You are My Memory Keeper: A Prayer

memorial-candleO Lord, you say that you keep memory of all my tossing and wanderings; that you collect my tears as if in a bottle so that none are lost to your remembrance. (Ps. 56:8)

I feel sometimes like I have that bottle in my nervous anxious hands and drop the bottle shattering my tears and the memories of me into the floor, dripping into wood crevices and lost forever. And yet that isn’t true is it? I don’t hold the memory of me in my hands do I? You are the one who holds the bottle. You keep the memory of me in your hands. I forget that a lot. It seems like I’m always trying to maintain the memory of me in this world. I’m sorry. I guess, I doubt that you’d really want to hold on to my life like that. I keep expecting you to get fed up and throw the bottle into the wall or something. But you aren’t like that.

I think I’m also prone to remember my worst moments but forget that you did not abandon me but stood strong and advocated for me. Or sometimes, I actually do recall my best moments but then I act like they came about because of me, myself and I, as if I don’t need you or anybody. I’m all over the map Lord! I can’t seem to walk a straight line! Continue reading “You are My Memory Keeper: A Prayer”

Spiritual Remembering, Part 1

Remembering Post it NotesWe need reminders. Our to-do-lists and calendars give us proof enough. We search for car keys. We use someone else’s phone to call ours. Then we listen through the house hoping it will reveal its location. I guess, too, that we’ve learned our forgetfulness the hard way. Lovers too easily forget why they fell in love, successful adults forget where they came from and entire generations can grow up with no memory of the wisdom an older one painfully fought to hold on to.

No wonder we can draw a blank when it comes to God.

“Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually!” the Psalmist said.
“How do we get started?” we ask.
“Remember,” he answers. “Remember the wondrous works God has done,” (Ps. 105:4-5)

Jesus taught Peter about remembering. We too can learn. We can help others too. Let’s take a look.  Continue reading “Spiritual Remembering, Part 1”

Tasting the Pleasures of God’s Presence

Screenshot 2016-05-24 09.40.53It is not easy to suggest to someone in our congregation that we learn how to practice God’s presence together. After all, for many, the idea of spending a moment-by-moment life with God doesn’t sound exciting. What if God is annoying or socially awkward; boring, or out of touch? Worse, what if God is like an Uncle who gets scary mean when he’s drunk?  Why would I consider spending every waking moment with him?  Continue reading “Tasting the Pleasures of God’s Presence”

Recognizing God’s Nearness

Screenshot 2016-05-16 09.21.45

The largest human questions are sometimes asked in the most ordinary and smallest of places.

“Where is God?” As a little boy, my youngest son Caleb asked this sacred question before bed.
“He is everywhere” I say.
“Is he in my room?”
“Yes, I say, He is here.”
“Is he on my pillow?”
“No” I say, fumbling for words. “Your pillow is like a small flower in his large hands. But he delights in your pillow.
“Is he on my head?” he says giggling.
“No, I say and laugh. I touch his head and rearrange his hair for no reason but love and trying to find words.”He is way too strong to sit on your head without hurting you. But, he created your head with love and care.”

As I turn out the lights and walk across the hall to my room, I’m aware that I’m sharing with my son, a belief that many of his friends and neighbors will not. Like the headline above, some will rightly respond to the arrogance of God talkers by urging greater humility. Yet, what if one can remain opposed to arrogance and still believe that God can be known; Not exhaustively of course but truly? Continue reading “Recognizing God’s Nearness”

Taking Each Day as it Comes

614_agitatedWe feel like we will miss out, or that we are not enough. This is why we cram days into each other. We blur them and force them to get along. But we are restless. Agitated. Irritated. Discontent. When is anything ever enough? Continue reading “Taking Each Day as it Comes”

Why We Need Silences, Not Just Sentences

Tunnel Light - 3D Render. Cool Blue Light. The Road to the Light ( Near Death Experience? )

Lingering among silences makes us feel like toddlers entering the nursery on Sunday mornings. When our parent drops us off, we feel abandoned. We either tantrum about, or we cling to anything or anyone that promises to hold us.

