Monthly Archives: February 2011

Lifting the Cup: To Life

by Jadell M. Forman

On Mondays, we’re looking at a cup of wine as a metaphor for life, based on author Henri Nouwen’s look at Jesus’ question, Can you drink the cup I am about to drink?


Last week, I posted a link to a Wall Street Journal story featuring the Amish approach to, and recent divergence from, community.  I like this story because, between the lines, the writer shows the blessedness of interdependence and the affliction of extreme independence.  In his book, Can You Drink the Cup?, deceased author and priest Henri Nouwen puts it this way:

  • The enormous individualism of our society, in which so much emphasis is on “doing it yourself,” prevents us from living our lives for each other.  But each time we dare to step beyond our fear, to be vulnerable and lift our cup, our own and other people’s lives will blossom in unexpected ways (p 75).

In chapter 6, “To Life,” Nouwen tells the story of Bill who came to Daybreak (a community for people with physical and mental disabilities) without a past, because he had chosen to forget his first 16 years that had been full of abuse and devoid of consistent love and safety.  After 25 years at Daybreak, Bill had a different story.  A three-ring binder (each resident had one) full of photographs, stories, drawings, newspaper clippings recounted Bill’s activities, hobbies, friendships, and accomplishments, along with his losses, suffering, and pain.  Bill and his friends and Daybreak staff had compiled his Life Story Book.

Nouwen recounts the celebration in which the group presented to Bill his book:

  • Then we blessed the book and Bill, who held it.  I prayed that this book might help Bill let many people know what a beautiful man he is and what a good life he was living.  I also prayed that Bill would remember all the moments of his life–his joys as well as his sorrows–with a grateful heart (p 73).

Bill wept on Nouwen’s shoulder while the others in the circle looked on “with deep understanding of what was happening.  Bill’s life had had been lifted up for all to see, and he had been able to say it was a life to be grateful for.”

In Jesus Christ, we see a life lifted up–first, suffering on the cross; then, redeemed through the resurrection.  When compiled into a story, the pain and the glory, the suffering and the joy, reveal God’s redemption and salvation.

Christian community helps us see redemption in Christ and in each other.  The people at Daybreak and the people in an Amish community, when they celebrate the births and deaths, joys and sorrows, they show us how to celebrate each other’s story that is full of life and part of Christ’s story of redemption.

The Bible says there was nothing on the outside that drew people to Jesus.  The Bible tells us that, as a boy, King David looked like someone to overlook.  We can’t judge a story by it’s cover anymore than we can judge a person by his or her public persona.  A cursory glance at the outside never reveals the inside.
Often the outside of our life is not the interesting part.  The inside story is the interesting part, the part where God’s grace turns our story into something better and other than any human effort can compile.

The motto at the Neighborhood Church is Live a Better Story.  By that we don’t mean, “Let’s muster up the determination, will-power, and heroism required to make our dreams come true and/or fix what’s wrong in our lives and our world.”  Rather, we mean, “Let’s let God redeem our life and the lives of those around us by allowing him to transform our lives into something better and other than we could ever do on our own.”

I’m grateful to have compiled something akin to Bill’s Life Story Book, and to have helped several people from our church do the same over a weekend retreat.  Eugene and I turned his doctoral dissertation on story into a presentation, “Living Your Story: Discovering God’s Purpose in Your Story.”  In the development process, I discovered God’s purpose in my story.  And it changed my life.

My story is about my voice: having my voice silenced (by others and by self), having God always speak for me, and now letting God use my voice, and helping others do the same.  As I looked at my story, looked into the cup God gave me, I saw God’s presence throughout the joyful and sorrowful parts of using my voice.  Now, through God’s redemption, part of my story is helping others tell their story, use their voice, and lift up their life as a gift for others.

I pray you would receive God’s redemption into your story, allowing him to transform it into a cup of life lifted among a life-sharing community.

“To Life.”

Jadell M. Forman writes for The Neighborhood Café on Mondays.

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The Key To Helping Men Grow Up

Not so long ago, the average American man in his 20s had achieved most of the milestones of adulthood: a high-school diploma, financial independence, marriage and children. Today, most men in their 20s hang out in a novel sort of limbo, a hybrid state of semi-hormonal adolescence and responsible self-reliance.

These words come from Kay Hymowitz, who wrote an interesting article last weekend for the Wall Street Journal entitled, “Where Have The Good Men Gone?” The article is loosely based on her recent book, “Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys.”

