Monday, October 26, 2009

Rhythms of Life

Every year as the days shorten and the weather cools, I find that I tend to sleep longer and more soundly than I do during the warmer months that coincide with longer days.  I used to think there was something wrong with me when this happened--that I suffered from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), and that this was a problem that needed to be fixed.

Sometimes, however, with age comes wisdom.  Last week, I was teaching a Bible lesson to our middle school youth and was seeking to help them enter the world around the time of Jesus.  We gathered around a makeshift campfire (actually, two candles since it was pouring down rain outside), sat in the darkened room, ate middle eastern flatbread and olives, and talked about what it would mean to have only one set of clothes, and to sleep on the ground with just a cloak to cover them.  I also reminded them that they would go to sleep when it got dark and get up when the sun got up.  With no artificial light, their wake/sleep patterns would be in sync with the light/dark/day/night patterns of nature.

Most people today in the modern, electrified world live almost completely out of harmony with those patterns.  The scourge of Daylight Savings Time means that hardly anyone gets to awaken with the dawn, but must get up in deep darkness in order to be on time for work or school.  The process of gradual awakening with the coming of day has been almost completely eliminated.  With 24 hour TV programming, combined with the ever available Internet and with many businesses open 24 hours a day, events and tasks normally done during daytime hours can now be performed any time of day.  Plus, employees must now work those overnight hours, their bodies endlessly out of harmony with nature's pattern.

Scholarly research now coming out indicates a link between the disruption of those normal wake/sleep patterns (called the circadian rhythm) and ill health.  In addition, many researchers are seeing a connection between inadequate sleep and weight gain.  It seems contradictory, for one would think that less sleep would mean more calories burned.  Yet the correlation is strong:  more and better quality sleep does apparently lead to weight loss.

This came to a head with me recently as I realized that my growing fatigue was making me vulnerable to infectious agents that my normally healthy body should have been able to fight off.  In the midst of battling what I assume was the flu, I was reminded that God spoke from the beginning to the human need for rest and refreshment. 

One of the most ignored of the Ten Commandments is the one that calls for honoring the Sabbath.  I would suggest that hardly anyone today ever considers taking a day of real rest.  Ideally, such a day starts with joyous worship, so that we acknowledge from the beginning that God is our provider. We may find our rest more fully when we intentionally enter into the heart of God.  Worship is then followed by meals freely shared with others, games and laughter, naps and conversations, left-overs and serenity, all followed by restful long hours of simple sleep.  Almost all normal tasks are set aside--it will all be there the next day anyway. 

What would it be like for us to set aside the clock and have no demanding "I've got to be there by then" schedules for the day?  What would happen if businesses were to actually shut down on Sundays, such as Hobby Lobby and Chick-fil-A do now? What would happen if the organizers of youth sports teams would say to the children and families: "If we can't get it all in on the other six days, we are demanding too much.  It's time to start honoring you as families and the Sabbath rest again."  What would happen if all of us started recognizing that we are made in the image of God and that living out of that image means we honor our physical bodies with rhythmic and regular rest, worship and play needed for our well-being?

What would happen?  We might just take a big step to solving the national health crisis.  Not a bad idea at all.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Fear, the Worst of Them All

"If I had known this was a even a remote risk that we could be walking down that midway and the dart would end up in my daughter's eye, my eye, I would never go there," she said.

This was a quote in a Dallas Morning News article made by a woman who was attending the Texas State Fair and who was injured when a stray dart from a Midway arcade game hit her eye. It's a nasty injury, and her full recovery is uncertain. But it's the response that gives me pause. If she had known there was even a remote risk . . .then she would not have gone there. Even the tiniest risk would have meant no possibility of enjoying the pleasure of a day at the Texas State Fair. That fear response that shuts us down.

Fear: Of all the emotions we humans are capable of feeling, I believe fear holds the prize for the worst of them all. We can grieve with anguish and weep with loneliness and sadness and shake with anger and somehow work our way through all of this. But when fear taunts us and paralyzes us, keeping us from action and risk and the possibility of love and light, then we come closer than any other time to experiencing hell on earth.

Hell, very simply, is the absence of God. The forces of the God-empty place suck all of life into a black hole. Where God is absent, there cannot be love. Fear chases away the possibility of love because it tells us, "circle the wagons, keep yourself safe, and don't think about anyone else but you and that which is your own." Love by its very nature brings risk, for love opens us up to being touched by a much wider world and getting hurt as we venture out. If God is perfect love, and perfect love does indeed cast out all fear, then the victory of fear is the loss of the power of love.

What are some of your fears right now? I bet I can guess a few of them, because the majority of fears have one cause: the fear that there will not be enough. Not enough money, not enough love, not enough health, not enough energy, not enough comfort, not enough courage, not enough time, not enough success, not enough power, not enough strength. Frankly, things do look pretty grim when we look at the world around us--and it is easy to leap to fear in response.

I also know how easy it is to give into my fears and to let them shut me down. When fear rules my heart, I become the active invitation into hell as I ask others to share my fears with me and come into my God-empty places.

How do we get free from fear? How do we leave that God-empty hell behind and find again the God-filled place? If getting to fullness depends upon external circumstances of things going our way, we have few, if any, hopes at all. Only a tiny number of people can so manage their lives that they can eliminate anything that makes their lives uncomfortable or fearful. The proper term for such people: "tyrants." They are most unpleasant to be around since they reach that point by killing everyone around them, either literally or metaphorically.

