Amish Grace

While we are often good at finding faults and shortcomings, sometimes it would do us well to find the greatest strengths and pieces of the Kingdom of God in which a community of folks have been able to walk in.  The Amish are a peculiar people no doubt. This story from the inside out is a candid, insightful and challenging suggestion of what forgiveness, incarnate, might look like as it expressed through the mess and reality of a group of people doing their best to walk with God.

The following is the description from Amazon:

On Monday morning, October 2, 2006, a gunman entered a one-room Amish school in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania. In front of twenty-five horrified pupils, thirty-two-year-old Charles Roberts ordered the boys and the teacher to leave. After tying the legs of the ten remaining girls, Roberts prepared to shoot them execution style with an automatic rifle and four hundred rounds of ammunition that he brought for the task. The oldest hostage, a thirteen-year-old, begged Roberts to “shoot me first and let the little ones go.” Refusing her offer, he opened fire on all of them, killing five and leaving the others critically wounded. He then shot himself as police stormed the building. His motivation? “I’m angry at God for taking my little daughter,” he told the children before the massacre.

The story captured the attention of broadcast and print media in the United States and around the world. By Tuesday morning some fifty television crews had clogged the small village of Nickel Mines, staying for five days until the killer and the killed were buried. The blood was barely dry on the schoolhouse floor when Amish parents brought words of forgiveness to the family of the one who had slain their children.

The outside world was incredulous that such forgiveness could be offered so quickly for such a heinous crime. Of the hundreds of media queries that the authors received about the shooting, questions about forgiveness rose to the top. Forgiveness, in fact, eclipsed the tragic story, trumping the violence and arresting the world’s attention.

The Colonel

I meet with a counselor every week. We’ve been sharing life together for just over six months now. It has been one of the top three most transformative experiences of my life.

My counselor has a striking resemblance to the Colonel of KFC. Thus he affectionately goes by “the Colonel” among my close friends. Last week when I met with him, I told him that I’ve begun to view the $85 a week as a “grandfather tax.” And I pay it gladly, joyfully. Something in my young heart as a man is learning through him what it feels like to walk through life with a grandfather.

He’s a giant. Outwardly he may appear older, maybe even irrelevant in a culture that worships “youth.” From a distance he may even appear frail. But make no mistake. When you are in his presence, he is an oak tree.

I find myself resting in his shade. He sees me better, more accurately, than I see myself. He’s not exhausted by me or by my pessimism. He tears up with a smile in his brilliant eyes at the man I am and leaps for joy at the man I’m becoming. I see dimly the man he sees so vividly in me. But it gives me hope. And through him, God is peeling layer after layer off of my false self. Someone new is emerging: the truest me.

I’ve been noticing “old” people more and more. It’s hard and sad to watch strength, vibrancy, and vitality ebb from their bodies like a passing tide.

Yet, I am keenly aware in these observations of one simple fact: as men age, they fall strikingly into one of two categories. One group of “old men” seems to be dead- men-walking. They seem to be shadows of their former selves. They seem sad, waning, and have little stature. The best parts of their lives are lived only in memories. Their best days are behind.

The second category is “old men” who are much more than meets the eye.  At first pass, they may appear “old.”  Yet take a closer and slower look and the hidden treasure is revealed.  There is light in their eyes.  Inwardly, there is strength.  They are mighty oaks. They are fountains of wisdom.  Beacons of hope.   Laughter is true and easily accessible.  There is a resting, settledness, and something that I can only describe as an eager expectation deep within them for what’s to come.
Just this week I encountered another giant. I cued up an hour-long Dallas Willard seminar on my laptop and jumped on the spinning bike. Five minutes into it there was so much substance, “weightiness”

(C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory), to his teaching that I had to turn it off and savor it, digest it. What I treated like some commodity – content to consume- I instead found to be a rich and substantive treasure beyond my years. Shade for me to rest me eager soul. Here is strength. They are mighty oaks. They are fountains of wisdom. Beacons of hope. Laughter is true and easily accessible. There is a resting, settledness, and something that I can only describe as an eager expectation deep within them for what’s to come.

Rob Jones, Dallas Willard, the Colonel, Thomas Keating, Eugene Peterson.

Whether I have met them in person, or only through their teachings, these men have become to me more than oaks even: they have become towering Sequoias.

I was in the great Redwoods of northern California this past spring. A native was sharing an interesting fact about these massive and glorious trees. There are varied causes of death for the Redwoods, but “old age” in not one of them.

I am a man in need of great giants whose lives are not diminished by age, but rather enhanced. I need their assurance. I need their laughter, their ease, their hope, their affection, and their camaraderie.

