Minced meat matters…

They say that one should avoid watching the making of a sausage.  Because the likelihood of eating one after watching the process may be affected.  First of all, sausage meat is rarely culled from the best cuts and is usually comprised of a variety of cuts, and/or different types of meats.

The end process has a way of completely obscuring the origins of the meat and in a sense transforms it into something other than what any single component would have revealed it capable of becoming. It’s the grinding process and then the  mixed seasoning which makes sausage meat what it is.

Life sometimes feel a little akin to sausage making.  There are days which are so grueling, that feeling like one has been processed through a meat grinder might be a kind descriptive.  There are many examples in the Bible which depict challenging periods in poignant ways.  A story which frankly I have always found difficult to read is the book of Job which chronicles the misfortunes of a man that are so painful that his wife urges him to curse God and die.

Job’s journey, a mixture of good & bad, light and awful darkeness are detailed through the loss of property, family, health, influence, community, stature amidst serious questions about the nature of God.  Thrown into the mix are friends who are well meaning but lack true understanding, thus inadvertently inflaming the rawness of an open wound.

It’s difficult to really understand or imagine what must have been going on in Job’s mind.  But, even problems on a much lower scale can drain the reservoirs of strength and vitality.  Sausage making in real life or spiritually is not pretty or easy.  I don’t know how the Creator and Sustainer of Life, our Father God is able to make something out of life’s messy bits & pieces.  And, during the dark night of the soul it’s not certain that anything of value can be created.  There is usually not a neat and orderly timeline, but somehow He who IS…does.

Ephesians 3:20-21  Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.

 

The Cure for Donkey Kong Foolishness…

29671794_sI am thankful for the growing realisation that much of what causes angst and grief in our lives is not personal.  It may feel personal because we experience it within our personal space. Yet if we are able to step back out of the heat within the moment, we may find that the perceived assault, attack or insult may indeed have little to do with us. Or we may discover that we have set out on a very foolish or unwise path which guarantees chaotic grief to anyone who insists on continuing in that particular direction.

Becoming thankful as a verb means choosing to actively engage tense and difficult moments as an opportunity to gain wisdom.  I’ve found that some of life’s most teachable moments are draped within the unconventional garb of emotionally charged exchanges.  When examined in clearer context, these situation often have a larger context which may not be initially visible.  And then… Sometimes life just is simply what it is.

When the fault is mine, becoming thankful for the course correction makes regaining equilibrium easier and minimizes the loss of vested emotional, spiritual and mental energy.  On this note, I am reminded of the experience of one hapless prophet and his improbable tutor – one very stubborn talking donkey as the story  is told in the book of Numbers 22:1-39.

Balam’s reckless journey to curse the Israelites as commissioned by Balak is interrupted by an angel threatening to end his life. Unfortunately, Balam is blind to the danger right in front of him.  Fortunately his donkey is not!  After beating the hapless beast repeatedly, the donkey finds a voice and has a conversation with Balam about his angry response.

It is only then that Balam’s yes are opened to his foolishness. He also sees the angel with a sword who is about to chop him into minced meat to punish him for messing with the wrong people!  The stunned prophet ends up having a conversation with both a donkey and an angel about the dubious course he seems hell-bent on taking. Suddenly the resistance of that donkey became something to be very grateful for!

Sometimes, it takes the bizarre elements of life to awaken us to the fact that we have much to become thankful for.  Becoming thankful as a way of responding to obstacles may actually awaken the power of grace and God’s protection in the midst of seemingly insurmountable difficulty.

On the Strength of Vulnerability

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It’s an odd thing isn’t it -the idea of becoming strong by being willing to be weak?  Laying down the defenses and weapons which we wield with a temerity that can border on madness in order that the strength of God may be made manifest within our weakness. The reality that God’s strength perfects itself within weakness remains a mystery which defies rational explanation. One discovers that within the humility of vulnerability lies a core strength that is supple, bendable, flexible and able to withstand enormous strain.

Beauty in Barrenness…

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This is one of my favorite snapshots of the Holland State Park along the shoreline of Lake Michigan.  It was taken just before winter settled in for good several years ago.  The haunting whimsical beauty of the trees as they await the snow cover arrests me.  This beauty is barren, vulnerable, stripped, unadorned and yet magnificent in its’ stark simplicity.

A Pardox: Seeing Eyes Blind, Blind Eyes See

6974974_sWhen you flip open your eyelids in the morning and take stock of your environment, you have actually completed an exceptional feat; one which most of us take for granted. The body is a marvelous instrument.  The process by which light is projected into the eye and reflected back through a complex interaction between the brain, nerve impulses and the various chambers of the eye is truly amazing.

It is also unique to each individual.  While all of us may be looking at the same scene, we do not all see things in the same way.  The interpretation which occurs in each of us gives us a peculiar vantage point.  Our communication reflects this reality when we say things like, “I see that differently than you do.”

The ability to see is not limited to the physical realm.  We are in our essence spiritual beings.  We can also see with the eyes of our spirit, an ability which is sometimes referred to as our intuition.  We have all experienced to varying degrees an instinctive reaction to an individual when we first meet them that has nothing to do with our personal interactions.  Mothers know when something is wrong with a child even when the baby cannot speak.