If then, fear can only be relieved by destroying others, then fear ultimately wins anyway, because someone will always come along who can then destroy us.

Surely there is a better way that does not depend upon the external circumstances of our lives, for they will always challenge us. Instead, I look for a way that is based upon the internal presence of real love, with a light so powerful that all darkness, and the fear that goes with darkness, is banished and we are set free. Jesus kept telling his followers that such a place was all about them, already here, not waiting for some point in the future, but they had to have eyes that could see it and ears that could hear it.

I think we find that place through the act of relinquishment, of releasing the benefits of being fearful. I speak of benefits because being afraid does have some. It gives excuses for not going forward, for staying stuck, for refusing growth and maturity, for demanding safety above all things. for addictions that numb the awfulness of our fears. By laying those things down, ungrasping our hands, leaving behind gilded cages of safety or festering chains of harmfully addictive behaviors, by looking death in the face and saying, "You have no power over me because I know there is a resurrection around the corner," we take the steps to fullness again.

We are made to be free people. When we are not, when we let fear win and we enter the dungeon of God-emptiness, we lose what it really means to be human.

I know this, and I still struggle with it. It's just easier to be afraid. But thanks be to God, we can get free if we want to.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Windshield Wipers and the Kingdom of Heaven

Last week, while running errands one day during the rain, I noticed that my windshield wipers were badly worn and needed replacing. I knew I needed to get them replaced before I left this past Monday for a seminar in Little Rock, Arkansas. But, as often happens, life intervenes, and I just forgot about this necessary task until late Sunday afternoon. Then I panicked--weather reports indicated I had a long drive in the rain in front of me and it was very likely that those worn wipers presented a real hazard.

I headed out to a local auto parts store, praying that I could get what I needed and that I could figure out how to change them out (I really am mechanically impaired--this is not a joke). Now, auto parts stores are really foreign territory to me--I just don't know the language or the layout. With great trepidation, I opened the door and hoped for the best.

Within seconds, a nice young man offered to help. He quickly checked to see what kind I needed, and then asked to look at the car itself just to make sure that the current wipers weren't some sort of propriety device that a standard replacement wouldn't fit. He then explained the various options and made suggestions as to price and quality. When I mentioned I was concerned about actually replacing them, he said, "I'll be happy to do this for you."

A few minutes later, I had paid for the wipers and we headed outside. This kind young man explained the process of replacing them, showing me what he did and how he did it. I took a bill out of my purse to offer him a tip and he said, "you don't have to do that." Of course I didn't, but I had just experienced a moment of real grace and wanted to return that grace to him. I told him how much I appreciated it, and that it was my privilege to offer him a small recompense. He then agreed to take it and laughingly said that I had bought his dinner that evening.

The next morning, I headed out to Arkansas, driving in a light mist almost all the way. As the wipers kept my windshield clear, I kept thinking about how simple this kingdom of heaven stuff is sometimes: be kind, gain expertise in your workplace and offer that expertise freely to others, and be graceful in giving and receiving.

Life is not always that simple, of course. Most of us face big challenges, sometimes on a daily basis. But practicing these kingdom principles of kindness and expertise and grace in giving and receiving will affect everyone around you. Small ripples can become big waves, a breath of wind can gather speed and blow fresh air into stale crevices, enough tiny streams coming together can turn into a mighty river that changes the countours of the earth. Just a place to start learning a new habit. . . and we all need a starting point.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Who Do You Want to Influence Your Chi...

Quickly: you've got a choice. Who would you like to have the most influence on your children? 

First option: Whoopi Goldberg and Roman Polanski and the famous people in the film industry who think this pedophile did no wrong.

Second option: quiet, hardworking people of your local church who donate their time to nurture and care for them, teaching them about the Bible and about their specialness before a holy God.

You've got five seconds. What will it be?

Still undecided? Let me refresh your memory: in 1976, Roman Polanski, famed and admired film director, drugged and sexually violated a 13 year old girl and then fled the country when it appeared he might have to do significant jail time (note: this is not an “alleged” crime—he admitted what he did.). Now that the US has finally caught up with him, the film industry is shocked, simply shocked, that such a major talent should have to be brought to justice. Here is Whoopi Goldberg's take on what he did:

“I know it wasn’t rape-rape… All I’m trying to get you to understand, is when we’re talking about what someone did, and what they were charged with, we have to say what it actually was not what we think it was…

We’re a different kind of society. We see things differently. The world sees 13-year olds and 14-year olds in the rest of Europe… not everybody agrees with the way we see things…”

Would I want my 14-year-old having sex with somebody? Not necessarily.”

So, have you had enough time? Again, here is the question: Who do you want having the major influence on the children growing up in the world today? The Polanski/Goldberg/Film Industry crowd who work diligently to see to it that innocence is lost while your young teens are encouraged to become sexualized as soon as possible and who find it acceptable to violate young girls? Or the unnoticed but faithful people who will actually give themselves away to offer to your children the possibility of seeing that the kingdom of heaven really is all about us.

I'm just disgusted. It's time to wake up, folks. Stop feeding to your children the lie masquerading as TV and film entertainment that glamorizes promiscuity. At least show to them that there are other ways to live and to appreciate the bodies we have that give life to the Spirit of God living in us. For six months, give equal time to media and to moral/spiritual instruction of your children and see which is more valuable. So one hour of prime time TV equal one hour in church or Sunday School. Even it out—and watch the difference. It really is time to stop this madness. This has gone too far.