Continue reading “Why We Need Silences, Not Just Sentences”

Racial Learning: A Pastor Humbled in Community

I hurt my friend. I did not mean to. I would not have known it either without his help.

He is black. I am white. We are men. Both of us are husbands and fathers. His brown eyes and my blue eyes both require the aid that glasses provide.

Our community, mine and his, possesses a rich history of African American life here on this side of the tracks where Kirkham avenue companions alongside of Shady Creek for a while. Crossing back and forth across these railroad tracks has required multiple efforts over the years. Memories of pains and hopes and even blessings are the results of such attempts at this kind of travel.

Crossing the Tracks Together

Over the last two years this man and I have become friends along with others. School administrators, police force representatives, local university persons, civic and business participants and a few clergy have met together and facilitated forums designed to aid us in our attempts to talk, heal and change amid what unites us and separates us racially.

On this occasion, a team of people asked us as leaders what five words we would use if we wanted to describe what we are about and to get the word out to the broader community. My friend offered three words.

I entered the exercise earnestly and suggested that those words might not make sense to the community and I would lean toward other descriptors. Other folks joined in and led us quickly off of my friend’s three words onto other “more understandable words.” I thought nothing of it.

After the meeting I asked my friend how his week was going. His thoughts though remained fixed upon this day in which we presently stood and still on the exercise with words we had just completed. He was hurting. This was new for us.

Light Pouring In

As we talked I realized that not only is my friend black and that I am white. I learned also that he has been at this a long while and that I am new to the table. Apparently groups like this one have come and gone over the long years. White folks who start but fade. What for me is my first real attempt at racial neighbor love in a community like this is for him his fourth or fifth or sixth try. “You can’t see” he said to me. “I want to,” I answered. “Please help me to see. What has hurt you today?”

He then gently risked with me. He asked me a simple question. “Remember when you said to the group that people will not understand the words I offered?” “Yes,” I answered. “What people did you mean?” he asked. “What people will not understand my words?”

He paused and looked earnestly and sensitively into my eyes. All of a sudden, there in the long pause, I felt like a flare went off in my soul and lit up the night sky of my thoughts. His question searchlighted my hidden assumptions and brought them into plain view.

Conviction tenderly earthquaked my inner being. I saw in the pause of his presence that I had people like me in mind when I said that “the community” will not understand–white people like me. Because obviously, the words offered by my friend who has lived and served for this community long before I ever arrived here, come out of the history, experience and local knowledge of this community. I realized that I had done at least four blind things.

Confessions

1. I did not listen or inquire to find out the meaning of these words to my friend or to his part of this community.

2. I quickly implied to him that he will have to surrender the language he offered to the language that my part of this community will provide for him. (as i look back I realize that almost everyone else who agreed with me and dismissed the language my friend offered was also white–they too offered “better” words)

3. At the end of the day who knows what words we would have landed on. The words weren’t the point. Ironic isn’t it? We were developing words to aid us in our attempts to create racial understanding in our community by doing the very thing that hinders it in the first place.

4. I realized in my friend’s eyes that his hurt did not rise because the others that he didn’t know so quickly dismissed his point of view. It is that I had. We were friends. Friendship means that I am no longer, just a white man sitting with a black man. He thought I’d know as a friend; that I’d try to listen further to why he might use the words he had chosen. After all, we’ve been doing life together and that’s what friends do–they listen to each other.

And when friends fail to listen to each other and they hurt one another, they ask each other’s forgiveness. They wait amid long pauses with each other, for each other. They learn together and they go get a sandwich at Wendy’s. Trust deepens.

I’m looking forward to lunch today.

I get to eat french fries and learn from a friend.

When There’s No Room for Error: A Drive Through Story

I rested my hope on the drive through dinner.