This morning, my meditation was from one of the books which chronicled the exploits of various ancient Israeli kings and the prophets who operated during their reigns.  I was reading about a military assault against Israel by the army from Aram.  As the campaign gained traction, the King of Aram soon became uncomfortably aware that his plans and movements seemed to be closely monitored and communicated with the King of Israel.  Convinced that there was a traitor in his camp, he confronted his leaders.  They told him that Elisha, a prophet literally had ‘eyes on the inside’ and this was the reason why the King of Aram’s plans were continually revealed in advance to the King of Israel.

Elisha was not physically present, yet he could see realities that were unseen.  The King and his army thought they saw. They were convinced that Israel was in a pitiful state and would easily succumb to the vastness of their military might.  In a fascinating twist, the tables are turned in a most improbable way.  As the army of Aram begins to march towards Israel, Elisha’s servant cries out in dismay because his physical eyes see the destruction which is about to be visited on them.

But Elisha asks God to open his servants eyes.  Eyes that seemed to be open, but were actually blind.  When the servants eyes were opened, he was stunned to see that the army coming against Israel was nothing in comparison to the spiritual army that was guarding Israel.  The story ends with the army being struck with blindness and led by Elisha right into the presence of the King they thought they had come to capture!

The experience of both the army and the servant of Elisha are symbolic of situations which we experience.  We are prone to being blinded by arrogance and pride like the soldiers and by fear like Elisha’s servant.  Both types of blindness are rooted in ignorance of who God is and how he operates.  The Bible tells us that the ‘Fear of God is the beginning of wisdom’.  When blind eyes are opened, we become aware of how truly helpless our situation is without God and how powerful God is within our midst.  He is truly able to do exceedingly abundantly beyond what we could even think of, see or imagine.

Right seeing operates through different filters.  These are the filters of wisdom, love, compassion and grace.  Right seeing enables us to have the courage and boldness to fulfill God’s purpose for our lives with confidence that He is able to see us through.

In the final scene from the story as the King of Israel finds himself faced with an entire army that has effectively surrendered to him, Elisha helps him to see that the right response is not vengeance, but to bless those who are enemies of Israel with kindness and a meal, sending them home unharmed.

During a time in which our nation is inflamed by the hurt of racism and perceived injustice, and many are viewing  through lenses clouded by hurt and hate, let us pray that we be given the grace to see aright. That we have the courage and boldness to  enact that which brings wholeness and healing rather than division and strife.

To Read the entire story of the Elisha and the army from Aram, click here. (2 Kings 6: 8-22)

 

When Success Doesn’t Feel Successful…

3432922896_921099fe65_bThere’s something about a New Year that engages many of us in a fresh pursuit of success.  That’s what New Year’s resolutions are all about are about aren’t they?  We set goals to make more money, lose weight, exercise more etc, etc.  We’re excited about the prospect of starting anew and possibly gaining success in reaching our goals.

But, the problem with New Year’s resolutions is that it’s hard to keep going on the basis of the initial excitement.  In fact, many gym memberships never get used beyond that first 30 days.  Why is this the case?  Well, I think it’s because we misunderstand something which is critically important about the nature of success.  The truth is this:  Sometimes, success doesn’t actually feel very successful.

When it comes to feeling successful, our expectations are often high.  Part of the motivation to achieving any goal is the process of dreaming about the results we anticipate.  But the journey of success is often pitted against a reality which may not be even closely aligned with what we thought we were striving for.

One of the most interesting success journeys in the Bible for me is the story about the rise of King David.  Starting off as a Shepard, he finds himself plucked out the ‘line up’ and chosen by the prophet Samuel to be the next King of Israel.  Heady stuff!  But…not so fast.  First, he faces the jealously of his siblings and less than enthusiastic support of his stunning defeat of Goliath.

As a result of his the success of his military prowess, David is selected to be one of Saul’s commanders.  But once again, the enigma of success comes into play as David finds himself in the perilous position of being viewed as a threat by King Saul.  A position that carried with it the threat of personal extermination.  For years, David becomes somewhat of a vagabond, gathering a band of rebels who join forces with him as he finds himself labelled as a fugitive; one wanted by the Commander-in-Chief.  Not exactly what most of us would consider the optimal path for succession planning.

At issue is our perception of what we think the journey of success should look and feel like.  We tend to romanticize success.  As a result when the feelings or experience do not match up to the reality, it’s easy to feel defeated and deflated.  The truth is that success which rests its laurels on feelings is treading on shaky territory.  Feelings can be great indicators, but they are very poor reflectors of the measure of success.

The truth is that building new muscle will require some pain as we exercise a body which is not used to certain types of stress.  Loosing weight will require deprivation of food and also some exercise.  Double whammy.  And when you get to that ultimate weight, you are likely to find that not much may have changed.  You may still have the same mental, spiritual and emotional issues that were present before, even within a newly sculpted body.

Limiting our perception of the journey towards success or expectations of what  success feels like may make us actually miss the lessons and the blessings that success intends to teach us.  What if success at the highest level is about refining our character, strengthening our resolve and helping us to become more forgiving and compassionate towards ourselves and others?  What if success is intended to help us understand who we really are as we face giant obstacles which we must overcome?  What if success isn’t really about a feeling at all, but rather about experiencing the grace and goodness of God in a new way?

For additional information about the ups and downs of the life of one of Israel’s most succesful Kings, click this link.