In her article (and book), Hymotwitz laments the plight of the American male: they hold fewer college degrees, lower GPAs, and waste away their lives playing video games and watching porn. Obviously, this isn’t true of all young American males, but she points to a number of startling statistics that illustrate her point. Men fitting her description are passive, directionless, soft, and immature.

After reading the article, I posted it on my FaceBook page, which generated an interesting discussion.

A psychologist reacted to the book’s subtitle “How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys”: “Turned men into boys? No. Revealed that our macho model for making ‘men’ out of boys permanently stunts them. A man raised to mistrust his tenderness is crippled, not contemptible.”

Jumping to the other side of the argument, another person responded by saying, “A man raised to mistrust his manliness is crippled…”

Then, taking the middle road, another person commented, “Hmmm, Genesis 3—blame the woman! I agree, an unhealthy view of manhood confuses and distorts male identity and then they either go to macho-ness or little boyhood—two sides of the same coin. Healthy men can interact with women as companions and equals. The ‘rise of woman’ has only exposed the problem, not caused it.”

Hymowitz seems to yearn for earlier days of traditional gender roles when men were men and women were women.

So what’s the solution?

While reading the article, Genesis 1:27 rang in my head: “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (NIV).

Think about it: A man and woman were required in order to fully express the image of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Man was not enough, and neither was woman.

Taking our cues from the relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we know that each person in the Godhead plays a specific role. The Father sent the Son into the world (John 3:16). The Spirit gives power to every believer (Acts 1:8). You get the idea.

The assumption that men and women are interchangeable or that either gender is unnecessary seems to contradict Trinitarian theology and our basic identity.

Men need women and women need men. Men need women to be women, and women need men to be men.

So what constitutes a man and a woman? Extracting cultural differences, this isn’t an easy question to answer.

When examining issues like this, I usually begin with the account of creation in Genesis 1-3. Ironically enough, the clearest delineation of roles appears after the first couple ate the forbidden fruit. Adam is told he would experience a life of painful toil, working by the sweat of his brow while the woman would suffer the pain of child-bearing (Genesis 3:15-19). Seeing that Jesus came to reverse the affects of the curse, this doesn’t seem to offer a viable solution.

But we know this: men are different than women. If God had desired to create an androgynous being, he would have done so—but he didn’t. It wasn’t good that man was alone. The template that God used to create people in his image tells us that men are masculine and women are feminine. A stick in the hands of a little boy invariably becomes a gun and in the hands of a little girl becomes a doll.

Which brings us back to those men Hymowitz refers to, who refuse to grow up. Many of our younger men are stuck in the developmental stage of a 7 or 8 year old. They experienced childhood, but perhaps were never given the opportunity to grow into their masculine selves. From my vantage point, political correctness squelches a man’s masculinity.

So what’s the solution? Women, affirm the masculinity of a man. Men, explore what your masculinity looks like.

I’d love to read your thoughts and insights!

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Playing Hide ‘n’ Seek with God

By Eugene C. Scott

Do you ever feel as if God is playing some cosmic game of hide ‘n’ seek with you?

I do!

There are times when I ache for God’s touch, God’s presence, God’s answers to my questions and hurts. I pray; I read; I worship; I ask; I wait. Then there are other times when I’m slogging through my daily routine and God jumps out from behind a can of beans in the grocery store.

I don’t get it!

One of my favorite games when my children were runts, was hide ‘n’ seek. I was usually it. Except I didn’t actually hide. I didn’t need to. Instead I sat on the floor with my head sticking above the arm of the couch I was hiding behind or I climbed under the covers of their beds and left my big hairy feet poking out. My kids searched and searched and finally squealed with delight when they found me. And oh how I loved being found. Then we rolled and laughed and tickled and gave kisses.

They shouted, “Again, Daddy, again!”

Sometimes, however, no matter how obvious I made myself, they failed to find me. Perhaps nap-time pulled covers over their eyes, or a pending trip to the zoo competed for their imaginations, or cookies called out from the jar, or a past correction from me caused fear. So, there I would sit with my head and toes, and now my bottom lip, protruding. “Come on, kids find me,” I’d call. No answer.

Is that how it is with God? Is God hiding in plain sight but something in us obscures our vision? Past experiences, searching for significance outside of God, busyness, self-doubt, the lights and sounds of daily life all cloud our vision.

It seems so. “If you seek God, he will be found” 1 Chronicles 28:9 tells us. God informs Isaiah, “[I can even be] found by those who do not seek me.”

Yet according to God’s perspective, “there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.” (Romans 3:11) Why do we have so much trouble connecting with God?

