Gifts not wages...

Earlier today I stumbled across the words: God dispenses gifts, not wages. This is how I choose to see the world so they have been food for thought as this day unfolded...

... it began by finding out that a precious colleague and friend had spent the night in the hospital with his fiancee. Due to a mistake with medication it was essential that immediate medical attention be shared - and then carefully monitored. My heart seized up in fear and sadness with love for them both but I gave thanks to God that they have one another. And competent and creative medical support. And a community and families that cherish them both. Such things are terrifying and never the "will of the Lord." But God's presence is active even in our terror as love rises to the occasion and prayers are lifted up and dedicated servant work to reclaim life.

Then we went to a funeral. It was mostly emotionally flat with a few flashes of compassion but way too much sloppy agape piety. Death DOES hurt, God damn it. It changes everything. It is NOT moving through some invisible spiritual door so that we can wait in bliss until all our loved ones are restored to our embrace. It is not some game of holy Candy Land where God comforts us while the living continue with life without anguish or fear. Rather, death is terrifying and often cruel, it is painful and too often tragic and hurts like hell. AND... and it is also saturated with God's compassion at the same time. It is never either/or but mostly both/and. And too much American religion has been fed a diet of saccharine platitudes that divide our complex creation into phony categories of good and bad, right and wrong, light and darkness. As we stood in the back of an overflowing crowd of friends and family I kept praying: Please, Lord, make him stop. Please make him stop saying things that not only aren't true, but are cruel. Please erase our collective memory of things like 'now is the time God needed this one to go home" blah, blah, blah."

Then I had lunch with two men who want to study more deeply "a spirituality of imperfection." We shall see (btw that's the title of a great book by Ernest Kurtz that may become our guide.) After some follow-up phone calls to make sure we've dotted all the i's and crossed all the t's in the sabbatical acceptance paper work, there was a conversation with a local artists I've asked to serve on my sabbatical implementation team. 

Then it was off to the hospital to see a member brought in to the ER over the weekend. As I was leaving a young man who was very disoriented - and somewhat trashed - noticed my hospital ID and said, "Dude, semper fi. I need to get to the ER where my parents just dropped me off. I went to the car to get my ID and now I'm lost. Can you help me?" I led him around the hospital complex and learned that he was having a panic attack.  He had been drinking too much after completing basic training at Paris Island and was trying to get admitted to an alcohol detox unit. When I finally got him to the right place, he hugged me - this young, trashed, brave and bewildered Marine hugged me - an old, too heavy peace-loving ex-hippie pastor and said, "Semper fi, dude. Keep the faith." I came home and took a nap because there is still church council yet on today's agenda.

I do believe that God gives us gifts, not wages. I also know there is a terrible
amount of undeserved suffering in each day and God has called us to both share it and lessen it however we can. This, too, is a gift. When my heart breaks in fear or sorrow, when I pause to lift loved ones and strangers in prayer, when I take the time to listen and respond, my heart is strengthened and God gives me a gift. The suffering is not of the Lord, it is an invitation to share the gift of love and hope and compassion and even justice. So in that I give thanks today for the times that frightened me and pushed me beyond my comfort zone. I give thanks, too for each person who invited me to go deeper. Some days I get it - and others I blow it - and usually it is a combination of both. Good thing we're studying grace tonight at council...

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