I wonder what I’ll be like as a grandfather. I watch the Colonel with me. And the Father fills me with hope and longing. Longing to be available one day to my adult kids and their spouses and children. I hope they will rest in my shade.

 

 

 

 

 

Proverbs tells stories of Wisdom being woven into the very fabric of all creation. And of Wisdom being the Craftsman at God’s side as He fashioned all of creation. (Proverbs 8).

One of the most accessible ways of experiencing that Wisdom is to slow down enough to be present to these great giants.

We must find these shading older men. They are rare. But they are available. Ask the Father everyday to bring them to you, until you have them.

And then become them.

 

The Unsettling of America

While Berry is remarkable on many topics, his writing on power and how we handle it is remarkably insightful.  In this work, he relates it to the land we inhabit and how we care (or don’t care) well for it.  Berry is a revolutionary against a culture that worships knowledge and information but in many ways has turned a blind eye toward wisdom (Proverb 8).  Berry, including “What are People For,” is thought provoking and a deeply shaping voice from yesterday.

The following is the description from Amazon:

Since its publication by Sierra Club Books in 1977, The Unsettling of America has been recognized as a classic of American letters. In it, Wendell Berry argues that good farming is a cultural development and spiritual discipline. Today’s agribusiness, however, takes farming out of its cultural context and away from families. As a result, we as a nation are more estranged from the land—from the intimate knowledge, love, and care of it.
Sadly, as Berry notes in his Afterword to this third edition, his arguments and observations are more relevant than ever. We continue to suffer loss of community, the devaluation of human work, and the destruction of nature under an economic system dedicated to the mechanistic pursuit of products and profits. Although “this book has not had the happy fate of being proved wrong,” Berry writes, there are good people working “to make something comely and enduring of our life on this earth.” Wendell Berry is one of those people, writing and working, as ever, with passion, eloquence, and conviction.

Broadmoor

I used to be a golfer. It was another lifetime ago. It was a context where my heart was first opened to beauty- walking alone on late summer evenings during rounds on the local public course.

Now my golf consists of borrowed clubs and a round of best ball with a few buddies once a year or so. Heck, I don’t even own a golf shirt anymore!

So I was invited to play the Broadmoor, a world championship course, designed by Arnold Palmer and Robert Trent Jones. I was intimidated to say the least, as I’d be playing with three genuine golfers, two of whom I don’t know at all, and one who’s a new friend. I show up, borrowed clubs and the closest thing I can find to a set of shorts and a golf shirt (I think I was the only joker on the hole with buttons down the front of my shirt). I arrive at the first tee to find out that we are playing with caddies! Now I had spent years in high school caddying but I’d never been on the receiving end of that. Four beautiful Jamaican men walk over to us in meticulously cleaned white jump suits. It was like a scene out of a movie. It was like showing up to watch the US Open, and someone turns to you on the first tee and hands YOU a driver… it was completely intimidating.

And it almost got the best of me.

But I was rescued by eventually tuning into what God was up to.

The first tee, I can only describe as grace. The Father’s provision. Of our foursome, I was the only guy in the fairway. It was a stunning drive (and would turn out to be my only one of the day!). Did I mention the other three men were actually golfers?!

Second hole, the caddies are out 275 yards on the fairway’s edge! Are you kidding me?! If I hit a drive 275, I’d be jumping up and down. So here I am standing with a borrowed driver… did I mention we were playing from the pro tees? (sheesh)…

I hit a worm burner… like claws, the rough grabs all the power out of my ball and it lands gracefully next to the ladies’ tees. The other three guys are waving until finally the caddies realize I showed my true card. You can only imagine what the conversation was among them before Peter, my Jamaican brother, comes running back towards us to provide me with a rescue club.

And so the round unfolds, with me whacking away shot after shot. After about three holes each shot Peter would look at me with those intensely white eyes and teeth set in this beautiful black face (you have to picture Djimon Hounsou from the film Amistad) and say,


“Watch me.”

After that he would proceed to tell me how to play the shot.

If it was a putt:

“Watch Me. Inside. Left Edge. Against grass. Up hill.”

If it was a chip:

“Half” as he handed me a PW.

At first I ignored half of what he said. He pulled out what I thought to be the wrong club. “There’s no way I can get a six iron to that green.” He’d call a left to right break a foot and I swore it broke the other way.

And whether I listened to him or not, after the shot I realized he was right.

And I realized something else.

He actually cared about me. The best me.

He spent several holes learning me, focusing on me, watching me.

And then he offered the coaching, the guidance-one shot at a time- to simply bring to reality the best me that was available for that shot.