Honestly I cannot say why one person sees God’s brush strokes in a sunset while another sees only polluted air particles refracting light. Maybe in this game of hide ‘n’ seek with God—though it is far too momentous to be left a game—we misunderstand that God is not hiding but us. God so desired to be found he encased himself in flesh.

“Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father,” Jesus said. Jesus Christ was “God with us.” What was the difference between Thomas who saw Jesus and cried, “My Lord and my God,” and others who saw Jesus perform miracles and called him “Beelzebub,” the devil? I believe the difference was that Thomas bared his soul while the others remained hidden in religiosity and self-importance.

Sometimes I am so self-deluded. I practice my religious disciplines while using them to hide from God. I pray not wanting answers; study not looking for direction; seek so as not to be found. Deep down I know an open nakedness to God is what is called for. Yet I’m afraid. “Where are you?” God asked Adam way back in the beginning. As if God did not know Adam was hiding naked behind a bush. God knows we are fearful and distracted and unsure and not perfect—that we are naked. Yet God loves us and seeks us and even allows us to continue to hide. I keep telling myself it’s safe to come completely out from behind the bush. I don’t know why I hesitate. I can hear God calling, “Ollie, ollie, oxen free!”

Eugene C. Scott writes the Wednesday Neighborhood Cafe blog.  If you’re reading this on Facebook and you’d like to join the conversation, click here. www.bibleconversation.com. Eugene co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, CO

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The Cup of Blessings (in Community)

by Jadell M. Forman

On Mondays at The Neighborhood Café, we’ve been considering Jesus’ question, “Can you drink the cup?” using a glass of wine as a metaphor for life, and taking our cues from chapters in Can You Drink the Cup? by Henri Nouwen.


I have for years enjoyed the front-page, below-the-fold personal interest stories of the Wall Street Journal.  One in particular is apropos in our discussion of community.

During the USA’s financially prosperous years, some Amish people became so well off that they incrementally pulled away from their Amish community where collaboration and interdependence are tenets and a way of life.  Then when the national economy’s house of cards recently crumbled, their independence fell along with it.  They re-discovered the blessedness of community.

In Can You Drink the Cup?, priest and author Henri Nouwen says that we drink from God’s cup of blessing when we share our lives in community.  “When we lift the cup of our life and share with one another our sufferings and joys in mutual vulnerability, the new covenant can become visible among us” (p 69).

What are your thoughts about this Nouwen quote and the WSJ story in regards to the blessing of Christian community?

Jadell M. Forman writes for The Neighborhood Café on Mondays.

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What Bessie The Mule Can Teach Us About Relationships

Farmer Joe decided his injuries from the accident were serious enough to take the trucking company that was responsible for the accident to court.

Sitting on the witness stand, the company’s lawyer began interrogating Farmer Joe. “Didn’t you say, at the scene of the accident, ‘I’m fine?'” asked the lawyer.

“Well I’ll tell you what happened,” Farmer Joe responded. “I had just loaded my favorite mule Bessie into the…”

“I didn’t ask for any details,” the lawyer interrupted. “Just answer the question. Did you not say, at the scene of the accident, you were fine?”

“Well I had just loaded Bessie into the trailer and I was driving down the road…”

The lawyer interrupted him again. “Judge, I am trying to establish the fact that at the scene of the accident, this man told the highway trooper that he was fine. If the man was fine after the accident but now he’s suing my client, then the man is obviously a fraud. Please ask him to answer the question.”

At this point, the judge’s curiosity was piqued. With a grin on his face, he looked at the lawyer and said, “I’d like to hear what he has to say about his favorite mule Bessie.”

Joe thanked the judge and proceeded.

“Well as I was saying, I had just loaded Bessie, my favorite mule, into the trailer and was driving her down the highway when this huge semi-trailer ran the stop sign and smacked my truck right in the side. I was thrown into one ditch and Bessie was thrown into the other.

“I was hurtin’ real bad and didn’t want to move. However, I could hear ole Bessie moaning and groaning. I knew she was in terrible shape. Shortly after the accident, the trooper came on the scene. He could hear Bessie moaning and groaning so he walked over to her. After he looked at her he took out his gun and shot her between the eyes.

“Then the Patrolman came across the road with his gun in his hand and looked at me. He said, ‘Your mule was in such bad shape I had to shoot her. How are you feeling?'”

***

Over time, I’ve come to loathe the word “fine,” partly, because it flows out of my mouth so easily. What does “fine” mean anyway? Good? Healthy?

In reality, when someone is asked “how are you?” for most people “fine” is a loose translation for “shut up and don’t ask.” We don’t want to bore people with how we’re really feeling, nor do we want to run the risk of being vulnerable or engaging in conversation.

