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Showing posts from March, 2011

Humility and Loss

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Life is best defined not by accomplishment and success but by disappointment and heartbreak.

If this strikes you as a shocking or needlessly depressing statement, consider the qualities of great or unexpected success. The happy person might say that it is "a dream come true," that "it all seems so unreal," that "I can't believe it really happened," or that "I have to pinch myself to make sure I'm not dreaming."

Consider, now, the deeply disappointed or bereaved person -- someone who has lost their job, their house, a loved one. There is no dream or fantasy involved, just an awe-ful reality that dogs the person's every move and fills each waking breath. There is no escaping it, however one might wish to try.

Why isn't it the other way around? Why can't success be our reality and heartbreak our illusion?

There is a simple and sure answer. Whereas in success we stand alone at the top of our little self-made mountain, filled wit…

Humility and Grace

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The sacrifice acceptable to God  is a broken and contrite spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God,  you will not despise.                                     (Psalm 51:17)
How often do we approach God, when we do approach God at all, in the attitude of a broken spirit? Most of the time we go about our lives in a swaggering, self-centered way. After all, this is the attitude which spells success in the business world. Be confident to an extreme; be aggressive in your sales pitch; believe in yourself and in your mission; don't show signs of weakness; never admit to uncertainty.
Perhaps this way of living has netted you a neat six-figure salary and dozens of hits when you test out your fame on a search engine. But the sheer truth is that at the core of our being lies a broken spirit, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not. No matter how hard we might work to project the appearance of perfection, we all fall short in God's eyes. There are as many different ways in which we fall i…

God Loves

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Why do bad things happen to good people?

It is an age-old question and one we are no closer to understanding than when Rabbi Harold Kusher published his searching book on the subject 30 years ago. In the town where I live many people are surely wondering that today after the death of a beloved fifth-grade teacher in a car accident yesterday on her way home from school. And the question presents itself with terrible force after natural disasters on the order of this past week's earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the horrific aftermath of which is too much for most of us to comprehend.

Anyone who is a sincere student of Holy Scripture knows the answer is surely NOT divine retribution, as the mayor of Tokyo recklessly asserted and Glenn Beck had the poor judgment to also suggest (from this same link you can hear Rush Limbaugh mocking the Japanese refugees). What we do know is that God is there with us in the depth of our loss, in our darkest hour, never forsaking us, always loving us…

A Broken and Contrite Heart

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Is there a more exquisitely intertwined set of readings assigned by the Revised Common Lectionary than those for Ash Wednesday? In the faithfully liturgical congregation with whom I am privileged to worship, Bethel Lutheran Church, we initially encountered Psalm 51 with its ardent expressions of penitence:

"Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity...hide your face from my sins...create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me...sustain in me a willing spirit...," and, movingly, "the sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise."

We then turned our ears to the prophet Joel, who in Chapter 2 calls us publicly to this attitude: "Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love," and affectingly instructs us in the nature of our penitence: "Rend your hearts, and not your garments." We are not to make a publi…