So about 12 holes into it, I finally got what God was up to. Peter was the incarnation of the Holy Spirit. Intensity that almost made you want to look away, and joy and personality that was magnetic. John 3:8, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” He was directing me with some invisible way. He was present to me and to one shot at a time. Offering me leadership. Offering me a path to life, the best life and the best me.

At one point we were on the back tees of a par three that I swear played as a par 4. I’m thinking, “Shit, there is no way I can get over that ravine and get to the green.” So without looking at Peter’s face I reach for my driver. Then I’m moved (mostly in shame) to look up at him and he laughs and shakes his head. So I say, “Fine, what should I hit?” And he pulls out a 5 wood. A club I hadn’t played the entire round (shoot, it’s a borrowed club I’ve never even hit before). I knocked it three yards short of the green.

After that, I started listening and making shots. And I can only describe it as supernatural. I intentionally stopped looking at the clubs he selected for me. I began to trust. And I started golfing.

At another point I hit a terrible chunker. I looked at Peter and said, “Have you ever caddied for a golfer as bad as me?” He looked at me with an intense smile and replied,

“No bad golfers. Bad golfers don’t golf. You are golfing.”

It was as though the words of a mentor from the week before came through this Holy Spirit of a man and said, “Son, you are on the path. That’s what matters.”

That was a long prologue to get to this point:

The Thirties is a decade of excavation. It is also a decade of establishing a bedrock foundation of intimate and personal relationship with Jesus, with the Father, and with the Holy Spirit.

I spent years cultivating a relationship with Jesus. But the Father was a totally absent category. I have now spent about five years living in the reality of the Father. And in just the past year I have begun to cultivate an intimate relationship with the Holy Spirit. I’ve been asking for more of it. To know God, to relate to him, to live in his abundance and his Kingdom, through the Holy Spirit.

All three are available. And all three are essential to being, as Dallas Willard eloquently communicates, “an apprentice in Kingdom Living.”

As Jesus’ disciple, I am his apprentice in Kingdom Living.

…I am learning from him how to lead my life in the Kingdom of Heaven as he would lead my life if he were I. It is my faith in him that led me to become a disciple. My confidence in him simply means that I believe he is right about everything; that all that he is and says shows what life is at it best, what it was intended by God to be. ‘In Him was life and the life was the light of men.’ (John 1:4)”

Being his apprentice is, therefore, not a matter of special ‘religious’ activity, but an orientation and a quality of my entire existence. There must be nothing held of greater value than Jesus and His Kingdom. He must be clearly seen as the most important thing in human life, and being his apprentice as the greatest opportunity any human being ever has.” Dallas Willard, A Long Obedience

Where is your personal relationship with Jesus? With the Father? With the Holy Spirit?

The Holy Spirit is after seeking out “the best you.” In all his intensity and all his joy. Let him do it, one shot at a time. Let him do it today.

*Footnote: I thought that the Broadmoor must have some caddie program that recruits all their caddies from Jamaica. Later I found out they have only four. The Holy Spirit set me up for an ambush!

Celebration of Discipline

A direct disciple of Dallas Willard, practical, helpful and hopeful coaching and mentoring in practicing the spiritual disciplines.

The following is the description from Amazon:

Richard J. Foster’s Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth is hailed by many as the best modern book on Christian spirituality with millions of copies sold since its original publication in 1978.

In Celebration of Discipline, Foster explores the “classic Disciplines,” or central spiritual practices, of the Christian faith to show how each of these areas contribute to a balanced spiritual life.

Foster, the bestselling author of several books (Prayer and Streams of Living Water) and intrachurch movement founder of Renovaré, helps motivate Christians everywhere to embark on a journey of prayer and spiritual growth.

Addiction & Grace

Unpacking addiction like nothing else I’ve read, May helps to dramatically increase our awareness in both the addiction and it’s foundation being rooted in our desire to love, to be loved and to move closer to the source of love. Begin to recover freedom on the most intimate and personal levels available…

The following is the description from Amazon:

Addiction and Grace offers an inspiring and hope–filled vision for those who desire to explore the mystery of who and what they really are. May examines the “processes of attachment” that lead to addiction and describes the relationship between addiction and spiritual awareness. He also details the various addictions from which we can suffer, not only to substances like alcohol and drugs, but to work, sex, performance, responsibility, and intimacy.

Drawing on his experience as a psychiatrist working with the chemically dependent, May emphasizes that addiction represents an attempt to assert complete control over our lives. Addiction and Grace is a compassionate and wise treatment of a topic of major concern in these most addictive of times, one that can provide a critical yet hopeful guide to a place of freedom based on contemplative spirituality.