But what would happen if for one week, everyone deleted the word “fine” from their vocabulary and actually answered how they’re really feeling?

“I’m discouraged.”

“I’m really hurting right now.”

“My daughter has me worried.”

“My boss just gave me a raise!”

Even “shut up and don’t ask.”

Obviously, the stranger on the street may not be interested in listening as you air your dirty laundry, but real conversations would take place. And we’d begin moving beyond formalities.

Lately I’ve been trying to avoid the word “fine” when people ask me how I am. At first they’re taken back by my honesty, but then they begin sharing how they’re really feeling. Then—believe it or not—an actual conversation begins taking place.

Authentic community, which leads to life transformation, begins when people move beyond formalities and begin sharing who they really are.

Try it and see!

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
1 John 1:5–7

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How to Be a Revolution: Read Your Bible

By Eugene C. Scott
Revolution! Facebook–and Twitter even–is being given partial credit for the overthrow of dictator Hasni Mubarak in Egypt. Protesters logged on to Facebook to share information and to gain an unfettered audience for their cause. Words–freely and virally disseminated–drove the Egyptian revolution. Thus informed and motivated, thousands of brave men and women stepped out of the virtual world and into the real one to face bullets, rocks, sticks, imprisonment and possibly death in order to gain freedom. We salute them and pray freedom takes root and grows as wild as weeds.

But just as Al Gore did not invent the Internet, so the Internet did not invent freedom of thought and expression. As seismic as its impact has been, the world wide web is simply the latest version–Freedom.4.0 so to speak–in a long line of word weapons we have wielded in the fight for freedom.

 

Original case for the 1611 Bible

Ironically 2011 is the 400th anniversary of one of human history’s greatest triumphs of the written word in our continuing battle for freedom. Similar to how we witnessed the successful end of the Egyptian protests (we hope and pray), people in the year 1611 saw the end of a violent 200 year revolution. With words, and fierce faith and determination, the protestors finally triumphed.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Before that–some two thousand years ago–Jesus, not the written word but the living Word, started a revolution in another time of severe economic, political, and religious oppression delivering us freedom never before imagined. This freedom promised not the mere overthrow of a despot dictator or corrupt system but rather the release of our bodies, minds and spirits from the tyranny of sin and corruption. We no longer had to cower to our own fears, cruelties, hates, frailties, and failures. Nor those of others.  Jesus proclaimed the truth would set us free.

What truth? That his life, death, and resurrection freed us from guilt, fear and separation from our Creator. Lean not on a ruler, president, government, religious system, or philosophy for what you need. These are blank-eyed idols. Dead. Jesus said. Then Jesus even conquered that ultimate tyrant: death.

In words inspired by God himself, Jesus’ followers wrote down the story and truth of Jesus’ revolution. Slowly–but just as virally as if the very air carried the story–the Word spread. First slaves, women and children learned they were valued and free in Christ. Boldly they struck out to live new lives. Then others bravely joined in. Often facing ridicule, torture, and death for their beliefs. Eventually even kings, dictators, and governments bent their knees to Christ the different kind of king. The good news of freedom in Christ conquered much of the world. Even the Roman Empire was reborn, this time with a soul.

Then slow tragedy struck. The Word, the story loved and lived by so many, was captured by the elite. Written in Latin, a language common folk no longer spoke, this great story of freedom disappeared from the streets and alleys and kitchens and living rooms and squares and markets of life. With the written Word locked in monasteries, cellars, libraries, studies, and castles, freedom vanished. The truth of Jesus‘ kind of freedom became a mere shadow of itself, like a wonderful childhood story heard before the fire but now only vaguely remembered and smiled at. Worse yet, the elite added untrue elements to the story. With their elite and twisted knowledge and power, these corrupt ones sucked freedom, faith, belief, truth, and life from their people like early versions of J.K. Rowling’s dementors.

But God kept for himself a remnant, a faithful few who read God’s amazing story in Latin and Greek and Hebrew and saw the truth shining from its pages like a search light in a dark sky. Then for two hundred years this remnant, men–and probably women too but unfortunately history did not record them–with names like Wycliffe, Huss, Gutenberg, Erasmus, Tyndale, Luther, Knox, Calvin, and Cranmer began to love and live Jesus’ original story again. Not only that, they began to retell it–translate and publish it–in the language of the people: common German, French, and finally English. Many died for this. Burned at the stake, tortured, shunned, hated. But they kept protesting, fighting.

Then in 1611 God drew all the work and struggle into one beautiful Book. That was the year King James authorized the publishing of Jesus’ revolutionary story in common, though beautiful and poetic, English. Finally, those translating and publishing this scared story would not be held in contempt or killed for making it available to the common people. Freedom was reborn.

