Dreams like fog drift out from the depths of night.
Troubled thoughts steal all the warmth from our bed.
Hazy glimpses of events filled with fright:
I dream of habits I would bury dead.
Cold winds blow down the dreamy lane
Where dreaming guilt weighs down my soul.
Eyes open to a world more sane
As thoughts bend to the night's dark hole.
A staccato heartbeat
Slowly calms itself down.
I live where fingers meet
As soul seeks Heaven's Crown.
I would forget
Dark dreams untrue:
Part ways and yet,
Guilt clings like dew.
Below the sun
I kneel and pray.
I seek the Son
By light of day.
Sunlight burns away fog
Revealing ways to see
Not all is miring bog.
There is much good in me.
Drifts lift to reveal a good heart
That seeks to be a good parent.
Terror unveiled to have a start
In desire to straighten parts bent.
I cannot change past nor keep dreams away
But sunlight reveals that the day has come.
Fog burns away over a cold clear way
Where any future has yet to become.
I was not hungry as I began my devotions this morning. A parishioner had a bumper crop of hot peppers which she recently shared with me. I was not hungry for food at all as my stomach was filled with an omelette that was stuffed with spicy goodness.
I was not thirsty as I began my devotions this morning. I had an ethically-sourced cup of coffee which sated my thirst quite nicely. The cup of coffee was a good cup of coffee with strong flavor.
I was neither hungry nor thirsty as I began my devotions this morning, but that state of being changed as I spent time in reflection. I came across a quote from Henri Nouwen as I was working through my favorite devotional book “A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants.” This quote from Henri Nouwen is sourced by the Guide as coming from “Reaching Out”:
“The Gospel doesn’t just contain ideas worth remembering. It is a message responding to our individual human condition. The Church is not an institution forcing us to follow its rules. It is a community of people inviting us to still our hunger and thirst at its tables.”
As I came out of the reverie, contemplation, and depths of my devotions, I found myself wanting to share this quote with others. There were deeper matters in my devotion this morning, but this was a word I felt needed to be shared for a simple reason. I am not certain the world sees the church in this light.
I grew up in a northern home in a house that was very Protestant. My mother had been Roman Catholic but had become United Methodist when she married my father. We went to a United Methodist Church every Sunday and were taught things like “God loves all people.” There were moments when my family struggled with racism, but I do not believe that is a unique situation. On the whole, we were taught that the church was open to people of all races and ethnicities. My general thought process was that if God welcomed people of every variety into the family, shouldn’t we? Even in the extremely European communities where my family lived, seeing someone of another race was not the kind of thing that made one exclude and hate, so much as just being the kind of thing that made you say “Oh, hey. That’s different. Whatever.” I was not the most enlightened of kids, but at least I was not malicious. I was more ignorant than anything else.
When the time came to be educated about the past of our nation I remember reading stories of the activities of the KKK with horror. I was not just horrified about the way that people treated the “other” in these stories. I was offended by someone burning a cross as a symbol of hatred. I was furious that they would try and use a symbol of love and inclusion to threaten people! The behavior I was learning about was simply unacceptable.
I saw the church as a place where God’s love leveled the playing field of life. I saw the church as the place where we could look beyond our differences and find community. I saw the church as a place where even ignorant kids like me could find a home as we grew. I was absolutely horrified by what I learned. I began to ask questions of youth leaders and my good friend Jim Patterson who was an elder in an urban Presbyterian Church invited me to think deeply about what united us with different people.
In college I studied with Dr. Middleton who brought a global perspective to my theology, although it was still very much a western perspective. When I went to seminary I studied African religious history and African American religious theology. I was enthralled because the words I was reading were far different than those in my own heart. I literally read “Stony the Road We Trod” to my daughter as an infant on the day she was born because I did not want to fall behind and because she liked the sound of my voice as she napped against my chest. I read, I pondered, I made friends, and I tried to know more and more about how the Bible looked to people who were not like me.
For me, the church had become a place where I could safely challenge my own assumptions, grow deeper in my faith, and help the world to become a better place. When I hungered for knowledge, there was almost always a wise colleague or friend who could help me go deeper. When I thirsted for righteousness, there was almost always some place I could go to work towards a better world. When I had a need to belong, to grow, to work, to live, and to be a part of something greater than myself, the church was there to push me forward.