Trying to Fit it all in

It was Wednesday night. The perfect storm of activity formed and swirled through our evening schedule. Youth groups pulled up into our driveway to the barn on our rented property. Friends in ministry training were set to arrive an hour from now for our living room. All the while five Eswines presently diverged and scattered into the differing directions of after school activity and community volunteering. “Somehow we have to fit in food” I remembered. The solution emerged! “On my way to here while taking children and teens there,” I thought, “while my wife does this in the midst of our other young adult doing that, and before our guests arrive, we can eat on the way!”  We drove on time and just in time for the drive through to produce a meal that we could handle within our twenty minute car ride in order to arrive at the meetings we were to attend.

There was no room for error.

The Hardest Four Words

I pull up with haste, impatient to place my order and abrupt in tone. “Welcome to Drive through food” the chipper voice sings. “Please wait just a moment.”

(When was it that those four words, “wait just a moment” became so hard to handle?)

Then it happened. I noticed the menu screen. It normally reflects what a consumer orders. (Those two words in connection, impress their meaning upon me as I write, “consumer,” “orders.” Consumers are those who make a life out of declaring orders to their neighbors. Have I embrace such a life?).

Back to the screen. A green background hosted a series of words like “test” and “pass.”  Passing tests! Ha! How ironic! The pace quickens in my being as the slow-down I am about to endure dawns on me. It is 5:30pm. In the midst of the dinner hour and within this long line of consumers impatient to thump their car horns, the drive-through-solution for my over-activity, is rebooting its computers. There is no time to leave if we want food. No other drive-through enablers will line the street between where we are and where we have to get to.

Being Given What I don’t Want

Ten minutes later we drive and eat.
I ordered a small coke. I received a medium Doctor Pepper.
I ordered a grilled chicken sandwich. I received a spicy fried chicken sandwich with sauce.
I ordered a side salad. I received fries.

We arrived at our destinations, late and grumpy! (Grumpy Eswines? Never! Right?)

A Life that Can’t Wait

I want to blame the drive-through. But I am the one who scheduled my Wednesday in such a way that the follies of haste, food as a last consideration, impatience and error-free living were required to make the evening work. If I relied on patience, on waiting, on organizing an evening around fundamental necessities and on giving room for mistakes to happen, would I miss out?

I want to never go that drive-through again. But over the last four years of visiting that local drive through maybe thirty times, this is the first and only time that I’ve been asked to wait. Does being a consumer teach me that others have to prove themselves to me every time, that I look at others through their worst rather than their best moments, that one mistake means that a relationship ends?

I hated my dinner. When did it happen that I learned to complain when I have food to eat?

I wanted to get mad at the people behind the screen. Do I treat others like this? Demanding performance without seeing an ordinary human life like me trying to do his or her  job in the midst of frustrating computer crashes (and who knows what other frustrations might exist in the stories behind their eyes as I order them what to do and what to provide for me).

Grace for the Unwaiting Life

Today is Thursday. I’m sorry and humbled. I give thanks for food to eat. I give thanks people who work. I give thanks for the freedom not to order others to change so that I can maintain my impatient pace. I give thanks for a grace way of life that intrudes into my own and beckons me to a healing reorientation on how to do a day as a family. I give thanks for forgiveness. I give thanks that I am not viewed through the lenses of my worst moments, not in Jesus anyway. I give thanks that in Jesus my neighbors too can receive this same marvelous dignity. I give thanks for that patience is a fruit of God’s Spirit, a quality of love. I give thanks that impatient consumers can find grace in the patient and waiting One. I give thanks that in Christ, performance based human beings get to be reviewed on the basis of Jesus’ performance not theirs, and that our dignity and humanity has more to measure it than our performances. I give thanks for Jesus’ error free life. I give thanks that he doesn’t put us into an error free requirement with no way out. The life, the cross, the empty tomb of the waiting One saves us, even those of us with our drive-through ways of doing life.