Today we–and even the Muslim Egyptian protestors–are children of those brave revolutionaries. The historical strings that tie us to these ancient protestors (today called Protestants) have been lost, cut, and often purposefully obscured. But their God given love for Jesus and his truth about freedom drove them to fight against religious and political oppression. We bask in their work. Much of our belief in freedom of speech and our obsession with free thinking, learning, and expressing our beliefs and ideas is rooted in the story of Jesus–who spoke out against religious oppression long ago–and in the story of those who followed him and believed that every person should have access to this book of truth.

Today we call that book the Bible. Four hundred years ago this year, the Authorized King James version of the Bible was first published. Since then, it is the “most published book in the world . . the only book with one billion copies in print.” The King James Bible, along with its predecessors and descendants is a book of revolution: personal, national and international.

There is probably a copy of it, looking deceptively quaint, hidden somewhere in your house. Happy four hundredth birthday King James! Break out the Book and celebrate.

Eugene C. Scott writes the Wednesday Neighborhood Cafe blog.  If you’re reading this on Facebook and you’d like to join the conversation, click here. www.bibleconversation.com. Eugene co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, CO

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Lifting the Cup of Life

by Jadell M. Forman

On Mondays at The Neighborhood Café, we’ve been considering Jesus’ question, “Can you drink the cup?” using a glass of wine as a metaphor for life.

When I waitressed at The Happy Chef in my hometown, one of our regular customers was a person, I’ll call Donald (because I don’t remember his real name), with intellectual challenges/disabilities.  He was about 5’8”, slender, and in his 30s or 40s.  If I remember correctly, he lived on his own and didn’t appear to have any disabilities.  Until he spoke.

Usually having a pleasant temperament, he liked to chat, and ordered the same thing, which made it easy to take his order despite his unclear speech.  Our manager Kim set a tone of respect, treating him well and teaching each of us how to listen to him, and giving us an example of how to comfortably interact with someone different from our other customers.  But not everyone treated him respectfully.

One day, on the streets of our small town, I found myself walking about 10 yards behind Donald.  I saw a group of boys younger than I was approach and harass him, calling him stupid and saying other things.  Donald didn’t seem to react or respond.

But I had had enough interaction with him in the restaurant to have seen a variety of his emotions–frustration, anger, sadness, happiness, confidence.  So, I empathized and imagined at this moment, he felt hurt.  Or maybe I was projecting onto him my own hurt of seeing such meanness in our community.

In Henri Nouwen’s book, Can You Drink the Cup? Nouwen shares his thoughts on community.  He likens the lifting of our cup, as we do after a toast among friends, to sharing our lives.  Or it can be like Donald lifting his coffee cup for a refill at our community restaurant.  But sharing our lives isn’t always easy.  Nouwen writes:

  • Nothing is sweet or easy about community.  Community is a fellowship of people who do not hide either joys and sorrows but make them visible to each other in a gesture of hope.  In community we say: “Life is full of gains and losses, joys and sorrows, ups and downs–but we do not have to live it alone.  We want to drink our cup together and thus celebrate the truth that the wounds of our individual lives, which seem intolerable when lived alone, become sources of healing when we live them as part of a fellowship of mutual care” (p 57).

To me, the scariest parts of living in community occurs when harassing bullies misinterpret my or another person’s mercy as stupidity or weakness.  Donald seemed to ignore or be oblivious to his harassers.  Mercy can look like that.

For whatever reason, the bullies walked away from Donald after fifteen seconds of not getting a response from him.  And, sadly for them, they walked away with less of life, not more.

My friend Cristi–the one who helped me discover my favorite wine glasses–is an occupational therapist who has helped me understand more than the value of stemware.  She has helped me understand that people who bully people with disabilities are ignorant of what people like Donald can teach us: for example, how to walk down the street without demeaning others.

Nouwen invites us to ask an “important question”: “Do we have a circle of trustworthy friends where we feel safe enough to be intimately known and called to an always greater maturity?”  That is an important question, I agree.  And I offer another: Do we let Christ embrace our friends and community bullies when they’re unfriendly, knowing that he ultimately holds us safe within his care?

It seems the call to greater maturity is most difficult to answer when someone has ripped our cup of life from our hands and dashed it onto the street.  When someone breaks our glass–our favorite one we were delighted to find and call our own–he breaks community-sacred relationship: first, with God; then, with us.