I do not think the world sees the church in the same way, especially when sometimes the first exposure people have to Christianity is images of burning crosses, abortion protestors with horrifying pictures, or bullhorn wielding “prophets” telling everyone they are going to burn in hell. Not everyone is lucky enough to have been nudged into the path of knowledge, faith, and blessing which I was blessed enough to find in my own life.
I am hungry and thirsty. The coffee still takes care of my natural thirst and that omelette is doing remarkably well at holding off my hunger, but I am hungry and thirsty for other things. The world does not see what a blessing the church can be in the midst of life. I want people to see a world where the church can be a place more concerned with community than regulations. I want people to see a world where the church is more concerned with bringing good food to the table than in meeting the budget so we can have fancier napkins. I want people to know that the church exists to be a blessing. All of our lives are made better each time someone joins in at the table. I wish people understood the power of the church fully active and empowered. Indeed, Irenaeus, the glory of God is humanity fully alive in Christ.
Once again, I have been drawn into deep thought by my children’s favorite podcast. My kids adore the NPR Podcast Wow in the World with Guy Raz and Mindy Thomas. Last week my kids asked to listen to the podcast while we were running an errand to the grocery store in Johnson City. The podcast was entitled “A Case FOR the Giggles” and revolved around a study out of Georgia State University. The study was on the health benefits of laughter.
The podcast was very amusing. The podcast was full of laughter which spread throughout our van as we drove through the hills outside Binghamton. The podcast also caught my attention when it began to speak about the idea of contagious laughter. Laughter, much like yawning, is contagious. Simply being around another person who is laughing can cause a person to smile if not laugh,
As I contemplated contagious behavior, I began to think about other behaviors which are contagious. The creators of the podcast suggested a social experiment where we look at how other behaviors might be contagious. The study suggestion was to see if people would engage in mimicking your behavior. I thought back through past situations in my life and here is what I came up with:
- Stress is contagious. If you enter a room and you are filled with stress that stress is extremely contagious.
- Body language is contagious. If you are in a deep conversation and lean towards someone, they will lean in like you. If you cross your arms and sit back, they may do the same thing.
- Panic is contagious. If one person begins to panic in a crowded place, things can go downhill quickly.
- Anger is contagious. I do not go out on Black Friday as a result of this contagion.
- Greed is contagious. If there are a limited amount of resources and you hoard as much as you can, others will likely follow suit.
I noticed that a lot of the examples I could come up with for contagious behavior revolved around pretty negative things. Yawning, body language, and laughing may be neutral activities, but anger, panic, greed, and stress can be pretty negative. I was contemplating this idea when I thought back to my time at the Academy this last session.
I remembered that when people smiled, grinned, and even made space for each other, the space was transformed, even in the midst of absolute silence. There were a number of periods of silence each day and what I discovered was that silence was not the end of communication. The sense of peace, welcome, and grace filled the room.
So, is peace contagious? Yesterday in my private devotions I was reading through Luke 10:1-12. In that chapter Jesus says the following to the seventy disciples that he is sending ahead of him: (Luke 10:4-7, NRSV)
“Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals, and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say ‘Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there that shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move from house to house.”
What if what Jesus is telling the seventy disciples is to be contagious with their peace? He tells the seventy disciples to share their peace widely as they go. Each home they enter should be offered peace. As they preach in these towns, Jesus tells them to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal those who are ill, but only if they are welcome. If they are not welcomed, they are invited to knock the contagious dust off their feet and move on.
What if the invitation to the seventy disciples applies to us? What if we are to offer our peace to people when we enter into their lives? What if we are to begin our relationships with others through the gift of peace? We live in a world that suggests fear and carefulness is the correct response to strange folks. What if the very first thing we are called to do is to offer peace? What if we have been going about things all wrong?
Can you imagine a world where the peace of God spreads like a contagion? Can you imagine a world where it inoculates us from things like fear, hatred, and angst? Can you imagine a place where grace and kindness spread like the joy of laughter? While I do not like being contagious when it comes to a cold or sickness, there is something powerful about the idea of being contagious with God’s grace.
What if all of the fruits of the Spirit were such contagious things? Perhaps the very contagious nature of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control that is why they are described as fruit filled with seeds. I hope they are contagious, because I know the people I know and the whole world could use more of these gifts. May they spread like wildfire among the saints and those people that they love.