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The swiveling sit-upon

To be honest, people are a little miffed with me. They want me to join their group and contribute to their effort. To lay my logs upon the fire they are building and stand by to watch it grow. What a glorious sight. What a powerful flame. What a warm feeling, to gather around that fire. Especially as the cold approaches. There is nothing like the warm feeling of welcome.

But I resist. Not because I am not a group person. I am. I love being in the circle where ideas are batted around and initiatives are given life. I love the interaction and the energy and the fellowship. I love, love, love being in the circle. It’s just that I cannot do it on their terms.

You see, they want me to focus on the flame at the center, but I am meant to fan the flame outward. In fact, when I sit in a circle, I’m always turning to see what’s going on outside of it. This is probably distracting for its members, and for this, I apologize. True, I am not giving it my full attention – which is disrespectful – and even more so when I toss in bits to contribute to the conversation anyway. It’s not that I am ADD, exactly. It’s that, when I’m seated, I’m always on a swivel.

It makes me think of the bucket brigade of old time firemen, passing hand to hand the bucket of water destined for the fire. Or the townspeople, heaving sand bags person to person to shore up the dam. I am one of those kind of people. Meant for the middle of the line. I am not meant to circle around, but to pass along. In both directions.

I look, listen and learn but also turn, talk and teach. I intercept those walking by just to have a conversation. A sort of mobile sounding. To reach out and exchange. Honestly, I don’t do this by my own initiative. It just seems to be part of me. This sort of internal swivel. A pivot point very central to my being, that resists being locked in one position.

I hope the folks around the fire will forgive me, and keep inviting me to come and be part, because that is central. Perhaps we could lock hands in criss-cross, like the Brownie girl scouts did back in the day and perhaps still do on closing their gatherings. Reach across with the right to the person on the left and reach across with the left to the person on the right and then twist arms up over head and around. The tangle comes unfurled as all turn to look outward, even as hands stay clasped in a complete and unbroken circle.

Heaven knows we need a place to gather in our tangles. A safe place. A warm place. A welcoming place. But when we have the strength of being held by each hand we can safely turn to the world and say welcome. We can release our hold, just for a moment, to engage them and place them among us. This is how the circle grows. As long as each new member puts their log on the fire, the flame will be just the right size to warm us all. We need not fear growing too far from it.

We hold fast, on the right and on the left. To one hand and the other, knotted and not, compressed and expanded, inward and outward, as a dance. As a breath. And fan the flame of life.

Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other’s gold.

Reaching Beyond

“God’s love reaches beyond my mistakes, my fears and my sin”

I like that image, created by Elizabeth Veldboom, author of the Upper Room meditation for today. A love that reaches beyond boundaries, even those that are indeterminate, whose margins are poorly defined, perhaps invisible to the naked eye. But all things are possible for God.

I find myself here, I suspect, because a friend has died. She had a rare form of cancer, as I understand it, that didn’t respond to any treatment. Imagine what that must be like. To be diagnosed with an invader you can’t see and can’t touch and can’t defend yourself against.

God reaches beyond this with great sweeping arms that enclose more than your fears and more than your illness. I pray that Callista felt this, at least in her last days. This enfolding by God. This holding to Himself.

I wish the treatments had been able to reach beyond this cancer. I wish there had been defined boundaries so the surgeons could have said, “We got it all; you’re clear.” But this was not the news Callista got.

And now we will gather to remember her. There will be holding and hugging and tearful goodbyes. All this will reach beyond us. Because that is what love does.

It makes the perishable, imperishable. It mends the torn, binds up the wounds heals the brokenness. Refreshes, relieves, rejuvenates. This, I imagine, was the morning after Christ returned to His heavenly throne. When the incarnation was reversed, for good.

And for the good of us all.

Where life gets real, there is always hope

We lost a young man in our church last Tuesday afternoon. He died as the result of a tragic accident. Suddenly. On the day he graduated from 8th grade. He was a good kid but not perfect – an adventurous boy, a reliable friend, a brother you could count on, a loving son. He regularly humbled his father at 1 on 1 basketball and whispered “I love you” in his mother’s ear. So said the preacher who solemnly remembered him to a packed sanctuary yesterday.

Bennett Rill was 14 years old.

He had just been confirmed in the church. That means that he had completed a 4 month study program, been mentored by an adult in our church and been interviewed by one of our pastors about his readiness to answer the question, “Do you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?”

He answered yes. That ‘yes’ didn’t prevent the accident which ended his life. That’s a tough one. Lots of questions hover – the why’s, the what if’s, the where were you’s. I suspended those questions as I sat in the sanctuary and listened to the story of Bennett. The kid who lived life all out. The kid who wasn’t afraid to love and to say so. The kid who competed for the complete joy it gave him, not to impress but to give his best when his best was needed.

Real DealThey called him the “real deal.” That is, not just the kid who says the right words but the one who does the right thing. That lives his life and his faith just the same. The one you have no doubt about – he’s telling the truth. You can see it. Not just in church. Not just in school. Not just at home. But on the field of play. And for a 14 year old boy, that’s where life gets real.

A cousin (and pastor) said of him, “He was stoked for joy.” I love that. Stoked. Prepared. Ready to go. Looking for the action. His coach said, “Bennett was ready in season and out. There was no off season.” He was ready. We weren’t ready for this.

Still, as Christians we are meant to be ready. Ready to give the reason for the hope that we have. And so I sit with this tragedy and the reading that comes close to hand. Madeleine L’Engle has written,

“mediate is part of the word immediate, the place of now, where past and future come together.”

The Great Mediator reaches back into our now. Back from the future that he has already defined but where He has promised not to intervene and, I expect through great tears, He sews and mends and heals. Time and space are not linear to Him. They don’t happen in our order. This is what makes the impossible, possible. In that mediate space, chronos (our time) and Kairos (God’s time) converge.

I conclude this because I have seen it before. Some years ago when my brother died suddenly and without warning I asked in my grief, “Where were you, Lord? If you had been there my brother wouldn’t have died.” And He showed me my journal of a few days before where I had written those very words from John 11:21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” I had concluded that we were foolish to suppose He wasn’t there for Martha or for us. Three days before I knew I would need these words, God had provided them.

But now Bennett…and I walk into my neighborhood Starbucks, searching for words to share with this family. Suddenly, coincidentally, God-incidentally, I see three young men standing near a beautiful arrangement of pink flowers. “They are for our friends, the Rills,” they tell me.

I ask about their friend Bennett and they tell me the story of the roof and the friend who fell and the voltage. “We were with him,” they say. “See, look at the marks on my hands.” Sure enough, there are burn marks across the fingers of one of the boys. The Truth is standing before me.

But they echo in my mind in a different voice. They are the words Jesus spoke to his doubting disciple Thomas.

“Put your finger here; see my hands… Stop doubting and believe.” ~ John 20:27

And there Hope was, standing before me, in a rising 9th grader, speaking words thousands of years old that he may never have heard or read.

Even in tragic death there is hope. The decision is less to cling to life than to cling to the Lord of life, who has conquered death and written a much greater story. CS Lewis writes it so beautifully at the end of The Chronicles of Narnia:

“But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.” ― C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle

What a glorious image. May it settle upon this family and this community and lead us forward.

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