As retired pastor and author Eugene Peterson explains:

  • …[S]in is basically a depersonalized word or act.  It is not, in essence, breaking a rule, but breaking a relationship….Sin is a refused relationship with God that spills over into a wrong relationship with others (Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, p 316).

The bully’s wrong relationship with God has spilled over onto us, and we’re left with shards of glass.  And a choice.  Such a hard choice: to turn or not to turn the other cheek.

The world outside Christian community says, “Retaliate!  Rip his glass away and dash it onto the street.  Just like he did to you!  Let him know how it feels.”

Christ wants the bully and us to feel something else: the giving and receiving of mercy.  In contrast to vindictive, violent voices that place personal pride above communal connection, Christ says, something different and other.

Christ says, “Instead of breaking your brother, stand beside him, and help him lift his cup.”

Jadell M. Forman writes on Mondays for The Neighborhood Café.

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Better Than Cheetos, Chimichangas, and Chili Cheese Dogs

When you’re starving or stressed, what comfort food do you tend to reach for?

True confession: Back in the day, I suffered from an undying weakness for chili cheese dogs. Although I still like them, my resistance is much stronger now. But earlier in my life, if I was running errands around lunchtime, I usually found myself at the local 7-11 convenience store holding a hot dog (of questionable ingredients), squirting a mysterious chili sauce out of a dispenser before slathering it with an equally mysterious cheese-y, plastic-y substance. Needless to say, I could have just as easily rubbed it directly on my waistline, because that’s where it was going anyway.

Despite my wife’s protestations and threats, I continued to pony up to the trough at least once a week. Even the slightest hunger pang (real or imagined) or stressor was enough to justify my questionable eating habits.

My point is this: all of us ultimately fill ourselves with whatever we’re hungry for.

What are you hungry for? Think beyond comfort food like cheetos, chimichangas, and chili cheese dogs. Deep down, what is your deepest desire?

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matthew 6:5).

Reading my Bible earlier this week, I couldn’t move beyond these words from Jesus.

What am I hungry for? I asked myself.

Often we can only answer this question when we’re stressed out or no one is around. This question really drives us toward our inmost motivations.

Earlier this week when asking some friends what people hunger for, they quickly identified the more obvious answers:

  • Alcohol
  • Drugs
  • Addictions

Those are easy answers, but they still skirt the issue. What are we really hungry for?

  • Significance
  • Intimacy
  • Security

Understand that Jesus didn’t say, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for significance, for they will be filled.” He said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (italics added).

What kind of righteousness was Jesus talking about? Doing good things? Living a holy life? Engaging in social action? Receiving the righteous perfection of Jesus?

Later, in the same discourse, which we call the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus exhorted his listeners, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).

Let me add one more passage that might help us clarify things. God spoke through the prophet Jeremiah, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).

So what should we seek?

Years ago when I was in college, I had a roommate for a short time who had a pretty dramatic story. His freshman year, he attended a large public university. And, like many college students, he indulged in the excesses common to a college campus. But midway through his first year, he was stricken with a mysterious infection in his blood . Doctors could do nothing to stem the bug that was slowly killing him. “I knew I was dying,” he confessed to me.

Then one day, a nurse walked into his hospital room. He had never seen her before, but that significant tidbit meant nothing to him at the moment.

As the nurse cleaned his room, she began looking at different get well-cards that lined the window sill. One card contained a bumper sticker that said something about Jesus.

“You don’t want this bumper sticker, do you?” she asked mockingly.

Then my roommate uttered something totally unexpected.

“If it has anything to do with Jesus, I want it!”

Immediately, the nurse walked up to his bed and announced to him that he would get well and would one day become a pastor. When she finished, she walked out of his room—never to be seen again. In fact, the hospital couldn’t identify any employees matching the description.

My roommate quickly recovered and was released from the hospital within weeks. He experienced not only a dramatic physical healing, but a spiritual one as well.

But my roommate’s comment tells us what I think Jesus was saying. When we hunger and thirst for anything that has to do with Jesus, we will be filled: his ways, his character…him! “If it has anything to do with Jesus, I want it!”

All my life, I’ve felt this inward compulsion to make a difference for God. As far back as I can remember. I’ve hungered for it.

This week I realized that while trying to make a difference is a noble pursuit, it still falls short of the noblest pursuit, the pursuit that will ultimately fill me. The desire to make a difference ultimately places me at the center of my world.

This has begun a reordering of my private world.

Hunger and thirst are essential needs. Without having them filled, we die. Jesus is calling us to himself. He is the giver of life, the only one who can satisfy.

Everything else is just a chili cheese dog.

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Why Are So Many Fatherless?

