass had become increasingly cloudy. Now, however, with new glass in place, whatever I see, I see clearly.

Yesterday, that was mostly birds—cardinals, Carolina chickadees, goldfinches. Never have their colors and shapes looked so lovely, at least not out this window, not for a long time. Overnight we had a storm, and this morning, even the raindrops clinging to the panes looked clearer than ever before.

So I have been thinking how good it is to see clearly—which in turn has gotten me thinking not only about physical windows but also about metaphysical ones, the “inner” windows through which I view the rest of the world. How easily they too become clouded. All it takes is a little pride, a little prejudice, a little pain, a little impatience seeping in around the edges….

And I begin jumping to conclusions. I become self-righteous, self-indulgent, defensive, or self-important. I fail to see that it is my window that has gotten cloudy or to realize that I am the one not seeing a person or situation quite as clearly as I might.

Sometimes checking things out with a friend helps restore perspective. Sometimes remembering a Bible story or re-reading a favorite poem brings some little clarity. When those things happen, it is almost like installing new glass.

How about you? What do you see when you look out of the window you look out of most? And what do you do when you want to see more clearly?

Angier Brock

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Promises, Promises

I’m not so hot on keeping my promises to myself.  There are many I could tell about but there’s one that is right at the front of my mind because of a recent visit to a remarkable village in the eastern part of Germany.

My first visit to Lohmen was in 1992 when members of my church were invited to partner with members of this former communist community to do a project to create a space for youth to meet. 

Here’s what I saw then and what I said to myself: EVERY time the German villagers met each other – for a day trip to Prague – for the day’s work assignments – for a fellowship meal in the church yard – these people greet each other with a handshake. Every one greets every one. It caught my eye; I liked it.  I thought ‘that is an authentic way to honor other people’s personhood. I know how it feels to be left out. I know how it feels to be included. What I simple and profound way to act out my belief that each person is wonderfully created by God.’  My 1992 promise to myself was, I’m going to take the time and effort to greet others in occasions that are like the ones I witnessed in Lohmen.

June 1-5 was Kirchentag in Germany. It’s a national church festival for the Evangelicals (Lutherans) and this year it was in Dresden. Since Lohmen is only 30 minutes by train from Dresden, our church was invited by our German friends to attend.  Laurel and I went and I have tons of stories about the festival but right now I need to revisit my broken promise to myself.

I did the handshake thing for a while but I stopped and it slipped into the shadows. The Germans are still at it – hearty handshakes all round! I was SO called to do that. I did for a while, and now I am re-called.

I hope sometime we come across each other for some reason. See if I keep my promise and honor the Christ in you by genuinely shaking your hand.

Tom Pappas 

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Blessings of Envy

Are you envious of anyone?  Is there something to learn from the envy?

 I once shared the leadership of a retreat with a person I didn’t know very well.  Both of us had been brought in as outsiders to speak at this event.  On that day I felt both appreciative and grateful for this guy’s  abilities.  He was good!

In the afternoon it was my turn.  I rambled and people yawned.  Even as I talked, I heard the voice in my head saying “You are losing them Doug.”  I talked louder and faster as if that might wake them up. Later I braced myself for the evaluations, and they confirmed my fear. People were kind in a tepid sort of way.   It was the rave reviews for the morning guy that really got my jealousy going.

Envy is a funny thing. I generally don’t waste a lot of time feeling envious of people who are very different from me.  I’m not jealous of Bill Gates, Meryl Streep, or superstar athletes.  But sometimes when I encounter someone similar to me-- someone who does what I do only better—I feel jealous.

My friend Nina Frost has helped me to see that even envy can be helpful in discerning a call.  She says that the point isn’t to imitate another’s life, or feel badly about measuring up to another.  Rather “our spiritual task is to identify the qualities we need to claim in our own lives and think of how to incorporate them in ways that are unique to us.  The person admired is the starting point—an energy locator.  Our sacred task is to  translate and appropriate these beckoning qualities.”

Just thinking about working with envy as a spiritual task is helpful.  As is the idea that envy is just the starting point, perhaps a signpost to some quality in myself I want to develop.  Envy can get us in trouble for sure. But there is also good stuff to be found in our jealousy.

How about you--is there an invitation in your envy?

Doug Wysockey-Johnson