By Eugene C. Scott

Sean Daley (Slug) of the hip-hop group Atmosphere wrote and preformed a song, “Yesterday,” that reflects the struggle many of us have after losing our fathers:

“I thought I saw you yesterday . . .

Was that you? Looked just like you

Strange things my imagination might do

Take a breath, reflect on what we been through

Or am I just goin’ crazy ’cause I miss you?”

I too have been looking–in one way or another–ever since my dad’s heart suddenly stopped beating. I remember the day of his funeral sitting on our living room couch, hoping it was only a nightmare, watching for him to reappear. My uncles kept trooping by and, not knowing what else to do, rubbed the top of my head saying, “You’re the man of the house now.” I think they too were still looking for him. In me.

I was eleven then, the oldest boy. I had two older sisters and a younger brother. I tried to become the man of the house but failed. I was not a man and would not be for a long time. As I wrote last week, fatherlessness was to become a long odyssey. Sean Daley’s song goes on:

“Chip on the shoulder, anger in my veins

Had so much hate, now it brings me shame . . .

I thought I saw you yesterday

But I knew it wasn’t you, ‘cause you passed away, dad”

No matter how we lost them, in many ways we’re a culture in search of fathers.

My uncles seemed like perfect candidates for me. But it wasn’t to be.

“I’ll just keep these until you boys are old enough to take care of them,” they each said loading their cars with my dad’s tools. My dad was an airplane mechanic and owned a tool set that would make Tim Taylor weak in the knees. I never saw the tools–and rarely saw the uncles–again. They were incredible tools. Humor aside, however, I have tried to care for some of the fatherless kids in my family. It’s much easier to take care of tools than someone else’s kids.

Since then I’ve noticed more and more men are having trouble even taking care of their own kids. Fatherlessness is epidemic. As I wrote last week, 24 million kids today are growing up in fatherless homes.

Why? What’s going on?

The reasons may be as many as those without fathers themselves. Fatherlessness is a complex social problem with no easy answers. But there is a common denominator: men. As a group we have fallen asleep at the switch. We have lost our courage and forgotten our purpose.

Yes, we are also the victims (I hate to use that word) of the unintended consequences of a changing culture.

For example, I saw in my own family the truth that welfare programs tend to devalue those depending on them. Because food was laid on the table by Big Brother, the men who begat my nieces and nephews and great-nieces and nephews believed they weren’t needed or wanted and simply walked, or ran away. Yes, these men were often young, uneducated, underemployed, and maybe even fatherless themselves.

But since when do men–or women for that matter–walk or run away from a challenge? When did we men, as a group, lose the courage it takes to look at our own flesh and blood and say, “I will give my all, my life, so that you can live.”

When did we, in such huge numbers, lay down the true courage it takes to father, protect and provide for our offspring and take up the fake bravado it takes to grab a game-stick or gun and mow down those we call enemies?

I remember well the terror and wonder that filled me as I held each of my three naked, vulnerable children. Their every breath depended, in part, on me. What if I turned out to be as much of a failure as a father as I was at being the man of the house? Then God seemed to speak to my heart, “You were made for this. Be strong and courageous. With my help you will do it.”

I have, though far from perfectly.

Another unintended consequence of a social change is that in order to gain God-given equal footing in a patriarchal world, women tore tooth and nail at the definition–not only of womanhood–but manhood too. They said real men aren’t angry, emotionless, distant, driven John Waynes. And they were right. The problem was, in our hurry to demolish straw-men we forgot to replace them with a working definition.

So, I found myself not only growing up without a living, breathing model of what a father was, I struggled to become a man when not many were able to say what purpose real men served. What was my purpose in the world? I wondered.

Again, the answer is forming out of my faith. I was not invented to live for myself, self-discovery, self-fulfillment. These things are crucial signs on the path of becoming who God created me to be. But the end of the journey is not becoming a better me but becoming more like Christ and, like him, to give myself away. First to my family. To show them how to work, live, fail, think, succeed, worship, sacrifice, hunt, fish, and–highest of all–to love God and others.

Men, there may be odds against us, but the root of the problem of fatherlessness is in us and the seed of the solution too.

God is telling us, “Be very strong and courageous.” Father your children; don’t settle for being merely a sperm-donor.

There is no greater gift and purpose in life than to have someone created in your image and then have that Creator say, “Here she is. Show her what it takes to be human. Show him how much I love him.” This takes much more strength and courage than simply being the man of the house.

Eugene C. Scott writes the Wednesday Neighborhood Cafe blog.  If you’re reading this on Facebook and you’d like to join the conversation, click here. www.bibleconversation.com. Eugene co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, CO

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Holding the Cup, Part 3: The Cup of Joy


by Jadell Forman

On Mondays at The Neighborhood Café, I’ve been leading our look at Jesus’ question, “Can you drink the cup?” using a glass of wine as a metaphor for life.  Last week, we considered the sorrow in our cup; this week, how our sorrow also contains joy.

On the first day of kindergarten, my classmates and I, awaiting our teacher, sat cross-legged and quiet on the carpeted square in the middle of Mrs. Nordby’s classroom.

I sat in the back row, trying to muffle my homesick sobs.  My best friend Tracy sat next to me with her best-friend arm around my shoulders.

The next-door teacher Mrs. Woodcock, dressed up–appropriately–as a woodcock, noticed the crying kindergartner, entered the room, and asked what was wrong.

While I continued crying, Tracy answered for me, “She misses her mom.”

Mrs. Woodcock tried to say something consoling, something about it being all right, and then took off, with her flowy, bobbing feathers.  Mrs. Nordby soon arrived, and proved to be an near-idyllic teacher.

Early in the school year, over a weekend, I broke my arm.  This somehow merited me the high honor of moving my desk face-to-face with Mrs. Nordby’s.  I got to bring a friend.  So, Tracy brought her desk next to mine.  The honors didn’t stop there.  Mrs. Nordby had, setting on her desk, an Avon canister shaped like a school house.  She showed us, and even dabbed some of the perfume onto Tracy’s and my wrists!  We girls gasped.  Our teacher smiled.  Thanks to Mrs. Nordby, the sorrow of having a broken arm was truly swallowed up in these simple joys.

Tracy moved out of town, then back, then out of state.  We stayed in touch.

Occasionally, we stayed at each other’s house.  When we were about 16 years old, she came to my house for a visit.  As we sat on the living room couch, I told her about something very sad I saw happen to someone I love very much.  I started to weep.  Tracy put both arms around me as I cried.  I accidentally snorted.  Tracy’s cheek, pressed next to mine, balled up into a smile, and her body started to silently shake.  She was laughing!  Just as I had tried to muffle my sobs in kindergarten class, she now tried to muffle her laughter in the living room.  I gave her points for effort, resigned this chance to have another good cry with her, and instead joined her in laughter.

We still laugh about that moment when deep sorrow turned into rollicking laughter.  Even today, Tracy has a gift, like no one else I’ve been around, to share sorrow, and to lighten the burden without making light of the pain.  For that reason–and many others–sharing not only my sorrows but life with Tracy is a joy.

In Henri Nouwen’s book, Can You Drink the Cup?, the Catholic priest recounts his own years of sharing both sorrows and joys, while living in a community of people with disabilities:

  • My own life in this community has been immensely joyful, even though I had never suffered so much, cried so much, and anguished so much as at Daybreak.  Nowhere am I as well known as in this little community…I have never experienced so deeply that the true nature of priesthood is a compassionate-being-with (p 45).

Tracy has the gift of a “compassionate-being-with.”  Like Jesus.

Nouwen describes Jesus’ priesthood “as one of solidarity with human suffering,” and hears a challenge “just to connect my own vulnerability with the vulnerability of those I live with.”  He continues: “And what a joy that is!  The joy of belonging, of being part of, of not being different.”

Without even trying, it seems, Tracy calls forth vulnerability.  And although, this can be a dangerous call to answer, she has never hurt or betrayed my vulnerability but instead shared hers.  What a joy to have a friend like this.

In recent years, Tracy has acquired a disability of her own.  She’s in some sort of pain always.  And the medications cause further physical problems.  Still her ability to listen is intact.

“Do you get mad at God?” I asked her a few years ago.

“No.  He has helped me so much!”

“I do.”

“Why are you mad at God?”

Just the fact that she wasn’t tracking with me was a relief, I guess, because I knew she was the same Tracy who lives joyfully despite her own sorrow.  This revelation drowned out my anger (often related to sorrow).

I fell asleep thinking and praying about Tracy’s suffering that had become my sorrow.  As I recounted her words and God’s promises, God showed up and showed me his grace in her life: being able to hold a cup of sorrow and–without dismissing the sorrow–see a cup of joy.

As Nouwen writes: “If joys could not be where sorrows are, the cup of life would never be drinkable.  This is why we have to hold the cup in our hands and look carefully to see the joys hidden in our sorrow” (p 47).

Let it be so with us, that we’re able to help each other hold the cup of sorrow and receive the cup of joy.

Next week, we go from holding our cup to lifting (celebrating) our cup of life.

Jadell Forman writes for The Neighborhood Café on Mondays.

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